Sadie and Joe Sillett saw a gap in the market for a funky looking iron. They chat to BQ about the patience required to take a product, such as this, to market.
Tell us about your business, what does it do?
The Funky Iron Company has created a stylish modern retro steam iron called The Funky Iron. We feel there is a large gap in the iron market for an iron which aesthetically complements all other modernised homeware gadgets and goes toe to toe functionality wise with competitive products.
What did you do before you started this business?
Sadie: Along with raising three young children for the past 10 years I worked part-time as a cleaner to fit in with school schedules. Prior to that, I worked as an Office Manager, Legal Secretary and P.A. at various companies in West Sussex and London.
Joe: This is now my 4th start-up business. The best known of my previous businesses to date was the cricket and golf brand Woodworm, which I took from £0 to £10m valuation in 4 years. Before starting and running my own businesses which I have done for 18 years now, I worked for leading corporates Wilson Sporting Goods, Compaq Computers and SAP.
What inspired you to start up?
Sadie: After spending an evening with Nick Jenkins (Moonpig and Dragons Den) and Mike Clare (Dreams Beds) at a talk about Entrepreneurialism in Southampton in 2016, Joe came home extremely enthusiastic and inspired to keep searching for an idea to bring a new product to market.
Since I have known Joe (19 years now) he has maintained a strong belief and passion for whatever it is he takes part in, be it business or sport. I find this inspiring for myself and was keen to back him once the iron idea came up, as I felt it had come at a perfect moment for us both and knew there was no-one better equipped to take on the challenge than Joe. It was only 5 days after Joe went to the talk that we were driving to our local hardware store needing to buy a new ironing board and on the way to the store, I made the comment that I thought ironing board covers were dull and weren’t very funky. Joe then immediately replied: “I tell you what are not funky, irons. There are no Funky Irons out there.”
Returning home and researching the market, we realised that there was a gap in the market. Where kitchen mixers, toasters and kettles had all moved with style and colour, irons had nothing by way of comparison.
How would you describe your business to your grandma?
We have created a stylish Funky Iron which would have looked fantastic - and made short work of the ironing with the steam function - in the days when Grandma was a busy housewife/mother. It is a timeless design which we believe will still be a classic and going strong many years down the road.
Where do you get advice, support or help?
We have a very strong management team made up of our two lead investors and another very experienced professional who has been there and done it in the consumer electronics industry. Outside of that, if we need specific advice or help on any subject, we will often ask for it on LinkedIn and it has been amazing how much of a role LinkedIn has played in our development and history to date.
We have found both of our designers via recommendations on LinkedIn and a significant % of our investor base have come to us having first found out about The Funky Iron Company on this platform.
Finance is one of the most common barriers to starting up. How did you access the finance you needed?
We came very close to signing up with 2 private investors in London after 1 year of developing the concept and business plan. However, in previous businesses, we noticed just how important it is to have the right harmony and balance of power amongst the management team and shareholders.
For that reason, we opted to run crowdfunding campaigns on Seedrs. We had two very successful campaigns in 2017, attracting investment from 164 investors in 20 countries and we will be running another campaign in 2019, where we hope to grow our investor base to between 400 and 500.
What has been your biggest achievement so far?
Taking the Funky Iron from a pencil drawing to a fully certified and tested product into the marketplace. That’s an achievement which we are very proud of. The process is long and takes real patience when you are building a brand new design and product from scratch.
How do you differentiate your business from others?
We knew right from the outset that in order to enter the market and be taken seriously, there needed to be a compelling unique selling point. Our new Funky Iron is like nothing else design wise and we can tell that it has captured the imaginations of retailers, customers and investors.
What’s it like to be your own boss?
On the one hand, the freedom is very empowering. On the other, it can be a very lonely existence in the early days. 30 months’ full-time work from idea to product launch into the market is a long time to keep patience, focus and determination levels high. That’s why having a strong management team and a supportive investor base is key. They can spur you on and remind you of just how exciting an opportunity it is.
Where do you see your business in 5 years time?
We believe that Funky Irons will be very successful around the world. We have already had a number of approaches from businesses in the USA and Canada, many countries in Europe and also further afield in the Middle East and Australia. People are excited about bringing the new Funky Iron to their country.
After that, we have always thought that there would be a natural progression into other product areas, specifically appliances, which is why we have protected “The Funky” trademark in many different product classes from an Intellectual Property perspective.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
Believe in yourself and your team 100%. Believe in your product 100%. If you really believe in your product which we do, stick to your guns 100%.
Also, listen to how intuitive your gut feel is, which will be right 9 times out of 10. Be determined. Be passionate about your business. You have to take people with you on a journey. Sell the sizzle and then deliver the plan, which is exactly what we hope to do. Stay very focused. Don’t be afraid to ask for people’s advice, that’s not a weakness, it’s a strength.
Learn from your mistakes and don’t be afraid to fail. Failure is a prerequisite in becoming successful as it teaches you lessons which success can’t.