As a part of our series called “Making Something From Nothing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tom Osman, Director of Raymont-Osman Product Design.
Tom is founder and Company Director of Raymont-Osman Product Design, based in the UK. He has 17 years of experience designing and developing physical products - from initial brief to commercially-viable product manufacture and release. Tom has a First-Class Masters Degree in Mechanical Engineering from The University of Birmingham, and studied at the Birmingham Institute of Art and Design. Having engineered a range of construction equipment for market leaders, JCB and cut his teeth as a design and development engineer at another leading design consultancy, Tom set up Raymont-Osman Product Design in 2014 from his dining room table – a company he now runs along with his wife and Operations Director, Kelly Raymont-Osman and Technical Director, Mike Price. Since then, the company has growth in strength and numbers, now occupying a design studio in rural Warwickshire and boasting clients in a range of industries – from luxury automotive, consumer electronics, sports technology and medical to safety critical systems and avionics. In 2021, Raymont-Osman designed and produced the Queen’s Baton for the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games, meeting Her Majesty at Buckingham Palace!
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
I’ve always been a geek! From a very early age, I was into building model air-fix kits, constructing with Lego, or making robots with my dad. Science and Technology were definitely my best subjects at school, and I’ve always been interested in how things work. All in all, unwittingly, I think this was training for an ultimate career in mechanical engineering without even realising it!
Can you please give us your favourite "Life Lesson Quote"? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Joseph Cyril Bamford, Founder of JCB, where I worked after graduating, was once asked what it takes to succeed and said, "The same thing it took to get started - a sense of URGENCY about getting things done. The people who make things move in this world share this same sense of URGENCY. No matter how intelligent or able you may be, if you don't have this sense of URGENCY, now is the time to start developing it. The world is full of very competent people who honestly intend to do things tomorrow or as soon as they can get around to it. Their accomplishments, however, seldom match those of the less talented who are blessed with a sense of the importance of GETTING STARTED NOW”.
I try to live my life by this sentiment. Get stuff done now!
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
Absolutely, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernières. Actually, it has a very similar message to Mr JCB; the importance of doing and not waiting. The central characters in the book spend their whole lives wondering what might have happened, essentially wasting their lives living in the shadow of what could have been. Reading this novel really affected me emotionally, so much so, that it gave me the impetus to approach my now wife and business partner…the rest is history! Coincidentally, I discovered that this was also her favourite book on our first date! The idea of not letting opportunities pass us by has definitely been a feature of our relationship and now our business.
Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. There is no shortage of good ideas out there. Many people have good ideas all the time. But people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. Can you share a few ideas from your experience about how to overcome this challenge?
Running your own business is not for everyone – that’s for sure! In fact, it’s not for the vast majority of people. It’s not quick or easy. It takes years of hard work and sleepless nights: it’s a roller-coaster of emotions. That said, I wouldn’t swap it for the world! Once you have a good idea, save like crazy! When we set up the business, my father-in-law (who has run businesses all his life), gave us some sound advice: put away enough money for you to live on for 6 months. If your idea hasn’t made you any money by then, then it’s time for a rethink. In the run-up to quitting the day job, work out how your idea will actually make money. Do you need investor support? How will you secure this? The thing to bear in mind, if that you don’t need to have an ‘all singing, all dancing’ product at this point. You need a product that can get you to the next stage. We frequently work with clients to secure investment without a physical product. High-quality renders and models are surprisingly effective in lieu of a physical product at the beginning.
Often when people think of a new idea, they dismiss it saying someone else must have thought of it before. How would you recommend that someone go about researching whether or not their idea has already been created?
Your first port of call here is a Google search. All patent data is easily available over the internet, so be sure to check out Espacenet and Google Patents to see what has been done before. This is also where a good product design consultancy can be worth its weight in gold. When clients come to us unsure of whether an idea has been done before, we conduct a broad, high-level review of the market, identifying similar products and brands that may have some similarities with a potential idea. We then undertake a careful review of intellectual property, often employing patent attorneys. Even if we find something, good product design consultancies can usually navigate around it, developing an idea to a higher level, off-patent, so that it is free from restrictions and able to progress to the product development stage.
For the benefit of our readers, can you outline the steps one has to go through, from when they think of the idea, until it finally lands in a customer’s hands? In particular, we’d love to hear about how to file a patent, how to source a good manufacturer, and how to find a retailer to distribute it.
You begin with concept development – fleshing out ideas – before starting other activities based on that initial proof of principle. As we’ve already discussed, patent searches are also key so that you can check your freedom to operate. Before anything else, it’s important that you conduct some market research – do people actually want it? How much are they willing to pay? This will give you a better understanding of market trends and of budgets and your cost/profit margins. The next stage is design refinement and prototyping, which you repeat until you have the product you’re happy with. Renders can be generated to help in the production of market material – either to attract investors for the next stage of production or to secure advance orders or prepare for product launch. A good product design consultancy will know a whole range of manufacturers around the world. They can use their existing networks to source reputable manufacturers or approach new specialist ones on your behalf. Your product design agency will then produce an ‘Invention Disclosure’ document to explain your idea, generating images to support your application. This will be sent off to a patent attorney for formally drafting into a legal patent.
What are your "5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Started Leading My Company" and why?
1. Concentrate on what you know and what you’re good at – employ others to do the rest. If you are struggling with IT, hire an IT support company, if you know nothing about marketing, hire a marketing consultant. This will let you focus on what makes you unique, giving the best possible service to your customers and allow you to spend time on the activities that generate profit.
2. Employ the services of a PROACTIVE accountant and meet with them every 1-2 months. They should be able to challenge you and your decisions, setting you targets and keeping you and your ego in check.
3. Learn the importance and difference between cash flow, profit and turnover. This is important. It’s important to remember that turnover is vanity, profit is sanity!
4. Don’t put policy and procedure in place which stops staff doing a brilliant job, put it in place to help them be brilliant.
5. No matter how snowed-under you are, always find time to send out quotes and invoices. Once what you’re currently working on dries up, you’ll be glad you pitched for more work. Make sure you invoice promptly to keep the cash coming in and the books balanced. Even if it means getting up at 5am to find the time, your business will thank you for it!
Let’s imagine that a reader reading this interview has an idea for a product that they would like to invent. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?
Conduct your own market research, and by this, I mean not amongst friends and family. Elicit the opinions of the brutally honest – the last thing you need here is for people to blow smoke up your ass! Conduct some Google and patent searches to check out the market and then approach a reputable product design consultancy. When selecting a design agency, look closely at the portfolios on their websites. Have they produced similar products? Won any awards? Are the images on their website of products that have actually launched or are they just renders? This will allow you to find a good match and ensure that you have the expertise you need to be able to take your idea further in the most cost and time-effective way.
There are many invention development consultants. Would you recommend that a person with a new idea hire such a consultant, or should they try to strike out on their own?
Product design / invention development is a specialised and multifaceted job. You may have experience in the field your idea fits into, but unless you have designed products before and successfully developed and brought them to market, then my advice would be to elicit the help of those who do. Yes, consultants will charge for the privilege, but the benefits are immense: you will have direct access to people who have done this many times before, their networks of suppliers and manufacturers, specialist and often highly expensive software, teams of experts, testing and simulation equipment, 3D printers and many other resources, including marketing. Given the huge costs in tooling to make your product, along with materials, time etc. the costs of getting it wrong can be immense and unsustainable. A good product design consultancy will mitigate these risks.
What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?
It depends. We have clients who do both. Ultimately, even venture capital tends to start with some bootstrapping in some way. The decision rests on the quantity of cash required to get your product into production. The larger companies that approach us tend to have cash; you need to think about what access to immediate funding you have. Will you need external investment?
What you do next depends on your idea. If your product is consumer-facing, then a Kickstarter campaign or group-buy scenario can be a great fit, but this wouldn’t be right for all products, for example a surgical or medical device. For this type of product, venture capital, banks or loans would be better options. In either case, my advice would be to do your homework when shopping for product design consultancies. Aim for an agency which will work alongside you and your team to enhance your capabilities, rather than just design something and disappear. Support at all stages, including funding advice, is invaluable, and a GOOD consultancy can provide this.
Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
Having been educated, running a business in, and now bringing up a family in the West Midlands, I feel a strong social responsibility towards the region. A few years ago, we set up the Raymont-Osman Product Design Award with the aim to promote design and development as a career amongst BEng and MEng students at the University of Birmingham through the provision of funding, recognition and support for those embarking on careers in the industry. Students have had a rough time over the last couple of years and so anything we can do to support the engineers and designers of the future feels like something worth doing! So far, candidates have included work on a range of final-year projects from blood clot removal devices to osteoarthritis knee braces.
If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I would encourage everyone to read about the Grameen Bank, which is a microfinance organisation and community development bank founded in Bangladesh. In a nutshell, it makes small loans (known as microcredit or “grameencredit”) to the impoverished without requiring collateral. The idea that, if financial resources can be made available to the poorest (97% of which are women) on terms and conditions that are appropriate and reasonable, millions of people with their millions of small pursuits can add up to enable substantial humane, grassroots development. This is not really me inspiring, rather championing an existing movement!
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
That’s an easy one - Neil Armstrong – although tagging him may prove problematic! As a test pilot and engineer, he was my childhood hero. He would have to be considered the ultimate person for keeping their cool under pressure. Listening recently to the BBC podcast, ’13 minutes to the moon’, has had me in awe of the genius of this man.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.