How We Invented SwitchPod

How We Invented SwitchPod

We've been secretly working on something for about about a year now and we're so excited to finally be able share it!

Introducing SwitchPod. The minimal, versatile, handheld tripod. SwitchPod works with any camera, from phone to DSLR, and simplifies video making. 

Watch the video below to see us unveil it for the first time at VidCon 2018. 

For the past year we've been working on prototypes and quietly showing it to friends in the vlogging and YouTube community to get their feedback on the idea and we're finally ready to share some behind the scenes of the development process. 

Where Did the Idea Come from?

When Pat Flynn and I attended VidSummit in 2017 and we were standing in the lobby I noticed that almost every attendee was walking around with a camera, not unusual for a video conference, and almost all of them had the same tripod attached to their DSLR.

These tripods were big and bulky with a line of flexible balls stacked for legs. The GorillaPod. It's a versatile piece of gear, meant for wrapping its legs around poles and tree branches, the ball head swivels 360 degrees, and there's a quick release clip to easily remove your camera. Joby launched it in 2006. YouTube had launched the year previously.

As vlogging became a full time career for many and a hobby for millions, the community made the GorillaPod an essential piece of gear needed to film yourself. Don't get us wrong, the GorillaPod is a great product. But it's not meant for what it's been adopted by the vlogging community for. Gear had not progressed with the popularity of vlogging and YouTubers had taken a product that already existed and shaped it to fit their needs. Literally. By bringing the legs together and bending them to get an angle for a wider shot. 

As we stood in that lobby, we watched as vloggers struggled over and over again to transition from filming themselves to setting their camera down safely. Don't tip over, don't tip over, don't tip over...

It was cumbersome. It was time consuming. It was sketchy. And it was honestly kinda hard to watch. 

"There's just got to be a better way"

I turned to Pat and said "there's just got to be a better way". But there wasn't.

What was lacking in the GorillaPod? What made it "okay", but not great for filming yourself?

We started talking about what that piece of gear should be instead. 

  1. The GorillaPod is heavy. Even without a camera attached to it. The ideal tripod would be lighter. 
  2. Once you collapse the legs into a grip it's hard to hold. It should be easier to grip. 
  3. To get the right angle you have to bend the GorillaPod into a C-curve and then back into a tripod. And doing so takes too much time. What if it was already the perfect angle?
  4. You can't transition from filming yourself to setting it down quickly. Vlogging is often an on the go thing, you need to be able to move between the two formats (tripod & handheld) quickly and easily and when you set it down you should KNOW that your setup is safe. 
  5. The GorillaPod is bulky, making it difficult to pack and vloggers are generally travelers constantly on the move. What if it was slimmer?

And that was just the start.

As two entrepreneurs used to solving our own problems we started rapid firing back and forth about the improvements we'd make to the product. Each time starting with "what if". 

As we dove further into the discussion of what it should be, Richie Norton, the co-founder of Prouduct walked up and said, "let's do it!". No joke.

While we were at the conference we couldn't stop talking about our idea.

Luckily, we were in the best place to have those conversations because we were literally surrounded by hundreds of video creators. We started asking them what they liked and didn't like about their tripods. As we had conversation after conversation similar complaints started to emerge. Rigs fall over, what they were currently using was too bulky, too heavy, and too hard to move from handheld to tripod modes quickly...

We could feel we were on to something. And this was when we had our first big idea. What if a tripod had legs that somehow came together to create a single handle that you could easily grip and carry?

We "what if'd" our way through the conference, going back and forth with "what if it looked like this, what if it opened like this"...

But it was still just an idea. Now we had to figure out how to make it. 

Our First Steps

It was just a thought. But it was a thought that turned into a conversation. Then another. And another.

Eventually that thought became sketches and meetings. We discussed shape, material, size, arm straps (yes, one of our first versions had an arm strap 😂.).

As we talked more with Richie and TFN of Prouduct we started working with their engineer, Cole. He was instrumental in guiding us through the development process. We started with simple 3D printed prototypes so that we could hold them and examine the shape and provide feedback. 

As we held the first prototype in our hands we started in on more "what ifs".

The handle was great. But the first thing we noticed was that the curve away from the handle was a bit weird. What if it was straight instead? And what if we could save some weight by adding holes in some areas? And what if we had a way to somehow lock the legs of the tripod open after it was deployed? 

This started the long process of making design decisions, seeing it come to life in a 3D print, and adjusting from there to the next prototype.

Prototypes and Feedback

It feels like we've made a thousand little decisions during the design process, but it's gratifying to look back and see the evolution of it all. 

As we got closer and closer to our final design we started showing it to friends in the industry.

For eight months we had been prototyping, redesigning, and experimenting with our idea. We'd been using our prototypes day to day, making tweaks, improving the friction points, and seeing how it solved our problems. But now we needed to find out if it solved other people's issues as well. We were finally ready to get some feedback from our fellow video creators and VidCon 2018 was the perfect place to do it. 

As we carried our SwitchPods around the conference we could feel eyes on us. Some people walked right up and asked what it was and where they could get it. We made sure not to tell people how to use it when we handed it to them. We wanted to see if they could intuitively figure it out. It was always a cool surprising moment when we handed it to people closed and they figured out how to easily open it.

Feedback overall was super positive and encouraging. 

Here's a video answering a bunch of questions we commonly received after announcing SwitchPod.

Fine-tuning the Final Version to Launch on Kickstarter

After returning from VicCon and attending a few more conferences over the summer we made some more tweaks to the overall design. Magnets were added to hold the feet together and the tripod shrunk by 15%. 

Here's a look at every SwitchPod prototype and iteration we went through.

And in this video we share some of the lessons we learned during the engineering and product development stage.

We're in the finalizing the design and gearing up for our Kickstarter campaign.

Be on the lookout for our launch in January 2019.