Ryan, what's your backstory?
I grew up on a dairy farm on the surf coast in Victoria. Between working on the farm as a kid, I discovered surfing on the beaches near the farm. I was a creative-minded kid and ended up studying fine art at University. My first job off the farm or washing dishes at the local restaurant, and I was an artist for the surf brand Quiksilver. I would hand paint fabric and t-shirt designs. After a year, the company put me through a product design apprenticeship where I learnt fabric design, pattern making and tailoring.
I have always been an adventurer first and foremost, so a desire to travel and not be indoors had me resigning from my design role with Quiksilver multiple times over two decades.
I would pack a few possessions and a surfboard on my back and take off for a couple of years to explore the world and find some waves. When the travel kitty dried up, I rejoined the Quiksilver company in different product design roles that gave me a well-rounded knowledge of technical product design.
In 2012 I was working in the US as the senior Vice President of product for Quiksilver when I chose to leave the company for the final time to focus on my own idea and create a working environment that better suits my needs and the creative ideas that excited me.
Tell us what your company does?
"We provide the warmth."
We make world-leading surfing wetsuits and accessories. Our mission is to make the best possible wetsuit at the most accessible price. Our customers are mainly dedicated surfers who need to keep warm in cold water for hours on end. They need a durable, highly flexible and warm product.
We want to provide our products at the best price, so we forego all non-essentials like branding, packaging, single-use plastics, advertising materials, and wholesale markups.
How did you come up with the idea?
My travels were always focused on surfing great waves, so I would travel to remote areas around the world for long periods in search of waves.
Travelling on a small budget, I found the best way to extend the length of trips and avoid having to go back to an office was to travel as light as possible with only the essentials. I would strip my needs back to the bare bones to travel longer and go further.
For many years my home was a 36ft sailboat. Living in a small space allows you great freedoms. It also teaches you not to acquire too many material possessions. You want good things that are durable, function well and is built to last, but they need to be essential items and only stuff you truly need.
The designer in me was always looking at better ways to create products that best suited my own needs, so the company idea was shaped by my lifestyle. I didn't actually set out to start a company or become a founder. I just started making products for my own needs, and then friends and like-minded people began asking how they could get them too.
I really didn't want to call the company anything as a brand wasn't a necessary item and not something I wanted to build. But I had to call it something, so I called it what it is. Essentials that you need. needessentials. The logo is that word placed together in the worlds most highly used font. That's it, we are done!
How did you go about building and launching the business?
Building technical products requires years of experience, from material design, pattern making, sourcing and product development. I spent a couple of decades learning this stuff and couldn't have started this company without my previous experiences. I had worked together with so many skilled people in previous roles. The knowledge you gain from working on the ground in this space can't be substituted. It's priceless.
I had no desire to start a large company initially, so I was focused on a small idea in a field I was completely comfortable in; however, as the company expanded, the challenges of having to perform in spaces outside my speciality is where most challenges lay. I've really enjoyed learning new skills and working with people with different skill sets to my own.
How have you grown the business?
In the beginning, there was a point when I understood that other people shared a need for my products. I had to make a call to proceed with filling demand or limit it, as I didn't want to be a founder or business owner.
But I enjoyed what I was doing, the people it introduced me to, and friends who shared a stoke for the company and started working for it. needessentials become a family pretty quickly, and I love that about it.
Since the mid-2000's parts of the mainstream surf industry have gone through the pressure cooker with massive involvement of bankers, corporate mergers and takeovers.
The entry of corporate culture and profiteers saw the industry take a nosedive as bankers saw the industry as a cash cow. This led to many questionable decisions from the big brands and questionable products and services.
After a noticeable slip in products and services from the big brands, we benefited from understanding our customers' needs better and focusing on their needs. I believe our customers appreciate our authenticity, see that we are coming from a genuine place and trust us once they've used our products. They know this is a passion project and not another get rich quick scheme led by bankers.
The Australian surf industry is alive a well, but it's not the massive globally recognised brands at the core. It's the thousands of independent surfboard manufacturers, the independent surf accessory companies that are at the foundations, and we are stoked to be a small part of that heartbeat.
We continue to grow, but I've always done it at a pace that I am comfortable with. It's got to remain pleasant, stress-free and not forced. We want to sleep well and get out of bed, looking forward to what we do each day.
What’s your biggest selling product?
Black, non branded wetsuits with only the highest grade materials and workmanship. www.needessentials.com
What have been some of your biggest failures along the way?
A couple of times in the early days, we were forced into materials we didn't fully trust and didn't have the time to test and understand their longevity.
We didn't have massive problems, but we were not confident we had the best product in the market, and we had returns and higher warranty levels.
Establishing trust in products takes a long time, and any issues can bring down a lot of hard work. Any product failure is always treated with our full attention. All wetsuits eventually fall apart as the ocean is a brutal environment on materials over time. We were reminded to make products as well as we possibly could. This way, you know you have done all you can to ensure an excellent experience for the user.
What books have been a great inspiration to you as a founder?
The wisdom of frugality - Emrys Westacoot
Sand Talk - How indigenous thinking can save the world - Tyson Yunkaporta
To the four corners of the world - The lost Journals of Peter Troy - Peter Troy
I love watching old Malcolm Douglas films on YouTube [ with ad blocker ]. They have a great pace and are a fantastic portrait of nature and culture. I partially love his involvement in recording indigenous culture in Australia.
What quotes do you live by?
"Don't wrestle with a pig. You'll both get covered in shit, and the pig actually enjoys it". - Tyson Yunkaporta
"Foster conditions for emergence and work on integrity." - Tyson Yunkaporta
"Build a deep connection with county and community, and you have everything you need". - Mick Maanyung Laurie
What do you do to look after your mental health as a founder?
Spend a lot of time in nature, surfing, walking and meditating. Also, try to allow myself time to have good conversations with people in my community.
In a few words what does it mean to be the founder of a business?
It's got to feel good, be rewarding and bring together good people; otherwise, it's not worth doing.
What are the biggest pieces of advice you’d give to other founders?
Don't make stuff that will end up in landfill. Be fully aware of your product's impact on the natural world and do everything you can to ensure your product is built responsibly.
Know where all the components of your products are produced and ensure they're responsibly sourced. Made to last can be repaired if needed or recycled at the end of its life.
Don't take advantage of people, only use responsible labour, provide fair employment and share profits if possible. I find good relationships and experiences are more rewarding than material wealth, so focus on them, and you'll have a good time.
I've met far too many people chasing crazy growth targets and goals that are making their days miserable and unfulfilled. Spending time in nature with friends and loved ones is where the good things happen.
Where can people find out more about your business?