Jane ni Dhulchaointigh: Make, mend, modify… play

I have to declare an interest: I love the product that Jane ni Dhulchaointigh invented. It’s fabulous.

There are some things that most of us have around the house. We can’t imagine not having them, yet they were invented in our lifetime, or that of our parents: cellotape, duct tape, blu-tak, superglue, velcro, post its. The next generation will almost certainly include in that list one more: Sugru. That’s what Jane ni Dhulchaointigh invented.

Jane ni Dhulchaointigh

Very Short Biography

Jane ni Dhulchaointigh (pronounced Jane nee Gull-queen-tig) grew up in Eire, in Kilkenny and studied fine art. She then did a master’s degree in design at the Royal College of Art, graduating in 2004. It was there that, in 2003, she first discovered the material that was, through much research and development, to become Sugru.

She presented a prototype of the material – along with sketchbooks full of uses for it – as her final year project. I don’t know how well it was marked, but she passed and, more important, visitors to the degree show wanted to know how much it cost, and where they could buy it.

ni Dhulchaointigh knew she was onto something.

Now Sugru is a rapidly growing brand that delights its customers and has a loyal following of makers, creators and hackers (in the sense of bodgers trying to make things better) around the world.

Five Lessons to Learn from Jane ni Dhulchaointigh

Sugru is a relatively new business and ni Dhulchaointigh is not a highly public figure (see the depth of the biography I have managed to assemble!) But from what I have read of her story, there are five valuable lessons for entrepreneurs, business people, and managers in general.

If you want to know more of the story of the creation and development of Sugru, the best place to look is on the company website. I have drawn these lessons from various interviews published on the web.

Lesson 1: Be Prepared to Learn

Or: ‘It’s only chemistry’. Jane ni Dhulchaointigh is a designer and sculptor by training and inclination. Creating a new silicone based product and getting it right requires a lot of chemistry. With her business partner, they hired two experienced (then recently retired) silicone chemists, but I like her attitude. Over the years of development, she was determined to learn, so she could contribute to, question, and understand the science. This puts me in mind of the Growth Mindset ideas of Carol Dweck, which this blog covered a couple of months ago.

Lesson 2: Have a Vision

Once Jane ni Dhulchaointigh had the idea for what use to put Sugru to, she was away. In guiding the chemists, she had a clear vision of what her end product needed to be like. She describes it with five words: colour, pleasure, safe, stick, magic. I’ve used Sugru and that’s five ticks. Which brings us to…

Lesson 3: Take your Time

The development process for the final product took many years. Jane ni Dhulchaointigh says she is glad it did. It meant that the product was good, and that she and her team understood it thoroughly. This was no rush job. But the question remained how to get it to market. For this, she is indebted to the advice of a friend. When she failed to secure big funding from a major corporate, she followed the advice and decided to…

Lesson 4: Start small and make it good

Her first commercial batch of Sugru got coverage in Wired, Boing Boing, and the Daily Telegraph, who all gave it rave reviews. She sold out of the 1,000 packs online in 6 hours.

Lesson 5: Be prepared to take risks

Nothing about Jane ni Dhulchaointigh strikes me as a compulsive risk taker, but she describes the whole development process as a series of risks. By taking a cautious, careful approach to risks, and holding tight to a clear vision she believes in, ni Dhulchaointigh has made those risks pay.

Jane ni Dhulchaointigh in her own words

There are a few videos of Jane ni Dhulchaointigh speaking about Sugru’s creation story. Ths is my favourite.

Fun fact for the pub quiz: Sugru is an Anglicised spelling of Irish word Sugradh, meaning ‘play’.

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