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Welcome to the Moon Blog

An Interview with Moon Co-Founder, Matthew Pearson

Welcome to the Moon Blog

Welcome to the Moon Blog. Most of you know Moon for our universal vehicle awning, MoonShade, that has changed the way people look at portable shelter. Today, we’re coming to you with something a bit different.

You can probably guess that we’re passionate about travel and the outdoors. We provide and seek out great gear that helps you spend more time doing what you love. But, after the equipment is packed away and we return to other rhythms, what is left?

Stories.

Moon’s team and our community is driven by stories. The epic adventure that pushed someone to their limits. The simple trip to the local creek that opened a child’s eyes to nature. The complete transformation of a daily routine to include the incredible. Stories are what we take with us from each experience to the next and are what make all of this “stuff” worthwhile. Stories become our history and our legacy. Stories challenge us and delight us. Stories we believe and share are our truth.

You may already be familiar with our On the Road series of short films that highlights vehicle dwellers and their unique voices. With this same spirit of curiosity and celebration of stories, we are excited to debut the Moon Blog with an interview with Moon co-founder and Chief Product Officer, Matthew Pearson.

Listen to the full interview and read the full transcript below.

Read the full transcript:

Seb Cancino:
Hey, Matthew, thank you so much for joining us today. My name is Seb Cancino. I’m the Customer Experience Manager here at Moon, as you already know. We’d love for you to introduce yourself, give us your name, your pronouns, your location, and your job title.

Matthew Pearson:
Alright, thanks Seb. My name is Matthew Pearson, and I am one of the co-founders at Moon. My pronouns are he/him, and my job title is Chief Product Officer. And I’m based out of San Francisco.

Seb:
Awesome. Thank you so much for joining us today. We’re really excited to share the launch of Moon’s blog and get to know you as well as Moon a little bit more. For those who may be joining us for the first time: what is Moon? So, it seems like a simple question, but just give us some insight into what Moon is.

Matthew:
Sure. Well, Moon is a company that I founded–I guess it’s been almost four years ago now–based on the idea of creating a life that I was excited to live. Something that would give me the freedom to create experiences that were meaningful to me. And then the company has kind of grown into something that is based on creating those experiences for everyone involved. Those meaningful, memorable experiences, most of which take place outdoors, and with loved ones.

Seb:
That’s excellent. So it sounds like Moon is more than just a company to you. Sounds like you had vision for possibly, like a different lifestyle, possibly a different way of looking at work. What moved you to create a product? It seems like a lot of brands these days are creating products around a need. It sounds like you might have even come at it from a different direction, like a practical need, as well as a launch pad or maybe just like an idea for, like I said, a lifestyle. What brought you to MoonShade as a product and actually turning it into a company instead of like maybe selling the patent or selling the idea to somebody else?

Matthew:
Absolutely, well, you’re right, Moon was created out of an idea for a lifestyle more than ideas for products. The idea for creating a lifestyle that allowed me to have more freedom and flexibility, and gave me an opportunity to create things. That came before the products themselves.

And, so initially, the idea for creating that lifestyle started with buying a van. It was an idea that I thought would give me sort of more runway, you know, living in the Bay Area. It’s pretty expensive to live here. And housing in particular is pretty expensive. And so I thought you know, a van would sort of allow me to be more frugal with my resources, and maybe give me give me more time to figure out how I would create that life and what I would do to create it and how I would resource it.

And, then you know, having the van I started to see opportunities in that space. And then it really just, you know, being in a place where I was able to be more free. And, have more time to think and kind of recover from some of the burnout I was experiencing in my previous job, the ideas kind of started to flow. And, they came based out of you know, needs and opportunities that I saw in that space. And in particular, the idea for the for the MoonShade came from wanting an awning and, and seeing you know, what was available, and a lot of what was out there was, again, quite expensive and a bit cumbersome.

And, I felt like I could create that experience being outside your van, kind of on the front porch of your van with a covered awning this kind of experience that I wanted, in a way that was that was a little simpler than what already existed. And, just thinking about it, I’d seen people set up tarps, which, definitely is more affordable than a fixed awning but they’re a little cumbersome to set up and you have to tension them just right and they flop in the wind.

And so yeah, eventually, just thinking about it sort of developed this principle of what’s sometimes called “giant kite”. Sort of stretches itself out so that you don’t have to tension it and holds itself up. And it turned out to be, after building a few prototypes, it turned out to be more stable and durable and performed better than I anticipated. I remember the first time I took a prototype outside and set it up after building it in the backroom of our apartment and yeah, took it outside, it was a little windy. I was a little nervous, you know that it would get blown away. And I built this prototype out of just a tarp I bought on Amazon. I took my camping tent, and deconstructed it and cut some of the poles down. And bought some little like eye hooks and nuts and bolts and things to fit the pole through the through the grommets on the end of the tarp. And actually, I’ve got that somewhere. I should dig it up sometime, just to remember the progress that I’ve made.

Seb:
Yeah, we’d love to see that.

Matthew:
I used like drywall anchors inside the end of the tent pole, and then put like, an eye bolt into the end of the drywall anchor to make a loop on the end of the pole. But yeah, I took that outside and it just sort of floated. It kind of was kind of like a wing, it’s just like really stable. And, it held up and I thought, “OK, this idea has some, some wheels.” I’ll get to work on something that’s a dedicated manufacturer product that solves some of the headaches of setting up a tarp. Yeah, did I answer your question?

Seb:
Thank you. Yes, absolutely. That’s awesome. It’s really cool to hear just how MoonShade started with a simple idea. And like I heard you say, taking your life back to more, something simpler, talking about burnout from your last job. And yeah, like completely pivot to a new, not only like a new way of life, like just a new career, and all those kinds of things. It’s really inspiring.

And I think, just listening to your story, if I didn’t know you already, I would imagine you’re either an engineer or designer by trade. But I already have the inside scoop I already know that’s not necessarily the case. Can you tell us a little bit about your background? Like, what was your education? What was your career back before you started Moon? And yeah, what do you see? Being different now that you’ve made this transition?

Matthew:
Yeah, well, it’s pretty meandering and eclectic. But let’s see how much time we got. Let’s go back to yeah, just my career started. I guess, in sort of a professional way, when I finished grad school, in 2009. I did a PhD in Economics at UC Davis. And my dream was to go into the academic research world.

That was a tough year to be on the academic job market with the recession starting, or at least, that’s what I tell myself, because I didn’t get a tenure track job. And, you know, I applied for 175 jobs and got two offers. I took one, to do litigation consulting in New Jersey, I worked with a couple professors at Princeton. And that wasn’t for me, I knew, it wasn’t for me, but you know, it was a job. After three years, I took another position doing research and evaluation, impact evaluation for a nonprofit in Houston. Did that for about a year and a half, and started to get burned out on that too. And burnout is kind of a theme, you know, in my, in my life.

I have a strong kind of variety, novelty seeking instinct in me. And I like to make things and do new things and learn new things. And in this job started to get, you know, started to get a little burned out. And I thought it was kind of the answer to my career frustration. And sort of on a whim, I was looking around on LinkedIn, and I saw an ad for a role at Airbnb, doing kind of behavioral science type work and design research. And I thought, you know, my background is kind of similar to what they, you know, what they’re looking for. I’d done a lot of research in social interaction and behavioral economics.

And so I, you know, just kind of whipped up a cover letter and sent off my resume and eventually got offered the job. Worked at Airbnb doing that kind of behavioral science type research for three years. And then I was, was recruited to start a research team at Robin Hood. And they’re based in Palo Alto. And so living, I was in Oakland at the time, but that added about an hour to my commute.

Seb:
Oof.

Matthew:
And so, you know, did that for a year and a half, and that felt like that sort of the pinnacle of the kind of design, user experience research career ladder, and I thought, well, you know, it’s not going to get any better than this. And I still don’t like it.

And I found, you know, working on these design teams, the kind of research I did was usually attached to a product design team. So, I was helping designers kind of understand issues that users have with the site or with the app, and helping them figure out ways to improve it. But then I would hand off the research to the designer, and they would do all the creating to solve the problem. And sometimes I would get to do like, these little prototypes, and make a prototype of a proposed site change in Keynote, just to give a sense of what a change that reflects the understanding from the research might look like, and I was sort of jealous of the designers like, they get to go and take these insights and create some, solution to whatever problem that we uncovered or understood better. And I wanted to do that.

I wasn’t a designer, but I was always kind of a maker, or kind of crafter, you know, got into a lot of stuff like woodworking. I made a bamboo bicycle.

Seb:
Wow. That’s cool.

Matthew:
Like, I always like learning about how to do stuff, and then making it and, but I only ever wanted to make one. I wasn’t like a cabinet maker, woodworking that was doing projects for money and just like was something to satisfy my creative need, my curiosity.

And so, when I decided to leave my job and buy the van, I thought, “well, maybe I’ll just do kind of this the same stuff I do now, but in sort of a consulting type of format.” But when I started to, you have to see and understand some of the needs in the van life community, because it was my mind working to solve problems that I saw, that I had. I realized I really want to, I want to create my own thing, not just my own business or my life, but I want to make something. I want to solve real world problems, and especially being able to solve problems that were faced by people like me, and people that were having similar experiences, and therefore had similar values.

Because, living in a van, it’s not something everybody thinks to do. More and more people are, are you being drawn to that lifestyle, and I think those people are people that are like me, that understand me, these are my people. And so solving those problems is in itself really rewarding, because it’s a problem that I understand because I have it. But it’s a problem that other people have too, and they, appreciate the work that I put into designing a solution that suits me better, and therefore suits other people better. Which is interesting, because I’ve done this user research before, which the idea was to try to understand the problems your user was having. And it was kind of cool to be able to, you know, to start a company where the understanding of those problems was just so innate to who we are, to who everyone else is. We were all kind of doing the same thing and having the same problems. It’s like a community of people that are in this together, it feels like.

So while research is certainly an important part of the product design process, still it’s really easy. Because we are doing research all the time, you know, we’re talking to people all the time, we’re talking to our users and customers, and it feels like we have, you know, this bond with them that that doesn’t require us to send out a massive survey or do user tests, things like that all the time. Because we understand these problems. This is us.

Seb:
Absolutely. I love that. Sounds like, yeah, you’re creating… Or, from what I’ve observed in the van life community, having lived in my van for a while, and just seeing how people live, there’s always a new problem to solve. And it sounds like you really identified with the community and were able to see one of those openings for a solution. And, also just like, like you were mentioning just how we’re all connected, and the way of life that we’re seeking out whether it is full time road life, or just getting outside more, I just really I resonate with that. And I know, the customers I speak to on a regular basis really resonate with that as well.

And that’s also something that’s really stricken me about our On the Road documentary series. We have so many different types of people who have lived many different lives, much like yourself, where they found a fork in their path, and they said, “something’s gotta give.” I think the Fenimore’s said that in their recent spot.

So with changing careers, and just like creating something for yourself, quickly, what lessons have you taken from that? Sounds like you already described a bunch of them for us. But like, yeah, what lessons have you learned from your experiences before Moon, during Moon…? and yeah, what do you bring to the table every day from your lived experience?

Matthew:
Oh, boy.

Seb:
Small question…

Matthew:
That’s a great question. Where do I start? Because I feel like I’m, you know, constantly learning lessons about how to face challenges in a new way where it feels like the weight of responsibility of having started a company and having designed a product that sort of launched the company. There are all kinds of, of learnings and me really working through my own kind of process of personal growth, releasing the kind of fears that would, that would often be a roadblock.

I think there is something really interesting about having bounced around different jobs and had lots of different careers and interests and. This, it’s been going on for a lot longer than where I started the story. And so, the sort of disadvantage to that was really, I don’t think I’d completed the learnings about sticking things out when the going gets tough. I mean finishing a Ph. D program, that was something that I just was harboring a kind of secret fear that I wouldn’t be able to do for a really long time. And, so maybe it’s just, some of it is remembering that, you know, I do have the kind of persistence in me, you know, to move through this. But these challenges are, have been a new layer to that learning.

Because I’m in this position of feeling this weight of responsibility of like, “Well, you know, I got all of us into this. We got to make it work.” And there are so many challenges to starting and running a business that I am thankful that I didn’t have a full grasp of, when I got into it. Some of that, you know, naive energy, it’s helpful to get things off the ground. If I had been aware of all the challenges that I would face over the next few years, that would have been much more intimidating.

But it’s just kind of moving through them as they come. And learning to kind of face those challenges with a little more ease. And, learning to kind of quiet the mind when it just gets going in these loops. And, plays through anxieties about the future of what could happen if things don’t go according to plan.

I think the hustle culture of tech that I come out of faces those in sort of a different way, and it ends up putting a lot of emotional and psychological burden on the people that you depend on to get things done. There’s just so much urgency all the time. And I knew, I think in the short run, that can be really beneficial. Maybe even in the long run, if you can just hire your way out of the turnover that comes from burning people out. But I knew I couldn’t do that and be true to what felt like the reasons why I was doing this. I knew that I, I couldn’t burn myself out and cut and run when things got difficult.

So, the lesson is to, is to move through challenges with more ease, and more acceptance and surrender to what’s in front of me and not resisting it, or trying to deflect it. And that’s like a constant sort of everyday challenge, you know. We’re in this phase of growing the company, where we’re at, we had this successful launch and really fast growth. And now trying to expand our product line and sort of shore up the stability of the company with a broader product line, and moving from just basically a one product company to a company that has a suite of products that meets our standard of solving a problem in a creative way, and not just trying to exploit a market.

Yeah, that’s really tough. And I think the challenges that I’ve been through in the past have taught me a lot. Because I think each time I went through this kind of burnout or frustrations in my career, I got a little better each time at sort of dealing with it. And, learning to move through it.

There’s also more practical things like the learning about the product development process in a tech company. Coming from this kind of academic research background, you’re just trying to uncover knowledge, expand the frontiers of knowledge, which is great. When you’re trying to develop a product the way that you solve these problems and move through them, it’s a much faster pace, there’s much less emphasis on getting it perfect. And, so especially my years at Airbnb being on these product teams with a product manager and a group of engineers and some designers, and the way the product managers would basically get everyone moving in the same direction move through challenges of disagreement or uncertainty, and keeping everyone on track to ship something. To develop something and not just get stuck in dead ends and blind alleys. That was vital. There’s no way I’d be able to do this without that kind of mentality that I adopted. And so there is, like I said, before, this element of trying to make the hustle culture part of it more sustainable by letting go of the need to control everything or get everything right.

But there’s a big part of that product development process that I draw on every day now, to create something physical, and not necessarily something technical, or virtual. But those principles, that process, is a framework that I apply to my work everyday now.

Seb:
Absolutely. Yeah, thank you for sharing that. I think a lot of folks living on the road or even just, honestly, existing in this timeline of history would take away a lot from that the wanting to move through challenge with more ease. I think every day that you wake up in your van, and you’re living on the road, I think you have to be ready to face those new challenges. Whether it’s a broken belt or a leaking gray water tank. And then also like finding the simplest solutions that meet your needs. I think all of those things are really applicable to daily life. Yeah, thank you for sharing that.

So, moving more on to some of these stories, we’re hoping to tell on the Moon blog. We’re looking at sharing personal and community histories; we want to mix it up with like tips for road life; recipes; tools for living well; and also offer our community an opportunity to speak on what’s going on in the actual community itself. So, I’m just curious, what kind of stories do you like to hear? What are you interested in hearing about? I know, we have a lot of, again, diverse voices coming to us from our On the Road series. And we’re hoping to even expand that more with the blog, whether it’s written pieces, podcast episodes and more video content. What do you like to absorb when you’re looking at media?

Matthew:
Yeah, one of the things that struck me when we started this, and we started meeting other van lifers, and going to events and taking prototypes, or factory samples to different events, and really just like becoming part of this community. Yeah, I mentioned before, I realized really quickly, like, “Wow, these are my people.” And, they’ve got some great stories.

And everyone’s story is inspiring, because they are living a life that didn’t, doesn’t have a kind of societal pressure, isn’t a part of a program. It’s not what anyone was supposed to do. No one said, like, “well, I live in this van, because that’s kind of what my parents expected of me. And they always said, you know, one day, son, you’re gonna live in a van, and we want you to do.” Sort of Dead Poets Society style. It’s never like that.

So, everyone’s story is really inspiring to me of like, how you got to this point, and how you make it work. Because when “#vanlife” really took over the networks. It was, I mean, influencers, God bless them. Some of our really good friends are influencers and they helped us launch this company. But influencers are able to support their life on the road with their content about life on the road. And that’s not, most people aren’t, that’s not like a sustainable model for how this community can grow. We can’t all be rock stars. But we can do this and live this life and have the fundamental kind of elements of, you freedom and travel and community that makes this kind of lifestyle really special. And so, one of the things I love about the On the Road series is we are featuring people who do this in a way that’s not necessarily broadcasted widely on social media. And so, they all have really unique stories, they all have challenges they’ve overcome. But I love hearing “What got you here? Why did you do this?” And “how do you make it work?”

Seb:
Yeah, absolutely. That simple question of “How’d you get here?” is really powerful. And it’s amazing when you give someone an open-ended question, and a blank slate and the lengths they’ll go to explain their story. And just, I find that to be such an essential element of the human condition, just sharing and creating community, just through sharing stories is really powerful. Yeah, one of the reasons I’ve been drawn to Moon and our community,

Matthew:
And a lot of people, one thing that’s particularly inspiring about that is hearing what people had to give up. That’s inspiring to me because choosing this path involved taking a lot of risks for myself, and hearing the risks that people took: the stable job they might have given up or the career path in order to do this is really inspiring. Because I, as an economist, this is our favorite word. Life, presents us with tradeoffs, oftentimes. And so, giving up something to have something better, is an inspiring story to me.

Seb:
Absolutely. Thank you. Now, I do have to put you on the spot and ask you to tell us your favorite, or just a story of yours that comes to mind from your time on the road, or traveling in the van, whichever you’d like to share.

Matthew:
Yeah, oh, okay. I’ve got a couple that are sort of popping into my head right now. Last year, around this time, a lot of us met up in Joshua Tree. And this was one of the stops that Henry, my co-founder, and Richard the photographer, were making filming the On the Road series. And he said, “We’ll be camping in Joshua Tree. I think Fenimore’s will be there. You should come out.”

And so, my partner and I drove down. And there ended up being, and this is just a couple months after vaccines started rolling out. So, we were used to being really closed off from the rest of the world. And we showed up in this spot in Joshua Tree, and our friends the Fenimore’s had, I think they had posted it on their Instagram story. And something like 20 vans showed up. I mean, it was, I guess there’s probably at least 30 people there. And you know, this big circle of vans in the middle of this BLM land in Joshua Tree, and just being around people and realizing like, yeah, like this, we’re building something cool. Because we can just show up in the middle of Joshua Tree and post a story on Instagram and say, “Hey, come join us.” And we got this community of people that are instant friends. You know, bonding, sitting around a campfire. We set up a little dance party one night, strung up some, some colored lights going over the campsite, and just bought these kind of like, cheap disco lights from Amazon. And, we set up this little dance club in the middle of our circle of vans, we had just incredible experiences hiking up these canyons.

That experience after being on lockdown for almost a year was just like, fresh air or cool water. I mean, it was just so refreshing. And it’s the kind of experience that reminds me, you know, why I’m doing this. I want, not just a company that sells products to a demographic, but a kind of symbiotic community of people who we serve with the products we launch and that supports these kinds of events and eventually, who knows? You know, like spaces or properties where we could, have like a home base to get together. Like there’s all these ideas that sort of swirl around about that, but how can we make this community of people, like wow, these are like the greatest people to call your customers. This is who I want to be, this is the life that I want to live.

So, it just gave me like a glimpse, after so many dark days of what this could be. And I don’t know what that’s going to look like. But I just think like, man, with the resources that we have, with the amazing people we have in this company, and the people that just like, show up and just want to party with us, on short notice, like, “Hey, here’s where we’re going to be,” and everybody just points their van in that direction. There’s so much that this could become. And so supporting that community and helping it to grow and connect, while also producing a product that benefits them too and keeps the company going. And just like, yeah, supports more of this. That’s what I want, I want to grow these experiences. That was cool. And so I got, I got a really concrete glimpse of that at Joshua Tree last year, and that kept me going for another year of pandemic stress.

Seb:
Absolutely. That’s incredible. That’s one of the main reasons I really love working with Moon. Is just the community we can call to either gather, support us, or just listen, or add their two cents. Whatever it is, it’s really amazing. And I don’t have anything else to add to that, so thank you.

Matthew:
Thank you.

Seb:
Matthew, this has been a pleasure. We’re at the end of our time but thank you so much for joining me today. I can’t wait to see what’s next from you and the whole team. And, we’ll see you on the road.

Matthew:
Yea, thank you, Seb. I appreciate everything you do for Moon. You are a vital part of what we’re building. Thank you for the thoughtful questions. And thanks everyone for taking the time to listen to our story. We’ll see all of you on the road.

Seb:
Thanks, Matthew. Be well.

Matthew:
You, too. Bye, Seb.

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