BVC Concept Stage Finalist Q&A: Tosch Roy, founder and CEO of Free Range Equipment, functional purpose built backpacks for the performance focused athlete
Central Oregon abounds with outdoor adventures as do the number of businesses geared toward outdoor sports!
Bend Venture Conference Concept Stage finalists Free Range Equipment is one of those companies and Owner/Manager Tosch Roy is bringing his passion and vision to bear in designing and manufacturing light, durable, simple, functional purpose built backpacks for the performance focused athlete.
Tosch provides us a glimpse into how he brought his Free Range dream to reality.
Q: What was the big idea or experience that led you to found your company?
A: There are an overwhelming number of paths for the dreamy-eyed kid of the Information Age in their early twenties; too many choices, in fact. It only took me about twenty years of life to realize the answer isn’t going to come from a book, or the internet, or someone else’s advice. A serious amount of introspection led me to three pretty simple passions.
- Bringing ideas to life
- Making things more efficient
- Adventuring outside with friends
I also found, with some trepidation, that I had no control over these passions. I wasn’t sure what to do with the knowledge but I knew I had to figure out a way to pursue each passion, or better yet, combine all three.
The answer presented itself in the form of a backpack I designed for a ski mountaineering race while going to school at Montana State University in Bozeman, Montana. I probably should have been studying for an upcoming fluid mechanics test but I had other stuff to do. The project was a success and I quickly developed a back order list from friends. A month later, I was sitting behind my new Juki industrial sewing machine crankin’ out packs.
I finished the year of school and was faced with a decision. Too many choices became two choices: stand pat, or show the ace, trade four, and bet all in. I bet all in. I dropped out of the mechanical engineering program and built a business. Enter Free Range Equipment. Because you can’t stop the momentum of a true passion.
Q: What is the problem that you will solve?
A: Our goal is to remove as many barriers and distractions as possible between the user and their pure and raw experience. We do that by designing and manufacturing a line of sport-specific backpacks for the performance focused athlete. With only one purpose to excel at, we end up with a final product that is light, durable, simple, functional and of course, sexy as hell.
Q: What are your products? What do you have available now? What do you plan to offer in the future?
A: Our product line covers a range of backcountry sports. These include ski mountaineering, rock and alpine climbing, trail running, and mountain biking. We currently have three products: one is production ready, and two are in a prototype stage.
Q: What success have you had to date?
A: We’ve brought together an international community of elite athletes and guides that act as brand ambassador team and through this network, we’ve sold about 200 packs. These sales were made almost entirely by word-of-mouth and without pushing for orders.
Q: What are the biggest challenges you face?
A: Our biggest challenge is increasing our manufacturing capacity (so we can meet the demand we’ve received) while continuing to produce quality sewn product made in Bend. We are currently in the hiring process and seeking talented employees who can sew. The sewing is done in our production facility which operates with about 75% of the equipment we need for full efficiency. The remaining 25% will allow us to significantly speed up and simplify our manufacturing process, and widen our margins.
Q: If you win at BVC how will you use the $10,000 Concept Stage prize from BendBroadband?
A: About 60% of a $10,000 prize would be used to acquire the remaining production equipment we need and 40% would go towards hiring and training new employees. Long story short, it would help us overcome our biggest challenge and it would create recreational equipment manufacturing jobs in Bend.