“Stop listening to other people’s advice. Go with my gut”
Jane Ni Dhulchaointigh. Founder sugru.
These words, uttered by the inventor of sugru, the putty-like substance that is designed to fix or improve almost anything, marked the company’s transition from struggle to success in January 2009.
Those of you who have read our book ‘Bold-how to be brave in business and win’, will know that we advocate a number of principles, but two of the most important are ‘Stand up for something’ and ‘Stick to your purpose’. This zany company, and its zealous founder, are an embodiment of these mantras.
In a recent photo-shoot for British Airways High-Life Magazine, sugru inventor, Jane Ni Dhulchaointigh, managed to combine (and dramatise) both of these principles at once by sticking herself to the ceiling of her offices to demonstrate the effectiveness of her product.
So what is sugru? According to the company website “ sugru is the exciting new self-setting rubber that can be formed by hand. It moulds like play-dough, bonds to almost anything and turns into a strong, flexible silicone rubber overnight”.
The name, sugru, is the Irish word for ‘play’ which seems appropriate when you see some of the wild and wacky uses that its 150,000 users in 119 countries put it to.
A quick browse through the many videos and photographs uploaded by customers to the company web site (https://sugru.com/about) will reaffirm your belief in the ingenuity of people when they buy into an idea. But lest you think that sugru is just a toy, the product was named as 22 of the 50 greatest innovations of 2010 by Time magazine … the iPad was ranked 34.
It began with an idea
It was while Ni Dhulchaointigh was studying for an MA in Product Design at the RCA in London in 2003 that she had a bit of an idea. “I don’t want to buy new stuff all the time. I want to hack the stuff I already have so it works better for me.”
That notion led to experimenting with various substances culminating in a mix of smelly silicone caulk and wood dust called Formerol – but it worked. It would stick to anything yet remain as flexible as rubber when dry. It was waterproof, dishwasher proof and heat resistant and could be moulded into any shape. It was high-tech and even more useful than the ubiquitous Duct tape.
Have a BOLD Purpose
This was when Jane got excited. “This was bigger than just me. I got out my sketchbook and started imagining a world where this material existed. I knew that, by tapping into people’s innate creativity, all kinds of products could be transformed and improved. I knew that we could adapt and improve almost anything mass produced.”
Our research into those brands that are transforming their markets concluded that many of them share ‘A purpose beyond profit’. They are all commercially successful yet this is not what drives them – they exist because they are passionate about making a difference to the world.
It was Jane’s purpose that led to her putting a team together to develop the product, finding funding and setting up distribution channels. Discussions quickly followed with major glue manufacturers because Jane’s assumption at that time was “A small company can’t build a house-hold brand”. She was wrong.
Stand up for what you believe in
The pace of development with the large partners was very slow and Jane felt that her vision and sense of purpose was being compromised. She began to question her assumptions,
“I started to feel that maybe we could build our own brand. A friend told me “Start small and make it good”. The dream started coming back.”
That dream led to three years of effort and 8,000 hours in the lab to perfect the user experience so that the product smelt good, looked good, felt good and worked great. This effort meant the company nearly went bust several times over but eventually, in November 2009, working night-and day for a month, the company made its first 1,000 packs commercially and shipped them. Then their world changed.
They sent a trial pack to the Daily Telegraph magazine and columnist Henry Wallop, gave it 10/10 in his article. Wired and Boing Boing magazines picked up the story and linked it to their web site. The first 1,000 packs sold out in six hours. Sugru had arrived.
Tell product stories
One of the remarkable things about the brand is the way that customers have embraced the idea of ‘Hack stuff to make it better’ and have contributed hundreds of stories, photos and videos from all over the world to show other users how they have done so. The user community has expanded to over 150,000 customers who subscribe to the brand purpose, “The future needs fixing’. But it isn’t just about fixing, it’s also about making things better. Much better. James Davis, the youngest member of the British Olympic fencing team, used sugru to personalise the grip of his foil handle before competing in the 2012 London Olympics.
Drive innovation from what customers truly value
At smith+co we believe that, increasingly, brands and products will be ‘owned’ by their consumers who will contribute towards product development, promotion and technical support.
For example, Jane received hundreds of emails asking for the product in other colours. In April 2012 sugru was launched in all the primary colours so now some customers are using it to model things and create works of art -not just fix things.
Keep the main thing the main thing.
Jane Ni Dhulchaointigh started with a clear vision of what sugru could be: “I pictured it as a kind of space-age rubber-super easy to shape, sticky and durable. I knew it needed to feel gorgeous and that, if I cracked it, it would have a million uses”
That vision has sustained her through the bad times as well as the good, and it was that vision that persuaded her to build her own brand and to do it in her own way. It seems to have worked. In September 2012 she was awarded ‘Design Entrepreneur of the year’ at the London Design Festival and sales of sugru reached £1.4 million.
© smith+co 2013
Shaun Smith speaks and consults internationally on the subject of the customer experience. Shaun’s latest book ‘BOLD- how to be brave in business and win’ co-authored with Andy Milligan was published in April 2011 and was awarded ‘Business e-book of the year’ for 2012 by CMI.
You can compare your brand with the BOLD brands by downloading the FREE ‘Bold how to be brave in business’ App from the Apple iTunes Store or by following this link: http://www.boldthebook.com