NEWCASTLE-UPON-TYNE, England – A few days ago I wrote about starting a company for real; not a business plan competition, or something as part of my PhD, but a full blown company. However, I didn’t give away any details and left you all on a bit of a cliff hanger, mainly because I was still building the website and we needed a few more days before we could launch (see Student Entrepreneur turns to Plan B).
As you may remember I have formed the operation with friend, fellow PhD student and business partner Leonie Cunnington. Now I can tell you all that the company is called Slotzz, and I’m really looking forward to growing a business in an area that is new to me.
We design, manufacture and sell one of the world's most customizable protective carrying cases available for the Apple iPad tablet computer. Now, you may be thinking that iPad cases are nothing new or original. In the broadest sense you would be right. However, we operate in a niche part of that market. We provide bespoke iPad cases hand made to the customers' specifications. You can choose the outer fabric, inner lining, thread color and the pocket configuration on the front of the case. With the options available there are over 3600 variations available to choose from, so for those looking for something unique we are the perfect choice.
So why are two electrical engineering PhD students starting up this kind of company? Because it’s fun, exciting, terrifying; because it is something we can do while we continue with our studies; because it is something we can bootstrap from a relatively small financial outlay, and, above all else, because it is something that has many growth and diversification options.
You may also remember that I promised a discount on the iPad stand to all those who filled in a survey. This offer still applies and will be applied to the iPad case also. All who left their details will receive an email soon with a link to the site and a discount code. As and when we release the stand I’ll send out another discount code for that too.
Now back to www.slotzz.co.uk to see how the order book is progressing. Or should I put some more time into my academic work?
Thanks for you interest. Your right that the pieces have come together well and certainly EE Times has been a fantastic place to discuss my progress. Like you say, EEs are part of our target market.
I'll be updating on my progress and sharing what I'm learning.
We, EEs are known to be tech-addicts in general and iPad most certainly appeals to us all. When an EE gets hold of an iPad, he/she would be on the lookout for an elegant iPad case to show it off in a professional manner that suits an engineer. Do you make a connection? Bang...! You have brought your message out into a highly specialized target market segment. Congrats!
While I appreciate Slotzz and its hand-made elegance, what appeals to me the most is how you have slotted in the pieces of the puzzle together. Your business partners escapist hobby......the way you have positioned your product using customizability as the unique selling point........enviable marketing opportunity brought to your feet by EE Times..... and the willingness to try it out not withstanding the threatening “R”-word that all graduate students know all to well.
You guys have made the most of opportunities and up to this point, we see sound entrepreneurial thinking being put into practice. I sincerely wish to see how you do in the medium term.
By almost nil I am comparing it to setting up a tech company. It is still enough to make us have a sit down and a serious discussion. Being hand made to order means we don't have to buy in pre made items, only raw stock. This is great for us and for the customer as if they have a specific material in mind that we don't have then we can go hunting for something they want. It'll cost a little extra.
Nothing is outsourced and we intend to keep it all in the UK. Currently my business partner does the manufacturing and we have people who are able to carry the overflow as we grow.
Thanks for the feedback
Hopefully you're right. I think to begin with people scoffed at the iPad but I think that those people aren't the devices target market, I saw a video the other day of a 100 year old lady playing with her new iPad. I think she had never used a computer before and she was tapping away as if it was second nature. I think the iPad is targeted at people who just want an easy to use device.
Having said that, I'm probably not in this target market and I love using mine so I could be totally wrong.
Thanks for the positive feedback. I think you're right and that is what we're basing our business ethos around. High quality products that people can call their own, the trick is getting our message out to those who would be interested.
Seems interesting. Regarding the initial investment you said its almost nil. But then how do you have the inventory/raw materials for 3600 variations?. "hand made to the customers' specifications" ! How many people you employ for these customizations? Or you outsource everything to China? In which case how you do the quality control?
Great Simon! Looks like its one of the safest businesses. I see almost everyone having a iPAD. Last week even we were thinking about buying covers for it and if someone customizes nothing like it! Good going!
A decade ago, people would have scoffed at the idea of a low-volume customized product - even more so at a physical product. It all had to be virtual and massive mass market. You had to shoot for a home run in order to get anyone's attention. How things have changed. Now, any high-volume product is at risk for having its intellectual property swiped. Investment money is hard to come by and the masses aren't spending much money. However, the people that do have money are willing to spend it. But they don't want an industrialized commodity. They want something of quality with a personality they can call their own. The time is rip for small businesses that want to sell quality custom or semi-custom products. And, as to "why two EE PhD's?" I say, "Why not?" Our economies need more adventurous folks like this.
Thanks for posting a nice comment in the end, and I'm glad you're finding the series interesting.
I like the term boot strapping as it nicely sums up the low cost start up and everything that goes with it. My hope is that a successful low cost start up can grow and invest in something larger in the future.
You now? I was going to post a not so kind comment as I was lured to this news by the title and considering I was going to hear of a really cool software app for the iPad but… well… however, now that I read your previous “plan b” article now I get the thread and do like it… its fun your commenting on your start-up and also that concept of bootstrapping is a good one… you make me realize once more how important it is to coin the correct words for the concepts. Cheers!