by Inigo del Castillo in New Eco on Saturday 9 August 2014

What sorcery is this? A washing machine that fits in my bag? Hard to believe, but it’s true. The Scrubba wash bag is the world’s smallest washing machine, weighing a mere 180 grams. It’s basically a flexible washboard that’s stored inside a sealable bag. Great for people who go to places without a laundry facility or who are too cheap to have their clothes serviced.

In this exclusive interview, we got to chat to Scrubba inventor and founder, Ash Newland, about the innovative product’s humble beginnings and how he managed to bring the item to market. [Read our original post about Scrubba here.]

Where did you get the idea for the Scrubba? 
The idea for the Scrubba wash bag came to me as I prepared to travel to Africa to climb Mt Kilimanjaro.  I realized with all our tents, sleeping mats, sleeping bags and cold weather gear that we would only have room to pack a couple of changes of casual clothes. This meant doing laundry at least every couple of days.

As we were traveling to some remote parts of Africa, laundry facilities and even basins would be hard to come by. It was then that I had the revelation that washboards have been around for centuries and they obviously work. However, they are bulky, still require a basin or tub and are impractical for travel. To create a washboard suitable for travel, I realized it would need to be a self-contained unit (i.e. not require a tub), and it would need to be light and extremely flexible to allow it to fold into a compact size.  From this concept, the Scrubba wash bag was born.

During your 8.5-month backpacking trip, did other backpackers take note of your handy dandy washing machine? What did they say?
Our first prototypes that we took on the trip were pretty rough looking but as soon as we explained the concept to other travelers, they immediately realized the benefits.  Most people we actually disappointed that we weren’t selling them yet.

How long did the Scrubba’s design process take? What was the most difficult thing in developing an innovative product like this one?
Being a patent attorney myself, the original plan for the Scrubba wash bag was to develop some prototypes, protect the intellectual property and license the invention to a larger company. However, having approached a couple of large multinational companies in the camping and outdoor space, we found that even though they liked the idea and thought it would work, there weren’t willing to take it on and develop the product without the market being proven.

At the time this was the most difficult part.  We knew we had a great concept but we needed to be the ones to prove it in the marketplace before it would be taken seriously.  At this stage, I realized that we also needed cash flow if we were to be able to enforce the patent applications that we had filed in more than 50 countries and this meant taking the leap into manufacturing ourselves. Six to ten months was spent sorting out the manufacturing process and supply chain and we hit the ground running with a successful crowdfunding campaign.

Seeing as you are a patent attorney, how’d your knowledge of patents come into factor while you were starting the business?
Intellectual property is probably our company’s most valuable asset. We have patent and trade mark applications and registered designs in more than 50 countries, which was really only possible to economically achieve by being a patent attorney myself. Our intellectual property has enabled us to prevent counterfeit products from hitting the market and this is highly valued by our retailers and distributors around the world.

While most start-ups won’t seek the same breadth of international protection, it is always worthwhile speaking to a patent attorney before publicly disclosing the invention (even before crowdfunding), otherwise options for protection can be limited and larger companies with bigger budgets can push you out of the very market that you created.

Were you surprised or overwhelmed by the amazing support the Scrubba got over at Indiegogo?
I thought that we would get a good response for the Scrubba wash bag on Indiegogo. However, I was surprised how quickly things took off after Gizmag featured the product online. I did have a few sleepless nights when a large amount of orders rolled in as we still didn’t know entirely how we were manufacturing the washboard component. That being said, we overcame this fairly quickly and we were able to ship all the Indiegogo orders within 4 weeks of our estimated shipping date.