Robbie van Dam, Director and Co-Founder of Goodnature. Goodnature are developers and makers of innovative, humane, and non-toxic pest control devices based in Wellington.
Robbie started his higher education studying Architecture at Victoria University of Wellington later graduating with a Bachelor of Design in 2003, an unusual combination and one that says something about Robbie as a designer and thinker. During this time he worked on conservation projects as a technical advisor providing support to the Department of Conservation (DOC). A notable project was increasing the endangered Kakapo population from 65 to 130 in one New Zealand native bush region.
Robbie recognised that the issue wasn’t the bird but rather the predator, and inefficiencies in the pest control systems meant a handful of predator traps had to be carried by person or helicopter into remote locations. Although there’s nothing better than a trap for a specific kill, Robbie admitted that, being driven by ‘designer’s logic,’ this was illogical.
Goodnature was formed in 2005 with two other design school friends, Stu Barr andCraig Bond, to develop innovative solutions to these pest control problems. A $20k DOC R&D grant was used to test the feasibility of the CO2 gas powered solutions leading to a $250k innovation grant to commercialise the product, a solution that has gone onto to save DOC $8M a year. See the product in action here.
Goodnature has gone on to get inward investment from MEHL led by veteran design investor Richard Cutfield and Campbell Gower (Phil and Teds) to drive their next stage in growth. This has led to more accountability, so rather than the design guys having a meeting and saying ‘it will be alright next week,’ suddenly it has become ‘I will have that done by tomorrow!’.
Robbie admitted to being prone to the innovator’s curse of wanting to make products constantly better, constantly being out with the product, in the environment, and with customers. He attributed much of their success in this area by a clear division of responsibility in the team and applying an innovator’s mind-set to all areas including design, operations, and marketing.
On IP, Robbie advised against spending too much on patents but instead spend as much as possible on R&D. Also publish as much science as you can to demonstrate your position and knowledge. He told the story of how he consistently was advised to be cautious of product copying from Asia, yet the first copy originated from Petone – 15kms from Goodnature’s base in Wellington
- Create clear responsibilities within your team, playing to their strengths.
- Look for the real problem and focus on that to create the greatest opportunity.
- Reduce spend in IP and place as much as possible into R&D.