Neil Ferrier of Foothill Ranch is about as friendly a Scotsman as you’ll find. With a love of people and fascination with functional design, the former Oakley engineer, 32, is co-founder of the unusual e-tailer Discommon Goods, which makes items such as ergonomic whiskey tumblers, leather watch and passport wallets, straight-edge razors, and bottle openers by hand. The business, established in May with co-founder and Washington-based engineer Jeremy Hadden, began as a product-development consulting company for established brands, but it quickly morphed into a website that offers one well-made—or as Ferrier calls it, “excessively engineered”—piece at a time.
Tell me about your hometown.
I grew up in a tiny town of 4,000 people, which taught me many wonderful things about friends and family but also made me realize the world was massive, and if I wasn’t careful, I could get stuck in something too comfortable.
What’s your background?
I have a master’s in mechanical engineering from Strathclyde University in Glasgow and Clemson University, with a thesis in composites. I knew I didn’t want to follow the crowd into an entry-level engineering job where I would simply be a tooth in the cog of a giant mechanism. I wanted the deep end and I wanted to create. I applied seven times to the (research and development) team at Oakley, and after creatively changing on my application that I was legal to work in the U.S., I got an interview.
By your own account, you’ve had a lot going on this year. Why start Discommon now?
I don’t think I’ve ever done anything in an expected manner; nothing is “normal.” I started the product line while my wife and I had a 6-month-old. I watched so many friends trying to find the perfect time for things; I never thought there was a perfect time to do things. I’ve always gone full-throttle. In 2003, I moved from Scotland to the U.S., and that was my first full-throttle thing.
What was the inspiration behind the business?
Discommon Concepts, my consulting company, came first. I lose my mind doing repetitive or non-challenging work, so consultancy offered me the chance to continually have radically different challenges. The “Goods” portion came while talking over the course of a year with a good friend who was also freelance. We have distinctly different skill sets in the puzzle of making a product, and we both agreed that we never wanted to be stale, never wanted to have to continually look back on previous projects with an employer. Discommon Goods essentially became our exercise. Each project must teach us something new or it is worthless. We are basically making the things we aspire to own.
Where does the name come from?
Oakley taught me the desire to always be disruptive, and I like to hope that my general approach to problems is a little uncommon. It’s a blend of disruptive and uncommon.
How do you and Jeremy divide the work?
I get to be the slightly loony creator, but Jeremy grinds out amazing amounts of time building anything from radical whiskey bottles for consulting projects, to tiny little mechanisms for future folding-knife projects.
Where do you find the artisans you work with?
I just really, really like people. If someone is any kind of creator, I think my enthusiasm comes across as genuine immediately. I can’t help it, I just want to learn more about what they do. This led me to accidentally build what I now realize is a pretty radical network of people, from designers to makers. The whole “network is net worth” is fascinating to me. I made my network because of my passions, but it has indeed become my value as a consultant.
Where did your love for people come from?
I caddied during my summers. That’s actually what made me really enjoy people, because you had half a hole
of golf to get to really know the person well—otherwise, the next four hours of your life is hell.
What dream product would you like to some day offer?
I’d like to spend six months to a year in Switzerland with the team at Urwerk developing a watch from scratch.
Where do you see Discommon in five years?
I hope we’re still consulting to large brands on their radical projects that require uncommon execution. But for Discommon Goods, I hope these low-volume, crazy executions have become something like Discommon Labs and that we have some mainstay staple products that are made in slightly larger volumes, affording us expansion.
Describe Discommon customers.
Independent thinkers, driven, discerning.