Necessity is the mother of invention. This phrase succinctly describes Jason Paul, Managing Director and Founder of Apt Innovations, a Northern Ireland, UK based company. Apt Innovations develops and manufactures products that help owners of static and touring caravans, holiday homes, mobile homes, and motorhomes drain the water from the pipes of their homes, thus preventing broken pipes in freezing conditions.
Apt Innovations’ first product, the award winning Floe Drain Down Device, was conceived as Jason needed a simple way to winterize his home without having to make an appointment or pay a professional drain down technician. The Floe is a simple device that hooks to the outside hose tap and utilizes a tire compressor to blow out the excess water in the pipes. Apt Innovations’ Floe was written up in the BBC News article “Cold winter inspires NI man’s pipe business”, won the Best Accessory Award from Practical Caravan, and is making sales inroads in many countries around Europe.
Leardon: How did you come up with the idea for the Floë?
Jason: I own a static park home in the lakes area of Northern Ireland. Sadly we were caught out by bad frost which damaged part of the plumbing system and flooded the home. Normally you would pay someone about $180 to drain it at the end of the season, but this is an antiquated system that entails the service engineer trying to push the water back down through the system (the wrong way) in reverse from each faucet. Unfortunately this is not possible on showers as there are non return valves in them, which only allows water to come out of them (the right way). To a service engineer, the shower therefore must be dismantled, rendering the property useless over the winter months until spring.
I wanted to do two things. First I wanted to be able to drain the property myself, without paying someone and I wanted to use the property throughout the winter months as well as the summer. Therefore my idea connects to an outside tap, air is pushed into the system and water released from taps and shower (the right way) By doing this I do not have to dismantle the shower, so I can use the property whenever I like and drain on leaving. I tend to do this once at the end of the season and a few times in winter. At $180 per draindown, this could amount to just short of a thousand dollars. Floë costs less than $30 and can be used for years, not a bad return.
Leardon: What was the most important thing you learned about the prototyping and new product development process?
Jason: First, get a patent or at least a Non Disclosure Agreement (NDA), then the next most important thing is to get the right people on board at the start. So many people go down a road without advice on relevant areas of their product. I would completely recommend that a company find a very experienced product development company to talk this though to the extent that there are no more surprises or guesswork. This will keep the price of product development and prototyping down to a minimum. Our such advisers were Leardon Solutions. Here you have two sides of advice, one for the business and selling of the product, i.e. what works and what doesn’t and second the engineering advice as to which is the most cost effective, yet visually appealing end product.
Leardon: How did you prototype the Floë?
Jason: I created a very ugly prototype for myself, which worked right through the winter. I then made some slightly more attractive but still inexpensive homemade versions that I sold to people for a very small price. Accepting payment means that there is some skin in the game from the customers and it also proves that people will pay something for an solution. Of course you could provide free samples, it is up to you. These worked for about 25 people through the next winter. It was then that we knew we had a potential product. We then got some Northern Ireland Government funding for a patent and prototype, which we then took to Leardon Solutions to create more basic prototypes and eventually the finished product.
Leardon: What did you learn about manufacturing a product? Any issues encountered?
Jason: It takes time. You need to take this time to get the product right. If you don’t, every thing else that you do can be flawed. A house can be stunningly beautiful, but if built on a flawed foundation, it could fall apart. A product is similar. Say you spend all of your time making a product, but there is a change that has been overlooked or not tested correctly. This could cause you problems. By the time you have realised it, you may have developed the packaging and photography which would all be wasted if the product has to be changed, or even sold some, in which case you will face returns.
Take time to test every opportunity and suspicion that you might have. I know most are bursting to get it onto the market but understand it will save you time in the long run.
Leardon: Why is Northern Ireland a great place to prototype and develop products?
Jason: Once upon a time Northern Ireland was a powerhouse in Engineering, Shipbuilding and Linen Manufacture. Much of the big industries sadly died away over the years leaving a large proportion of Service sector businesses in its stead. This is clearly not good for growth as manufacture and export are paramount. Northern Ireland has always had innovation brimming under the surface and now I am glad to say that local councils and Government are really pushing tech and innovation once again, really putting Northern Ireland on the world map again, so much so that the head of Government for Industry in China, felt it prudent to visit Northern Ireland last week
Leardon: What recommendations do you have for others with product ideas?
Jason: Get your product really ahead of the game and then when you are ready to be first to market, showcase the life out of it. It is being first to market that is important and stay there. Use every piece of homemade PR that you have in your arsenal. Magazines love to write articles for free on new stuff, in fact get someone to write it for you, then send it out to a range of media, who will print it up for you.
Time your marketing to when it will be most effective, particularly magazines. Newspapers and radio are more day by day but magazines take months. Also, use online forums etc, do a video and put it on youtube.com, then link it on your website. Use all of this.
Visit Apt Innovation’s website for more information and to get updates.
Need more information on new product development or the manufacturing process? Please contact us with any questions or contact me directly at joseph.donoghue ( at ) leardon.com