When Mike Cecot-Scherer created the Deuce of Spades, one of the most ubiquitous poop trowels in the backpacking circuit, it was actually a bit of an accident.
Given his lengthy resume, however, the fact that he created it wasn’t exactly far-fetched. Mike has been a professional tent designer for over 30 years and served as Kelty’s sole in-house designer for over half of that time. Over the decades, he’s also played an integral part in the creation of tents manufactured by other outdoor giants like Marmot, The North Face, and Sierra Designs, to name a few.
Suffice it to say, Mike, who has a degree in physics from UC Berkeley, loves tinkering, learning how stuff works, and improving the functionality of outdoor gear.
At the time of The Deuce of Spades’ genesis in 2014, Mike, who had already established his brand, TheTentLab, was experimenting with designing a snow stake. He started scrutinizing his design and thought it resembled more of a trowel than a tent stake.
“I thought, I kind of like this trowel, let me see what I can do with it,” he recalled.
So, he put the snow stake on the back burner (he laments it still languishes today), and after ten dismissed prototypes dubbed “A” through “J”, he finally took design “K” to Kickstarter. With a modest goal in mind he lined up U.S. production and started talking to his backers.
“It’s very educational to talk directly to your customer,” he recalled of the experience. “You find out how they think and what they think about.”
What customers thought about were the inadequate trowels on the market at that time.
“They were heavy and had no backpacking sensibilities at all,” he said. “You can imagine a backcountry person who is dedicated to Leave No Trace, but every time they’re offered a trowel, it’s just a piece of junk that doesn’t have any design.”
Leave No Trace principles advise human waste be buried six to eight inches deep. “If you genuinely try to make a hole that deep, like genuinely, and try not to make it too big around so it doesn’t take you half an hour,” Mike said, “it’s hard!”
To aid in this endeavor, Mike perfected what is now The Deuce #2. Made of aerospace grade 7075-T6 aluminum, “it’s incredibly lightweight, it’s strong, it’s kind of design-y, and it’s twenty bucks,” Mike pitched.
And by incredibly lightweight, he means a mere 0.6 ounces. You can compare that to the weight of three quarters or small slice of buttered toast! So light, Mike joked, “you can put it on your hand and literally blow it off.”
Fast forward four years and thousands of trowels sold: 2018 brought on several changes and improvements for the brand. After a trademark objection from a farm tool manufacturer, King of Spades, the brand filed for simply “The Deuce” and got it.
Also in 2018, the product line expanded. Mike was finding that too many “seconds” came out of the anodizing process. Each time you anodize, it takes 1/1000 of the material off of something that’s already incredibly thin to begin with. Some of the trowels would come back nearly 20% lighter than originally designed. Initially, his reaction was, “oh good, they’re lighter” but in reality, the inconsistent and uncontrolled specification really isn’t a good thing.
Still, Mike knew there was a viable market in these accidental ultra-thin trowels, which he later marketed as The Deuce #1. At 0.45 ounces, Mike noted technique and ability are necessary to make a tool that light weight work. “If you’re a weight fanatic, the #1 is for you.”
To round out the product line, The Deuce #3 was born. For people who really want something beefy, like hunters, fisherman, and scouts, it’s a bigger trowel, yet still weighs in at under an ounce. Mike assured, “It’s a beast, you can’t hurt that thing, you can use a river rock to pound it into the soil.”
The trifecta are all “Qs”, the 17th iteration of Mike’s original creation, equipped with four jagged teeth on the scoop’s edge and a more ergonomic grip that adds a “nicer touch.”
Perhaps most important to the brand is their recent push in educating users exactly how to get maximum performance with their trowel without destroying their hands, a common complaint among customers. They figured out the trowel could be used upside down for hard dirt then using the scoop end to pull the dirt out.
“When you did that, it changes how much pressure is on your skin dramatically,” Mike explained, “that’s led to a lot of smaller detailed shape differences.” Simple visuals were created to illustrate these techniques in hopes more users not just like their trowels, but love them.
Like a majority of startups, the founder wears many hats. For Mike, it’s practically a different hat each day. As a “one man band,” he admits to getting downright confused on what job he’s supposed to be working on in any given moment.
“Selling poop trowels has taken over more and more of my time,” he said, “and that’s fine with me!”