Talking travel, startup life, and photography with the iPhone lens maker's creative lead
all images by Erik Hedberg
Adventure is in the blood of those native to the Pacific Northwest. And Erik Hedberg knows it. As an avid cyclist, snowboarder, backpacker, designer, photographer, etc, getting out and problem solving is a part of daily life. This all came to ahead in January of 2014 when Hedberg, along with noted entrepreneur Marc Barros, founded Moment, maker of ultra high quality iPhone lenses.
Soon after launch Moment became the go-to tool for phone photography among Instagramers and lightweight travelers around the world. And well, considering the brand's superior design aesthetic and distortion-free lens options, it's not hard to see why. But that's enough about the product—it's the man behind it we're most interested in.
At just 27, Hedberg is a busy man, responsible for all industrial design, product design and a good deal of creative direction for Moment. To learn more about what came before Moment, where he finds design inspiration and how he balances startup work and real life we recently caught up with the Seattle resident and tossed a few questions his way. This is that.
What's one word or title that describes you best?
It’s tough to say… I think creative is a thing I always come back to. It’s kind of like—I don’t wanna be just a designer. I don’t wanna be just a creative director or just an entrepreneur or whatever. I think creative is pretty all encompassing.
Do you feel your enthusiasm for adventure in the outdoors informs the way you approach design challenges in any way?
Absolutely. Every time I go out, I’m always paying really close attention to my gear and how it’s working, and not working, and what’s breaking—learning how you can beat the crap out of something and seeing when things are gonna fail for certain reasons. I’ve really been active in trying to take more photos than I usually would, because we definitely learn a lot about what we can make better by using our products as much as possible. So I think that’s one part of it.
And then another thing I’ll do, if I’m struggling with a problem or I need to think through something on a higher level, I’ll go for a hike, or a bike ride, something like that, because it helps me think a lot more clearly. Getting out of the studio and opening up your brain to different surroundings can help with that stuff a lot.
What brands are you excited about right now, on a design level?
Gentemstick has always been one I’ve looked up to. Taro Tamai, the guy that runs that, I’d love to meet him. He’d be somebody I’d love to apprentice under. His appreciation of craft and detail, just that whole style of riding has really appealed to me. So those guys for sure.
It’s been cool in the biking world to see some companies really start to pay attention to design lately. I think there’s a ton of small frame builders that are doing really cool work in general—Firefly Cycles out of Boston, No. 22 Cycles, Stinner Frameworks.
Then even some of the big guys like Giro. I think Giro’s done an amazing job lately with a lot of their footwear and apparel design. It’s pretty overpriced, but pretty cool. Specialized too, I think lately has been getting into some pretty cool stuff with their bikepacking gear, the AWOL line. Been fun to follow their progress, for sure.
Did you grow up interested in photography?
I wasn’t crazy interested in photography growing up. My mom always had cameras around and I would play with them here and there, but I think it was snowboarding that really started to get me more into photography.
I always had a pretty deep appreciation for the different natural elements of it all. I could nerd out all day on different cloud formations and different types of weather conditions. I just love that stuff. All the cool types of lighting. There are really magical little moments you find when you’re out riding on a powder day, and I always loved that stuff. Then I started bringing a camera to try and capture that type of stuff, and also [to capture] other friends riding. And I wouldn’t say I was really all that good at it, I just thought it was fun.
Then I think in college—going to design school you get exposed to photography a lot as well. We had some projects where photography was a really essential part of the project. We even had some graphic design courses where there were photography assignments, so that stuff started getting me more into it as well.
How did Moment come about?
While I was still in design school I got an internship with Contour Cameras, which is how I met Marc [Barros, Moment co-founder]. And then went to work there full-time afterwards, so got to know Mark really well through that.
We always worked pretty well together, so when everything fell apart [at Contour], we started talking about working on new projects. We both took a step back and realized that Contour was really fun and a great company but neither of us were taking as much video with our [Contour] cameras as we were taking pictures with our phones. And at this same time, Instagram was starting to really blow up. I love video too, but just the nature of it—it’s a lot more work to go put together an edit and chop up a bunch of video than it is to just take some photos, do a quick edit, and post it on Instagram. So that’s where Moment came from.
You’ve been traveling a bit recently…
Yeah, I went to New Zealand, mostly on the South Island. That was my first time there, so it was really cool. We spent most of the time in the mountains, backpacking between the different huts on the Te Araroa track and camping up in the high country, just seeing the amazing natural beauty that’s everywhere in New Zealand.
It was also an opportunity to do a lot of thinking and brainstorming about future product stuff for Moment, just a bunch of things I’ve been meaning to work on. [I was] working out of a sketchbook, just sketching ideas and writing things down. Amazing scenery, amazing fishing, really fun stuff. It’s crazy.
Many reading this likely find themselves behind a desk and unable to travel as much as they’d like. Ourselves included. How do you find time to get out for adventures on a regular basis?
It’s pretty hard, I think, being a co-founder and being responsible for part of the direction of the business because you never feel like you’re done with your work. You feel like there’s always more to do. That’s definitely the hardest part, dropping everything and saying I need this time. Even that New Zealand trip, it was a pretty tough decision.
I usually just find myself doing these marathon sprints. I’ll really go hard on work stuff—I’ll crank on it and spend long hours working because I know that’s gonna justify me taking extra time to go play outside.
"Travel always sparks creativity. It never fails."
But it’s pretty hard to balance all that with a social life as well. So I feel bad because I’ve lost touch a lot of people but at the same time the thing that’s most fulfilling for me is getting to go do things outside, whether it’s snowboarding, biking, backpacking, anything like that. I just love that stuff more than anything. I don’t watch TV, it’s just a time waster. I really try to make sure that whatever I’m spending my time on, it’s the things I really want to be doing. It’s tricky. That’s the hardest thing, that balance, for sure.
And that’s part of the way that Marc and I’ve tried to set up Moment from the beginning. We wanted to make sure that whenever we needed to do that stuff we were able to do it. So we actually have no vacation policy, it’s a pretty flexible schedule for everybody. It’s sort of an honor system.
What about traveling makes working so damn hard worth it?
Travel always sparks creativity. It never fails. Every time you go out of your comfort zone and go get a change of scenery, go to a different place you’ve never been before, experience a different culture—that’s always gonna spark some creative fire. I think that’s really important for people in creative industries to make sure they travel as much as they can.
Final words on what Moment is up to? The floor is yours.
Our grand vision is to make better tools for mobile photography. Right now people are taking more pictures than they ever have before, just because everyone’s got a phone. So our goal is to really help people take better pictures with those devices.
One of the things we look at when we’re designing is what are all the bad photos people take and how can we help them take better photos. So that’s the mission that we’re on over here. And obviously doing it with good design and trying to create a really good experience for people because at the end of the day, we want to make people happy, to make sure they enjoy using our product.