Who are you, and what do you do?
My name is Travis Merrigan. I’m a dad, an urban cyclist who wishes he could spend more time on his MTB and a man haunted by international wanderlust. Also, I co-founded GRAYL. We make water purifiers for international travel and outdoor adventure. At GRAYL, I oversee North American sales, product development, and branding/marketing.
What has been one insight or lesson that has been most helpful in your career?
I’ve learned this lesson more than once. Find out what your company is best at and pursue that niche to the exclusion of everything else. You can’t be all things for all people, but if you’re lucky and work hard, you can do one thing damn well and maybe even make a living at it.
What has been your favorite mistake? A mistake that in retrospect led to a great lesson and progress.
A mistake that in retrospect led to a great lesson and progress. Early on in GRAYL, we broke the rule above – we made too many products trying to appeal to too many people. We were nimble and learned quickly enough to focus on the real opportunity. Specifically, we tried to make water filters for three segments:
1. Students, Workers, and Commuters
2. Causal Hikers
3. Travelers, Hardcore outdoor folks and survivalists. This was where our products performed best, so that’s all we do now.
Project forward ten years. How will your industry or field be fundamentally different then? What opportunities do you see?
I wish I were smart enough to answer that question. I do believe that the Outdoor/Travel gear market has two general segments. One segment is always pushing the technical limits to bring down weight and increase performance. The other end will make quality (or lower quality) products at a variety of prices. The market will be very crowded the further you get from the bleeding edge of innovation.
What are some bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
I would strongly recommend against anybody starting your own business. Terrible idea: very difficult, lonely, sad, and you are 95% likely to fail.
Wait, that didn’t convince you? Then maybe you are just who should go start a business.
In the last two years, what have you become better at saying no to?
Everything. Events, marketing companies, and anybody who calls on the phone.
What is the one book you recommend most often and why?
Read literature – Hemingway, Bukowski… Harry Potter if you must. Learn how to tell stories: written, on your website, behind the podium, or on social media. Your idea is great, but nobody will care if you can’t spread the word. I’m not an awesome storyteller, so I make sure to work with folks who are.
What advice would you give a smart and ambitious recent college graduate? What advice should they ignore?
What advice should they ignore? Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty. Volunteer for tasks, any tasks, especially ones that allow you to work with people outside of your job description. Some little project you may not think is very important may one day provide experience and resume fodder that gets you your next job.
What is your favorite quote, one you aim to live by?
“Focus is primarily determined by what you don’t do.”