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Inspiring Conversations with Robert Miller of Melio

Today we’d like to introduce you to Robert Miller.

Hi Robert, can you start by introducing yourself? We’d love to learn more about how you got to where you are today?
I came up with the idea to create a solar-powered backpack while working for a military tactical gear manufacturer. I realized while working there our military personal are required to carry a lot of extra energy with them. When I approached my previous employer about the idea of integrating solar power into their products, it was met with minimal interest. I knew I still had great idea, but I had recently started a family and life got really busy.

Fast forward to 2018, my professional career was going well but I could never shake the idea about creating a solar-powered backpack. With the support of my wife, I took the leap to created Melio. Since I have a background in engineering, I knew I could create something awesome myself! I set a goal to design and manufacture a solar charging product that was not only incredibly durable but also looked both extremely functional and unique looking. With these targets in mind, I set out to design the best product in the industry.

Over the course of working on the design, I read an article about the amount of plastic waste polluting our environment. The article really struck a chord with me. It made me think, is there anything I can do to help reduce the amount of plastic waste beyond the things I’m currently doing (i.e. recycling, minimizing my use of single-use plastic containers, etc.)? With that thought in mind, I starting looking for other fabric solutions outside the traditional nylon or polyester. Over the course of my search, I found a fabric, REPREVE®, which uses 100% plastic bottles in its construction. At that point, I knew I wanted to use it in my product. Along with using recycled content, I wanted to use as much domestically-sourced materials as possible. This goal aligns with my personal belief of supporting local businesses and minimizing my impact on the environment.

I quickly realized after talking with other family and friends, there was an interest in what I was developing. A few of them had run into the same frustrating situation of running out of power in the past. Shortly after that, I officially founded Melio. Fast forward to today. Melio now has its first product, JUICE, a solar-powered backpack.

After working for quite a few organizations in the past, I knew what type of business culture I wanted to create too. Far too many had been focused on only those people within the organization. I strongly believe we need to not only support those internal people, but we need to positively impact our community and environment too. By creating a local manufacturing facility, Melio, will start a ripple effect creating and growing other areas within the St. Louis community. The idea is we all grow together and, in the process, create a stronger, more prosperous community and a healthier environment around us. Far too many outdoor brands talk about community and the environment yet build most all of their products overseas. I want to change this mindset; I believe there is a balance between purpose and profit. I created Melio to help make our entire community prosperous, not just ourselves.

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
There have been plenty of struggles along the way. In the beginning, my largest struggle was where to start. I had never taken on anything like this before. My mind was racing with so many things to do… manufacture a prototype, develop domestic supply chain partners, design/build a website, what is my marketing strategy… among so many other details. Once I sat down and put pen to paper it all started to come together. I was lucky enough to find a ton of help and support within the local St. Louis community. I’m not sure how many people know about it, but St. Louis has an awesome entrepreneurial ecosystem here! With the support of organizations like ITEN (ITENstl.org) and CET (cetstl.com). I was able to make some great progress.

My second struggle was finding the right business name. I wanted to create something unique and memorable. I brainstormed with a friend, Joseph Roberts, for quite a while, coming up with many different business names. When we landed on Melio, we both looked at each other with excitement because we knew we nailed it! Melio comes from the word ameliorate (ameliorate). Which means to “make better”… this is the essence of Melio… we want to make our community and environment better. If you look at the actual brand name spelling on the website the half-circle above the “e” represents the sun and the “e” is the earth. Basically, it’s the sun that powers the earth, along with our solar backpack JUICE. In the future, I want Melio’s “e” logo to be as recognizable as the Nike Swoosh.

When I finally launch JUICE, it was right before the world would turn upside-down due to the COVID pandemic. At first, I thought I could continue to build brand awareness via social media, which to a degree worked, but you cannot discount the power of talking face to face with someone. To be honest, it was tough to stay motivated during it all. Luckily events are starting to open back now. I plan on attending some local and regional events over the next six months. I’m optimistic these will help increase sales and drive product awareness.

Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know?
I’ve spent the past 17 years in various engineering and manufacturing roles with a few local St. Louis companies. My passion for creating a business focused on community and the environment has led me to design and manufacture our first product, JUICE. JUICE utilizes high-quality domestic recycled fabric. By sourcing mostly domestic materials and manufacturing the product locally, it ensures Melio will minimize its environmental impact. The energy produced by the solar panel on the backpack is stored in the integrated power bank for future use.

I envision Melio as an eco-conscious lifestyle brand focused on supporting the local community by manufacturing products focused on generating renewable energy. I want Melio to be known as a force for good! My long-term goal is to become a certified Corp B company. By becoming a certified Corp B company, Melio will have a legal obligation to meet the highest standards of verified performance and transparency.

I’m most proud that I never gave up on my idea to create Melio. It has had a lot of ups and downs along the way to where we are today. The positive support I’ve received along the way is like nothing else. It keeps me pushing myself every day. I absolutely love what I’m doing!

Is there a quality that you most attribute to your success?
My growth mindset has helped me overcome my fear of failure. Instead, I stay focused on the learning opportunity of starting and operating my own business. It is really scary taking an idea in your head and turning it into a tangible product. You cannot read what to do in a book or learn it from watching someone else do it. They only way to truly learn what you’re capable is to actually do it yourself. I’ve probably learned more about myself and my actual capabilities in the past few years. Then I had in my past 17 years working in a professional business setting.

Pricing:

  • JUICE is currently selling for $399.99. If you sign up for Melio’s newsletter you’ll receive a coupon code to 10% off. Please note: due to current market price fluctuations the price my increase in the near future.

Contact Info:

Image Credits
Joseph Roberts, Nathan Bobey, Anna Blank

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