Meet the Maker: Sugru Inventor Jane ni Dhulchaointigh
Inventor of wonder product Sugru, a silicone based mouldable glue, Jane ni Dhulchaointigh (try saying that quickly!) sheds some light on how to use her amazing product, how she developed it, and what she learned along the way…
What does a typical week look like for you?
In the life of Sugru there doesn’t seem to be a typical week! We are growing quite fast, so there are new challenges all the time. For example at the moment, I could be in the office with the team working on a series of exciting projects like the next evolution of Sugru.com, and how we inspire more and more people what they can do with their Sugru, or I could be travelling – this week for example I’m in New York meeting with US media, bloggers and people we may add to our team as we expand.
For me, inspiration comes in identifying a problem or area for improvement.
Describe your workplace.
At Sugru HQ in East London, we are a very varied and multidisciplinary team – of Scientists, Manufacturing, Design & Creative, as well as all the things you’d expect like Sales, Marketing and Finance – it makes for a fantastic mix of people and a buzzing atmosphere. Our workplace is in an old Victorian button factory, and that sounds a bit cooler than it probably is! It’s an exciting place to be as the team are very nice, and although we work very hard, we do have a laugh together too.
Where do you find your inspiration?
For me, inspiration comes in identifying a problem or area for improvement. I have always been passionate about tackling the throwaway culture we live in and reimagining our surroundings to make them work harder and be more enjoyable. For example my home is an on-going project – there’s always a project underway and I find I get inspired easily, maybe a little too easily! I tend to have several projects on the go at once, and find it much more fun to start things than finish them. Workwise, I think finding inspiration comes much easier when you have space to think and play, and to follow your interests and instincts. These days with Sugru, the thing that inspires me is hearing from our community of users about their lives and projects and what they’ve done with their Sugru.
Where did the idea for Sugru start?
While studying for my MA in Product Design at the Royal College of Art in London, I spent weeks experimenting with different materials. After some happy accidents, I created a material which was to become Sugru that could enable people to get creative and enhance their everyday items.
As a product designer I felt that the impact I would be able to have by redesigning specific products would be limited. However the potential for rediscovery and problem solving in the everyday objects we already own is huge. If I could tap into other people’s’ innate creativity we could transform any product to make it better. That’s when the idea for Sugru was born.
I think finding inspiration comes much easier when you have space to think and play, and to follow your interests and instincts.
Share your biggest moment along the journey.
When exhibiting Sugru as my final year, the response I received was so positive – I had some many people saying they would definitely use this product if it was on the market. I got so excited and decided to turn my project into a business by teaming up with my co-founder Roger Ashby. From there, Sugru started with a small team of product designers and material scientists here in London. Born from our dream of making fixing, modifying and making things easy and fun for anyone (and a serious amount of time testing), the final Sugru product was born.
What was your toughest moment of the journey?
In 2008, our funding was running low and we were still a way off with our development. We started pitching for investment again, but in the middle of a recession it was a real struggle. We pitched to almost 100 investors that year and by December we were scraping by on our overdraft. With no great signs from investors, we hit a low point. Tears were shed.
It took a strong New Year’s resolution to stick to my guns and a great piece of advice from a friend to ‘start small and make it good ’to turn it around. I changed my mindset and a few months later a private investor put up just enough funding for us to launch Sugru ourselves. We set ourselves a deadline of 6 months to make it happen. It was now or never!
A friend gave me the best piece of advice I’ve ever had – “Start small and make it good”
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Back in 2008 when the recession had hit hard, and we’d been working on Sugru for about 4 years already, we ran out of funding. My dream for Sugru was always big – it should be accessible and available to anyone, and sold through all the stores where people would expect to find it. However to get there would require so much funding, and we didn’t have it. It was touch and go whether Sugru would ever get out there, until a friend gave me the best piece of advice I’ve ever had – “Start small and make it good”, it completely changed how I was thinking, and then and there I changed my mind. We looked for a smaller amount of funding, and decided to launch online ourselves – it was the best decision we ever made, in the first day we sold out our first batch of 1000 packs in 6 hours and the global community that found us online that first day has been building and building ever since.
What was the first thing you made with Sugru?
The very first version of Sugru was made from smelly silicone caulk and waste wood dust from the wood workshop. It helped me make my kitchen sink plug bigger and a knife handle more comfortable. From that moment on, I never really looked back – everything can be improved!
What are the most quirky ways you’ve seen Sugru used?
The creative journey of discovery that comes hand in hand with using Sugru is something that can be so unique. I particularly love where a small use of Sugru can make a big difference in someone’s life. One of our customers who has an 8 year old daughter in a wheelchair used Sugru to adapt the controls of a chairlift outside their front door – now she can come in and out of the house on her own, which was never possible before. How awesome is that?! We’ve seen countless ingenious Sugru hacks for crafty projects and prototyping too.
Never see your business or product as complete.
What is your advice for anybody looking to develop their own ideas for
Never see your business or product as complete. Keep asking yourself and your customers how you can improve it and be prepared to adapt and grow based on the answers if you need to. As well as learning from our user community, here at Sugru, we’re constantly putting the product to the test in our labs and we’re also working towards making it kid & food safe.
And for the future, what are you hoping to do next?
We are expanding into new markets all the time. We currently have customers in over 160 countries all over the world and we want to build on that this year. We are being stocked in major retailers in the USA which is huge for us. Our end goal is for Sugru to be in every kitchen drawer and toolkit around the world, the must-have fixing and making product for the whole family.