I wrote this a few days ago and have been sitting on it since. Maybe I was just grumpy that day.
We get a fair number of communications from folks who have an idea for a piece of new gear or modification to existing gear. First of all, I'm flattered that you think we would do a great job of making your idea a reality. Second of all, please don't reach out like this via email or phone because you're going to get some variation of the following spiel -
To start with, what is your motivation for getting us to work on your idea? There are three that I can think of and believe me, I sympathize with them all. First, it is very intoxicating to see something go from your brain into the real world. It is an extremely satisfying experience of the human condition to create. And if you're not the person doing the heavy lifting of the creative process, what limit is there on the number of ideas you would throw out there? Heck, even though I *am* the person doing the heavy lifting, I'll bet in my life I'll only actualize maybe 1% of the things I've designed in my head. Keep that in mind if you happen to be trying to task someone else with the heavy lifting. Second, you're a real user who has identified a gear problem that needs solving. If this is your motivation, we do want to hear from you, but only in certain ways. I'll cover that later. Third, you have a vision of making some sort of a living with your ideas. If so, I say more power to you but please understand that there are some significant issues with coming to us as a starting place.
Before starting this company, I would have naively placed more emphasis on the importance of the idea relative to everything else it takes to get products to market. Now I think of a good idea as being almost irrelevant to the final value of a product. Sure we've built our brand partly on smart ideas or unusually good execution of existing ideas. But by far the largest majority of the equation (95% +) has to do with two things. First of all, having a market. The best idea in the world is useless if nobody is listening. Through several years of consistent effort, we've built a decent sized audience of people who are at least listening to what we have to say. This is a very valuable asset. In some cases, we've knowingly gifted this asset to others by promoting or selling other brands such as SOLKOA, Oneiros Valley, Orion Design Group, and Dark Angel Medical. The second huge factor in the value of a product is the ability to physically produce that item. You have to be able to prototype in enough fidelity to work through all of the small details and deliver a "ready to be manufactured" product to manufacturing. You'd be surprised how many ideas that are very good at the surface either don't make it through prototype phase or are never worked through conceptually at a deep enough level to debug them. We get lots of folks saying "hey, HPG product X would be perfect if it had feature Y". A vast majority of the time our answer is "nope, feature Y introduces all of these other problems and that's why we didn't do it to start with". "Oh, you really think things through, huh". Yes, we do. And when it comes to turning a concept into reality, the devil is way more in the details than you'd think. So, in short, your idea isn't worth very much at just the idea stage. If you want to go down the same road we have by building a market and creating fully executed prototypes, we'd be happy to put you in touch with our manufacturer First Spear and have a number of times.
An amusing side note on producing items through First Spear - twice now, companies have come to First Spear attempting to get them to produce some variant of one of our products. The first time, the submitted pictures were literally our product with the label cut off and some instructions on how to modify it. No go. The second time, it was a physical prototype that made it through the production sample phase at First Spear with one of their designers who wasn't familiar with our line. When it got to the right person's desk, he took one look at it and knew there was a problem. First, he went to the in house designer to make sure that designer had faithfully replicated what was submitted. Then he gave me a call. "Hey, I'm looking at one of your shoulder harnesses with a couple of pretty minor tweaks to it -- have you ever heard of company X, and do they have permission to copy your harness?" Yes I know who they are and where they got their harness design from, no they never got permission. Ironically, I would have given my blessing on the derivative work for nothing more than some attribution -- just like with the two First Spear products that use a modified version of our shoulder harness. No go again. First Spear isn't in the business of knowingly producing knock off gear regardless of who is being knocked off. In a lot of cases they wouldn't have any idea, but if it's a product they're already familiar with because they produce it... So if that's your plan, you'll have to find a different manufacturer.
Back to the conversation at hand… if your motivation is compensation for your idea, to re-cap the first point your idea isn’t as valuable as you think it is in the big picture. The second point is well illustrated by an anecdote. Back when I was a kid, I sketched out a design and bio for a new GI Joe guy and sent it in to Hasbro. A handful of weeks later I got back a letter from one of Hasbro’s lawyers. The gist of it was that they don’t accept design submissions partly because they may already have something on the drawing board.
As a kid, I figured it was a lie. But I now know that there was probably a lot of truth in that letter. Lots of good people working on the same problem, and you’re going to see a whole lot of pretty similar solutions. I may very well have been working on “your” idea already. Or I may arrive at the same point myself. In the first case, it’s hard for you not to think I simply took your idea. In the second case, I don’t want to have to avoid an entire solution area just because someone sent it to me unbidden before I figured it out myself. Most designers would probably just use your idea anyway, but I try not to do that kind of thing. And this brings us to another anecdote that was a painful learning experience. Shortly after the Mountain Serape was released, I got a very angry email from an acquaintance demanding handsome royalties (see point one about what your idea by itself is really worth) on his design. I was kind of at a loss.
I knew the guy, and I knew we had talked about design over the course of about a year but I sure couldn’t remember taking any Serape input from him. But he was certain and I didn’t remember that well. Thankfully, I keep almost all email correspondence. It took me a few hours to put together a detailed timeline of our communications and here’s what it all boiled down to. Nowhere in our email conversations had anything related to the Mountain Serape come up. All of our communication was via email except for one phone conversation which I had no record and no memory of. I could tell we *had* talked and *when* we had talked within about a one week window because the conversation was referred to in a subsequent email. But here’s the thing - I had finalized the MS design (and actually filed a provisional patent on it including drawings which was a nice documentation point) a couple of months before we ever talked on the phone. So I knew for a fact and could prove that whatever we talked about had no bearing whatsoever on the MS design process. My guess would be that he talked about some Serape related ideas of his own and I was encouraging but non-committal because we weren’t yet in the market with the Serape ourselves and I didn’t want anything about our design getting out. I’m sure he thought I was pulling some kind of trick on him when I provided the timeline and asked if there was something I was missing. I haven’t heard from him again. I considered the guy a friendly acquaintance and it ended badly with hard feelings on his end. All because I casually talked design with him.
And my GI Joe design? A couple years later they came out with that guy and he was *very* close to my design including the bio. He hangs on the office wall now. Did Hasbro rip me off? The only people who will ever know for sure are the people who were on the GI Joe design team at that point in time. As a kid, and even now in retrospect, I would have been super happy with some merchandise and that would have been the end of it. Or so I think. Regardless of what your initial motivation is, when people think they see dollar signs, a huge percentage of them tend to lose their moral compass a bit. Even an exchange of ideas that starts out with the best of intentions and no motivation other than trying to solve a gear problem with no need for compensation can end up in a very bad place. I don’t want to be in that place. I don’t want you to be in the place.
So what if you’d just like to see a problem solved and would really like us to work on that problem space? Chances are, you’re not the only one. Talk to us about it on this forum. That way everything is out in the open for everyone to examine. You’re putting your input straight into public domain for us (and other gear makers) to pick up on. Don’t expect any compensation, or even that we’ll automatically try to solve the problem. But it’s something, and maybe it’ll eventually come to something. Just like the GI Joe example, only *we* know for sure how valuable your input is compared to ideas or designs we already have. And we do try to keep the balance sheets even or even erring on the side of generosity. I’m not going to enumerate, but there are lots of folks out there who end up with gear or other ongoing consideration over time because we think it’s the right thing to do based on how they’ve supported us.
Another topic in what has turned into an epic “state of the union” – field testing / pro staff, etc. Our design philosophy is problem based, not feature based. We start with a completely blank slate and a problem space. Then we set out to solve the problem. Sometimes, the best solution is a software solution not a hardware solution. And if that’s where we end up, we likely won’t make the hardware. For example (despite numerous requests), we’ve got no plans to come up with an off body pistol carry solution for EDC. Could we? Of course. But we believe that the solution to that problem is to carry your pistol concealed IWB where it should be. Problem solved, nothing needs to be made – although we’re happy to talk about what we’ve learned about various holsters. Sometimes the solution doesn’t look like much – to a casual observer, the Ute is about the same as a bunch of other packs out there. But it is a whole collection of overlapping details, each of which is as elegant a solution as we could come up with to one or more identified problems. And the final result is something that looks kind of the same as others but performs far better by all accounts. The point of all this is that how most people - and even many gear companies – think about design is throwing together a collection of features. That is a very different process than solving problems. And in our experience, it is extremely difficult to find end users who identify and report problems rather than simply saying “I wish it had feature X”. Not because feature X solves a problem, but because it is an imagined need or advantage based on “spec-sheet-itis”. That isn’t actually very helpful. We’ve always got our eyes open for folks who we think have a unique or nuanced perspective, or a unique experience base to help us identify problems. And we’ve cultivated some. But at the end of the day we stay away from design by committee because that results in a laundry list of contradictory and mostly useless features rather than elegant solutions to problem areas. The recent military jungle ruck solicitation is a perfect example of what that kind of process gets you. We’re not in a bureaucracy and we don’t have to act like we are. Hopefully, that results in unique and useful products.
I don’t mean to be off-putting. The best part of HPG is our great customers, many of whom become friends. We do get valuable feedback from our customers and we do listen to what they have to say. But we get 1-2 of these inquiries a week now and the pace of them seems to be increasing. Writing up some version of the foregoing each and every time is a task unto itself. And every person or inquiry seems different enough to merit more than just a copy paste form letter response. So hopefully this gives everyone a little bit more insight into what the other side of it looks like. Context to keep in mind before you approach us with an idea. Thanks.