After working for six years to invent Sugru, a moldable glue that hardens into a rubbery substance, Jane ní Dhulchaointigh introduced her product to the world. Now, Sugru is used by more than one million people worldwide. Ní Dhulchaointigh told Business News Daily about the evolution of her product and company, and her goal of providing a useful product to help people get back to fixing and making the things they need.
Jane ní Dhulchaointigh:Sugru is moldable glue. It's a new and unique material that I invented to inspire and enable people to enjoy fixing and making again. It feels and looks like play dough when you take it out of the pack and sticks to almost all other materials, turning to a strong, flexible rubber overnight. There are now more than one million people in over 160 countries around the world using it to fix and improve their stuff.Business News Daily: In a nutshell, what service does your business provide?
People use Sugru for practical reasons because it can do so much more than regular glue or even duct tape. But it's the creative license Sugru gives them to solve everyday problems for themselves that's become as important as the product itself. If something doesn't work as well as it should, people can use Sugru in 101 different ways to fix and improve it.
BND: How long have you been in business?
ní Dhulchaointigh: I first came up with the idea for Sugru in 2003 while studying design at the RCA [Royal College of Art] in London. That's when the adventure started and I haven't looked back since.
BND: Did you start with a formal business plan? If not, how did you lay the groundwork for your business?
ní Dhulchaointigh: No, it started as an experiment and a big idea. It took much longer to develop the technology and find the business model 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.
Our launch day in late 2009 changed everything. It took us nearly three months to make 1,000 packs in our labs, and thanks to an amazing review on a tech blog on our launch day, they all sold out in six hours! The enthusiasm from people around the world in what we were doing was overwhelming. After six years in the labs with no one knowing about us, it was an incredible feeling.
BND: How did you finance your endeavors, both initially and as your business grew?
ní Dhulchaointigh: Initially, I partnered up with my co-founder Roger Ashby and NESTA gave us £35,000 ($52,946.25 USD as of November 25, 2015) 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 £250,000 ($378,325 USD) of investment funding from Lacomp PLC in 2006. We then raised investment at a number of milestones to bring Sugru to market and scale the company to where it is today.
More recently we have used equity crowdfunding, allowing our investors to become great advocates for the brand and join the Sugru community. Our most recent round closed in July 2015 at £3.5 million (about $5.3 million USD).
Equity crowdfunding is about people, power and the fact we have that love and support globally is fantastic. We wouldn't have had that same heightened sense of mission and community had we pursued more traditional financing means.
BND: How much did you invest personally?
ní Dhulchaointigh: More than 10 years now of a labor of love. At the start and at various points in between, there were periods when we couldn't pay ourselves, but that's OK, you find a way forward. Other than that I had no money to invest; after all, when we started the business I was pretty much a student!
BND:Is your business today what you originally envisioned at the outset or has it changed significantly over time?
ní Dhulchaointigh:I could never have imagined that we'd have such a fantastic team and adventure. My vision for Sugru as a product is more or less the same as it always has been, but the journey to get here, and our journey into the future to develop all the potential of the brand is still unimaginable to me. Our world is changing so fast — who could have imagined 10 years ago the age of social media and the democratized business eco-system that we enjoy today? Vision is important, but for us flexibility in how to get there is equally so.
BND: What are some lessons you've learned? Is there anything you would've done differently?
ní Dhulchaointigh: There's not much I would have done differently, as you learn as you progress and the business develops. I now know there wasn't an advantage in outsourcing manufacturing early, which we initially tried. It wasn't right for us — the arm's length management, with less flexibility than we'd like and a disconnect between the R&D team and manufacturing team. So we decided to do it our way and hired a great manufacturing manager. We are now a proud manufacturer and part of the third industrial revolution of local, lightweight, high-value manufacturing.
BND: What were the most important factors that contributed to your success?
ní Dhulchaointigh: I think part of our quick success in the U.S. was due to the fact Sugru feels like it's from the future, and it's ahead of its time. As a society, we're becoming more and more environmentally aware, and keen on fixing, upcycling, or making rather than throwing things away. People are turning off needless consumption. There's a feeling we're smarter than that; and there’s a strong group in the U.S. market that really gets that.
Being stocked with a major retailer such as Target means we are in more than 3,500 stores nationwide, which is huge for us. Target especially opens Sugru up to a new audience as it's not just DIY-ers who shop there. The inaugural success of our U.S. roll out has not only proven Sugru's worth through sales volumes, it has also helped us to establish the brand as a key player in the adhesives market and the maker movement.
BND: What are the next steps you want to take as a business owner? How do you see yourself achieving those goals?
ní Dhulchaointigh: We are expanding into new markets all the time. With customers all over the world, we want to focus on building our global community this year. In terms of Sugru itself, we're currently working on a new version of Sugru, which we hope to launch in the toy space as it will be kid-safe. Our dream is for Sugru to be in every home worldwide; the must-have product for the whole family, so that when you have any problem, people will say, "Sugru it!"
BND: What is your best advice to someone with a great business idea who is ready to give it a shot?
ní Dhulchaointigh: If I could give one piece of advice to any budding inventors out there, it would be to make sure your idea is one that gets you really excited, and one that will make a difference in the world. The road will be full of ups and downs, and challenges you can't even imagine when you're starting out, and it's this feeling for the change you want to make in the world that will carry you through.