We had the good fortune of connecting with Franklin Ng and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Franklin, any advice for those thinking about whether to keep going or to give up?
The short answer to whether you keep going or give up is “If at first you don’t succeed, try again.” This is an old adage that has served us well. If and when you hit an obstacle, you have to determine if the obstacle is even worth overcoming or if you need to go around it. We learned this the hard way and wasted a lot of time and money. Sometimes trying to overcome the obstacle is the obstacle and can take you away from even launching. Finances is often one of those obstacles that seem to cause people to give up. One example that comes to mind is when we focused on trying to make one particular design work. We spent months going back and forth with our manufacture because we wanted all the bells and whistles. After months and months of trial and error, we reach a point where we had to decide if it was worth compromising quality and subsequently our brand. Rather than push forward, we decided to course correct and go with a simpler version of our product without sacrificing our core innovation and competency. Not every obstacle indicates failure. It’s an opportunity to pause assess (and reassess) your objectives and if the way forward is in fact a step backwards. The idea of giving up has always felt final and irreversible. Whenever we have reached what has seemed impossible, we have asked for advice and help. While it has sometime felt like we should give up, we have not allowed our feelings to get in the way of facts. The fact is there is always a way forward. The process just might be a little unclear at the time until you go for it and take a risk.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I’m Franklin Ng, one of the two founders of Hydrolight Outdoor Gear. My father was a poor farmer from a small village in the Guangdong province. He was one of many migrant “Freedom Swimmers” who fled the chaos of the Cultural Revolution and relocated to Hong Kong. My mother was the daughter of a wealthy factory owner and had been stripped of her inheritance by my grandfather’s third wife. My father and mother immigrated to the United States separately and their unlikely meeting and pairing were as much out of necessity as it was out of love. My parents started as kitchen help and had very little; but they worked hard, saved, borrowed money, and became successful restauranteurs. I grew up in the restaurant business, and when I was old enough I worked alongside them all the way through college, often the same 80-hour weeks. My parents never let their lack of education, wealth, or position hold them back from life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. They truly lived the American Dream and I have always looked up to this example as a source of inspiration. After high school, I moved to Boulder, CO and attended CU to earn a degree in Molecular Cellular Developmental Biology. After three painful years scraping by and barely passing my classes, I failed out of Biochemistry. I was devastated, not because my dream of becoming a doctor had come to an end, but because I felt I had let my parents down and wasted decades of hard work and sacrifice. My failure served as a wake-up call and I realized that I was not passionate about medicine. Needless to say, I changed majors, with a simple goal of graduating. This was the beginning of my labor to find purpose. After college, I had a few different jobs and struggled to find direction. I wanted so badly to “arrive” and figure out what I was meant to do. I was working 70-hour weeks and commuting 15 hours on top of that. The work was less than fulfilling and I spent more time at work than I did at home with my wife. I soon found myself at the lowest point of my career. I was discouraged and depressed and remember spending every opportunity in the mountains, escaping the stress of retail. I had always loved the great outdoors, but never really appreciated the joy and restoration it provided. Over the course of many trips and miles hiking the Rocky Mountains a seed was planted and it began to take root in my heart. The idea for Hydrolight sprouted in a snow cave, of all places, while winter camping in Eldora, CO. When I got home, I started sketching and the idea slowly took shape. After pouring over thousands of patents and applications, I decided to go for it and patent my idea. Expecting a long process, I was surprised and elated when my patent was approved a mere 9 months after it was submitted. This gave me a lot of encouragement and hope that my idea was viable and unique. I sought another utility patent and it was approved just as quickly! I searched for people who could help me manufacture my idea, but I hit many dead ends. I just couldn’t seem to find the right connections and was discouraged and stuck. Mainly, it was hard managing a full-time job, family and other commitments with the time and energy this project really needed to be successful. A few years into this process, I realized that I needed help. Brian and I worked together at the same company for years and I had seen how skilled he was in some areas that were more challenging for me. More importantly, I trusted him. I floated the idea to him, he loved the idea and we officially became partners. Since joining forces, we have achieved so much and have made incredible progress in every phase of our startup. I am proud of our work and so deeply thankful. My life has changed so much since that painful realization in college. Little did I know that it was a blessing in disguise and it would shape who I am today. I would have never discovered my dream if I had not first failed. I would have long since given up had I not understood the value of hard work and sacrifice. My parents took great risks, escaping their home country, coming to America, and starting a business from nothing. Taking risks is a part of my heritage. Truly, the journey has been the reward. Over the past 16 years, I have found faith; I met my wife and have two beautiful children, and I have a firm foundation of who I am. My journey has evolved from one of striving to find my passion for the pursuit of bringing passion to my work. Everyone, my name is Brian, I am one of the founders of Hydrolight Outdoor Gear. My passion has always taken me outdoors, from hiking with my dog Saorise to mountain biking the many trails of Colorado. I love how the outdoors can clear my mind and refresh my spirit. I grew up in northern Virginia and was raised by loving and supportive parents, my father John, mother Lisa, and stepfather Steve. My first camping trip was at Carols’s, a family friend’s farm, located on a Civil War battleground. She would bury Civil War artifacts around the farm for us to find. We set up camp at a nearby pond; and that same night, my friend Steven and I snuck out of the tent and fell into the pond! Stephen’s dad reached in, pulled us out, threw us back in the tent and figured we had enough fun for the night! My childhood was filled with memories like these. After high school, I moved to Florida for college. I was going to school to study criminal justice, which didn’t last long. I could smell and see the beach from my dorm room and that was all the distraction I needed to stay out of the classroom and in the sun. After failing my first year, I decided to save the money intended for college and join the Navy. My dream was to become a Navy SEAL and save the world! It was an admirable dream; however, at the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) the examiners discovered that I was color blind and I was disqualified. I moved on from the heartbreak and became an account manager with a large electronics company while finishing my bachelor’s degree. Account management was not the most fulfilling work so I made a change and joined a government contractor, supporting the United States warfighter. This opportunity carried me to a faraway place, the Kingdom of Bahrain, an island country in the Persian Gulf. I spent two years in Bahrain gaining new perspectives, learning a new culture, building new friendships, and experiencing an entirely different outdoor lifestyle and terrain! It was a harsh desert country, with temperatures as high as 130ºF and the occasional sandstorm. When it was finally time to come home, I had a choice between hot and humid Louisiana or beautiful Colorado. Needless to say, I chose beautiful Colorado. Colorado has always held a special place in my heart. I visited Colorado every year to ski with my dad and brother. I loved skiing in the backcountry bowls. They were vast, peaceful, and left a lasting impression on me. When I finally got to Colorado, I met Franklin. After working together for a few years, he asked me out to lunch. Over a delicious bowl of pho, he shared his story and ideas. He explained that hydration bladders have largely remained unchanged and have operated within a single product category. He looked at me, smiled and said, “It’s time to shake things up.” He painted a picture of his product and how it would break the mold and provide water and light when (and where) you need them most. By simply combining two pieces of gear, a headlamp and water bladder, he created a beautiful, functional lantern that could be hung to light any area. This illuminated the possibilities of getting more out of gear that I regularly use. As he shared, it was plain that hydration bladders were not taking advantage of this inherent ability to diffuse light. The Hydrolight was designed to be taken out of your backpack (not just to refill) and keep your adventures going into the night. When I saw this in action in his homemade prototype, I was amazed and sold on the idea. I felt completely honored and excited to be a part of something so stunning, yet completely practical. This was my opportunity to make an impact on the outdoor community and work side by side with a great friend.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Hmmm…this is a tough one because there is so much to do and so many great places to eat, drink, visit and hang out. In no particular order: Best Places to Visit: – Red Rocks Park and Amphitheater – Mount Evans Scenic Byway – Denver Museum of Nature and Science – Denver Botanic Gardens – Denver Zoo – Coors Brewery – Climb the Flatirons – The Spot Climbing Gym and/or – Evo Climbing Gym Best Places to Eat: – Owlbear Barbecue – Hop Alley – Savory Vietnam – Yuan Wonton – Teotecali – The Post
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
First and foremost, we would like to give a shoutout to our significant others, who have supported our dreams and aspirations and have made some major sacrifices so that we could take this leap of faith. We are so grateful for our mentors, Jon Robichaud, Peter Downing, and Bob Africa. Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions and for being our biggest cheerleaders. The wisdom and advise you have offered have been priceless. We appreciate you so much. We would be remiss by not thanking our respective parents for all of their support. Thank you for believing in us when we have faltered to believe in ourselves. We appreciate you all and the kindness you have shared. This includes liking all of our posts on social media. ;^)
Photographer: Drew Lundquist