Jane ní Dhulchaointigh is the inventor and CEO of sugru. An innovative new self setting rubber for fixing, sealing and modifying just about anything. She began her startup journey back in 2003 whilst studying for her masters in Product Design. She was tired of having to buy new things when her stuff got a bit broken. In most cases all it needed was for something simple to seal or mould around the broken possession.
In the current climate, mending things makes obvious sense besides buying new, and Jane began to think – what if everyone else had the same sense of frustration? What if there came a miracle little product on the market that fixed things simply? Saving everyone time and money, and salvaging the products people have had for years, whilst minimising wastefulness. This was her eureka moment.
She got her sketchbook out and started imagining a world with a miracle little product. A piece of rubber, like play-dough, that would mould and bond to almost anything and turn into a strong, durable material once it’s left to set. She drew up a million different ways things could be transformed and improved with just this small piece of sticky rubber.
She showed her uni pals and they loved the idea, asking how much it was and where can they get their hands on some – she had people wanting to buy her product even before it was branded! All she needed now was team up with specialists to start making this idea a reality.
It was a long, slow process trialling and testing different formulations to get the right product. In the early days, sugru was a smelly mix of silicon caulk and wood dust – but it bonded to almost anything. Since then, Jane and the team have worked tirelessly over the years to create the best product that’s not only worked, but is affordable, looks great, and is easy to use.
Jane’s sugru MVP
Nesta, the UK’s innovation think tank awarded the sugru team £35,000 worth of funding to get off the ground as part of their Creative Pioneer scheme. They began to explore the processes of outsourcing their creation to bigger companies with the mindset that small companies can’t build a household brand, you have to partner with corporations for exposure. But they soon realised it was a very slow process especially when sugru had the potential to become a big brand in its own right.
A friend gave Jane and the team some key advice that she’s taken with her from then on, that was to ‘start small and make it good’ so she ignored what everyone else was telling her and went with her gut.
The team pivoted, and began to develop a brand for the genius ball of rubber, coming up with the name sugru, a variation of the irish word súgradh meaning ‘to play’.
They poured their blood sweat and tears into developing the product to give sugru the versatility it’s known for, always with their purpose in mind – to reduce wastefulness and people’s frustration. Customers continue to come up with so many new uses for sugru that Jane and the team have never even thought of, building this great sense of community around the product. Everyone shares ways they’ve used sugru to help them in their daily lives – from creating new keys on a saxophone, moulding outdoor hooks onto sheds for gardening tools, to making shatter-proof bouncy screen protectors for iPhones, iPads or children’s cameras. It has countless uses.
In a recent broadcast on CNN International, Jane said, “It’s been a long journey. First of all the technology has been difficult to invent and second of all, we’re not a big company with big budgets behind us. We’re doing it on a shoe string with an unusual idea that’s slightly before it’s time.”
Since that first lightbulb moment back in Jane’s University days, she’s tenaciously stuck with sugru through thick and thin, always keeping her belief in the impact this product can have on people’s lives both financially and creatively.
sugru are now a team of 35, turning over $1.5m last year with a global customer base of over 300,000 people. With its well-defined purpose as a company, its clear vision and the strong community building around the product, it’s safe to say that this happy startup will continue to grow in its mission :)