Mark Tsigounis launches the Hibear Outdoors Adventure Flask [EP 224]

Mark Tsigounis and I talk about where he got the idea for an Adventure Flask, it's functionality, and how the Hibear Adventure Flask came to life.

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It’s been a couple of years since we caught up at Outdoor Retailer right?

Yeah, it was Summer OR 2019. That was my first outdoor retailer show, and completely eyeopening. If anybody's in the industry and you haven't gone yet, you need to go it's amazing.
It's pretty phenomenal. And you were just kind of walking around, you had a sample, just getting feedback and stuff. How did that go? Obviously you got a lot of positive feedback, so here you are.
Yeah, I mean, I felt like I was almost like pirating the show. I didn't have a booth. I kinda like went rogue. I plopped down next to the cafe downstairs and was just trying to show what we had created to as many people as possible.

How did you get introduced to the outdoors? You did a lot of stuff in the Navy I'm sure. But what was your first outdoor experience like?

Well, I grew up in New Jersey and I don't think most people think of New Jersey as being an outdoor hub. Most people think of, you know, exit 10 Elizabeth and all the refineries out there, or the second city to New York. But North Jersey is actually a pretty beautiful place and we have 80 miles of the Appalachian Trail that run through there. So my dad used to bring me out there and when you're a young kid, it's hard to wrap your head around the fact that this trail actually goes from Georgia to Maine. And I said . . . wait, so you're telling me if I keep going North, I'm going to go all the way up almost to Canada? So I think that always resonated with me.

What made you want to hike the trail?

I think that too much time in a desk job when you're a free-spirited individual, you have these ideas that were planted in your mind start to grow roots. And I think that's just, just something I couldn't get out of my head. I think it was in 2014 that my desk job just started wearing on me and it was just time for a change. And that was kind of like a rebirth. So I wanted to leave my desk job. I had worked in finance for 12 years at that point
That'll do it. You have an impressive adventure background. Was that the inspiration was to hang up the desk job and go play, or did you grow up doing some of those things with the family?
Yeah, I grew up, spending a lot of time on the Jersey shore. My dad brought me camping a few times, but I never really loved it. I loved video games. I used to always play manhunt in the neighborhood and I’d ride my bike everywhere for sure.

Where did the idea for an adventure flask come from?

When you're a through hiker on the Appalachian trail, you're used to carrying everything on your back. And you learn that the stuff that does more are the things that you value a lot more than the other things, like multipurpose stuff. I spent some time in Africa where I got an insulated bottle. So when it's 115 degrees outside, it's pretty amazing that you can have ice cold water all day. And I had no idea that this thing existed. And back then I had an Amazon business for a little bit and the writing was on the wall that I needed to start my own brand.
I lived by coffee, right? I was just always working and led by coffee. Originally it was a French press and then we were thought, well, this is kind of boring. An insulated French press idea led to let's do something a lot cooler. So we came up with this idea. This concept of one flask with seven interchangeable tops. We did a bunch of 3D printing and we'd get all these parts. We had about 140 parts delivered to us. And we thought this is totally not going work, for a lot of different reasons. I mean, can you imagine just having this mechanism in your backpack and how much space that would actually take up? It's just not rational. So we took the summer and really thought about what it is, what we were trying to do with the seven interchangeable tops.
We took the best of the best of all of that and integrated them into one, just beautifully designed flask. And I think there was this aha moment as I'm walking down the beach with my father. My father says, you know, I think it would be really cool if you took that top and you just turned it upside down and then you could do like coffee with it. And I was like, dad, that's absolutely brilliant. So that was the focal point in which we designed everything else around once we figured it out that one design feature transformed into the Swiss Army Knife of flasks. I mean, it's a cocktail shaker, it's a coffee maker. It keeps your water cold. It's really cool.

Take us through how the product actually came to life. All of that, you had to do a number of iterations, I guess, right? 3D printing and whatnot. What was that process like?

After we more or less figured out what the design was going to look like and we had our rendering, and I think a lot of creators, might stop and think, okay, we need to go out and fund this on Kickstarter. And I think that was the case was in the early days, right.

You're right. A lot of folks spend a lot of money on the first round of samples that end up being the 10th round of samples. When they could have saved a ton if they had done more design and more 3D printing work like you did. That's smart.

Yeah, exactly. So a lot of those iterations have taken us a long time to try and figure out. You're obsessing over every quarter of a millimeter on this and stuff that the end-user will never ever know. But at the end of the day, you just want that to just be part of their experience and the fact that you have noticed it makes that design better.

How did you get that done?

It's just a combination of different companies. Shapeways is a decent company where you can just upload your solid work files and they'll send you the parts. But 3D printing is a little bit different, more difficult in terms of getting everything to work together. Working with a manufacturer that has prototyping abilities before you move into sampling is really nice.
Yeah. You got to get all that right before you get to that step, otherwise you just spending money. How did you find your factories? Did you go on Alibaba or what was that process like?
It was like a combination of everything. It was like the mish-mash of sourcing agents. Going into town and talking to manufacturers that that would help find another type of sourcing agent. I went on Alibaba. We had come up with this portfolio of different manufacturers and ended up going with the one that I actually found on Alibaba for a number of different reasons. And number one is, is that they had the most amount of experience. They had the largest factory and the pricing was about the middle of the road.
Now, if I had to do it over, I would definitely use our quality assurance company to help do the sourcing as well. Simply because they have a lot more boots on the ground. They're a lot more familiar with the different areas where manufacturing gets done.

And they probably have a really tight process of QC and production once it's done. So you mentioned going into town, did you go into Reno? Where did you go look, are there people in Reno that do this?

Yeah, there's a company in Reno.

I really love how the whole thing functions and works together. Did you come up with the ideas yourself? Obviously, your dad came up with the idea of flipping it over and doing coffee, but was there a bunch of family and friends or, where did the ideas come from?

Yeah, it definitely culminated out of the French press. In terms of coming together with all the people, I don't have a solid-works background. I'm not in the industry, I'm not an industrial engineer. My background's in finance. So we have an industrial design firm called Tech Collective out of Slovenia and they just do amazing, beautiful work. To the point where we collaborated for about a year and a half on this new design just trying to work through all that functionality. At the end of the day, all of our efforts have been validated this year when we were awarded a red dot award in product design.
Congratulations. That's exciting.
How about mentors? Who has been some of your mentors in the development of High bear?
So we're attached to an incubator that's a startup in Reno. It's a portfolio of coaches and mentors that are experts in their own silo that I can just lean on for expertise trying to expedite the process of getting high bear from ideation to market.

You must be outside all the time. Tell us about a couple of your favorite activities outdoors.

Yeah, Part of the reason that I live in North Lake Tahoe is the trail running around here is absolutely amazing. There is a race once a year called the Castle Peak 100K and it's like the greatest hits album of trail running in Truckee. It goes through Prosser, it goes through obviously castle peak, and then there's a section called the Palisades where there's rope set up. So it's a course and you're almost mountain climbing over that shale rock or the decomposing granite. If anybody is into running it's probably one of the best-kept secrets in running around.

We'll link to that in the show notes for all your runners out there, go do it. Do you have any suggestions or advice for folks either wanting to get into the outdoor adventure biz or start a company as you did?

I would say that if young folks are trying to get into the industry, they should, number one, read your book because it's the best way to get a sampling of so many different experts from all different walks of life on the outdoor industry.
From my perspective, I came in as an enthusiast with a business background. But if I was a younger person trying to get in, I would certainly say just be a guide. Start out as a whitewater rafting or climbing guide or whatever it is that is your passion and get into it that way, you know, have some fun with it.

That's good. And just so everybody knows that book is Trails To The Top and it's available on Amazon. I appreciate that. Thank you.

That's why I asked that question because I think learning from those that have come before you is so important. Anything you can do to learn from all those folks that have already been there or are going through, it's a great way to go.

What is your favorite outdoor gear purchase under a hundred dollars?

I would recommend everybody have an all-day adventure flask as part of their everyday carry.

If you could have a huge banner at the entrance to the OR show, what would it say?

 
I would really like to say hug someone today on the outside, but it's definitely not appropriate for the times right now. So I would say just be generous today, do something for someone, and expect nothing. Because something like that has as a multiplier effect and it's infectious.

As we wrap up, is there anything else you want to say or ask of our listeners?

Yeah just stay curious, fight the good fight and keep creating. It's a very divisive world right now and, we all just need to be part of the solution. The second thing is to invite somebody for tea. In the last few months we've been conditioned to isolate ourselves and we need to an excuse to break out.

Where can people find you if they want to follow up?

find the All Day Adventure Flask on hibearoutdoors.com
We're coming to Kickstarter in early September and we're really, really excited about that. Our page is beautiful.

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