Simon Stevens is known online, at events and through paintball products that are used the world over. He is simply one of the pillars of the paintball community. I've known Simon for quite some time, but he is one of those guys in paintball who can go by just his first name because he is so well known. However, Simon has also done so much, I don't think enough of us know just how involved Simon has been in paintball, so I wanted him to be the focus of our first Industry Interview.
Not only is Simon one of the smartest people in paintball, he's also one of the most down to earth and nicest people in the industry. He literally will take the time to explain any part of the technology, game or sport with virtually anyone. There's a reason he loses his voice by the end of events - he spends the entire time talking to anyone and everyone about paintball.
Inception is a newer paintball company, founded in 2013, but Simon's roots in paintball run much deeper. Inception is a true family company situated run with his wife Emilie Stevens. They are committed to designing and making parts here in the United States, which is doubly impressive since neither Simon nor his wife are originally from the States.
It was my pleasure to take some time to learn more about Simon, where he comes from and how he got into paintball:
What do you wish players and the industry did better?
Telling people who haven't played and reminding former players, just how much fun paintball actually is. That's what we should be drawing everyone else, that already plays, attention too also.
It was fun for me from the first moment I read about it, and it's still fun for me after 26 years of playing every way possible from Stock Class to Pro and after working in the industry for 17 years.
For a period of time paintball became about the paintball itself. It was about shooting them faster, selling more of them, making them harder so that players stayed in at fields longer so they could shoot more... it was more about the $$$ involved than the experience and game that we all fell in love with.
All the things that are wrong with paintball and the industry right now came from those two things, and not from focusing on the experience, and that the most important aspect of Paintball is making sure people have fun.
People don't have fun emptying their wallets just to play, they don't have fun getting shot with hard paint, they don't have fun getting shot multiple times from ramping guns. They don't come back to play again after those experiences. When they have fun they come back again, they tell other people, they bring people with them. We need the fun back in it at all levels. We work hard at Inception but we also try to make sure we take time for family and to enjoy ourselves.
Many of the products we are making now are not because they are the most financially lucrative, but because they are fun, both for us and especially for our customers.
Now that is the way to kick this off!
What do you do for a living?
Have fun making things I want and that I enjoy. I'm lucky that's in paintball. 100% of what I do and what my company does is paintball. I find it strange when people brag about how their companies do aerospace work, or military work, or medical work, oh and paintball. We are 100% paintball. That's our focus, it doesn't take a back seat to anything else. I'm an engineer and I've done military work, I've done aerospace, I've done automotive. Now it's all paintball. I truly love what I do and thoroughly enjoy myself doing it.
Simon in his personal machine shop.
17 years is a long time. Walk us through the different positions you have held in paintball.
Initially I was a tinkerer, then a patent licensee, then a contractor, later I moved to the US to becoming Director of R&D for National Paintball Supply, then Vice President of Engineering, Research and Development for KEE and then now as Owner of Inception Designs, a company I left KEE to start in February 2013 (almost exactly four years ago from when I am typing this).
When and where did you first play paintball?
October 20th 1991 at a paintball field in Kidderminster in England. It was my 16th birthday and I had been waiting two years to play for the first time after reading my first paintball magazine when I was 14. I saw the magazine after stopping in a store to hide from the rain on my way to high school.
LOL, I don't even remember what year I started and you know the day.
What was your first paintball gun?
A Lapco Spectre pump gun. Bought from Owen who now works for Badlands in Canada, but back then Owen used to work for WDP in Birmingham.
What drew you to play more?
I was hooked from the day I read a magazine and even more so from the first day I played. Two weeks after playing for the first time I bought my own gun, two weeks after that I joined my first team, The Survival Game Predators, and then a few weeks after that I played my first tournament. I had no clue what I was doing. I played against Simon Cole and shot him but it bounced. I remember not knowing if that counted or not. Nowadays I'd be sure to shoot him again just in case
Portrait of the engineer as a young man.
You are an engineer, where were you educated? What degree(s) did you earn?
I went to the same school William Shakespeare went to. Seriously. Then I moved south and went to the University of Sussex where I received a 2:1 honors degree in Mechanical Engineering and Business Management.
What got you into the paintball industry?
Everything was crap. I'd buy products and then break them the same day, or they wouldn't work right. So I started making my own parts. I still have the first thing I ever made (when I was 16) which was a grip to fit my paintball gun and move the tank to the bottom of the frame. Bottom lines had only just started to become available and I modified a mag vertical asa to fit the frame. It was/is rough as can be. I made it from sheets of aluminium that I cut by hand with a hacksaw and then filed down. The screws to hold it together came from my skateboard. After that I started making more things. I used to clean my Lapco Spectre and it looked so awesome, but then I put the hopper on top and it was this monstrosity. So I started to design a loader that wasn't and that was situated below the gun to reduce the target profile. That was the invention of force feed hoppers and over the next few years it developed further until in 1996 I filed for my first patent on it at 21 years old. Nearly 8 years later National Paintball Supply took a license on that patent. Then after a meeting with them where I was bored while waiting for Gino to be available I designed the Empire Intimidator, and it happened so well and went so fast that it kicked off a bunch of contract work for NPS. After some life changing things in the UK I eventually succumbed to them offering me a full time job and I left the UK to come and work in the USA as the Director of R&D for NPS. That's actually making a very long story as short as possible...
Simon's hopper system that predated the Warp feed. The Warp feed was later developed after Simon's discussions with AGD to make the above hopper fell through.
As a courtesy to you, I even kept the incorrect spelling of "aluminum."
What did you do for/with AirGun Designs?
Initially I almost went into business with Tom Kaye at AGD making my force feed hoppers, but it didn't work out (later on they went on to make the Warpfeed). I was young, naive, and had a lot to learn, but we stayed friends and when the guys at AGD Europe were looking into making the CNC Extreme gun bodies I worked with them to design what came to be known as the X-Mag. It was the first thing I did in paintball that really went into production and kicked me off down a path that has me where I am today.
I remember a friend who worked for Airgun Designs telling me about you and your "coffee can" hopper that went below the gun. He was excited for them to come to market.
For what are you best known for now in the paintball world?
Not sure. A lot of people know I've done quite a lot and made a few products, but I am not sure they can name them all, and many people would pick different products that are important to them. I think at this point I have something like 26+ patents and patent applications in the industry, and they cover everything from guns, goggles, loaders, to tank valves. (I actually just got another one in between starting writing these answers and finishing my edits, for the BT Slice).
The safety system on every co2 and compressed air valve was my invention and something I tested pretty heavily. That's probably the most important thing I ever did. Watching co2 tanks fly off into the field behind NPS while doing so was pretty fun. That one invention means it's almost impossible for someone to play paintball nowadays without using a product I have been involved in. They'd have to be using a 12g powered gun (of which I have made a few) and not be using any of the 7 goggle systems I have been responsible for, or any of the guns/barrels/hoppers I have made.
Posing with the girls of the NPPL and AGD