Show Notes

Ever since I started doing this podcast, it has consistently proven to be one of the greatest joys in my life.  I get to talk with intelligent, knowledgeable, and experienced folks about things that matter.  And then, every once in awhile, I get to do an interview with someone who in addition to all of those things, is also just SO MUCH FUN.  Kindred spirits that remind me I am not alone in this world. 

This is my first episode in which I got to talk with someone on a different continent than my own.  He dreams about iconic objects, works out the engineering obstacles associated with them, and then brings some of the coolest things in the world (in my admittedly biased opinion) to life.  This two part interview with Chris Barnardo, is filled with background on him personally as well as his professional journey.  It's also filled with wonderful tributes to all of us in "Geekdom" who look to the worlds of Star Trek, Fallout, and Harry Potter (among others) to help us cope with and make sense of the world around us.

Chris started out as a designer, but went back to college in his thirties to gain an engineering degree. In 1994 he went to work at Cambridge Consultants where he became a named inventor on over 25 patents, and secured £4M in venture capital funding to commercialize his invention of a thick-film, flexible electroluminescent display.

 In 2005 Chris launched the popular single parents’ website Dadcando.com which provided guidance and support to single dads (and mums). In 2008 he designed and created the Plop Trumps card game (Firebox.com’s number one selling product that Christmas), which has gone on to sell over half a million packs in the UK alone. In 2009 Chris founded The Wand Company (thewandcompany.com) with Richard Blakesley. The following year, the pair took The Wand Company into the British TV show Dragons’ Den (Shark Tank, US) where their pitch for the ‘Kymera Wand’ – the world’s first motion-sensitive, button-less, universal remote control, attracted record investment offers from all the Dragon Investors.

The Wand Company has since successfully launched, Tenth, Eleventh and Twelfth Doctor Who universal remote control Sonic Screwdrivers, their iconic Star Trek The Original Series Phaser and Bluetooth Communicator, a range of Fallout replicas and has most recently been working with Pokémon to bring the first accurate, premium Poké Ball replicas to market for Pokémon’s 25th anniversary year which launched in February 2021. 

Chris is the author of three books, Made With Dad, Dadcando and Dragonolia, lives in Essex and has four children.


Show Transcript

Announcer  0:04  

Welcome to frame of reference informed intelligent conversations about the issues and challenges facing everyone in today's world, in depth interviews with salt counties, leaders and professionals to help you expand in and form your frame of reference, brought to you by the max FM digital network. Now, here's your host, Rauel LaBreche.


Rauel LaBreche  0:25  

Well, welcome to another edition of frame of reference. We are really blessed and honored today. Folks, I have to tell you, when I approached the today's guest about potentially being a guest on the show, I worked through a customer service person that works with his organization, his company, and just kind of on a whim, said, I wonder if he would be willing to do this. And she was willing to approach him. And he said, Yes. And at that point, my, my life hit a new high, because it says I'm such a geek, those of you that have listened to this podcast before know that I am just a tremendous geek. And whenever we talk about one particular subject, which is Star Trek, I really turned into Uber geek at that point, my clothes change. I have a cat cape that miraculously appears. But enough about me. My guest today is Chris Barnardo. Chris is the President owner, big poobah I don't know exactly CEO, co founder of a company called the wand company, which is in the UK. So this is actually I think, our first international podcast, which is a wonderful thing in and of itself. But Chris, I cannot from the depths of my heart as a Trekkie as a just a human being that our little talk that we had this morning, I'm so excited to have you on the show. And I know that any Truckee anywhere will be blessed by listening to this podcast, mostly because you're going to talk and I'm going to shut up. So But Chris, thank you so much for being here. Chris Barnardo is smiling across the face for doing this through a Skype session. So it's wonderful to actually talk to him to him. But thank you Chris, for being here in


Chris Barnardo  2:07  

the title pleasure. Thank you very much for inviting me on your show.


Rauel LaBreche  2:10  

So Chris, you know we I sent you the spec on the show and we always kind of start out with this rapid fire roar Shakti and, you know, questions, and I know you had a chance to answer some of these but I'm going to try to throw you off here. This is free association, whatever comes up. Okay, so we're going to start out with weird things and go on from there. Okay. And probably tie some into Star Trek even but okay, Chris, favorite bird. You have a favorite bird?


Chris Barnardo  2:35  

A favorite bird? I guess that would be something like a J. Okay. Something something like a J.


Rauel LaBreche  2:43  

I mean, like a blue J


Chris Barnardo  2:46  

I think in the UK we don't have Blue Jays. We have a like slightly bigger, different colored one. But I mean, it's, it's great. My wife. In bed I have woodpeckers in my garden which come and go and they're always excited. There's something special about when you see a J It's it's different. You don't really see them around that much.


Rauel LaBreche  3:02  

You know, they're bullies. I didn't realize this. Yeah, Blue Jays will attack other birds nests and rob their eggs. And they're they're really kind of nasty little birds. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to ruin your blue. I mean, there still are beautiful to look at. I'm not going to argue about that. But yeah, it's it's intro when I read that I'm like, Oh, that's so unfortunate for such a beautiful bird to be such a bully. That's just not wrong.


Chris Barnardo  3:26  

I'm a COVID. I think that that part the crow COVID family, you know, like magpies, for example. They're all part of that same thing. And they're kind of carrying feeders to make pies. Or maybe when you see any any bird like that when you sit up close, it's always so spectacular. I live in the countryside. So we get a lot of owls in the night, eating away outside our house or kind of like hooting it off between each other. Wonderful,


Rauel LaBreche  3:50  

wonderful. How about a favorite piece of music?


Chris Barnardo  3:54  

Well, yes, there's that one of the Nocturnes by Chopin is probably my favorite piece of music. We used it a few times in our Star Trek,


Rauel LaBreche  4:06  

sort of is that what's under the tricorder?


Chris Barnardo  4:09  

Yeah, that's the piece. I mean, it's a sublime piece of music. I'm not gonna embarrass myself by trying to tell you which one it is. It's one of the Nocturnes and it is absolutely gorgeous. It's simple, but it's absolutely beautiful. Yeah, so yeah, I love that that kind of thing.


Rauel LaBreche  4:24  

I think I even mentioned that to Charlotte that when I first saw that tricorder video, I thought, what a wonderfully sublime piece of music to use for something like this.


Chris Barnardo  4:33  

If you look back at the communicator, we did some communicative videos. We're doing a communicative video, it's spinning in space slowly at orbit. Right. I use that piece of put that piece of music then and there is the reason for that was it was kind of a fan like nods to 2001 Space Odyssey chairs when were sure. Probably the most accurate kind of filming of spaceships in space which were in complete silence. So they had to put something there, which was some classical music. Of course, since then sci fi demands that we have roaring engines in space, which as we know would probably not definitely not happen.


Rauel LaBreche  5:13  

Well, it's the same thing with I remember seeing a post by someone saying, you know, why is it they have inertial dampeners Why is it every time they get hit by a disrupter blasts? Everyone shifts around? Yeah, you know, I actually got I became a smart Alcon one of those and said something about Well, I'm sure even a notional dampner systems have an overload point where they just can't compensate anymore. But even if you don't accept that as a rationale, remember it is a movie and they have to make it exciting. Are you be going oh, oh darn disrupter blast hit offs and doing nothing and I would fall asleep quite quickly.


Chris Barnardo  5:44  

Yeah, the the actors that do it I hurt saw an interview John Luke Picard. Obviously, Patrick Stewart rather. And he was asked. So when when the starship accelerates? How come? You're not just squished onto the back of the Leos? Or I don't know. Maybe, you know, magnetic boots?


Rauel LaBreche  6:09  

Way to go, sir. Patrick.


Chris Barnardo  6:12  

Your legs would just share off.


Rauel LaBreche  6:17  

He needed levar. Burton there to tell him no, no, Patrick. It's the inertial dampeners. Come on now.


Chris Barnardo  6:24  

Get into the into the lingo, right?


Rauel LaBreche  6:26  

Goodness, great, especially the captain, for goodness sake. And what's just Captain stay to what is he


Chris Barnardo  6:31  

says this dialogue was his initial dump as offline. Right? Right. That's gonna be quite serious. Because every micro, you know, like micro asteroid that hits the thing is gonna shift everyone inside and


Rauel LaBreche  6:44  

we geek out already. It's their favorite thing that you like to do in your free time.


Chris Barnardo  6:49  

I ride my motorcycle, I think and do DIY. I'm a great fan of building and making things. And so I think in my free time, if I had endless free time, I'd probably be building a car or I'll be building a water feature in the garden or a shed or a bit of construction work. Sure. Oh, yeah. That's my free time is filled with anyway. And I. And the other thing is I because I love my job. So designing things, drawing the illustrations to read manuals, and things like that often, I have to very difficult, blurred line between my hobbies and my actual job, which is a lovely thing to happen.


Rauel LaBreche  7:27  

Yeah, yeah, it is. What is the old saying, if you, if you love what you do, you'll never work a day in your life. So yeah, and I think there's a lot of truth to that.


Chris Barnardo  7:36  

And I think recent, I have to say for anyone listening recently searched and said that If you enjoy your job that much, you're gonna live longer. So go out, find a job that you really enjoy, try to find something you enjoy. And if you can't find joy in what you're doing, I guess it's the right deal.


Rauel LaBreche  7:50  

Right, which is a difficult thing to do. You know, we talk about situational and conformational biases, you know, I really believe you can choose to just continue to focus on the things you hate doing. And let that become everything becomes things you hate doing at that point, or cam, at least if you don't break that mindset. And so you know, find the things that you like, and keep on trying to focus on those as much as you can,


Chris Barnardo  8:14  

I guess, if you're doing your normal job, and it's not, it's not something that you it's not something that you like, or you feel your cuts out, if you actually look for the things within the thing within the job that you do within your life that you would find joy in those particular things, or, I mean, my kids used to my kids probably still do. They're more grown up now. But they used to play the computer games that they play the video games. They play it over and over and over. And I say, Well, why play that game like 100 times? They say, Well, we're trying to ace it. Right? We're trying to do everything perfectly on it, right. And they found that joy in something even a repetitive task like that they found that joy and looking for something that they could get exactly right. So I think there is something to be found in anything that you do.


Rauel LaBreche  8:59  

Yeah, we had a book that my daughter and I would read called taxi dog. And it was wonderfully illustrated with every picture. And it had hidden other pictures. So if you looked in the clouds, there was a dog, you know, that was informed by the cloud. So if you look into the, you know, corner of something, there'd be a little drawing of something there, you know, rabbits head or something. And that was always a challenge. You know, every time we'd read that book, it seemed like, not only could you find the things that we found, but we'd look and usually we'd find yet another thing, or at least something that you know, you turn the book around to go, oh, that's what that thing is, you know, so there are there's a lot of truths. I think there


Chris Barnardo  9:37  

is and I think you'll I think a lot of people would find that if they did even their dream job. It would there would be days, even maybe more than days when they actually hated it, and they they got to really hate what they were doing. I know when I was a kid I loved diving for example, I diving off high boards, you know, five meter boards into the swimming pool doing somersaults and things My mother said to me You should Go. And you could do that as a, you could do that as your hobby, you could go and join a diving club, and go on to the diving club and spend hours standing on the side of the pool being shouted out for not doing it properly. And, you know, up, if you don't do it like this, you're going to lose the competition. And to me, it was just a big turnoff. I just actually spoiled what I loved was locking about the water of jumping off dangerous looking high boards. Yeah. And I think that if you most jobs, that if you do them enough, and you don't see something great in them, then you're going to find it sooner or later, you're going to hate it, it's going to turn to turn horrible. So by the same token, almost anything you can do, you can, it's the people you meet, it's the people you work with the suffering, try and make something out of it. Anyway, what do I know, I do a job that I love.


Rauel LaBreche  10:45  

But you managed to keep loving it. And as we were talking this morning, you know, it was so obvious that there are things that are a lot of work. I've been reading, you know, the blog on the tricorder. And the one in particular where you talked about being making the molds that are necessary and the tools


Chris Barnardo  11:02  

or the amount of work? Oh, well,


Rauel LaBreche  11:04  

you know, and then I mean, the technicality of that I'm reading through that going, Oh, my God, how do you even know to check for these things? And I imagine that you have to have a team of people, or at least vendors that have teams of people that you can go to and say, What's the best way to do this? Or how do we accomplish this? Yeah,


Chris Barnardo  11:21  

that is exactly the case. So for our company, we're very small team. And but our team extends outwards to the people that we work with the subcontractors and people. So we worked with the same factory for the last 25 years. That's before we started the one company which has been going for 12 years. So and we work with the same contractors in terms of our warehousing and things like that. So you get to make these people part of your team for the tooling. early on because of CAD, we felt like well, we can originally we used to design the parts by just literally doing two dimensional drawings in Illustrator, and then sending them to the factory. And then when the factory sent back their their CAD or whatever they did, we would go over it, crawl over it with a fine tooth comb me and Richard, and Richard and I, and then we would carefully look at each thing I think, does this work? Does this look right? Is this the right dimensions? And we would send back a whole bunch of corrections. And then when our own CAD came along, we said, well, we can just do that ourselves now. But you missed the whole skill set of will that mold filled properly? Will that how will that shape work? Does that shape make to this shape? How does it work? Exactly. So what we, what I found we do is what I would consider what I would call design occurred. But that's what I do anyway, we already have, we have engineers internally here at the one company that can do a better job than me, but I would design a principle. And then it would go to the factory. And they would say well, we can necessarily 100% make this part. So we'll make it slightly differently. And then when it comes to the molding, it goes to the tool shop. And they will make just adjustments themselves about where to put the various gates and sprues. And things to get the thing to fill properly. I mean, it is extremely technical, you sort of in that blog, just making the tool takes 42 days. I mean, I haven't posted yet, because I'm waiting till I post on the first shots which are coming soon. But those guys will sit with a lolly stick and a polishing buffing thing at the end of it going backwards and forwards in the tool polishing the inside of the tool for days, it's with different levels of different levels of grit, you know, from a sort of slightly coarse one. And this is tool hardened steel, they're polishing away with a lolly stick. And you know, a popsicle stick and a bit of cotton walk over it with these oils. Unbelievable randomly,


Rauel LaBreche  13:45  

right. And you wonder I saw how much job satisfaction is there in that, you know, they must find a way to recognize that this is a higher purpose, this is really going to look cool when it's done. And that just keeps you do


Chris Barnardo  13:57  

because those guys, a lot of them are working on projects that they actually have no and most things that are sold in, in around the world if you you know, he's all products from another country or wherever you would have a clue what they actually were or like them or whatever. So one of our first jobs that we did when we went to the factory was to explain for example, I'm doing the communicator, what it was, show some video clips of it being used, show up and try and get across the concept of what we're saying. Because we felt that so many times in the past props are made by factories that don't really understand what they're doing. Right. And they make weird little mistakes that for them don't feel like anything, but to the fans looking at it. They're just like they jump out your mile.


Rauel LaBreche  14:38  

I remember seeing one of the comments someone made about the texture on the communicator, and it wasn't quite right. You already knew it wasn't it was a little too deep if I remember right, yeah. And because the capex isn't the capex that they originally made that isn't even available anymore. So we're trying to simulate it


Chris Barnardo  14:53  

by the way, but he's a weird thing to say because because of that comment, I looked up I looked up our paths. First of all for The texture of the communicator, we had probably about 100 emails going back and forth between us in the factory, that was the first thing, we went for us very expensive patterning technique that cost $9,000 per molds to pattern it. And once you've done that, there is no going back, you either start a game with a tool, which is which is at least 15k on its own. And then on top of that, you have to texture IP. So we went backwards and forwards, we had hero comm.com were absolutely enormously helpful, gracious and lent us a piece of original codec. So there's only a few pieces left in the world, apparently. So we had a piece of the codecs. We then got this laser mold texturing company to make a block at some different different depths, we took a very, very accurate scan of the texture of the kydex. And I think I showed one of the blogs, but it's a tiny piece about a few millimeters by few millimeters with the accuracy. Anyway, they replicate the texture as far as I can see emails went back and forth of photographs of the text saying have you got this bit right is this bit right? And then we get the codecs. And because the texture is textured onto a piece of metal, because it's lasered onto the metal, they did a rubber cast of the metal and sent it to us next to each other and took a photograph of them together with the same lighting. And genuinely the rubber one does look shallower. I've looked back at the video at the pictures that I've got on my system. And it looked about half as shallow half as deep as the kydex. So I said to the guys, I know we're at something like 60 microns, can we go to 120 microns, we just make it we're talking 120 microns is is point one, two of a millimeter. Okay.


Rauel LaBreche  16:48  

And you could even pick that up with your eyes. That's


Chris Barnardo  16:51  

and that as opposed to point oh, six of a millimeter. So it was a very small difference. And they said, Yeah, okay, no time for a going round again. And I could definitely see from looking at the rubber cast that it just wasn't very deep. And then of course, the injection molding comes, it looks much to date, probably about twice what it should have been. And by that time, it's just, it's just so too late in the game, right now you either stop and start again. So I'm gonna throw another 30k at it, or I'm going with it. It's not the end of the world, it looks very close. But certainly I've learned that lesson for the next time around and we are going to make the new. What we did this time was we had injection molded parts made little squares made with the texture so we could look at the real thing.


Rauel LaBreche  17:34  

You know, and that's amazing to me, because I I mean, I have the computer I was so honestly, almost salivating and it was like a Pavlovian dog when that thing arrived. And I'd look at it and look at I have other units, I have playmat copy of that. And I have a master replica replica version of it. And yours is so far superior to that, that I you know, and then the fact that it's a Bluetooth and it can connect to your phone and whatnot. And I'm thinking to myself, Okay, what, what level? Do you have to be at where that is the thing you have to point out? That that's just not that's a little too deep. It makes me almost want to to, and I get that? Hopefully, it's a constructive comment. But I wonder I think I think


Chris Barnardo  18:17  

it I think is constructive. And I, I learned something when we when we got into manufacturing is that nothing is manufactured perfectly. Everything has defects in it to some level. And when you start to do a sort of QA document a quality assurance document for a company, which you have to do, and say what level of defects are you prepared to accept in the product? Because if you say zero, what are you going to do? Look it under a magnifying glass or a microscope? Or is it? Is it what the guy can see in the factory with his eyes? Is he looking all over it? What exactly are we doing here? So at the moment, we're making a series of poker balls for Pokemon


Rauel LaBreche  18:58  

brothers. So I'm trying to feed my son with like one of those. He's a big poker man from


Chris Barnardo  19:02  

Elko just they sprayed in a clean room, because even just a speck of dust on the surface because they're sprayed with like an auto pay auto color paint, and even a speck of dust on the surface can can spoil the look. But the question is, at what level do you look at it. So for some of our products, we have a thing where there can be a defect, but it can only be say, quarter a millimeter in size, and it can't be within 10 centimeters of another defect. And if there's more than two or three defects within the grasp of your business and fail, and you have to be quiet, you have to really work it out. So that was a big shock to me. So I think with it with the communicator and with the tricorder. The other thing to bear in mind is that they are replicas of a prop and the Prop was hand made, and the ones that remain now and in the case of the communicator, and in fact, the tricorder is just one left. In fact, the phaser also, they're often very beaten up, bent and they're funny shape. They're not perfectly symmetrical. There's a whole bunch of things So when you look at it, you have to make some judgment calls about what you're going to do. For the for the phaser. One of those judgment calls was to make the grip narrower than the one that had been on the show. And the reason is that over the years, the either the phaser body had been sandpaper down or had been filled with shaped like a banana. On one side, it looked fine. On the other side, the handles stuck out beyond the body. Now, our goal is to do two things. One is to make the three make an accurate replica. We like to put functionality into our products. That's the second thing. And the third thing is we'd like it to feel like a real product that if you were actually on the Starship Enterprise, or in Starfleet, this is what you would be issued with. Now those three things are at slight odds with each other. Because the prop itself was designed to be filmed. Lots of props that you see in the films in the old days, I mean, nowadays is a bit different with 3d printing, but many of the Doctor Who ones that we saw and obviously the Star Trek ones, they're actually quite badly made. I mean, they're sometimes they're just bits of cardboard with with writing and I remember seeing it at San Diego Comic Con, someone was selling props as a kind of Prop store. And they were selling the the Nokia phone that pears Brosnan stubble oh seven use to control his his BMW that time. And when he is sitting in the back of controlling it. Literally it is two shells of a plastic with a cardboard thing. There's just like you would print on your computer stuck into it. Because either you don't see it. Or when you do see it, it's you're looking at something slightly different. It's a cheat. So if you are going to replicate that Prop, it would it would look rubbish, frankly. So you have to make decisions when you replicate a prop, which bits you're going to keep and which bits you which bits are your high spots that you're going to actually aim for. And I think for us with the communicator, the previous ones, and I never want to rubbish other people's work because I know everyone has different constraints and as different tasks everyone's doing. But we felt that we had a duty to maintain the correct proportions of the thickness, we had to get the grill right. And they were some very hard and difficult tasks, which I can understand why previous people might have struggled with it, we had to find new suppliers for the grill. Actually, in the end, we used a company that welds spectacles and makes money on a thin wire. So the wire rather well. But these things are not trivial. And often I think when fans look at something and say why didn't you just do X? It's a bit like watching a film and say why didn't they why did they do exactly that? Why did they shoot that bit of the film right probably no one noticed that that wasn't quite right until right at the end and then it's too late to do anything about it and with the benefit of hindsight you may have started from a different point of view you would have gone to a different supplier you would have done something differently but usually by the time things appear that aren't quite right you are right up to your neck in it Yeah, I mean you're so far down the the kind of rabbit hole when I


Rauel LaBreche  23:05  

find it like editing you know, no matter how many people I have Edit Copy, it seems like there's always just one thing that everybody missed, you know, a period or a commas in the wrong place or there's a D where there shouldn't be a D you know, you just and you slap yourself thinking why did I catch that


Chris Barnardo  23:23  

when you're doing things like when I was in design advertising you're in you're doing a corporate a corporate like report and accounts for a company you'll everyone will read it 100 times it's 1000 pages of nonsense and you go through it and you it's all copy edited and stuff the CEO of the company will pick it up it'll it'll fall open or the page with his name spelled correctly. That is the typical thing I


Rauel LaBreche  23:46  

just have to Murphy's Law Right? Any design okay, we point we have gotten so far off track but that's the way it's gonna go. I think favorite book. I think we talked about


Chris Barnardo  23:57  

illustrated man by Ray Bradbury is why? Well, as a child we went on holiday stay in this house and the previous owners of the house had left some books in a book cupboard. We had no television when we went there no phone actually in those days, we had to go to a phone box, a call box to make a call if we wanted to know mobile phones. And I was young and I looked at this bookcase full of all these great I mean books by different authors adult some grown up books, some more children books, and I spotted this book illustrated man by Ray Bradbury. It's a it's a book of short stories about a guy's covered in tattoos. And every night when he falls asleep, his tattoos come alive and tell a story. And I think it is there was a was there a show called creep show or something like that in the US where they had a kind of comic that flew on the flew around and then stopped at a page. Yeah, it's very, I think that was taken that idea was was complete it I think if that is the show that is completely copied from illustrative man. He basically he lies down to sleep he travels around with moves around with fairs and traveling circuses. And he every night they bed down in front of a fire with some you know, like beans in their meal and the the tattooed on his body come alive and start to tell all these stories. And the stories are just regular. And I thought really prophetic science fiction stories with a lot of I mean, Ray Bradbury writes with a lot of fantasy stories as well. And they're all short stories. They were probably written for magazines like astounding stories, and astounding and things like that. In the old days when they wrote the side sci fi stories, they could easily get them published in these magazines. Sure. And they if anyone's interested in sci fi, and hasn't read Ray Bradbury, then you really need to, I mean, that one illustrated man. There's another one called Rs for rocket, and they really are superb, you know, standout stories


Rauel LaBreche  25:50  

are just literature, you know, that gets that level, you're just reading outstanding literature. So well, this is our segue question, then we'll probably have to take a break for the commercials to fit in. But I'd like to use this as kind of a segue into the deeper parts of our conversation. But is there a favorite memory that you have from childhood or just a thing that you think about or run across in your daily life? And it reminds you of that, and then you just I find that all of those things tend to make us reflect back to our roots, or they make us just smile, because we all of a sudden go back to that place. Is there something


Chris Barnardo  26:27  

yeah, there is. And it's funny because it's it's a lot of those members, I have a sense around that house used to stay in it's it's actually made out of two train carriages old fashioned 1900 train carriage really?


Rauel LaBreche  26:37  

Yeah, that must be like Pullman cars kind of thing, or the British version of that,


Chris Barnardo  26:43  

that the train carriage themselves or the, the wheels taken off when they had bricks underneath. And they raised them about about a yard above the ground. In front of the house is a is a is a large piece of grass like a field, and then there's a sea wall. And then it's just the sea after that. And this mad builder in the 1900s took these old trains at those in those days that were old. I mean, the kitchen window has the word smoking etched onto it, for example, on the glass. And each bedroom is a train compartment and the doors open into the main room, they're two next to each other, and the main room is in between them. Anyway, going to that place was magical part of my childhood, my parents are both doctors. And in the summer, my mother would take most of the summer holidays off, and we would go and stay there. And in the evening when the tide is low, and the sea is flat and calm. We had a small thing he used to just paddle around in rowing and looking for crabs and basically, and then coming back, the house had a tin roof. So it was it was like in the evening, it'd be like a fire break. And you would lay in bed with the windows open, you could hear people talking on the beach, and just the magical sort of, I mean, I bet painting a picture here of this thing. I'm sure it wasn't like that every every day. But certainly those times with a quiet noise of the tide being right low in the sea being flattened, silky, you know, when sunshine just glinting off it really magical. So yeah, if I ever get if I ever can't sleep or anything like that, sometimes I lie in bed. And I think of that instantly, you know, just asleep and dreaming.


Rauel LaBreche  28:12  

That's interesting, too, because it's a very strong aesthetic. So it strikes me that even as a young child, you had a real sense of the aesthetics of a place. And how that,


Chris Barnardo  28:24  

I think, yeah, a lot of the things I think about, for example, when I prepare because I do all the photography and all the illustration, and I retouch all the photographs for all our products. And when I was a kid, even young, and I had those little, you know, like with wheels, cars, the little, the little very small, diecast cars that everyone plays with this sort of 143 scale. It always annoyed me that on the boxes, they cut out a real picture of a real car and they'd let the windows so you can see what was behind the windows. But in the box itself, it was just like, and I look at that, I think well, why did they cut the windows out? It should look like it was an it looks like a real car. It's a complete cheat. So those kinds of things, really, and a lot of things that happen to me in my school. When I was a child, I tried to focus on those when I'm preparing stuff. Because inside everybody is a kid and we want things to be perfect. We want them to be right. And I want that sense of wonder and magic to come across in our products. I want to think of things that build the universe that if I can, if you've got the time and I can say when we meet fans, we realize that they have a dichotomy. They want the Prop to be realistic. They want to be like Captain Kirk, when they go in and queue up to get William Shatner to sign their sign that box. They don't ask Kirk to sign it. They asked Shatner to sign it. So at the same time, they want to be the actor and they want to be the character they want to be across that universe where they know that it's fantasy but they want to believe in it but they want to be in the real world. They'd love to have been natural an actor in I mean, who wouldn't have wanted to act it In Star Trek, you know, you're wearing the Star Trek uniform, my Star Trek, you know, where you imagine yourself to be in it. And you sort of imagine yourself. I don't know if you can understand this, but you imagine yourself at the same time to be the actor and the character the same time. Yeah, there's a duality. Oh, yeah, somehow I'm actually there in the universe as well. Yeah. And our, our prop replicas try to straddle that divide. They try to be real and fantasy at the same time. And I think that's, that's why our packaging I tried to make it in universe where I can, I try to think of the things that little slogans and things that would go with it or a little ephemera that would go with it for the for the fallout cars we do, I do postcards and bits and pieces to go with it. In maybe a newspaper cutting or something, I feel that is part of us as a child that would want to engage in that universe. That's why we do this. That's why we nerd out about it. It's not to pick holes in what someone's done. It's actually to make your fancy come alive and make you more real. So that I feel is our job as replica makers is not to actually replicate the prop, but to replicate the experience of having that piece of equipment.


Rauel LaBreche  31:10  

Yeah, interesting. Box. My guest today is Chris Barnardo. Who's the Chris I don't even know are you the CEO, the co owner, co founder of the wind company, but what title do you do Google grab big Big Cheese? Or do they just call you the big cheese is coming through title through


Chris Barnardo  31:27  

it useful for people that that are outside? Do but I mean, yes, I think generally CEO and co founder although it sounds it sounds overly posh one of his


Rauel LaBreche  31:38  

chief bottle washer and cook might be more appropriate in some circumstances. Oh, folks, we'll be right back. Please don't go anywhere. This is going to be a wonderful conversation, and at least a two part episode. So you're going to hopefully get reeled in with this conversation and want to listen to more we'll be right back here. Wb cubes digital network, 99.7, Max, FM, and frame of reference don't go anywhere. Where can you find tools to clothing, farm supplies to power equipment. And if that wasn't enough tires and rental equipment, come to Macfarlanes in Sauk. City today and find out, we'd love to see you in our 200,000 square foot retail and service center at 780. Carolina street one block south of highway 12 where service is a family tradition, open 24 seven@macfarlanes.net Call or text us at 608-643-3321?


Well, folks, we're back again. Here we are at Part Two of I think it's going to be at least a two part episode because we got started. And Chris was good enough to clear out a good portion of his schedule. But I'm speaking with Chris Barnardo, who is the CEO, and co founder of the lawn company. So Chris, you talked a little bit about your background and marketing and design and whatnot. What were you did you know early on that you actually wanted to lead your own company that you wanted to be the head of something? Did you find that you were developing and leadership skills that that was a place you wanted to go? Or did it just sort of happen organically as you got passionate about things? And I know you started with the Harry Potter wand. And that was the first signature and thus the name of the company, the one company but what was that journey? Like? Can you


Chris Barnardo  33:28  

want to go right back years and years ago i i I know this actually is true to me. But we bought one of my children a t shirt that says does not play well with others. And I always


Rauel LaBreche  33:44  

that's our dogs. I have a dog that does not play well with others. Yeah.


Chris Barnardo  33:49  

And I'm not sure if it's entirely true. But he was he was quite a sort of self contained person. But for me, right from an early age, I wanted to do my own thing. And one of my one of my earliest and most favourite things at school was a project we had where we had to think about a country, a new country and design the passport for it the stamps that the letter headed notepaper if I had one in the in the sort of like Commerce Department, post marks that kind of thing. In other words, build a fantasy world and design it all. And by about 16 or 17. I I wanted to be a designer and I was taking on design projects for friends and doing record covers, if anyone could remember our record was a little 45 record singles and things like that. Sure. And then I actually when I made I was always fascinated. I had an art teacher was very, very creative. And one of the projects was to make small things and make them large. And she wasn't very judgmental. So somebody came in and made an enormous ashtray with a stubbed out cigarette and there was a sight size of someone's arm. And each thing got Yeah, you can imagine God saying that's a terrible thing to do. Looking at it as fat as a piece of art, right, great for me. Now I made a Rubik's Cube, a big one, like a meter, a yard wide yard cubed. And I made squares on it. And someone said to me, you should, you should start a business doing that. Now, I didn't have a license or anything. But I, I started making these boxes, I had some injection molding made for some squares was only 18 By this time of year. And anyway, I don't want to go into that too much, although I still had one from all that time ago, which is no 40 years ago. But I always wanted to do things and make stuff and sell it and make things and sort of create things. So after that I ran my own design company for a bit after I did various jobs in in design and advertising. But I eventually got round to running my own design company called designers Inc. and I did you know work for different clients and things designing stuff. But there was something was felt to me was lacking in just purely design. I wanted, I wanted to do things that changed the world a bit in creased the enjoyment of people. So design is a great way of doing that. It's always about problem solving. And from an early age I'd always been painting and illustrating. And I thought I was a commercial illustrator, but I just wasn't good enough to be a commercial illustrator. So design was the next thing. But it's always about problem solving. And by the time I was about 30, I realized that design wasn't going to give me a flat 2d design wasn't going to give me those things. So I went and did a degree. My I hadn't done a bachelor's degree before that point. I'd gone straight to work from school. But I did a degree in Biomedical Engineering,


Rauel LaBreche  36:38  

biomedical engineering,


Chris Barnardo  36:40  

biomedical Materials Engineering. Yeah. So you're going to


Rauel LaBreche  36:44  

you're going to make that illustrated man. Was that your hope at that? Yeah.


Chris Barnardo  36:48  

Yeah. You know, actually, strangely, should say that. Yeah, I wanted to do artificial limbs. I wanted to design artificial limbs and maybe get into robotics. Yeah, absolutely. So I did that I the first being 30 I slightly cheated because the average person that college is like 18 or 19. So at 30, you really have good command of what you can and can't do. So I clearly sort of hoovered up all the prizes, I wrote a paper. And I got offered a job at Smith and Nephew, which is a UK company that makes artificial limbs and and joints and things artificial joints, hip joints and things. But it was miles away from where I live, it was it was three or 400 miles away. And I had a young daughter, I was separated. And I was seeing my daughter every weekend. And I just couldn't think about moving three or 400 miles away from her. So I didn't take that job. In the end, I went for a job working in a company called Cambridge consultants, which is a contract research and development. And as a result of that, I got to work on a whole ton of different projects. And I met Richard, my business partner, who is a gifted electronics engineer, software engineer. Pretty much all round genius also plays guitar in a band. So he's he's


Rauel LaBreche  37:59  

always one of those people. Yeah,


Chris Barnardo  38:01  

just as I can do stuff, I can blog I'm writing for example, I can write it, no holds barred. Richard will go over it and say, Do you really mean this is this right? He'll edit it, edit, edit the hell out of it, and tell me where I can and can't say things. But it means that i It frees me up to be creative, which is a really cool thing


Rauel LaBreche  38:24  

when you have your back covered, right? I mean, that's that's


Chris Barnardo  38:28  

my six. And I have to say that. in those in those terms. He's very cautious. And he's very thinking he has if you ask him a question, he'll often have an answer very quickly. But he has devoted every scrap of his intelligence toward thinking of what that answer is, he will never say something glibly without thinking about it. And whereas actually much more from the hip. So in our business, and we've worked so well together, we were completely equal partners. Here's the brakes. And I'm the accelerator and the gas pedal. So my my foots hard in the carpet in the gas pedal. And his both feet are hard on the brakes. And together, we if I can sell something to Richard then I know I can make it work as a product because it's it's got to get past him. So anyway, we work together at Cambridge consultants, this contract r&d where I worked on a whole bunch of different projects and I worked on, I'd invented a kind of display technology that was put into remote controls called the chameleon is a blue electrostatic display. And it was difficult. We took about $12 million in venture capital funding to start a company doing that. And we worked with a company called universal electronics based in California. I made California was my second home traveling out there all the time. And I think in about 18 months from a standing start of a cold call on the phone we sold about $100 million worth of products. And so, when that the venture capital company got a c o n They wanted to run it. And I had disagreements with him about what he was doing. Eventually, I left. And I set up my website called that can do for dads and kids because I was getting divorced and I wanted to, you know, have seed, I thought that's gonna rough, a rough deal. And I wanted a nice thing that dads could go to like resorts to do things with their kids at the weekend. So I set that up. And as a result of that, I did a wizard's wand project. And I realized that Harry Potter, the whole story of Harry Potter isn't about Harry Potter, it's about the wand. If you look at the whole story arc, it's who's holding the wand who's what one is fighting one. And I realized that one is a really big deal. So I approached Richard, who was still working at the previous company, and said, I've got this idea of a remote control wand. I don't know how to put the buttons on it. I don't know how it would work exactly. And he said, Well, why would you need buttons, you could make it motion sensitive. And so that was how, even in the first idea, it was Richards sort of appraisal of it very quickly. And then, in equal measure us combining our ideas to make this product, basically a magic one. We didn't need a license, because I mean, although Harry Potter has established quite a foothold in the whole magical industry, it hasn't, it hasn't basically got a complete ownership of one's although the styles are nice. And we do actually now license our internal electronics to the noble collection that make the Harry Potter ones. All right. Yeah, but so we started doing it. And it, we went to various different stores. And then, as a result of that somebody said to us, you know, what you should do is you should go and get a license from the BBC and make sonic screwdrivers for Doctor Who, because they're like modern day ones. And so he went the BBC and asked for a license. And then the rest is kind of history. But I think from the earliest age, I love the idea of being creative, making stuff and seeing it come to market and seeing it stacking up on the shelves. And the one company has been the first company where I have control over that. And I think it's not running the company, that's, that's, this gives me the kick, it's designing something, having an idea, seeing it on the computer screen, or on the sketchpad. And then, you know, a year later seeing it actually being manufactured, and then hearing people say, I love it, it's great. I've got it and seeing them all piling up. And I think that's what gives me the real buzz.


Rauel LaBreche  42:34  

Yeah. And why it's interesting, because you're as I'm listening to that I'm taking my training is as a director, with a MFA in stage direction. And there's a lot of similarities between the process you're talking about, yeah, with the vision, you know, you do have a little bit more of a set thing in terms of the text. You always want to I believe the directors I despise the ones that are not true to the text, they start doing their own thing, at which point I'm like, Well, why didn't you just hire a playwright or, you know, screaming at your own thing. But once you have that understanding, then to have the vision of how you might realize that, and you done the same thing. I think ultimately with your Well, it's funny,


Chris Barnardo  43:16  

you say that, because in a lot of cases, the reason that Prop replicas are, are actually quite exciting is because in my business in my life as a designer, and actually, as an engineer, it's sometimes the tightest briefs are the most interesting ones. Because, you know, you've got your orders, you've got your child, you know where you've got to be. And then you actually have to do something really brilliant with it, I think the thing that you've just described, they're following a script. But knowing you can do something really special within that tight brief, is exciting. It's a bit like playing a classical piece of music, or in fact, any music. If you play the exact notes that are on the page, there's so many ways of interpreting it, there's so many ways of giving it feeling and bringing something to it, right. And I think that that challenge is very exciting. So often when my kids used to say, Oh, this is really difficult. I've completely been told what to do. And there's nothing I can do with it, that what you've been told to do is the beginning of of going back to the game thing of racing it right doing something so beautiful with what you've got, that it takes everyone's breath away. And when you look at I think, I think where people have a difficulty is distinguishing between different brands of mediocre. I think everyone knows something really rubbish when they said and everyone knows instinctively something brilliant when they said yeah, so I think your goal when you're doing, you know, like a theatre production or I'm doing a project is to try to make your your output. Stellar is trying to make it the benchmark that other people might be judged against.


Rauel LaBreche  44:55  

It's interesting because there's a product and you know, I think unfortunately, artists have a tendency to think of that is all you're just worried about the product and sort of the process. And that always kind of boggles me that they they have that, that kind of definition instead of thinking, No, the process is how you deliver the product. But you should also have a vision of what that product, you know, what you want to accomplish with that project. So in that ultimate product, right? Yeah, there's a real weird dynamic there in my mind of, you know, not not thinking like you're selling out, you know, which is I think the the worry that folks have is, you know, don't tell me how to do my art? Well, no, I'm not trying to tell you do your art I just telling you that at the end, it should be good. You know?


Chris Barnardo  45:39  

Yeah, well, I think if you'd, if you, if you put rigor and consideration to what you do, if you really do that, and you can stand by it, then in some respects, whatever you turn out with, it's going to be okay. It's like when you do a science experiment, if you do the right experiment, and you get a null result, and that is just as good as getting a positive result, because you have proved something you proved in that case, having done everything, right, it doesn't work. And that is that null result is it is a proof in its own way, right. So I think with the products that we do, sometimes, you know, we engage on the on the forums, or engage on people that talk to us, or write to us on Facebook or write just email us. And sometimes they've got an idea about how we might have done something, or you could have done it quicker, you could have done it there. So you could have done it that way. And what I am able to do, because we we didn't just bash something out, we did think about it. So they'll always be a reason why we chose this part over this part. Or, you know, there's a reason why. And even if the actual reason is the end that we made a mistake can always say, well, actually, when it came to it, we didn't even anticipate that that won't be a problem. So we didn't spot it, we just made a genuine mistake. And I think owning up to those different things, but also being able to hold, you know, hand on heart, we did our best, right. And one thing Richard said to me really early on. And I mean, if we talk for long, you'll hear me coming back to the sort of things that he said over and over, because he's said a lot of sensible things in the time is that previous? Maybe some crop replica manufacturers would stand out there and say, are things the best? We've got it accurate. And then fans would jump on that and say, No, you haven't in this screencap, you can see that this is different or this is wrong. And then a big fight would ensue. So Richard said, why don't we start from another point of view? Why don't we say we've done our best. And there are things where our prop isn't exactly right. You may not spot them. But if you're really a real fan, then you will spot them and hear it here they are here all the things that we did wrong. And what I say wrong. I mean, here all the things that we just couldn't get exactly as we wanted to. And when you do that, most people, they what they do is they come round the opposite way and say no, it's brilliant. I mean, you did that really? Well. That's that's fine. Yeah. Okay, so this isn't, you know, you could have done it differently. But


Rauel LaBreche  48:00  

when your fundamental thing that you've talked about is that there's, there's a love of what you're doing, there's a love of the fans, there's a love of the original, you know, if it's why is a watch hung, watch, hang while Chang's intent in artistically designing these things that love that respect that trust that, you know, care for those things, I can't help but think that's what's imbued, and people respond to when they have that, you know, pick up the communicator for the first time, but then, you know, put the freezer together and feel that for the first time or the wand, you know, whatever the thing is, that you can feel that love that care that you know, desire to have it.


Chris Barnardo  48:38  

People, people in, people generally want to feel loved themselves, they want to feel nurtured and understood, they want to feel listened to. So I think if you are a fan of a franchise, and you have this feeling that big companies are just there to take your money, and you've got to really put up with whatever they turn out, then you you feel somehow cheated, you know that your fandom makes you want to go and get it you have to collect that thing. But you feel at the same time that maybe that's that's upsetting and that you're paying money to a big company that didn't really care about you. I think if you look at a company that actually are fans themselves and care, and not only care about the product, but care about you as a person and in care that we get it right, then you're prepared to see it from their point of view a bit better. I mean, we are a small team. So some of the things that fans might think could easily be done. In the normal case of this the way when it talks about things like watches and phones and things like that. They have teams, we worked with the Motorola in the in the days in the past, and they had 1000 people working on one piece of software for it 1000 people. Now we have eight people. So the size of our team work on various aspects of it writing operating systems for displays and things aren't, it isn't a simple job to make a display that can do a certain thing every single pixel is drawn on the screen has to have been invented by us to be drawn on that screen, there isn't any shortcuts to just getting a little file off the internet and saying, Well, look, no, it will work. And I think there is a lot of fans out there, a few fans out there who will customize things and make their own things, and they'll do a fantastic job of it. But their products would never survive in the real world with with other fans pulling them apart and trying them. So when we're designing our things, we have to make them robust, we have to make them as proper products, which is a challenge in lots of cases in terms of cost, in terms of its performance, rugged ruggedness, whatever. I mean, one of the things about cost that I will say is that we have typically not been able to use distributors to sell our products, because there is not enough margin in our products that have another layer of people taking doubling the price. And in that respect, we've been lucky, because we've built we have a small team, we do not need to sell millions of products to be successful. And therefore we can go beyond, we have started to use distributors recently. But genuinely, we have been able to go much fewer steps from us to the fans, which means that the value is much greater, right, because the product is more of the money that the fans paying is being put into the product,


Rauel LaBreche  51:27  

which is an amazing thing. Anyone that's looked at your your catalogue of things that the price is not negligible. I mean, for a lot of people, I'm sure. But when you know what goes into these things, it's extremely reasonable, you know, you can really tell that you've tried to do the best you can at coming in at a price point. That's, you know, respects the cost that it makes to do things, they accomplish these things. But it's not, you're not milking people were extra No, and


Chris Barnardo  51:54  

it is difficult. I think we totally undercooked it with the phaser. That that year, we made the Phaser, we had a very challenging year from a from a margin point of view. And obviously, we have to sell a product. And, for example, a product like we made the pit boy, the tooling was $350,000. So we have to sell a few Pit Boys in order to get just the tooling cost back, let alone the fact that it took us a year to develop it. And we're all working, they're having to live dry salaries, power, mortgages, and whatever. So our products have a challenge in that we often have to work on them for 218 months or two years, we have to decide a long way in advance if that product is going to be successful. Because for example, a while back, we took a license for a Rick and Morty portal gun. And we worked on it for about 18 months. And the thing that we came up with is gorgeous. But it's just too expensive to sell to fans. So he got it got shelved and we ended up having to just kiss the license goodbye, it was a very expensive mistake to have made because we paid for the license. So we want to try and minimize that. And I mean, from a fans point of view, if we don't minimize that we won't be in business and we won't be making any more products. Right? So we have to get that exactly right. And it's one of the hardest challenges actually of doing what we do is choosing the right product to develop


Rauel LaBreche  53:19  

the box we're gonna take a quick break to wrap up this section of the of the show, but you're gonna want to tune in next week. Well, Chris Bernardo, my guest today, the CEO and co founder of a wonderful company called the wine company, you can go online and see the kinds of products that you can purchase from them that they produce just a fantastic fantasy land, but also just the caring and craftsmanship that Chris and I have been talking about. So don't go anywhere. We'll wrap up the show and we'll come back next week with the additional material that Chris and I are recording. So Chris, thanks and Hold on while we take a quick break and we'll come right back here on 99 Seven Max FM's digital network


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Rauel LaBreche  54:34  

dong, dong, dong, dong. Those four notes are recognizable by virtually every one of the millions of Star Trek fans across the globe. Millions of people that for one reason or another have shared a dream of a world that could be in the distant future. Racial gender even xenophobic prejudice S's have been replaced with a desire to seek out and explore new worlds. A world where things like the United Federation of Planets and the prime directive are accepted norms and are enforced with disciplined, consistent action. What's that all got to do with today's podcast you might ask? Well, Chris Bernardo and Richard Blakeslee and the rest of the team at the wand company, are also on a mission to make bits and pieces of that dream come alive in meaningful ways for those globe trotting fans. Those bits and pieces I think, help us believe in those dreams even more. Imagine, like John Lennon sang, no need for greed or hunger, a brotherhood of man, Imagine all the people sharing all the world. That's the world of Star Trek. And unlike Star Wars, another fantastic fantasy Star Trek is us. It's us if we can, if we choose to build it, episodes like a private little war, and let that be your last battlefield. Give us a broad in that direction. But it's up to us to do the heavy lifting to put aside all the vitriol, which is from virtually every social media platform, and instead, embrace the strange new world that is, in some ways, each of us to Chris and the rest of the team, all I can say is thank you for doing your part to keep the dreams alive for giving us your loved letters that include wands and Coca Cola trucks, as well as communicators. It's so much fun for me to return to the days of my youth and now see them through the eyes of my 61 years. I still believe in warp speed and believe we will reach the stars someday


Transcribed by https://otter.ai


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