Have you heard of sugru? No? Well, let me introduce you to the material that might become this century’s duct tape! Read on to find out more…
I first came across this innovation back in 2010. I remember stumbling across the website and being fascinated by what i saw. A self-setting rubber that could fix stuff. Wow! sugru has been on my radar on and off ever since but I’d never truly got to grips with it. I bought a multi-pack last year and am determined to get the fix and improving bug!
OK, fast forward to last month. On a flight back home, i saw a fantastic write up in BA business life magazine telling the story of sugru’s inventor jane ni dhulchaointigh. How great is that next picture? Apparently people have asked whether jane is indeed hanging upside down and simply held up by the sugru slippers. No, she’s not!
After reading the article, I met with jane to find out more. I hope you guys get tons of inspiration from what she has to say – and maybe even the fixing and improving bug. Let’s go!
The first thing that greeted me when i arrived for my interview were those slippers. I picked them up, and boy they’re heavy!
Meet jane, female entrepreneur extraordinaire. Sharp, witty and determined!
You moved to this warehouse space in hackney less than 2 years ago and run the entire business from here. Can you explain a little? We are a bit of an unusual company in that we are a new kind of materials company that is characterised by taking a web 2.0 approach to materials. We have in-house film making facilities, we have design, we have material science, we have our factory here and we run the entire business from sales to marketing to finance all from this building.
The great thing is that we have all kinds of people here, a really good mix. In the film studio we do all our own demonstration tutorials and all our youtube promotional videos which have really helped to spread the word and get people excited. Fixing and improving projects are not always obvious and can often be ignored. We try and highlight through film, photography and social media all those places where you can solve problems. It’s great when we get feedback from people saying stuff like: “oh, I’ve been living with that broken toilet handle for years and years and never before found a way to solve it.” We just try and help people notice where that problem might be!
We are creative and playful but on the other hand we’re very serious about the science. That’s because we’re selling something for fixing things and it really has to work, every single time. We have 3 full-time scientists working to optimise the formulation on a regular basis and monitor the quality control. We’re also working towards kid-safe and food safe formulations. My dream is that maybe someday we’ll get a medical grade so that sugru can be used in hospitals too.
Then we have design, marketing, sales and finance. We have dedicated staff for media and blogs, and use customer support as a marketing function. We believe in giving everyone a really good customer experience and then that feeds into word of mouth. It’s all about community building.
You tell a great visual story of how it all began on your website. Tell me when you actually launched? We started as an online business and we’ve been selling mainly online for the first 2.5 years. We launched our first batch (1000 packs) of sugru in december 2009. We made them in our lab and they all sold out in 6 hours! Then we then had to close down for 6 months because we didn’t yet have a factory. We opened properly in june 2010. The first people that bought sugru were real enthusiasts from the tech community, not from the design community as often perceived.
I imagine your audience is of a younger generation… Of course, we have the 20-30 cool design community, as well as engineers, makers and outdoor enthusiasts, but in actual fact the demographics of people that use sugru is very mixed – I’d say from young teenagers all the way to people in their 80’s and 90’s – at the extreme ends of the scale people are very comfortable with making things work for them – customising is second nature to teenagers, as is fixing for the older generations. We started with people who are online, now we are also, for example, seeing young families buying sugru who want to repair toys and buggies.
You’ve been through your fair share of ups and downs in your young business. As a female entrepreneur , in your opinion, do you feel we’ve reached equality with men? The investment scene was different when i started. They used to be in general older and male. Today, in london, it’s been completely transformed through things like tech city and the growth in interest in young companies in general, and there are now thousands of start-ups around. The atmosphere is completely different. The advisors and investors are now much younger and more mixed. Last week for instance, there was an international women’s day event at Poke for women involved in start-ups in tech city. It was a real celebration of women in the area and there were lots of really exciting companies.
Maybe there still is inequality but i haven’t encountered it on my journey with sugru so far. Our investors are really buying into our vision to help get the world to get fixing again. There’s a cultural mission as well as a great business opportunity. The type of investors that are interested in our business are ones that share our vision so sexism doesn’t come into it!
It’s fascinating to see so many applications for sugru. I love the fact you can fix but also improve products. Yes, there are many examples of fixing, but improving products is a big part of it all too. Many people will use the product for that purpose. For example, bumpers (see below) are much better than phone covers because you can enjoy your whole phone and if you drop it, nothing happens to the screen.
Other people have found that applying grips to a computer mouse makes it more comfortable to use. There are endless possibilities.
Here are some more examples of fixing solutions I found at sugru HQ. For many more look no further than on their website.
You are seriously stepping up your presence in retail stores – can you tell me a bit about that?
Until recently, we had such a small team we couldn’t go out and do retail sales. It was all about getting the word out and building a knowledge base of what people use sugru for and what kind of people use it. Our online launch was incredible because it wasn’t us telling people what to use sugru for but people telling us what they used it for. That’s really powerful: we never even had a sales team until a few months ago. It was all word of mouth online and we concentrated on building and growing a community and inspiring them with what they can do with their sugru.
We came to a certain point when our confidence in sugru and people’s need for it grew. On amazon, it gets an average 4.5 rating which is incredible, despite it not being our website or even our community. Building up insights is invaluable to us. We also evolved our branding last year and became much clearer about our messaging so that now we are very confident about selling into retail stores. We’ve been working on this for the past 6 months.
Congratulations are in order. sugru is now available at B+Q! How do you feel about it? It’s fantastic – my vision for sugru is to be in every home. I believe it has the potential to be this century’s duct tape or super glue. It’s about getting the world to fix and make again and to do that retail is very important. If people want to fix things they will search in stores for a solution and not just online. Packs are already for sale in B+Q stores and later this March we’re doing staff education training, which we’re combining with a bit of a road trip around the country. Toyota have sponsored us a brand new Prius, which we’ve had some fun with, keep an eye on our facebook or twitter for more on this as it happens 🙂
And you’re exhibiting at this year’s ideal home show for 18 days – what led you there? Videos, and live demonstrating make a great difference to general awareness. Amongst our target group, which I think we are getting clearer about, we have these amazing communities, like the designer-maker, engineering, outdoor and sport communities…but I guess if we want the world to get fixing again, we now need to be talking to people who don’t yet fix, who may not design or improve things at the moment. We did our first slot on QVC recently, and the stock sold out in 4 minutes. That’s amazing for us. We look forward to working with them again soon. And we are excited about the ideal home show!
You hitting the big boys, what about the small retailers? Communities are such a big part of what we do and small retailers are part of that community so we’d really like to build out our network of small retailers. Those people are so powerful. You have someone who is in their shop every day and knows everything about the product they sell. They know their customers and often recommend things to them. Footfall in B+Q is great but you might not have the same customer support and knowledge.
Do you sell worldwide? Online, we have users in 130 countries. About half of our business is in the US so we opened a distribution centre there and will be building a small team there this year.
For now, we are focused on the UK, the US and we also have distribution partners in scandinavia, which is going really well and we’re in discussion with some people for distribution in germany because it’s a strong market for us. A disproportionate number of our fixer of the month competition is won by german people. Australia and canada are also important markets.
Do you tend to bring out new product lines? We don’t necessarily need to bring out new products to stay fresh because we tell new stories about what people use sugru for all the time. As for colours, we’ve brought out new options twice. We didn’t have white when we launched and we introduced that in response to demand. We also changed from a set of colours to primary colours so that people could mix any colours and blend. The blending is perfect. You take 2 pieces, ie. red and yellow and you get orange.
Can you see many more colours being introduced to the sugru range? When we get to a certain stage with our main product line, then we can think about doing special editions.
Last but not least, meet jane’s newest member of staff, 10 weeks old ‘buddy’.
Jane thank you for flying the flag for incredible female entrepreneurs. It looks like sugru is the next duct tape or super glue, so enjoy the journey to the top!
Oh yes, one more thing.. I know sugru is now in 300 B+Q stores all over the UK and ireland, BUT it’s just a 3-month trial. There are 48 packs in every store and they need to sell every last one. So readers, if you want to help, spread the word. It’s really a fantastic product! Watch the very entertaining video here. (psst, a donkey is involved!)