Jane ni Dhulchaointigh: Sugru helps build a culture that’s proud of fixing and making

“What if products were more like software, where you can make things work for you rather than stick with how it comes out of a factory?” This is the question Jane ni Dhulchaointigh put to the audience at Wired 2013,…

“What if products were more like software, where you can make

things work for you rather than stick with how it comes out of a
factory?” This is the question Jane ni Dhulchaointigh put to the
audience at Wired 2013, a
decade after she first pushed together some sawdust and silicone to
create an accidental revolution called Sugru. The water and heat resistant substance was sticky like
Play-Doh, stuck like superglue and bounced like a ping pong ball
when set. “I said to myself, I have to find the position for this material
in the world!” said ni Dhulchaointigh, with a hint of humour at her
own naivety. Because the business model was by no means an easy
one. As ni Dhulchaointigh explains, she really did not set out to
make money. “This is genuinely about a new culture about making and
fixing things.” Having accidentally come across a substance that
might kickstart that revolution, and provide anyone with the
ability to mod, meld and hack just about any physical object, ni
Dhulchaointigh was driven by one desire: to introduce the whole
world to this new anomoly. All the things you might traditionally do to scale an idea and a
company — taking it to a professional lab, taking it to a big
corporation with marketing departments — failed to fulfil her
hopes for the product. It was only when she developed samples on a
small scale to get them out to journalists, bloggers and the
public, that people began to see what she had known all
along. “We saw it as this completely utilitarian, democratising design,
and our vision was always big,” said  ni Dhulchaointigh. “We
wanted to develop the science and license it to a big company to do
sales and marketing. Then a friend said this to me: ‘start small
and make it good’ and it was the best advice I ever had. ”One great review from a Daily Telegraph writer later,
and the first 1,000 packs were sold within six hours. If this
didn’t floor ni Dhulchaointigh, the reaction from the community
that used the Sugru website to post pictures and stories explaining
how they’d used it, absolutely did. “It flew round the internet and
captured people’s imagination. Three years later, and it’s been
snowballing since, with more pictures and stories than ever. It’s
really phenomenal to hear from these people.”  To date, three million packs of Sugru have been made. And the
things people use it for get weirder and more wonderful every day.
The business has thrived, says ni Dhulchaointigh, simply because
“people are fucking awesome”.“It’s insane how cool people are. This is not an unusual
submission,” she says, pointing to a picture of two tortoises that
have Sugru harnesses strapping GPS devices to their backs, so their
owners never lose them again. Another picture shows strips of Sugru
covering a camera so a father could give it to his photography-mad
three-year-old and not worry about him smashing it.Most incredible, she shared the story of a canoeist from Canada
called Joanne. Joanne wanted to compete in a race that would take
three days and three nights, but as she had fingers on only one
hand the strain would have been too tough. Moulding Sugru around
her oar so she could get a solid grip meant she could compete, and
she later told ni Dhulchaointigh it was one of best things she’d
ever been able to do in her life, and something she couldn’t have
done without her mod. “All our growth comes from a community of people that take Sugru
and share online what they’e done. It’s not because of anything to
do with Sugru, it’s because people are really awesome. People have
an amazing feeling of pride and confidence when they see they can
fix something — even when fixing a fridge, they think ‘I’ve beaten
the system!’”