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The Entrepreneur who Started in a Tent in his Garden Builds a Global Business Making Electric Jet Boards

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Ross Kemp, ASAP Water Crafts

We talked to Ross Kemp, founder of Asap Water Crafts, about the manufacturing of electric jet boards and this is what he said about it.

First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times? 

Ross Kemp: We are all doing ok, thanks for asking. I’m feeling a little disorientated with everything going on in the world at the moment with the combination of Covid19 and Brexit, everything feels like an up hill struggle at the moment. It’s even snowing here today in the UK too!

Tell us about you, your career, and how you founded Asap Water Crafts.

Ross Kemp: Whilst studying product design at Loughborough University in the UK, as part of our course we had to do a final year project – where we were tasked with coming up with something new and designing/developing/prototyping it. At the time I was part of the university lifesaving club. We would train every week in competitive lifesaving, it was here I realized how incredibly difficult it is to rescue or tow somebody through the water. You get exhausted within a few minutes! 

I started looking into rescue equipment and researched jet skis and paddle/kneeboards rescuers use. Jet skis were fast in the water but took two people to launch and needed a trailer and launch point. Paddle/kneeboards could be launched straight away but required a lot of skill/strength in the water to make it out to the person as being fairly slow. I saw an opportunity to create a new piece of rescue equipment – which could be launched anywhere and had power in the water to get the rescuer out to the casualty quickly. 

I designed the first Rescue jet board as part of my University degree. The University workshops were brilliant, but unfortunately shut at 5 pm every day – I had lots of prototyping to do, so needed to build my workshop. I set up a tent in my student house garden – this is where I spent 3 months hand-building the first prototype. I often worked late into the night, and our neighbor Margaret was convinced I was building a space ship!

When I graduated Loughborough University had just set up a commercialization hub, which I applied for and was lucky enough to get a place. At the same time, I went to work as a Design Engineer at the UK vacuum cleaner brand Vax, where I worked on noise reduction in vacuum cleaners. I kept developing my rescue jet board designs in my evenings and weekends, with the support of Loughborough’s commercialization hub, and successfully the investment we needed to design the product to production level. I was able to quit my job at Vax, put a team together, and really go for it.

Whilst testing our Rescue jet boards we soon realized that it’s loads of fun being blasted through the water, the feeling of the water rushing over your body is incredible (and quite addictive)! So we developed Wave Jam, our jet board model for thrills in the water exploring islands, beaches, and more!

Fast forward a few years later and we now have a factory set up where we manufacture and ship electric jet boards all around the world to our network of partners. Rescue organizations choose our jet boards for difficult to reach rescues and people love exploring on the water with our Wave Jam electric jet boards.

How does Asap Water Crafts innovate? 

Ross Kemp: Innovation is what we do best! We are a team of engineers who love finding ways to improve things – whether it’s an improvement on our jet boards to make it go faster or make it easier to use, or perhaps a stock system which saves 10minutes everyday…we absolutely love innovating! Asap watercraft is very product-focused, our products are king in every decision. 

The only thing more important than our products is the experience they create. I remember our lecturers at University telling us to design experiences, not products. This really stuck with me and the basis of most of our innovations with our jet boards. How can we make the experience even more incredible for the driver?

How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business and how are you coping?

Ross Kemp: We have managed ok during the pandemic and have been lucky to be able to continue selling and manufacturing throughout. The most frustrating moments have been having to cancel so many meetings and exciting opportunities we had planned, but to be honest this has forced us to innovate and find alternative ways to work with people. 

For example, I was gutted when we had to (understandably) cancel a demo/meeting with a really important potential partner due to the Covid19 lockdown. Instead, I strapped a camera to one of our engineer’s heads and filmed a ‘virtual demo meeting’ showing them everything we planned to do that day. It went down a storm, and we’re now working with that partner! You can see the video here.

We feel very lucky that we have managed to survive and carry on working throughout the pandemic, as we realize that many businesses are having a really tough time right now. So every day we thank our lucky stars and do the best we can.

Did you have to make difficult choices and what are the lessons learned?

Ross Kemp: Like with everyone there have been many difficult decisions to make in the last 10 months. When something like the pandemic hits it’s so difficult to know what the best thing to do is. When businesses around you are closing up and furloughing people, it was so difficult to know what’s best for our business to do. During the first lockdown, we tried to make the most of the extra time we suddenly had, working on some of the product developments we’ve always wanted to do but never had time for. This meant we were super busy, which felt strange during a time when some people were bored and had nothing to do, but was the right thing for us to do. Whilst pressures from the outside world were dropped momentarily, we worked our socks off behind the scenes preparing for when things got better.

What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?

Ross Kemp: The most important thing for me during the crisis has been to make sure our team is safe and everyone feels comfortable doing their job. This has involved lots more communication between us and making sure we check in with each other. Something I have realized is that during this time when so many other parts of life are canceled/postponed/on pause our engineers seem to have enjoyed being able to still come to work and have some kind of normality.

My partner is a psychotherapist, and something she has said is that during the pandemic everybody is suffering trauma in every area of our lives – it’s important to remember that everyone will be going through this trauma on different levels, with daily reminders everywhere we go. Therefore my role as a manager at Asap Watercraft has been to try to find ways to make work a little easier at the moment, and make it a welcoming, happy place to come to every day, even when the world outside has gone to pot!

Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?

Ross Kemp: As we have designed a new product category with our electric jet boards, there are very few competitors for us. There are some electric surfboard brands, but their products are very different as a stand-up boarding experience. We plan to stay ahead of the competition by continually innovating with our products and building a community around our brand. We have completed two over-funded crowdfunding investment rounds, which means we now have 460 investors backing our business. Our investors are telling their friends/family about what we do and helping to grow our brand. These are things that competitors find difficult to replicate!

Your final thoughts?

Ross Kemp: I have never experienced such a global event in my lifetime. I have spent the last 3 weeks having video calls with all our partners around the world, I just wanted to ask; how are they? It has been a very strange experience to speak to friends and partners all over the world and hear everyone going through the same difficult times. 

Making these video calls every day, I felt a stronger than ever connection to everyone I was speaking with. We are all in this together, and going through the same worries and fears. So I feel that our priorities should be to look for the positives every day. After my latest video call today I feel like this collective experience of the pandemic has in a strange way brought us together globally. It’s made us all appreciate our planet more, made us realize we are all the same. It has given us a bit of extra time to appreciate the small things in life, a chance to reset and re-evaluate – perhaps when we get through this we might do a few things differently and have a greater appreciation for life.

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