We snuck in a lunch-hour phone interview with Beau Oyler, the co founder and spokesperson for EQ3+ partner Urbio, just before he left for New York’s International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF)! Beau is an industrial designer based in Oakland, California. Together with his business partner Jared Aller, Beau started up Enlisted Design, a classic design agency that develops products for clients, including branding, packaging and industrial design. “It’s a super collaborative approach to design,” says Beau, “where we actually design with our clients here in the studio to create products with them.”
Then in 2010, after working on countless projects for other clients, Beau and Jared decided it was time for their studio to design a product of their own. They began brainstorming where there was a need for a well designed product, and what would make an impact in the world, not just in the design community. They came up with Urbio, an award-winning modular wall system that can be used as vertical garden in small urban spaces, as well as for wall organization and storage. Urbio launched in 2010 with a profitable Kickstarter campaign that raised close to $80,000 (one of the highest grossing Kickstarter campaigns in its time), and soon after they received a call from ABC’s Shark Tank inviting them to appear on the show.
The show was a huge success, and Urbio has gone on to win major design awards such as the prestigious Red Dot award and International Design Award (IDA).
EQ3 How did Urbio come about?
BEAU OYLER I grew up in Carmel, California – it’s just a small town on the coast – and my business partner grew up in the Midwest in Kansas City. So we both grew up in these quaint, suburb type towns where we had a garden and we had a yard. Then we up and move to San Francisco and Oakland and we no longer have space for anything like that and have no access to any types of gardens. I really wanted to re-connect with that idea – the idea of planting something and growing something.
So we began to design this modular magnetic wall planter system, where you’re able to take the pots off and water them and put them back on; and, to design it in such a way that every modern home and small space will want this on their wall – not just because it can grow their plants, but because it’s also beautiful.
EQ3 What are you working on right now / next?
BO We have a bunch of new products that we’re going to be rolling out over the next 12 to 18 months, that are really going to expand the Urbio business. Our new product line, which is Urbio Organize, are very simple, very colourful plastic inserts that slip into existing Urbio posts and are dividers so you can divide mail, cards, pens, pencils, scissors and whatever is cluttering your desk. You are able to get it off your desk and organized within the Urbio system.
Because we do so well in the small space market like apartments, flats, and condos, lots of times people are renting and they’re not allowed to screw the plates into the wall. So we created this product called the wall puck. It’s this little powder-coated metal piece that you can screw with one screw into the wall. Or it comes with adhesive and you just peel the adhesive off and you could stick it on your bathroom mirror, you could stick it in a shower, or you could stick it on your wall. The Urbio pot just sticks to the little puck.
So it’s very simple, and that’s what all of our product line is going to be. It’s going to be simple products to help us organize in small spaces.
EQ3 It’s obvious that you had a very clear vision from the get go. Did you have any specific inspiration or mentors that lead you in this direction?
BO No, it was all pretty internal. Big companies and small companies come to Enlisted because there is this collaborative magic that we have. We are able to develop products that meet the needs of their consumers. So it really honestly did come from us saying, “we have done this for dozens and dozens and dozens of clients around the world, at what point do we do this for ourselves?” We turned a portion of our efforts from outward and fulfilling our clients’ needs to inward, using the skills that we have and kind of the magic that Enlisted has to design it for ourselves and design it from the ground up. It gave us creative freedom that we generally don’t have with clients, where we own the brand and we make those decisions.
EQ3 So if this was your first time being the client, what kind of client were you?
BO That is a very good question. Being your own client is challenging. It’s great in some ways, and it’s challenging in some ways. Making the decisions as a team, rather than having the client make the final decision is a challenge because even though the general vision is shared, we have different perspectives on how that’s rolled out.
Jared Aller, Co-founder of Urbio and Principal at Enlisted Design
Christina Rotundo, Senior Graphic Designer
Julian Bagirov, Senior Industrial Designer
EQ3 What are some of the most interesting ways people have used Urbio?
BO There is this woman in New York who’s an interior designer, and she does a lot of work for the high-end retailers out there. She is actually amazing and she has used Urbio on drywall, on mirrors and on brick. She’s done a grass wall. Then she’s used the puck system and she’s hidden those into this grass wall, and then the Urbio pots were just used as the face.
It’s also really interesting where moms’ will use Urbio at a changing table. Evidently it holds perfectly diapers and wipes, and all those things that you need at a change table.
EQ3 You’ve had a lot of success in a short amount of time. What would you say has been one of your proudest moments or biggest accomplishments over the last few years?
I’m going to portion it into three categories – two of which are business, and one of which is just personal. For me being a product designer and a design entrepreneur, I love seeing products that I helped develop in retail. I love walking into EQ3 and seeing a standalone display of Urbio, or at The Container Store, or wherever.
The second one would be media. Shark Tank has been almost a life-changing experience. I say ‘almost’ because obviously getting married and having kids is more important and has been more life-changing, for sure. However, filming that show was very cool. My business partner and I have never been so much in sync as we were on the set that day. And just to be on the show where for four years I sat almost every Friday night and watched that show, and thought to myself one day I am going to be on the show.
And then third, just to get a little more local, is when friends text pictures of “hey I was helping my girlfriend unload the back of her car and check out what was in there.” And it’s the Big Happy Family. And they had no idea, they just saw it and loved it. Or friends who texted me in New York and said “hey check it out. I just walked into my friends flat and this was on the ground.” And it was the Urbio box that had just been delivered. Those are big wins! I’m still waiting for the big win for Michelle Obama to ask us to come and sell Urbio at the White House so she can grow an indoor wall garden!
Image source: All photographs credited to Urbio