Ash Newland is a scientist, patent attorney and inventor of the world’s smallest washing machine – The Scrubba.
As an avid traveller, Ash faced a common dilemma before undertaking a climb of Mt. Kilimanjaro: how many changes of clothing to bring without being overburdened? Enter the Scrubba Wash Bag — which uses no electricity and minimal water, meaning you can have clean clothes anywhere from Edinburgh to Everest.
Crowdsourcing site IndieGoGo turned the Scrubba Wash Bag into a commercial reality in 2012. The success of the campaign was driven by a hunger to solve this age-old problem of it being difficult to wash your clothes while travelling. The innovative design and progressive vision also earned the Scrubba the highest honour in Anthill’s SMART 100 in 2012.
After participating in TV show The Shark Tank Australia in March 2015, the Scrubba Wash Bag is embarking on a new chapter, accepting investment totalling 20% from two ‘Sharks’. During the show, Ash chose a co-investment model with Janine Allis (founder of Boost Juice and Retail Zoo) and Steve Baxter (founder of Pipe Networks, which would be sold to TPG for $373 million).
Armed with a Masters in Industrial Property from UTS, a First Class Honours in Biotechnology from Flinders University, and his PhD in Medicine from the University of Adelaide, transitioning from Patent Attorney to entrepreneur was always on the cards for Ash.
Can you tell us a little bit about your idea and what made you decide to take the plunge and make it happen?
The idea came to me around 5 years ago when I was taking a break from my job as a patent attorney to travel around Africa and climb to the peak of Mt Kilimanjaro. I realised that with all my cold weather and camping gear, I would only be able to pack a couple of changes of casual clothes. This posed a problem for my trip. Fortunately, it was a problem that lead to a solution that not only changed my life, but also the way people can travel today. The solution was the Scrubba Wash Bag, which is a 150g waterproof bag with a flexible internal washboard that allows a machine quality wash in just minutes. With the Scrubba Wash Bag travellers and campers can wash their clothes anywhere, anytime for free.
What is your business model?
We retail the Scrubba Wash Bag from our Australian (thescrubba.com.au) and global (thescrubba.com) websites. We also supply the Scrubba Wash Bag to retailers and distributors in over 15 countries and we are currently stocked in hundreds of stores around the world.
What are you working on right now and what are you most excited about in the next year?
We have just released our second product onto the market via an IndieGoGo crowdfunding campaign. The product is the Scrubba Wash Pack and it has been dubbed the most functional daypack. The Scrubba Wash Pack is a versatile and weatherproof daypack, which means that you can go anywhere and do anything but the key feature is that at the end of the day you can use it to wash your clothes.
How do you make your ideas happen?
Having ideas is pretty easy but executing them can take a lot of time and effort so it is important to critically assess and filter ideas before investing time and money in them. Once the background research has been done on an idea (i.e. is there a market, can we do it well, is it protectable?), then it is about dedicating enough energy into ensuring that the idea is properly executed.
What does your typical day look like?
This has changed recently with the appointment of my first staff, which has meant that I am now able to spend more time on business development and intellectual property.
Previously, my morning would be spent on customer relations (ensuring prompt and helpful responses to customer inquiries) and fulfilling orders in Australia and across the globe. The afternoon would then be spent focussing more on marketing activities, responding to distributor and retailer inquiries and other ad hoc activities.
Have you faced challenges when starting and growing your business in Australia?
I don’t think there are many challenges to starting or growing a business in Australia compared to other countries. In today’s connected world, it is possible to easily launch products on a global scale and there are easy to access resources around the world for developing international markets. AUD currency fluctuations can have a large impact but these can be geared to suit your business. For example, a falling AUD can aid profitability in the export market.
What is one idea you are willing to give away for free?
The idea is a self-fulfilling one. If you encounter any problems in everyday life, try to think of ideas to overcome the problem (it is likely that other people encounter the same problem). Then work out the following: Is there a marketing for this solution, has the solution been done before, and can I protect the solution? If there is a market, it hasn’t been done before and you can protect it, you may have your business idea. If it has been done before, at least you have found a solution for next time you encounter the problem.
What people/companies/organisations do you think are doing really cool stuff in your industry, in Australia at the moment?
The guys at Annex Products in Melbourne who make the Quadlock mounting system for mobile phones have been about 18 months ahead of us and provide a great business model to follow. It is great to have entrepreneurial role models who are further along in the game to aspire to.
What about internationally?
Internationally, I would have to say FreakerUSA, who make knitted bottle coolers that stretch to different sized bottles. They have a great brand that really resonates from the founder and are doing well in the expansion of their product line and markets.
Icebreaker is also my favourite clothing label. Their NZ Marino wool clothes are great for travel and are more stylish than most outdoor clothing labels.
What role do you think business can play in affecting social change?
I think these days businesses need to play a role in social change or social good. Business needs to be about more than just making money. For us it is helping our customers travel clean, light and free and also help those in need.
Since our first crowdfunding campaign for the Scrubba wash bag in 2012, we have supported water related projects in developing countries. We are passionate that safe drinking water should be a right and not a privilege. To date we have donated more than USD 26,000 to fund entire projects to build wells in Bangladesh and Ethiopia.
Speaking of affecting social change, is there a particular charity you’d like our readers to support?
Our water-related charitable contributions are through charity: water. They provide great transparency on project outcomes and 100% of the donation goes to the project rather than admin costs.
More info here: http://www.charitywater.org/about/mission.php
Name 3 websites you would recommend to our readers.
Can you name 3 Australians we should follow on Twitter?
The guys from Quadlock/Annex
Are there opportunities for people to get involved with your idea – e.g. are you looking for funding, interns, marketing help?
Any assistance spreading the word about our Scrubba Wash Pack crowdfunding campaign would be great.
What’s your favourite bar/café/restaurant?
I Love Dumplings on Bridge Rd in Richmond, VIC.