Listed in the Top 50 Inventions of The 21st Century by TIME magazine and dubbed “the 21st Century Duct tape” by Forbes, Sugru is a brand new material designed to inspire a new generation of fixers, hackers and makers. A flexible silicon rubber that can be moulded and stuck to anything, the product air cures, remains soft to the touch and is resistant to extremes of temperature, providing an innovative method to fix and improve every day, household objects.
FormFormForm is a team of material scientists, designers, business and production people based in London. We make materials that promote sustainability by encouraging people to re-use and take ownership of the products they own.
Jane ni Dhulchaointigh is the Irish inventor of sugru, an innovative new product that has been called ‘the best invention since sellotape’ and is getting DIYers, gadget lovers and outdoors enthusiasts around the world very excited.
Jane was studying product design at the Royal College of Art in London in 2003, when she had a big idea. What if, instead of having to buy new things all the time, people could fix and improve the things they already had to work better for them?
From that initial spark of an idea, she led a long and dedicated scientific development process involving a small team of material scientists, designers and business people to develop an entirely new material that could make the idea a reality. The result after 6 years of R&D was sugru – a brand new silicone that’s like play-doh when it’s taken from its pack, that the user can form into whatever shape they like before it air cures overnight into a tough, flexible, colourful silicone rubber. Used in this way, it can make all kinds of products more comfortable, safer or simply better.
Thanks to being a largely online retailer, sugru has won an international customer base. With a defined presence in the UK, Nordic and American markets that is currently extending to bricks-and-mortar shops, the company is currently focused on establishing its presence in North America which already accounts for 50% of its sales. The customers don’t just use sugru – they love it. The online community around sugru buzzes with inspiration and enthusiasm, and the network of users now includes over 300,000 people from 138 countries, ranging from families who use it to mend and patch things up to designers and engineers who use it to prototype and make things to deep sea divers and snowboarders who fix and personalise their equipment.
– ENTREPRENEURIAL INSIGHTS –
What vision prompted you to start-up in business?
I was studying product design when I realised that I didn’t actually want to design more new stuff. We have enough! What if instead of buying new, everyone could easily adapt, improve, customise or repair the things they already had? Making things is not only more sustainable, it’s a lot more fun.
How did you secure your first investment?
I partnered up with my co-founder Roger Ashby and NESTA gave us £35,000 to start the company back in 2005. From there I was able to start working with chemists, and as soon as we had formulations that looked like they could work, we were able to secure £250k of investment funding from Lacomp PLC in 2006.
What was your “back-to-the-wall” moment and how did you overcome it?
It took much longer to develop the technology for sugru than we thought. When the recession hit in 2008, we had spent all our funding and it was very difficult to find investors to take the business to the next step. We spent months pitching to investors, and were getting nowhere. The turning point for me was a simple piece of advice from a friend – ‘start small and make it good’ – this changed everything for me, and it was then that we got the confidence to make sugru ourselves and launch online.
What moment/deal would you cite as the “game changer” or turning point for the company?
Our launch day in late 2009 changed everything – it took us nearly 3 months to make 1000 packs in our labs, and thanks to a good review on a tech blog on our launch day, they all sold out in 6 hours hours! The enthusiasm from people around the world in what we were doing was overwhelming. After 6 years in the labs with no one knowing about us, it was an incredible feeling.
What are the biggest challenges you face now?
We’re a young company with an exciting global opportunity. The challenge is how to grow and scale while maintaining everything that makes sugru awesome. It’s a fantastic challenge, and one of the great things about sugru is that it attracts talented and creative people who are super excited by our vision, so our team is really great.
What is your biggest business achievement to date?
Winning the 2012 Entrepreneur of the Year Award at the London Design Festival was pretty special, oh and we definitely celebrated when sugru was listed in TIME Magazines top 50 inventions, at number 22, 12 places ahead of the iPad!
What were the best & worst pieces of advice you received when starting out?
Best – ‘start small and make it good’ – we still try to remember this in everything we do today
Worst – a business advisor once told me early on that I was ‘the weakest link in our team because I had no business experience’ – I strongly disagreed with him of course, but it stayed with me. Now I understand why he was wrong. Sometimes vision, persistance and the ability to think diferently and inspire others definitely trumps experience, and I’d even go so far as to say that experience can sometimes be a hindrance to innovation.
What top tips would you give entrepreneurs starting out today?
Learn as you go, start small and make it good.
Do something that matters, that’s going to make the world a better place in some way.
Were there any early signs that you would eventually follow an entrepreneurial path?
I was always working, earning my own money from the age of 10 or so. I loved working.
Has anyone acted as a mentor to you?
I take as many mentors as I can get! My co-founder Roger Ashby was a mentor for the years building the technology and establishing the Company. In the year leading up to launch I had the support of the UK Design Council who paired me up with an amazing mentor Chris Thompson of London based Innovation consultancy Viadynamics. He still works closely with us today and has been a fantastic support and advisor.
Has your “Irish-ness” contributed to your success?
I think so, yes! I’m not sure what aspects of my personality are particularly Irish but I try to bring fun and personality to our brand, and people seem to love that about sugru. I probably also have my Irish-ness to thank for being a bit of a workaholic, I’m incredibly persistent when I believe in something.
What inspires your business decisions?
I tend to go with my gut after considering all the big factors that are important to the decision. I’m cautious but optimistic and I always have my eye on that change I want to make in the world – I want it to be a more creative, adaptable, fun kind of place, so all our business decisions need to bring us in that direction.
When making a new hire, what key characteristics do you look for?
Passion for our vision, Talent, Enthusiasm, a good fit with the company culture, and a do-er.
How do you recharge your batteries?
Spending time doing up our house, playing with our puppy, the odd holiday, I read as often as I can and I love going to the pub with friends of course.