Sugru – The Goo of Small Things

About: The multi-award winning mastic, Sugru, has taken the world by storm since launching in 2010. In an exclusive interview I sourced and wrote in The Irish Times, Sugru’s Irish inventor Jane ní Dhulchaointigh, reveals that her super-stuff has been selected alongside the iPad as one of Time Magazine’s Inventions of the Year, 2010.

Title: The Goo of Small Things

It’s a brand of goo. Sounds like “glue”. Or “you” too. Spelled “S-u-g-r-u”. Inspired by the Irish word “súgradh”, meaning “play”. What does Sugru do?

”It‘s basically a bit like Plasticine or modelling clay”, explains Jane ní Dhulchaointigh (31), the inventor of Sugru. “When you take it out of the packet, you have 30 minutes to shape it into anything you want. Then, you leave it overnight and it will set into durable silicone rubber.”

Doesn’t sound that interesting. Until you realise that Sugru moulds to most of the other materials in your home. Working with metal, glass, ceramic and hard plastic, Sugru is extremely versatile stuff.

Everything is Unfinished

“It started with the idea, ‘What if a material existed so that everything in the world could be more flexible’” explains Jane. A graduate of NCAD, Dublin, she had the idea for Sugru while studying for her Masters at the Royal College of Design in London. She wondered, what would happen if people saw everything in their house as unfinished and they were the ones to finish it off?

Sugru Jane

From the outset she had in mind to design a user-friendly and accessible product. That’s why it has certain properties like being dishwasher-proof, it looks good, is durable and is safe to use.

It’s design-led all the way but Sugru is backed up by some hard-core science and technology. “To design a new material from scratch does not happen overnight,” says the Kilkenny native with much understatement. She collaborated with a team of experienced materials experts through countless experiments over five years of research and development before they were ready for market.

Is the market ready for them? “I realised very early that in order for people to think as designers, as I hoped they would, they would need to be inspired.” explains Jane. “It was not about the material so much as about how people perceived it.”

Power of Communities

Word about Sugru spreads virally through internet communities. “Something that encourages people to share their ideas becomes very powerful,” she says. “Because we use the internet more and more, we expect everything online to be customisable. When it comes to our physical world, we just don’t have that flexibility.”

“The people who know their thing, love what they do, whether musicians, designers or whatever, have a massive opportunity ahead.”

The e-tail channel on www.sugru.com displays the slogan “Hack things better” in the banner. In this context, the word “hack” connotes innovation and improvisation. Shoppers can browse a gallery of Sugru tricks submitted by users from all over the world such as boots from Wellington, lamps from Illinois and bikes from Edinburgh. People protect their gear with it, pad the handles on their wares and make the world a little bit safer around baby.

It’s not just for sticking your iPod back together after you boogie too hard. “Only about 25% of the things we see people do are repairs,” claims Jane. “Most people use it for improvements and modifications.” The only limiting factor is human inventiveness. “It sounds absurd,” she says, “But there are hundreds and thousands of things that people do. Despite it’s online fame, the idea for Sugru (2003) predates social media platforms Facebook (2004), Youtube (2005) and Twitter (2006).

“When we started off, it wouldn’t have been possible to build an online community for Sugru like we have now.” she admits. But now all geographic barriers have been wiped away. “I can get a message (in London) from somebody sitting at the kitchen table in Alaska working on their headphones and we have a bit of banter about favourite songs.” Social media makes the shopping experience more like an old shoe shop or a record store. But one that reaches out to anywhere. “People don’t normally expect to be able to speak to the managing director of a company but it’s all so easy that we can operate like that. I absolutely love that. “

Organic Growth Strategy

Sugru also retails through small craft stores, science museums, bike shops and hardware stores. The upshot is, monthly sales of 5000 packets per month. There are no plans to super-size the business by going with a major retailer.

Look at all the things Sugru do“It’s a very organic growth strategy for a business but it also is quite solid because through those feedback loops you’re making iterative improvements all the time to your product, customer service and distribution system. You’re learning all the time and it’s all based on evidence.”

Sugru has enjoyed extensive coverage in Forbes magazine, the Daily Mail, the London Independent and now, even Time magazine is getting in on the act. Today Sugru is being nominated as one of Time magazine’s Top 50 Best Inventions of 2010, rubbing shoulders with the rocket scientists of Nasa and the gadget gurus at Apple.

If you could wrap publicity like that in foil packets you could sell it for a fortune. Does Sugru have a special PR machine sat next to the magic gum mixer?

Waste Less, Conserve More

Ní Dhulchaointigh laughs and denies any such machine exists. “It’s timing” she believes. “There’s a mood. But it’s not just the recession. It’s a post-consumerist mood, which is complicated.” In some respects, it’s not because people can’t afford new things, it’s because, due to environmental concerns it suits them to waste less and conserve more.

For aspiring entrepreneurs, she sees e-tail as the way to go. If you can forge a connection with people, you can trade with them from anywhere. ”Creativity is free,” she points out. “The people who know their thing, love what they do, whether musicians, designers or whatever, have a massive opportunity ahead.”

Sugru is growing. “We believe it has the potential to be as big as Blu-tack.” It’s a durable idea and she’s made it stick. As a reference point for the future, it’s worth remembering that another great brand based on the native word for “play” is Denmark’s Lego.

Time magazine’s Best Inventions list
sugru_time
Time magazine publishes an annual list of Best Inventions. Past luminaries include Nasa for their Ares rocket (2009), Apple for the iPhone (2007), YouTube for their video platform (2006) and iTunes music store (2003).Other inventions which have made it to the list and crossed into the public imagination include the Large Hadron Collider, the invisibility cloak, the Mars rovers, camera phones and the world’s fastest computer. Some inventions which are still awaiting the big time include the Airgo (2001), an air-powered Pogo stick and the Bowlingual dog translation device (2002) for interpreting canine speech. Unfortunately, the Bowlingual was never released outside of Japan. See www.time.com
See also:

10 Gadgets that will save you money

reelight

Gadget culture means people are obsessed with their mobiles and entertainment devices. But gadgets are not just a good way to spend your money, they can help save it too. From 2009, The Irish Times.

Title: 10 Gadgets That Could Save You Money

 1. Save on home heating with The Oxyvent Tank

An Irish invention that’s hot right now, the Oxyvent Tank improves the efficiency of your central heating by eliminating air-locks.

Recent scientific studies by Trinity College Dublin indicate that the Oxyvent Tank can provide 30%-50% energy savings in home heating.

That’s a cosy EUR240 or more siphoned off of a typical EUR800 fill of home heating oil.

TV super-saver Eddie Hobbs and eco-architect Duncan Stewart are long-time advocates, even though Oxyvent will not come under the new Sustainable Energy Ireland-run “insulation scheme”.

The Oxyvent Tank costs EUR900, plus installation (1 day). Available direct from www.oxyvent.com.

2. Free TV with Freesat

Since 2008, channels from BBC, ITV, Channel 4 plus 140 others (see www.freesat.co.uk) have been available in Ireland via satellite.

All that is required is a once-off payment when you buy the decoder (from EUR90), and a satellite dish (from EUR80).Freesat logo

Irish company Sat4free provide a competitive range of Freesat installation options for the domestic market (www.Sat4free.ie). Powercity.ie offer a very nice 10% discount on internet orders.

Picture quality is good, although the programme guide could be better. Unfortunately, RTE TV have no plans to broadcast via Freesat.

Put an end to TV bills (typically from EUR260 p.a.) and to frustrating Help desk calls to your service provider.

3. Deflate telephone bills with Skype Out and a headset

Skype is well-known for its ability to make free voice and video calls between computers, but it also allows you to call landlines and mobiles cheaply with Skype Out.
Just purchase credit from the Skype website to begin saving bucket-loads on national and international calls.

Using a headset (from EUR12), the quality is acceptable, especially when you consider how the pennies stack up. At a flat rate of 1.7c per minute, you can chat anytime for an hour to someone on the phone in Stockholm or Skibereen for EUR1. Texts only 9c.

Depending on your usage, Skype Out on its own could repay your broadband investment. See www.skype.com. See www.skype.com.

4. Save gym fees with a Wii and My Fitness Coach

The latest best-selling fitness franchise for the Wii, My Fitness Coach (IGN review) is not really a game and doesn’t even require the Wii Fit Balance Board.

Maya, your personal trainer, computes your vital information and creates a tailored exercise program to suit you. She then motivates your home fitness routines (without shouting, thankfully) and monitors your progress. My Fitness Coach, EUR26.99 from www.cdwow.ie, (plus Wii, from EUR239.99 at Smyths/www.toys.ie) replacing gym fees, from EUR625 p.a.

5. Save batteries with Reelight magnetic dynamo lights

The Reelight works (demo) when magnets, fixed to the wheels, spin past a copper coil embedded in the lights as you cycle, powering the front and rear LED lamps by magnetic induction.

The “revolutionary” no-friction dynamo, Reelight is the closest thing to magic on a bike since Elliot took to the skies with ET.

Available direct from www.reelight.com and from Cycleways in Parnell St, Dublin
1. From EUR39.99.

6. Smart power with Standby Saver

Standby-Saver was the first product ever to win the backing of all four Dragons on BBC’s Dragon’s
Den when it appeared in 2007. This clever plug board redeems a small fortune on wasted electricity by automatically powering-down your home entertainment appliances to zero, so you don’t have to. Versatile and good value at STG19.99 (plus P&P), it can recoup the investment in six months.
Best buy: Two at www.energybulbs.co.uk

7. Free computer stuff

There’s often a free download that’s just as good as branded software. OpenOffice.org provide top-notch free office applications which even allow you to send finished work around in PDF and Microsoft formats.

Clamwin is a trusted anti-virus tool which, together with WinPatrol (pic left), can help your PC fight off computer-nasties instead of commercial utilities. Available free from www.download.com.

8. Rechargeable Batteries

If you use a lot of remote-controls in your home then it makes sense to invest in rechargeable batteries. Chargers start from EUR15, various batteries EUR5 for four from Lidl. Kids and gamers take note.

9. The Hammer Gadget

Learn how to Do-It-Yourself with video tutorials from www.videojug.com and www.popular-mechanics.com. Clearly explaining repairs and patches of every description, the short videos will help you fix most daily problems in jig time and make good use of that hammer-gadget.

10. Internet Super Savers

Like any retailer, Amazon offers end-of-line sales. Use the Deallockersearch tool to rummage through the gigantic bargain bins on the world’s largest retail website: deallocker.com/tool/secret-amazon-discount/

Find the best airfares with the excellent www.kayak.com. (Not including Ryanair)  it quickly searches all the airlines for the best fares, even teasing out the hidden charges.

(Copyright 2009 by Kevin Casey)