We sat down with Joe Sillett, founder of The Funky Appliance Company, that seeks to put an innovative spin on everyday household appliances to find out how to bring an entrepreneurial vision to reality.
In this interview, Joe covers essential topics for budding entrepreneurs such as getting funding, manufacturing products, design, as well as expanding product ranges to scale companies.
Magnet Monster (MM): Joe, why The Funky Iron? How did somebody with such a diverse entrepreneurial background end up innovating an every-day home appliance? Walk us through conceptualisation to reality.
I had been waiting for my next business idea to arrive. You just never know when that moment will happen. I went to an Entrepreneur’s talk in Southampton where Mike Clare of Dreams Beds and Nick Jenkins of Moonpig talked about how they found success. Mike said, “find something in every household, like I did with beds, then put your own twist on it and then just get on with it.” Nick said, “find a product which everyone buys, like greeting cards and put your own twist on it, like we did with the personalisation of greeting cards.”
Five days later, my wife Sadie and I were driving to our local hardware store. Sadie said, “there aren’t any funky ironing board covers out there.” To which I said, “Forget about ironing board covers, there aren’t any Funky Irons in the world, irons all look the same.”
After visiting the shop, we went home and immediately typed into Google Search “electric steam irons” and looked on the images tab, to get an overview of what was out there in the market. Whilst there are many irons in the world which look nice and are very functional, we couldn’t see a really beautiful, stylish electric steam iron, so we set about designing one.
It took us a week to have a very clear idea of what we wanted our Funky Iron to look like and when Sadie and I agreed on this, we brought in a professional designer to work with us. He worked with us on 2D drawings until we were happy and once we were, he introduced us to a 3D designer, who we have worked with ever since. The whole design stage from initial idea to agreeing the final shape and construction with the factory in China took about 6 months. We then spent 9 months building the tooling and testing prototypes.
The product went into manufacture in October 2018 which was 27 months on from having the original idea. This involved me going to China five times to build the relationship with the factory owner and his team. Within a month of launching, the new Funky Iron was given the status of “Good Housekeeping Institute Approved 2019”.
MM: What advice would you give other entrepreneurs about bringing in investment when trying to redefine a product category the way The Funky Appliance company is doing?
I can only talk about how it has been for us. We were and are incredibly passionate about our Funky Iron design, which we think will sell all over the world. We have had fantastic feedback from customers, journalists, retail buyers and distributors. If you have passion for a product and you need to finance that journey, crowdfunding represents the very best way in which you can tick two boxes at once. You simultaneously raise the capital needed as well as gaining an army of supporters who are keen for you to do well. They can offer you ideas, support, provide feedback on colours and product choices and can be an invaluable source of knowledge and support. Remember the journey from the early days of a business through to success can be long and often lonely. Having 300 people behind you every step of the way can be very uplifting indeed.
If you have a product which you think will fill a space in the marketplace, you need to be passionate about it. If you don’t have the passion, you won’t be able to take yourself on the journey you will need to go on. And you certainly won’t be able to take investors on that journey without the passion.
So my advice would be to use crowdfunding, which can either be equity-based, as we have done three times successfully on leading equity crowdfunding platform Seedrs or it can be reward-based, where you offer customers and supporters rewards such as a decent discount for helping you bring your product to market. Sites like Kickstarter are perfect for this.
MM: How important do you consider is to diversify the product range for the Funky Appliance company? I’ve noticed you’re planning to launch a toaster & kettle. Do you think this is important for brand-building, or can a company be successful scaling with a singular product?
I absolutely believe that there are many companies out there who can and have achieved success with one product. The first brand and product I can think of is Tangle Teezer. Shaun Pulfrey came up with a brilliant idea and has executed it fantastically well. In our case, I think we could have great success by sticking to being a one product company, as the Funky Iron, like a Tangle Teezer, is unique looking.
However, on this journey, I have had so many people say to me that we should diversify as soon as possible. Ex-CEO’s of big appliance companies, distributors, retail buyers and investors have all said that our hand would be significantly strengthened by being more than a one-product company. Ultimately, by having more products, you are spreading the eggs in your basket better and you are giving your business an even better chance of succeeding, if the products fit together and are part of the same story. This is vital in our case, that each product should complement another and that a range of Funky products should have the same handwriting, lines and curves.
By having multiple products, rather than attacking a single £3.5bn marketplace like irons, we are now potentially going after a £150bn global small appliances market. This also makes the journey even more exciting.
I love product design, as does Sadie. Working on the Funky Kettle and Funky Toaster this year has been great and now that both products are ready to go into production, we’re delighted that we have created two new beautiful products to go with our Funky Iron.
So in summary, it’s naturally easier to scale if you have more strings to your bow and this was a decision which the Management Team were very happy to make, as we all believe that The Funky Appliance Company is enhanced by offering multiple products.
MM: Finally, what does the future hold for the company: focus on the conventional retail channels, or more emphasis on D2C?
We see a combination of bricks and clicks as being the right recipe for success. That’s not to say that you can’t be super successful by having an online-only business, however, seeing a product like the Funky Iron, Funky Kettle and Funky Toaster in the flesh will result in many more people buying our products than ordinarily would be the case as an online-only business.
We will look to establish a strong presence on the UK high street by working with partners who buy into our vision. That process is already well underway and 2020 will be an exciting year for us. We will also appoint several international distributors to take our product ranges out to many countries across the world, as we have had a lot of overseas interest to date, which will convert into great results in 2020.