To freelance product designers and Morsel Spork founders Zac Rubenson and Alex Thomsen, the backpacking spork as we know it was in need of a redesign. While the utensil is indeed clever, Zac and Alex experienced many annoyances with the current backcountry cutlery on the market.
First, ordinary outdoor utensils always fell short, literally, resulting in food on your hands when digging into that freeze-dried food bag. Then, with messy hands, most devices limited how well you could scrape the corners of your eating vessel in an effort to capture those last, precious bites of sustenance. And let’s not forget to mention the teensy fork tines, flimsy handles, and ill-functioning spoons.
Frustrated, food stuff on their hands, and hungry for more, the engineers knew there had to be a better way.
With 20 years of shared product design experience, they brainstormed a remedy: design a durable, ergonomic spork with an elongated handle and a soft, spatula-like edge capable of scraping surfaces and tight corners. They even added a strong knife edge feature for cutting.
According to Zac, all this allows you to “get every last bite, less to clean, no waste,” and perhaps most importantly, “more food in your mouth.”
Alex, who handles more of the engineering and aesthetic side of things, already had studio space equipped with the tools of the trade for design work.
He began exploring and hand-carving spork shapes out of clay, foam, and plastic trying to dial in the design. After several prototypes, the founders created their final designs using their very own 3D printer. Nearly a year later, in early 2018, after what seemed like incessant tweaks and adjustments, they took the idea to Kickstarter.
Up until this point, Zac and Alex were sitting comfortably in their wheelhouse. Their livelihood was based on taking a concept and turning it into a tangible, functioning product. In their words, product designers are entirely focused on, well, the product.
Alex admitted, “We just want ‘the thing’. Once you get passed that, there’s this whole other world that I was ignoring. You can do all the work and design, but you have to figure out how to correctly show it to people. Learning how to sell, how to get visibility, how to market, it’s sort of new to both of us.”
Zac agreed. “It’s easy for us to look at the product and say ‘this is better than that.’ But, marketing isn’t that simple.” For some customers the product’s value immediately clicks. For others, it took some persuasion.
Yet, all this forced the pair to psych themselves up and share their stoke with the world. The sobering fact that many products go on Kickstarter and completely fizzle and flop was daunting to the pair. “This is a risk; you’re jumping off a little bit of a cliff, no matter how much homework you do.”
Through grit and gumption, and their learned marketing skills, Morsel Spork quickly landed a successful crowdsourcing campaign. They were humbled by the product’s immediate reception by backers.
“The notion that this thing we designed is going to solve so many problems and people are going to love it, and then seeing that it actually worked and people are enjoying this thing we made,” Zac said. “That validates maybe we’re actually going down the right path and we can craft a brand that people are going to respect and enjoy.”
Once they had the capital, Zac sought out a factory in California to make the product. “That’s always harder, we knew it was going to be complex and sophisticated to make, but that’s what we wanted,” Alex said of securing a U.S. manufacturer. The Portland, OR based brand is proud to be 100% made in the USA.
And it’s not just the outdoor market the brand is after. The brand frequently hears from customers in the outdoor, camping and lightweight backpacking market who attest to using their Morsel Spork in the kitchen at home.
With that, they plan on expanding the “food-on-the-go” brand. “We want people to recognize we’re a good backpacking brand and that’s what we’re here for, but we also want to listen to our customers and develop based on the feedback we get.”
One piece of feedback pertained to their flagship product’s length. “We wanted it to work with the Mountain House bags, so your hands wouldn’t get dirty,” Zac explained. “But we ended up with this thing that looks absurdly long, but it turns out it’s the right size for what it’s designed for,” Zac said.
Even so, it was still too long for some, and the designers quickly whipped up the “Mini” for more conventional, everyday use. The long handled “XL” continues to be their best seller to date.
So what’s next on the menu for the brand? The team is constantly brainstorming ideas and scheming up new concepts. Alex describes their innate drive to create. “This kind of stuff comes naturally to us. It’s not something we can turn on and off. It’s always on.”
Without stepping on the toes of the current Morsel, they hope to round out the product line to include a few more utensils, and, without spilling the beans, even something to eat out of. Zac hopes to continue with “simple, thoughtfully designed things that in our minds are a little better than the other stuff.”
“We’re creators,” Alex added. “When you get that first hit that someone actually appreciates something you created because they see value in it, that’s incredibly fulfilling. The idea that we can add to both the activities that we already enjoy and improve our experiences in the outdoors, taking what we inherently do is a really exciting endeavor.”