PODCAST EP 49
Ever wonder what happens at the end of the fishing rod once it's launched into the ocean? Simon talks with Phil West, the co-founder of Siren Cameras, about his amazing story of creative innovation and developing a product for a market that not many people had insight on. Listen in to learn about Phil and his partner's journey to get their product to market.
The idea for Siren was born from a frustrating fishing experience co-founder Phil West had after spending a day on the water and returning empty-handed. With nothing to show after a 15 min battle that ended with the line breaking, Phil would have settled to at least see the monster that he was fighting.
This moment sparked the idea of connecting a camera after hook up that was capable of capturing both sides of the fight. Since then, the Siren journey has been filled with many triumphs as the team build what has never been built before.
Simon Dell: Welcome to the Cemoh marketing podcast, Phil West from Siren Cameras. How are you?
Phil West: Doing great this morning, Simon, this Friday. So yeah, looking forward to the weekend.
Simon Dell: Yeah. Friyay as my 4 1/2-year-old keeps calling it now after having been taught that by his teacher. So, let’s give everyone a little bit about of your background, of your history. You’ve obviously, for those that, the observant among us have realised that you have a Scottish accent. You’ve come from a very, very cold place. You now live in a very, very warm place. Give us the Phil West history. How did you get here?
Phil West: Yeah, no problem. So yeah, you’re right, and observed correctly. I am from the northeast of Scotland. More north than east I would say, and yeah, it’s a place where you know, the few nice days that you get during the year are certainly enjoyed, but sometimes those are few and far between. So, that area is also the, I guess, oil capital of Europe. [INAUDIBLE 00:04:16], so that’s how my career started in the energy industry.
Fast forward 15 years, and there’s a bit of that in Brisbane. There’s a fair bit of gas exploration that happens here. So, over I came about 2012 with my spouse, and thinking that would just be for the duration of some of the projects that were happening here, but just found that I enjoyed it so much.
And along came kids and houses and all that good stuff, and then – so roots went down and we’re not moving. We don’t intend to go anywhere foreseeable. So, that’s professionally, and then hand in hand with that was growing up literally right on the ocean in Scotland, and that ingrained in me a real kind of deep passion for fishing and the outdoors, and then finding myself eventually in Australia with Moreton Bay just on the doorstep there, just in [INAUDIBLE 00:05:06] and that’s been a constant passion of mine, the whole recreational fishing scene, if you like. And not only that’s what’s behind the startup that we’re running.
Simon Dell: So, let’s sort of quickly talk about that. Obviously, we’re not here to talk about oil and gas, as much as many people might want us to. We’re here to talk about cameras and fishing, so Siren Cameras is the startup, sirencameras.com. So yeah, obviously recommend everyone goes and has a quick look at that.
Tell me, so let’s talk about the fishing first. Clearly, that was a passion for you in Scotland. It’s been a passion here. Where did the idea come from? Where did all of a sudden you go from just spending your time fishing to starting to build a camera?
Phil West: Yeah, I can remember the day. So, coming here and getting myself offshore into Australian waters. It was like night and day, right? You might as well start again in terms of understanding what to do and how to catch fish, et cetera. So, I made an incredible amount of mistakes in the first few years here going offshore and attempting to catch fish, and spend some money doing it as well.
And then it slowly started to come together. And I remember the day that we’d spent literally the entire day offshore and had one fish, that hooked up to one amazing fish for probably 15-20 minutes. I didn’t get to see what it was and then it actually snapped the line, it bust off and then nothing else for the rest of the day.
And on the way home, really quite disappointed and wondering if this is all worth it. Just thinking to myself, “Right, you know, if we had a unit that I could put onto the line that actually went subsurface and then film what was on the end, and then somehow became buoyant and returned, so if the line snaps, you actually get it back, then that would be really cool.
Had a look roundabout in the internet for something like that, it didn’t exist. Started playing around with some very very basic prototypes and then understood how difficult it is to actually engineer something that sinks and then returns. So, as we were playing some of those early prototypes and looking at this unit floating on the surface filming down the line, the lightbulb moment was, well, let’s put a second camera on the back of it filming back up the line and forget making it sink. Just have it sitting on the surface filming down and also filming up. So, therefore we can effectively document the entire experience.
Simon Dell: Okay, so take a step back there. You said you started tinkering around with creating your own kind of camera. Was that you actually doing that? You kind of working on the electronics, or you finding someone else to try and do that for you?
Phil West: Yeah, those early prototypes. It was certainly not the electronics, that was more the physics I was working on, i.e. how to make something sink and then return. So, it was very much physics to begin with. And then we’ve then progressed from there after it became more than just an idea, to really engage in some very talented people, some very talented individuals, to generate the electronics that we need for this product.
And there’s no shying away from it, that it needs a team of multi-skilled people to deliver this because you’re mixing electronics with water, with physics, et cetera. It’s a pretty complex unit.
Simon Dell: So obviously, you’ve got the idea. You’re playing around with the electronics or you’re playing around with physics. Calum’s your co-founder. How did he kind of fit into the picture?
Phil West: Yeah. Well, I don’t think Calum would see that I’m the one with the drive and enthusiasm with fishing. Calum’s more interested in that electronic piece and the tech side. And at that time, he could see the excitement in me round about this idea, and he was looking for something to put some money into and it interest him as well. And so, we are brothers-in-law, and we go extremely well. Over a beer a couple years ago we said, “You know what? Let’s do this.” And I’m so glad that he was willing to do that.
Because at that time, even then, I was underestimating what this actually costs to give it a chance, to give us some runway. I probably wouldn’t have taken that risk myself, but the two of us together, then you know, we’ve been able to give it a bit of a push, and then it’s gained momentum from there, i.e. we’ve landed patents, we’ve landed trademarks, we’ve landed a government grant to help us as well, which has been fundamental and really the fuel, if you like to give it a chance.
Simon Dell: And we haven’t really spoken about the actual features. I’m hoping everyone who’s watching this or listening to this has already gone to have a look at actually what it is, but kind of describe it in a nutshell, because it’s essentially a dual-facing camera, isn’t it? But it’s kind of a lot more than that.
Phil West: It is, yeah. Exactly that. If I can show that to the camera, there’s one lens and then the second lens. So yeah, it’s a dual-facing camera, but what it does is allows us to attach it to the line very, very quickly through its trigger mechanism. I just squeeze that and put onto the line and then let it go. So effectively, you only use it once there’s a fish on the line. So, you’re uninterrupted. There goes the fish. There goes the camera. You let it go. It can’t come off the line, and it’ll just slide down and sit on the surface with one lens penetrating the surface and shooting down, and the other lens actually shooting back at the angler, at the boat per se.
And then the beauty about it is, like I’ve mentioned a couple of times, if that line snaps, it just runs through the body of the camera and leaves your camera on the surface. And then from a technical perspective, the smarts in the unit is actually allowing it to record the day and the time that it’s being used, its GPS location, the water temperature, and then in time – it’s not there yet, but in time, I’m going to use AI to identify fish species on this.
Simon Dell: Wow, okay. That’s pretty smart. And in terms of how you get the footage off that, is it plug it into a USB later on, or what’s the…?
Phil West: Yeah. Right now, Simon, we’re going to plug into USB so you’ll be viewing that on your computer, and that’s certainly what the prototypes are all designed around. And then you know, assuming we get the success I’m planning to get from this, then there will be an app developed so you can actually watch it real-time or pull up the information as you acquire it. That’s from like a personal perspective, so that’s the angler. That’s the kind of attraction to the offering, but then behind the scenes, I’ve got… If you imagine, let’s say over this weekend, that a thousand of these are used up and down the Queensland coast. I’ve got some pretty big intentions for the data collection as well.
There’s a real issue right now across the globe with conservation groups actually looking for the kind of information they need to manage fish stocks, and you just can’t get it because that information transfer isn’t there. I plan to try to do something about that.
Simon Dell: I would imagine taking it to the nth degree, that if the system is there, if the camera connects to a phone, and the phone can connect to a 5G network… Theoretically, you could potentially broadcast that live as to what’s happening out on a boat.
Phil West: You got it, and that takes us maybe – starts to segue into the whole marketing piece where you know how these things are exploding on YouTube, and self-promotion, and all those different options and influencers, et cetera, kind of excites us to think about the ability for particular people to be able to broadcast pretty much live what’s happening for them.
Simon Dell: I mean, there’s a TV channel there. There’s almost a self-generating TV channel for somebody to be sitting at home, be potentially pulling up feeds from, you know, a thousand Siren cameras out there at any given time.
Phil West: Exactly. Right now, the image to get back at the boat or the angler, there’s only a few TV programmes that are actually doing that. Some of the higher-end fishing channels are doing that. And the only way they’re doing it is by actually employing divers to go into the water and film background. We anticipate that we’re going to allow everybody to get that visuals and get that experiences and be able to play them back.
Simon Dell: A couple of other quick questions. What’s the weight of one of those things? Obviously, that fits in your hand, but you know, what sort of weight are you talking there?
Phil West: It’s not much. This one I’ve got in my hand, there’s going to be a few more grams I’ve got to go onto it, and this is the engineering slant, you’ve got to find an equilibrium between the weight and the stability of it. And the way that we’re doing that is obviously having buoyant material on the top and negatively buoyant material on the bottom. So, it really wants to sit there nicely. I should say that the original concept going back a few years, I imagine like being this size and being on everybody’s lines, but that’s right now is not possible.
So, we’ve went more towards a niche market. And I’ve been talking about boats and sportfishing, so it’s really blue water fishing we’re going to target initially, so the weight of it doesn’t actually interfere at all when there’s serious fish on the end of that line. There’s so much tension on it. There’s no problem with the weight of it at all, and that’s only a consideration until it hits the water because it’s neutral.
Simon Dell: It’s floating, yeah. And I guess cost-wise, where are you looking at entering the market in terms of price?
Phil West: Yeah, that’s a really interesting question because that’s something that deliberating very, very closely right now in parallel with what I just said about trying to sell it to everybody, that we’ve came away from that. One of the reasons is because of the size that it has to be. But secondly is the actual production cost of it has increased to what originally imagined it would be. So, very much went from, “Okay, everybody…” And by the way, there’s about 60 million anglers in the US alone, but squeeze it out to that niche and that’s going to go with the price as well.
We’re going to target to begin with the higher end of the market, in fact probably the top 20, 15% of the market, the guys and girls with the game boats that this is their life, to get that visual it doesn’t – a few hundred bucks here or there doesn’t matter at all. So, that’s the plan in terms of price, you’re probably looking up towards 500 to 600 bucks, I think.
Simon Dell: Honestly, in the back of my head when I was thinking, you know, when I was looking at it, I was going, you know, that’s the $600, $700 product. And again, to me, when I think about pricing and marketing, I go – if someone prepared to pay $500, they’re probably prepared to pay $700. There’s not a lot of difference in that. And again, depending on you’re distribution options, whether you’re going through third-party fishing stores, outdoor stores, whatever it is, or whether you’re going online, you know the luxury of things like Afterpay and ZipPay these days, you know, allows people to buy, you know, a $500 to $700 product and put it over four months or six months or whatever.
So, it becomes less of a concern and much more of a sort of, I think, an impulse purchase. Like, you know, they see it and they go, “I want one of those.” And snatch it off the shelf and the price becomes… Again, you’re in an industry where there’s so much passion. You know, people don’t go fishing unless they really love it. Every person that I’ve met this who is into fishing is seriously into fishing.
Phil West: Yeah, that’s right. Work and fish, that’s generally the target that I’m after. And it’s so interesting you saying that. You’ve actually mentioned a couple of things there, that has actually not been said to me before about, you know, the payment methods, et cetera. But yeah, I’m using myself as a target consumer basically and I’m the guy who, you know, kind of struggles to pay $100 for a pair of jeans. But my fishing gear is tens of thousands of dollars. You know, I’ve got no problem with that because I need the gear to work really well. And that’s exactly what we’re doing with the camera.
Even to the point where, with the government grant that we’ve received, and the Australian government’s been incredible to us like that, it’s really inspiring. You know, that’s a manufacturing grant, and I’m even going to point where I’m considering actually making it, retaining the manufacturing over in Australia purely for that high-end stamp. And certainly, to begin with, really just targeting the real top rack of the market.
Simon Dell: Yeah, I mean, it’s interesting. I mean, there’s lots and lots of opinions as to whether made in Australia or made in China or made in wherever it is, whether that affects people’s decision. Yet funnily enough, I would say most of the time it doesn’t, but I would say probably what you’re doing, and the target market that you’re going for, which would obviously initially be Australians, but then sort of, you know, move out further. I’ve certainly seen trying to think of two – I’ve got a couple of brands in the back of my hairdo I’ve spoken to probably over the last few years that were Australian-made, and have sold really well in the US because they were Australian made.
And certainly in the last few years, I think the American market pushing back against Chinese-made, Chinese-manufactured products, and much more accepting of Australian products… I guess the challenge for you is finding the price point. It’s like, you know, if all of a sudden, a Chinese product is half the price and you kind of go, “Well, is this going to affect our distribution at marketplace?” But again, once again, I go, because of the passion, the ingrained passion in your marketplace, you know, whether you’re talking about $500 or $700 for a product, I think they would step up to the more expensive price knowing that it was made in Australia.
But that’s a survey size of 1, so please don’t make any decisions on that.
Phil West: I mean, we’ve done a reasonable amount of market research. In fact, we actually went to the States in 2019, went to the biggest recreational fishing expo, it’s held in Florida. It’s called ICAST. It’s actually just kicking off right now. So yeah, we bit the bullet and went early compared to where the product was. But we went early to effectively just feel it and understand, “Do we want something here or not? Can we set up a little stand, and then over three days, chat to the US market?” And I really came home from that saying, “Right, this is on. We can pretty much charge what we want to for this if you market to the right person.”
In a nutshell, Simon, that’s where the thought is right now, the kind of sales strategy right now. “Let’s go niche. Let’s go real high-end with a nice margin on it to begin with.”
Simon Dell: And that’s an interesting point that you’ve made there, going early on to an expo and standing there and presenting an idea that I guess was just in your head at that point, or maybe have a very, very early product type. And I wonder whether you would have come this far down the road if you hadn’t done that. I mean, you might had still have the idea in your head and you might still be working on it, but you know, for you to have 100 people say, “Take my money.” You know the Futurama Fry GIF, “Just take my money.” I guess that’s the best market research you could possibly done for the product.
Phil West: Yeah, I think so as well. It was definitely worth it. Actually, we came back from there with a real spring in our step. And then in all honesty, the development of it has definitely had its challenges, and still does. We’re not out of the woods yet, but the knocks you take on that are kind of countered by, one, just the grit and passion that’s in me to make this happen. We came so far now that I’m going to make it happen.
But also, that consumer feedback from that expo, for example. We did one in the Gold Coast as well, a bit smaller but same reaction. And then if you just look at the social media, it will be a big play for us. We’re like at 10,000 people following us just organically across our platforms without any effort.
So, I’m pretty sure I can times 100 that if we put our minds to it and a bit of finance as well. Like I say, there’s 12,000 fishing charters on the internet as well. So, you know, it’s an amazing offer to those guys. It’s been the same offering forever from fishing charters, but now we think we can put one of these on each charter and they can actually give back to the consumers in terms of video footage. The same idea as like roller coasters, if you like, or theme parks, sell back that experience to the visitors that comes with the parks.
Simon Dell: I guess when I look at the product and when I sort of first looked at it 3-4 weeks ago when I came back across your website. To me again I go, it’s a self-marketing product in the same sense that something like GoPro was. GoPro with the original kind of action camera, you know. All you needed to do was get some footage of GoPro people BMX-ing down mountain trails or jumping off, skiing down things, or hang gliding or whatever it was. And all of a sudden, everybody wanted a GoPro.
Even if they were only ever gonna go do these things once, it just became something that you want, so it’s kind of a self-marketing product. I guess probably the two challenges that I would look at, you know, and I’ve had this conversation with another client in the past few weeks, is your capacity to deliver enough product in a short space of time.
Because the challenge for you guys is it could go absolutely bonkers, and it could go bonkers very, very quickly. And if you don’t have the stock and you don’t have the product, you know there’s a challenge there. I think that’s challenge number one. I guess the second challenge, which should be interesting, and I’m sure you worked through this is, is the problem GoPro had. Is that once someone has a GoPro, they don’t necessarily buy anything else off you.
It’s about finding that kind of ongoing revenue to take the business from what could be a successful business to a unicorn type business. So, there’s two questions there, two challenges. Keen to kind of hear your feedback on those.
Phil West: Yeah, they’re great challenges. Firstly, in terms of the demand for it, you’re right. If this really took off, that could potentially be a real problem. It’ll be an awesome problem as well.
Simon Dell: It’s a great problem to have, yes.
Phil West: I invite that challenging problem, so that’s half the answer to that one. The other one, the other half of the answer is round about getting to Kickstarter and its equivalents to really get a real market sample of who’s willing to put their hand in their pocket and buy this. That would be the next level, if you like, of market testing. Because as we all know, kind of making predictions on sales without actually having any sales is a dangerous thing. So, that will be my sample for that.
And then I’ve got – there’s plenty interested people, I think, that would help us out financially and with facilities, so long as we derisk this product. So, that’s a bridge that we’ll cross when we get there. And then consumers returning for second buys, if you like. And that’s a good point as well, because we want to build this thing to complement what I said earlier. Like really, strongly, we don’t want it to feel – it needs to be a product that people promote because of its durability and its functionality, but in all honesty, for over the next 10 years, I really see there being so much options with the camera and different markets or expansion of the market to continue to explore.
So, we’ll go top 10%. But overtime, if production ramps like you’re suggesting it could, then therefore I feel like the cost could be reduced in terms of the amount that you’re actually producing. So, just economies of scale. The size will be reduced and we can continue to reinvent this. Although, we’ve put literally years of development in this camera, you just gotta look at the GoPro story to see the iterations that they come up with.
So, I know that just by having the fast drive out in the market, the information that we’ll get back, consumer feedback will allow us to continue to tweak this and make it better and better. So, I guess that’s not the most solid response, but like I said, I don’t think we can try to solve the entire equation without knowing exactly what it is, and I think there’s going to be a progressive thing.
Simon Dell: I think when you look at – I mean, the obvious thing that sort of sticks in my head now, and again, it’s further down the line, is that you are essentially creating a media company here in a roundabout way. Yes, there’s a product. Obviously, there’s a product development component of what you’re doing, but if you think about it from another angle, you’re potentially creating a media company because you are creating thousands of thousands of hours.
Or you could be creating thousands of thousands and thousands of hours of fishing footage on a daily basis globally. So, if you kind of take that. If you take that thought and go… The obvious one to me would be a YouTube channel that carries advertising. And again, you only have to look at a number of YouTube channels and successful YouTube channels for much niche products and niche subjects like yours.
I saw a video of one the other day from a guy on TikTok. He was showing how much he made, and he was creating and advertising $6,000 to $10,000 a day in advertising from a YouTube channel. Now, you’ve got that. Obviously, there’s some permissions that you need to work through in terms of people giving you the footage to allow you to generate revenue.
Maybe there’s a profit share option in there, et cetera. But I think that’s, from your perspective, it’s going, “Yeah, we’re a product company, but we’re also about to become a media company and we need to think like a media company, and work out that perhaps this thing in your hand isn’t what’s going to make all the money, but the content that that produces is going to what’s potentially make the money for you.”
Phil West: Definitely. And then some of the more experienced guys in the investment industry, let’s see, and along with people like yourself that are immediately seeing that. I’ve had lots of conversations that don’t necessarily focus on the hardware at all that’s purely an enabler to everything else: the data, the actual video content, exactly like you’re homing in on, Simon. So, totally agree with what you’re saying there.
It kind of gives me goosebumps thinking about it. But I certainly know that, you know, for me, they have been burned along this journey a couple of times with the actual development. And so, I know the enabler to allow us to really get excited about all those other components. So, focus is right on that for the time being. And then you beat me to it on the GoPro example.
If you look at their story, and I’m sure you have, their advertisement investment for the market cap that they have is incredibly low versus other companies [INAUDIBLE 00:27:27] in market cap. And it’s all down to that user generated content. So, with our cameras, we can provide a perspective that’s never seen before and we’ve got high hopes that we can carve out or use a bit of that magic dust that GoPro had.
Simon Dell: Mate, you got a life changing product there, and obviously life changing for you guys, is that this is the sort of thing that, you know, gets you a foothold in a global industry and turns you into a big brand, and probably turns you into a big brand quickly as well. But what’s the timeline on this? Where are you? Where should we start seeing this in the marketplace? Where should people be putting in their calendar when they can start buying these?
Phil West: Yeah, thanks for the question. I’ve been asked a few times. And I’ve given a few dates that I haven’t hit, so there’s a bit of experience talking here and I’m going to be a little bit cautious. But now, we had a step change with the government backing that’s allowed us to get very, very serious without an extremely competent design house who are [INAUDIBLE 00:28:36].
Now, they’re absolutely full-time on it. And so, specific dates, I’m definitely weary about that, but I’ve got a timeline in my head and I’m planning for 2022 would be a big year.
Simon Dell: Awesome. And I also notice you, on your website, we have a mutual friend, your lawyer, your IP lawyer, Bradley. He’s done some work for us in the past and some of our clients actually as well. I guess my final question: How important for you has it been to make sure that this is protected all the way through?
Phil West: Yeah, well, vital. And I talk about like milestones that give you encouragement when you may be facing some disappointments along the journey as well. And that’s a massive one. So, that day that I came back from offshore and I started to do a bit of searching for something like this on the Internet. Couldn’t find it, but that verification, professional verification that, “Okay, this has not been done before” is absolutely massive and to actually land the patent itself…
So, we’ve actually got the 20-year patent in Australia. Nobody else can produce a double lens camera in fishing with the same patent pending for North America and Europe. And Bradley’s been integral to that. But if I had to list the top five milestones that we’ve achieved along the journey, that’s in there, receiving that confirmation is definitely in there.
And then I’m not naive. I’ve done a fair bit of research on what patents mean and the challenges you may still get, but again, that’s if somebody, if we’re being duplicated, it could be a pain. And sure, we will have to fight that and that costs money as well, but it’s a compliment as well.
If it’s been imitated, then that’s a compliment. And like I say about the quality of the product, I keep going back to the whole GoPro thing. And for me, I can go into the city and there’s a variety of selections of action cameras there, but I’ll only buy a GoPro. We plan to do the same thing for our high bracket consumers and make this the best product.
So, even if it is duplicated out of Asia per se, it won’t have the same durability and quality that we’re producing them. I’m going to make sure of that.
Simon Dell: Last question, you did mention the government in terms of them helping you from a manufacturing. Was that the Queensland government or the federal government?
Phil West: It’s the federal government through our branch over in the advanced manufacturing group.
Simon Dell: Okay, and was that a complicated process? I mean, it’s federal government. I guess it’s never going to be easy, but how was that?
Phil West: Yeah, it’s not overly. And I must say, sometimes things just happen in it and sometimes you go way down rabbit holes and you never get anywhere. But this is one of those times it just happened. I got myself out and about into the startup community, ended up in a pub as you often do in that community. Just got some advice off of an experienced gent that was part of a particular session that night, who mentioned that there’s a manufacturing grant. I put in my application for that.
I showed up to meet the rep, demonstrated the actual hardware that we had and it went from here. A few months later, we had an agreement to get that funding. Like I said, that’s been a step change that’s really made a difference.
Simon Dell: Mate, thank you very much for your time today. Most of the people I speak to on this podcast are sort of much further down the journey there. They’re already making revenue, but it’s fascinating to hear the story behind what I think is a unique product, or maybe not wholly unique, but certainly unique in its application and its target market.
And I think it’s going to be hugely successful, so thank you very much for joining me and good luck. And no doubt we will be talking in the future.
Phil West: Yeah, thank you Simon for your time and some of those prompts as well. It’s always good to have these conversations. You always learn something. So yeah, really appreciate it. We just encourage anybody that’s listening that’s just got any interest, just to check out the website like you mentioned, sirencameras.com or just type in Siren Cameras to any of the social media handles. And there’s some content there just to check out.
Simon Dell: Yeah, definitely going to follow you. Everyone out there go and follow you. Even if you don’t like fishing or you’re not into fishing, go and follow you on Instagram because I imagine it’s going to be a fascinating journey.
And is TikTok is your next one, Phil. Fishing TikTok is absolutely massive at the moment.
Phil West: Well, yeah. I’ve had a couple of gos. There’s a couple of videos on there but I’m no expert, that’s for sure. So, I might be tapping you up.
Simon Dell: TikTok is an interesting platform, but mate, you’re getting reach on TikTok of the moment, especially for a real niche product like you is huge. So, anyway, mate, thank you very much. Have a good rest of your day. Lovely to talk to you.
Phil West: Thank you, Simon. Take care.