I wanted to break away and do something different from everyone else
I knew very early on that I wanted to break away and do something different to everyone else. I was never really content with just having an ordinary 9 to 5 job and was always restless at school. My first business venture was as a teenager importing MP3 players and selling them online. At 17 I took my first real steps into the business world, having the idea of creating a creaseless paper folder, Foldio.
What started off as a simple idea for helping out a few classmates carry their large architectural documents around, soon became an actual company. Before I knew it I was getting interest from retailers wanting to stock it in their stores. That was when I needed funding and decided to try my luck on the BBC programme Dragons’ Den.
At 19, it was definitely the most nerve-wracking experience of my life. In retrospect, I was quite naïve, focusing solely on raising the capital rather than learning from the people on the show. I secured £80,000 from Theo Paphitis, which at the time seemed like a huge amount of money, in return for 35% of the company.
It was in those few years working out of Paphitis’s office where I got my real education of how to run a company, learning to make mistakes and overcoming challenges.
While Foldio was quite an achievement to have secured listings with a few major retailers, I could sense the world moving towards digital. It was hard for me to acknowledge, as I knew that it would stop the growth potential of my company and I would essentially need to start from scratch again.
I’ve always been fascinated with technology and how much it influences our everyday lives. I was convinced that future opportunity was to explore the emerging industry of connected home. While tech was being heavily utilised in the home I could see that the kitchen was severely lacking new innovation. People were still content with traditional appliances that had remained unchanged for 40 years.
That was the setting we identified to do some serious disruption, starting with the iKettle. While it certainly hasn’t been smooth sailing, having that initial idea of adding internet to an ordinary kettle was like having lightning in a bottle. It changed everything for us.
The iKettle seemed quite a bizarre concept at the time to my family and friends. I think they saw it as a bit of a gimmick, being able to remote boil your kettle using your smartphone.
You have to understand that there was a time when the remote control for the television was viewed much the same way. Now people can’t live without it. I knew that it was all about changing the mind-set of people.
I think it is so important tonever doubt what you are doing, be prepared to justify your idea and if it is something you are passionate about, stick with it. In 2013, we started Smarter with £100, which we used on materials to build a prototype of the iKettle, before raising £15,000 ($18,000) from family to take it into production.
We pitched the idea for the connected iKettle to Firebox and two months later it had become its best-selling product. When the iKettle launched on Firebox, we watched the list of the 50 bestselling items online: the kettle moved up every time we refreshed the webpage until it was the number one product after only two hours. We sold £200,000 worth of kettles in a week.
I’m not one for stopping and reflecting on just how far we have come, instead I find myself always obsessing about the next idea, the next invention, determined to keep striving for more. In a short space of time Smarter has expanded now to be a leading UK connected home brand, with a team of 23 staff who work at our London HQ. We have since gone onto produce the iKettle 2.0 and a Smarter Coffee Machine, which is a Wi-Fi-enabled bean-to-cup coffee maker. Both of these products are sold in 3000 major retailers across the UK and Europe, with a customer base of now almost 100,000 around the world.
Smarter has sold $10million worth of stock since its launch and is on track to double that this year as we launch a whole new generation of innovative kitchen products that are even ‘smarter’.
The future is in the connected home. It’s about harnessing the very best in technology and using it to help improve life, whether on a grand global scale or just giving a little boost in our daily routine. That’s what we intend on bringing to the world in our latest product, the Smarter FridgeCam.
We want to change the conversation and start thinking of how our appliances can support us efficiently managing the kitchen better on a daily basis.
The FridgeCam will change all of this, a wireless fridge camera that can retrofit into any fridge in the world allowing you to see the contents of your fridge from wherever you are via app.
The FridgeCam will track food items, recommend food recipes based on your fridge contents and alert you when food in your fridge is about to expire, saving you money, time and energy, but also has a wider vision to cut household food waste.
For us, the FridgeCam is the next step in the natural progression to connect the everyday kitchen.
Having those existing partnerships in place with the IKettle and Smarter Coffee beforehand has allowed us to continue to be a pioneering innovative solution in the heart of the home.
As the one of the new kids on the block Smarter has been able to make a bit of noise and establish itself as one of the fastest growing connected home companies in the UK. We’ve been recognised in the industry for it, which is always a nice gratification to know that we are heading in the right direction.
I think the challenge today is continually pursuing ideas, finding inspiration to push our limits and continue to further the business. It’s important to never settle and to always be eager to adapt to what the consumer wants next.
While most ideas aren’t necessarily going to be worth £1million, if you have the right plan in place and belief in what you are doing, anything is possible.