A partial visual history of Sugru
From "hmm" to "yay" via "eureka" and "wow".
While studying for my MA in Product Design (read 'playing and experimenting with materials') at the RCA in London, I had a bit of an idea. “I don't want to buy new stuff all the time. I want to improve and re-imagine the stuff I already have so it works better for me." (I didn't really say it out loud. I just thought it.)
If I'm honest, the first version of Sugru was pretty horrible — made from smelly silicone caulk and waste wood dust from the wood workshop. But it helped me make my kitchen sink plug bigger, and make a knife more comfortable.
The smelly silicone I’d made back in February wouldn’t leave me alone. I knew it could be amazing. I pictured it as 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’d have a million uses.
But it was only an idea. I mean, I gave up chemistry in school!
As part of my Final Year project, I returned to the idea and 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.
I refined my prototype material with pigments and finer powders and presented it at my final exhibition. When the most common questions were ‘how much is it?’ and ‘where can I get it?’, I got even more excited, and decided I had to make my concept real.
October 2004 - May 2005
I started gathering a team of specialists to help me turn this material into a real thing. The first were my partner James and my business partner Roger, then two incredible scientists, Ian and Steve, who had just retired from top jobs in the silicone industry. Then David, an awesome and wise patent lawyer.
Nesta, the UK’s innovation think tank, awarded the Company a £35,000 Creative Pioneer grant to get off the ground.
We drank champagne on a street bench to celebrate.
After paying a contract lab £5,000 to do 3 experiments, I realised the only way to develop this material was to do it myself.
With Steve’s help I set up a small laboratory, and learned the basics so I could start what was to be 2 long hard years of formulation work.
We had our first sucessful results in our chemical formulations, and applied for some patents.
This was enough to bring in some investment funding to take the product development to the next level. Thanks to the great guys at Lacomp who believed in us so early on. That night we drank Champagne in a little vietnamese restaurant.
Everyone knows a small company can’t build a household brand. You need to build a partnership with a big Multi-National Corporation, right?
Jane and Roger started making friends with the nice people at some of the world’s leading glue Companies.
We started exploring potential industrial uses for our materials with some really interesting brands.
For example, we worked on a cold curing grippy material for garden tools. And we worked with a top pencil manufacturer on some concepts for a new super-grippy premium range.
We started to get consistently strong and stable materials, but making sure the material stuck to lots of other materials was still a big challenge.
Our user trial group (mainly our friends) grew to over 100 people. Their feedback was feeding into our work. Basically everyone was saying “make it stick to more stuff”.
The pace of developments with the big Companies was very slow. My designer friends at Atto Partners had been nagging me for a while, and it began to sink in.
I started to feel that maybe we could build our own brand. Another friend told me “Start small and make it good”. The dream started coming back.
Five years later, and I’d never found a good name. One day around now, riding downhill on my bike I thought of the word sugru, inspired by the irish word for ‘play’.
I fell in love with it.
Our funding was running low, and we were still a way off with our development. We started pitching for investment again, but it was different this time, the recession meant we pitched to almost 100 investors.
With the recession getting deeper, we were scraping by on our overdraft. With no great signs from investors, we hit a low point.
Tears were shed.
I made a new years resolution.
Stop listening to other peoples advice. Go with my gut.
At last 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.
Summer & Autumn 2009
We bought a small mixer and working with one of our engineer friends to design a packaging machine, we built it for £5,000 and it ran on an arduino.
We designed a brand to get ourselves excited. We made videos, designed packaging, and built a website.
Having converted our lab into a little factory, we spent days and nights making and packing sugru. All of our friends and family helped.
It took an entire month of blood, sweat, tears and favours to make our first 1000 packs.
1st December 2009 (The day our world changed.)
We’d sent Harry Wallop at the Daily Telegraph Technology blog a pack to try out. He gave it a 10/10 review. Wired and Boing Boing saw it and linked to our new site.
Things started to go crazy. New links came thick and fast. Our first 1000 sold out in 6 hours.
(This is me, on the floor, in shock.)
2nd December 2009
We put another 2000 packs up for pre-order. We said that it’d take us months to ship the orders. They sold out in 10 hours.
Everything was different now. How could we make more?!
December 2009 - April 2010
All of a sudden, we had our pick of some pretty awesome investors.
This influx of money would help us build the factory we needed, and to start building our team. We did just that.
March - May 2010
While we were getting our factory and supply chain up and running, we started getting out – meeting our customers. The Newcastle and Bay Area Maker Faires were highlights – we loved meeting all the awesome people we’d talked to online.
After a 6 month ramp-up, we re-launched sales properly with an updated website and a warehouse full of sugru.
In the first week, we shipped to more than 40 countries. A lot of good people had been incredibly patient, and it felt great to share our idea with the world.
We started receiving hundreds of stories from new Sugru users all over the world. So exciting. This is why I invented sugru in the first place.
We got an email from Jim, who had trekked to the North Pole with sugru grips on his ski poles. We realised we had customers in 6 of the 7 continents of the world. We asked the community if they had friends in Antarctica who would like some. They did.
Our first retailer, the London Design Museum, started stocking Sugru.
TIME Magazine listed Sugru alongside the iPad as one of the top 50 inventions of 2010.
The iPad was number 34, Sugru was number 22.
Team Sugru had grown from 2 people to 6. We had our Christmas party in our new factory.
The Sugru community was growing — it was now in over 60 countries! My favourite part of every month was digging through community's contributions before writing the monthly email update.
Over half of our community is in North America, so we set up a company there to speed up shipping, and to supply US-based retailers.
Our community hit the 50,000 people mark. We drink pints in our local pub to celebrate.
A little film inspired by a project by a Sugru user gets 50,000 views in a week.
It's an amazing idea, and people are inspired.
Sugru is featured in the V&A's amazing exhibition the Power of Making. Team Sugru grows to more than 10 people.
All of the community's feedback and photos are showing us what Sugru is really good for, and who finds it really useful.
All of the feedback makes us very confident that it's not just for fun — it's a great household solution.
While continuing to keep community creativity at the heart of what we do, we get focused on bringing Sugru to the next level, where more people can find it when they need it. When their cables break, their fridge door cracks, or their kid's school shoes start to leak.
Fix of the month from Rob in Sussex shows how to make glow in the dark tent pegs with Sugru.
The team reaches 15 people and we started to feel like…sardines in our space. For months we'd been trying to wrangle the empty unit next door… we finally get the keys! From the left: Roberto, Charlotte, Sal, Rodrigo, Nanette, Suki, Ben, James, Justyna, Me, Eva, Rafal, Madeleine, Tom. Missing = Roger, off doing his thing :)
Fix of the month goes to @Robiot6 on our community forum for her clever thinking - "My fridge is not very practical for our family usage, I was missing a silly 0.5cm to be able to stack our yogurts - Sugru fixed it for me!" A simple and elegant solution that would be difficult to do without Sugru - awesome!
In the time since we launched, we'd had hundreds of emails asking for different colours, and the ability to mix a wider range of colours. It wasn't as easy as we hoped but after some great work in the labs, we finally cracked it... and as of april '12, Sugru comes in primary colours!
Back in March, a super cool Sugru user called Eimear sent us an image of a repair she'd just done for one of her students, Foridha, whose wheelchair joy-stick controller kept breaking. It didn't hold up unfortunately so around now she got back in touch to ask for help. James was taking the customer support emails that day, and he noticed the postcode – Foridha and Eimear were only down the road! So he and Ben jumped on their bikes to give them a hand.
The fix of the month goes to Joanne who reminds us that sometimes a fix can make a big difference, not just a small one.
Her heart was set on competing in an epic canoe race up the yukon river - 700km long. But with no fingers on her left hand, it was looking impossible. A small modification to the paddle allows her not only to compete, but to finish the race - after 3 days and 3 nights straight paddling. She says she wouldn't have been able to do it without the mod.
We're blown away!
Being based in London, we'd been getting excited about the Olympics for quite a while. We developed a product with Leon Paul London to enable Fencers to personalise their foils, and we were thrilled when James Davis, the youngest member of the British Olympic fencing team competed with his in the Olympics!
A strong interest in Sugru has been building in Scandinavia. We agree a partnership with some like-minded entrepreneurs from Norway, Halvard and Edvard, to promote and distribute Sugru in the Nordic region. They love Sugru, and are passionate about the same stuff we are. It's fun already.
Late September 2012
The inaugural London Design Festival 'Design Entrepreneur' award goes to...
Me! Woohoo! After moving into the various worlds of science and business, it's awesome to be recognised for our creative vision and achievements by a jury composed of some of the most radical and famous designers in the world including Thomas Heatherwick and Ron Arad.
I go to pick up the award at an exclusive ceremony in the Government buildings in Whitehall!
Fix of the Month goes to an awesome teacher Matt and his class, who sent a camera up into space using a helium balloon. They use Sugru to waterproof their camera and secure it in place for its interstellar adventure. The photos are beautiful and remind us of a world of potential.
Sugru has always been about so much more than itself. We felt strongly that we could help fuel a conversation about why a culture of fixing is important - so we made the Fixer's Manifesto. It hit a nerve and was shared all around the internet. We printed lovely letterpress posters, and made them available through the sugru.com shop.
Sugru user Jamie, an expedition writer and all-round awesome person sent us an email to tell us about his epic journey across Mongolia. He'd packed Sugru 'just in case' and found that it came in really handy! Along the way he patched up his boots, repaired a rafting paddle and even fixed a favourite toy for a new friend.
The dream from the start has been to be in everyone's kitchen drawer, as useful as duct tape and super glue. To get there, we need to get it into the big stores. We'd been trying for while, and at last we make a huge leap by launching in over 300 B&Q stores across the UK and Ireland. Woop!
We get excited and hire a donkey for our launch video.
As we expand, the team keeps growing too. We welcome our latest recruit, Buddy.
He's not very experienced, but he brings lots of energy and enthusiasm.
I'd been getting a lot of invitations to share the story of Sugru at events and conferences. 99U at the Lincoln Centre in New York City was the biggest so far. 1500 people, all tops of their fields in the creative industries. Other speakers included Joe Gebbia from AirBnB and Michael Wolff from Wolff Olins. I was so nervous I did public speaking training for a few weeks beforehand. It paid off - for the first time ever, I enjoyed myself on stage. And when I finished my talk, the audience gave me the first standing ovation in the history of the conference. It was a moment I'll never forget.
With our expansion into retail getting off the ground in the UK, we set our sights on doing the same in thing in the US, where 50% of our users had been since day one. We had another great year at the Bay Area Maker Faire, and the enthusiasm from our US customers was infectious. Buoyed up, we pushed on with plans to build out a small team in the US, as well as continuing to build the team in London.
After 10 years together, James and I finally got married! If I hadn't met him back when I was a naive and excitable design student, Sugru would likely have been just another interesting student project that never made it beyond the college walls. With his support, inspiration and unique enthusiasm and vision, we have built Sugru into an awesome product and brand that people love. Now finally, he's my husband!
While I was away, I'd had a nagging feeling - something wasn't right back at work. And when I got back and met with the board, I was certain. Our costs and the team were growing too fast in relation to our sales and our management wasn't strong enough yet. Together with Roger and the board, we had to make some really tough calls, and scale the team back by 30%. It was an incredibly stressful time on all the team, but we had to make sure we were building on strong foundations. Together, we needed to learn our own lesson again - Start small and make it good.
Roger. He co-founded the Company with me back when I was just out of college 10 years back. We met for 20 minutes, we clicked and decided to start the business together. Ever since, he'd been the Executive Chairman, maintaining the vision through all those years while we worked in the lab. He'd helped build the team and raise the funding we needed, but now in this crisis was when Roger came into his own. James and I were tempted to scale back to e-commerce, without the costs that were needed to build our retail supply model. But it was Roger and the management team that kept the Company on the right path. Focus on getting the business right for growth, keep going with the vision.
When I went to write the Community update that month, I found the stories they'd been sharing were more inspiring than ever. A Surgeon in Haiti had used Sugru to patch up his mosquito net so he was sleeping better and doing better work. A group in Nairobi who invented the BRCK to bring internet connectivity to remote areas of Africa, told us they'd built the first prototype with the help of Sugru. I felt a new connection with what Sugru could do.
Despite all the tough work going on behind the scenes, Sugru was still growing and I'd been shortlisted for the prestigious EY Entrepreneur of the Year award in the Emerging category. We were getting stronger as a team, and this was something we could celebrate together.
Sugru gets stocked in MoMA NYC!
We wanted to do something new and exciting for our users, and some of our favourite fixes involved pairing Sugru with magnets. We tested out lots of amazing magnets, and chose just the right ones to enable you to make pretty much anything magnetic. This was to be our first kit. We launched it on sugru.com and were overwhelmed with the response - we got pre-orders for 3000 kits in the first week. People were excited - that's what it's all about!
The awesome Science Gallery in Dublin asked me to help curate a show exploring failure. FAIL BETTER, named after Samual Beckett's famous quote, asked 24 leaders in their fields to nominate inspiring stories of failure. Sir Ranulph Fiennes, Jocelyn Bell Burnell, Sonia o Sullivan and Ken Robinson all contributed and along with the original Beckett manuscripts, made up a show that sparked lots of great conversations about the important role failure plays in creativity.
By now people were mainly using Sugru for pragmatic fixes around the home - fixing broken things that couldn't otherwise be fixed and solving everyday problems. These are our favourite uses for Sugru - because they're the most common and helpful to the most people. But then, once in a while, an ingenious solution comes along that just puts a smile on your face. Sugru-er Andreas in Germany discovered that LEGO hands are the perfect size to hold phone charging cables! He mounted his LEGO on the side of his desk with Sugru, and hey presto - the most viral use of Sugru all year was born!
The most common request from our customers had always been for a longer shelf life. With a material like Sugru that transforms from one state to the next, just on exposure to the air - shelf-life is one of the most difficult things to achieve. When we started formulating Sugru, it was a miracle to get it to last 24 hours in the pack. With a lot of work when we launched Sugru lasted 6 months, then 7, then 10 and now after a huge amount of work by our tenacious R&D team, we were thrilled to bring it to 13 months in the pack. This was a huge milestone, because it makes a big difference to lots of users and it opened up new distribution channels. High five!
We set ourselves the challenge to make the most awesome waterpistol ever with Sugru. The video we made about it got 1.6 million views in a week!
Our expansion into retailers in the UK was going strong and we started expanding to stores in the US again. This time it was different, we had much more insight and experience now, and we were stronger as a team. Sugru-ers in the US were always asking to be able to buy Sugru in their local stores. Katie, our head of sales, and her team were happy to help!
From an amazing shortlist, we won the London Living Wage Company of the Year award! As a Company with ambitious plans, we couldn't do any of it without the commitment of our whole team in all areas of the business, including our factory, and one of the most important ways we can show appreciation is with the living wage. We were thrilled to accept our award from the Mayor of London Boris Johnson - and in return we gave him a pack of Sugru!
Sugru-ers love colour. For different reasons - some like to match colours and make their fixes blend in so they're almost invisible, others like their fixes to stand out, loud and proud. Either way, they all agreed on one thing, we should make Sugru in more colours. We expanded our range from 5 to 10, and people got excited!
The Fix of the Month came from Belinda. She wrote how her husband, who is blind, was not able to use the Microwave when she was out at work. She thought about this, and how frustrating it was. Then she used her Sugru to solve the problem, by making the buttons tactile. Sugru-ers all have one thing in common - they are passionately independent, and they love to help others be more independent too.
To help more people find Sugru in-store, and make it more distinctive and enjoyable - we re-designed our branding and packaging. Full colours on the foil packs help people know exactly what colour is inside, the card wrapper gives more inspiration and FIX THAT THING tells you exactly what Sugru is for. Our retailers and Sugru-ers both love it!
Adding almost 1700 new stockists in one go, Sugru launches in Lowe's Home Improvement across the USA! We love to see our stockist map filling up with these red pins...
Our expansion into stores in the USA continues with Sugru launching in almost 2000 Target Stores across the country! This brings our total number of stockists from about 500 a year before to an amazing 5000. In our mission to help people everywhere start fixing things again, this is a HUGE step - in both the UK and the US now, a pack of Sugru is never far away!