JOE meets the Irishman behind Thermo Tent - the world’s 'very first correctly insulated tent’
Sleeping in a tent can be an eventful experience…
Have you ever spent a night in a tent? Once you’ve finally forgotten about the eerie sounds of the wilderness that were keeping you up all night, you then have to face fluctuating temperatures.
For most of us, it’s an issue we face maybe once a year whenever we crack out the mouldy sleeping bags from the attic, dust off our old hole-riddled tent that was ‘carefully’ stored in a ball in the shed and head camping for a few nights.
For others in less developed and war-torn areas of the world, it’s a daily struggle.
JOE recently had a chat with Derek O'Sullivan (above), the man behind the world’s very first correctly insulated tent called Thermo Tent, in order to find out more about his incredibly interesting start-up.
JOE: What exactly is a Thermo Tent and how does it differ to a tent that we can already buy in the shop?
Derek O'Sullivan: Thermo Tent is the world’s very first correctly insulated tent. Existing tents consist of an outer tent or flysheet and sometimes an inner tent which is used to compartmentalise the inside of the tent.
In a Thermo Tent this inner tent is actually comprised of three layers: a layer of new age breathable insulation sandwiched between two layers of breathable poly-cotton.
It is this thermally and acoustically insulated inner tent (patent pending) that differentiates Thermo Tent from all other tents. It essentially reduces, or even eradicates, the spikes in temperature (up and down) that occur in other tents.
So it stops the tents getting cold quickly when temperatures drop and from getting too hot when temperatures outside rise. It also muffles noise transfer in and out of the tent.
JOE: When did the idea for Thermo Tent come about?
DOS: Well, as I explained over on the Thermo Tent Blog: “Maybe it was a Eureka moment, maybe just frustration. But when I woke that night, freezing in my tent for the umpteenth time, I actually sat up and said ‘enough’ to Julie, my wife.
“‘This sucks.’ I suspect that she thought I was having a nightmare but I was very much awake. I put her mind at ease and got up to find a sweater. That was in 2011 in Snowdonia, and it set the seed for Thermo Tent.”
I also had some exposure to the life in refugee camps - the idea of improving conditions for people in these sweltering climates certainly was a motivational factor as well.
JOE: So who is the Thermo Tent aimed at?
DOS: We have three separate sectors:
- The recreational campers that need larger tents, typically families.
- Disaster relief agencies such as the UNHCR for use as a refugee tents (we’re making good progress in this avenue).
- 'Glamping' or luxury camping – we can help campsite owners extend their season as well as offer their customers extra comfort.
JOE: In your opinion, why have tents not been ‘properly insulated’ until the Thermo Tent?
DOS: Well, there are a few reasons for this:
- All the R&D over the last number of years has been focused on making tents lighter. Our tents are aimed at a market that generally camps from the back of a car so this is not applicable to us. Having said that, one of our products has a small-insulated sleeping compartment, which stands alone as a 2-person tent, so we can also cater for the adventurers as well!
- As well as that, there is a potential problem with condensation when tents can’t breathe. We had to put a lot of test time into this to come up with the right materials, ratios and ventilation before reaching the final product.
- The kind of insulation that we needed wasn’t available until recently, so that was quite prohibitive. We have developed TTinsulation™, which is breathable and yet dense enough to have good acoustic properties as well.
- Finally, bulk. Our inner tent adds considerable bulk, which became more relevant than the weight issue. We have combatted that by essentially developing a vacuum design to pack our inner tent. We use a small hand vacuum pump and a strong bag, which together reduce the bulk of our inner tent by almost 50%.
JOE: When can we buy a Thermo Tent?
DOS: From Tuesday, March 24, you’ll be able to pre-order Thermo Tents through Kickstarter.com or through thermotents.com – and we’ll be in selected stores throughout Ireland, the UK and the US from June 1.
JOE: Why have you decided to use KickStarter?
DOS: Essentially, because it is perfect for a business like Thermo Tent. We can build marketing momentum on the run in, we can gain market validation and exposure from a (hopefully!) successful campaign and we can obviously get those pre-orders from the relevant customers.
It ticks all the boxes for me. I also like the crowd-funding ethos, which is built around helping new business get a foothold.
JOE: What made you decide to start-up your own company?
DOS: I started an insulation business in 2010 after being made redundant from my last job due to the economic downturn. To break that down, I started a construction based business in the height of the worst recession of a lifetime!
However, we survived and it paid the bills. There was no scalability though. I have now used my insulation experience to completely re-focus on Thermo Tents Ltd. This marries my professional experience with my love of the outdoors so it’s all good. And I see massive potential for what we are doing.
JOE: What has been your biggest business challenge to date? Have you overcome it yet? If so, how?
DOS: As every start-up business will tell you, funding is a challenge, especially for anything not in the tech/software sectors. Initially Julie and I put our own money in to get it Thermo Tents Ltd. off the ground.
Enterprise Ireland, Kerry LEO and IT Tralee have also helped and we’re attracting some attention from private investors. And of course Kickstarter will also help!
JOE: What are your top three tips for anyone thinking of starting their own business?
- Always plan at least 6 months ahead. It’s very easy to get caught up in the small stuff and lose the vision. Remember everything takes longer than it should.
- If seeking funding, remember that it is hugely time consuming so don’t be a busy fool traveling around the country to every so called ‘Business Angel’. Be selective in that process and don’t be afraid to look abroad.
- Shout it from the rooftops! Tell everyone and don’t be coy. A lot of Irish people don’t like to self-promote which is great, normally. But in business you have to be bullish and you must have confidence in yourself and in your business.
JOE: What are your plans for 2015?
DOS: The immediate focus is our Kickstarter campaign. We’re also planning to have Thermo Tent products sold through a number of strategic partners in Europe and the US this year. We’ll be attending a number of international trade shows as well.
Thermo Tents will also be in at least three refugee camps and in three luxury camping sites this year.
We’ll also bring an investor into the company in 2015. Enterprise Ireland is already a shareholder, but we also want to bring a well-placed investor in, who can add value as well as capital to the business. This is important to drive ahead with our ‘scaling’ plans.
We have also developed USB charging stations that can power your phone or laptop by using saltwater.
JOE: Finally, Derek, do you have any funny stories from your time creating Thermo Tent?
DOS: One stands out. Well, you know how they say a new business will consume your body and soul? Well this is certainly true in my case.
I got up one night at 3am, walked to my desk at home and turned on my laptop, before my wife Julie followed me and asked what I was doing. I told her I was designing a tent. She persuaded me to go back to bed without waking our two boys.
Well I did, and I went back to sleep and woke in the morning – without remembering a thing. I was sleep walking – or sleep working!
A new angle on taking your work home with you…
JOE: Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, Derek.
DOS: Thanks JOE.
Don't forget you can also check out the Thermo Tent Kickstarter Campaign, over here.