"A Eureka Moment Never Comes In Isolation": An Interview With Trunki's Rob Law
Rob Law the CEO and Founder of Trunki tells us about the children's luggage brand, how to build a strong business and where good ideas come from. Have a read to see if you've got what it takes to be an entrepreneur!
Can you explain to us how the Trunki idea came to you and how the whole process kicked off?
I first came up with the concept for his ride-on suitcase in 1997, while I was studying Product Design at Northumbria University. We were asked to design luggage as part of a national competition and my "eureka!" moment came when I couldn't find much inspiration in the luggage section of the local department store. So, finding myself wandering into the children's section, I spotted ride-on toys. I thought, young kids get bored at airports so why not design a ride on toy that functions primarily as hand luggage. I went on to win the competition and spend a few years trying to license the design, but luggage companies told me I had invented a toy, and toy companies said it was luggage!
"At each hurdle, I learned valuable lessons that helped me to drive the business to where it is today"
What problems did you overcome bringing this idea to market?
Trying to get this concept to market took 6 years. Finally, I successfully licensed the IP to a toy company. I had big dreams of retiring early, but they were unsuccessful and went into liquidation just 3 years later! So, 9 years on from conception I quit my job as a design consultant and bought Trunki to market myself. The first year of trading in 2006 was fraught with challenges, from Chinese factories going bust, quality issues with the first batch and, to top it all off, the government banning hand luggage during the height of summer holidays. All of which was good grounding for a theatrical airing of Trunki on Season 3 of Dragons Den. Theo tried to destroy my product and I left the den empty handed! At each hurdle, I learned valuable lessons that helped me to drive the business to where it is today.
"My 'eureka!' moment came when I couldn't find much inspiration in the luggage section of the local department store"
Where do you think good ideas come from and what inspires you?
Having an idea is the easy part. Virtually everyone has had an idea for something that they think might be a good improvement to a product or service. The hard part having a good marketable idea. The design process is a great tool to help identify an opportunity. My advice would be to come up with hundreds of ways of solving that problem, filter it down, prototype it, share it, get valuable market insight, refine it, prototype it and repeat. This process will continue until several leading ideas amalgamate into one that the market says yes to. Now, you have a good idea, the next challenge is bringing it to market!
A eureka moment never comes in isolation, it’s a result of lots of experiences that cross-fertilize, so giving myself space to be exposed to new experiences (like travelling) or to learn from others (I love TED talks) helps to feed my imagination. Most of my ideas are about ways of improving the business, rather than developing a great new product.
"I distilled four company values into placards: innovation; being dynamic; responsibility; and having fun. Everyone has these on their desks, but the team gets to choose which pictures represent those values best for themselves, so everyone has a bespoke version that they can relate too."
What are Trunki's values and why are these things important to the business?
Early on, I knew the product was great but to take the business to the next level I needed a great team. One of the key tools I’ve used to do this is my company values. As CEO, I can’t make all the decisions for the business. Firstly, that’s impractical, and, secondly, it does not inspire. I wanted my team to make their own choices within their departments, but I needed a framework to help that decision-making process. So, I distilled four company values into placards: innovation; being dynamic; responsibility; and having fun. Everyone has these on their desks, but the team gets to choose which pictures represent those values best for themselves, so everyone has a bespoke version that they can relate too. This is one of the ways that we have been able to roll out a relatively flat structure where everyone really cares about the business, and works hard to ensure its success.
"Trying to get this concept to market took 6 years"
What is next for the Trunki brand?
We are pioneering children’s travel gear and there is still a few miles to go to turn Trunki into a truly global brand. America is a huge growth opportunity; our business plan has changed several times where the US is concerned, and we are finding ecommerce is the most profitable and lowest risk route.
The business is focused on building strategic markets where the brand has the greatest potential. China is turning out to be our biggest one outside the UK. The market there has had at a huge growth rate over the last 3 years. Germany is another country where we're seeing our hard work pay off.
Our success is due to great partners, we look at different markets with a flexible approach, launching some products only in certain markets, like the Hello Kitty product line we did for China and South-East Asia. We have used our ‘Made for Me’ platform to enable brand partnership opportunities which can be turned around in weeks. A flexible UK manufacturing platform allows for great one-off collaborations. We have so many global opportunities just with the existing brands we have - so it’s really an exciting time for us!
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