We’ve all been there. You get up from the sofa to make a cup of tea during the Corrie adverts. But after slamming down the button and grabbing a mug, you have to stand around like said receptacle for 2 minutes waiting for the kettle to boil.
Christian Lane wants to banish that feeling for good. His Smarter iKettle lets you get the water boiling from the comfort of your sofa using an app. It might seem like the ultimate in frivolous first-world problems but, as Lane points out, people used to say that about TVs with remote controls. ‘People said it was being lazy - what’s the problem with getting up and pressing the button on the TV?’ he tells MT. 'If you got sold a TV nowadays without a remote you’d be pretty upset about it.’
And the sales figures are mighty impressive too. After securing its first listing, with online gadget retailer Firebox, the company sold £250,000 worth of stock in its first two hours. In its first year it shifted 25,000 units, bagging a cool £1m in wholesales revenues. A connected bean to cup coffee maker followed and now the company is planning to take on the rest of the kitchen.
It’s not Lane’s first business. A designer by trade, he previously created Foldio, a folder for carrying large documents like architectural drawings without creasing them. He won the backing of Theo Paphitis on Dragons’ Den and got the product into WH Smith and Staples as well as the Dragon’s Ryman’s stores. But after designers shifted away from big documents to iPads it became clear the Foldio’s growth potential was limited and Lane got into the technology biz instead.
‘It was the Internet of Things I could see the opportunity in,’ he says. ‘It reminded me of the dot com boom we had when the internet first started becoming popular and everybody was changing the way industries worked just by developing websites and I think we’re in that same phase now where people are doing that to products and connecting them to the internet.’
It only started out a couple of years ago but the company now has listings with John Lewis, Currys and Harrods and turned over £2.3m in its second and most recent trading year. Such rapid growth is impressive but it’s also a challenge – especially when you’re entirely self-funded.
‘We were basically running before we could walk, it put a lot of stress on the business but it was just about throwing ourselves out there, taking on more than we could actually cope with and just making it work,’ says Lane. ‘In reality running a hardware business as a start-up with no cash there’s basically no room for error. The first shipment we had, the product came over, it didn’t work, we had to send it back and we had all these delays. We just had to do whatever we had to do to make it work.'
Having cracked the kettle and the coffee maker, Smarter now wants to take over the rest of the kitchen. Its latest range of products includes a connected camera that goes in the fridge (so you can check on your phone whether you’ve run out of beer or cheese) and pressure-sensitive mats that perform a similar function. If your ketchup mat is empty then you’ll know that you need to buy some, if it’s especially light then you’ll know you’re running low. The company also has a product called Smarter Detect, a unit that detects moisture, noises and light in your kitchen. If you left the fridge door open then it will tell you and if the oven starts to beep then you’ll know about it.
‘The idea is that we’re bridging the gap between the old and smart kitchen,’ says Lane. ‘Not that many people have heard of us, if you’re going to buy a fridge you’ll get a Samsung fridge or a Bosch fridge. So we decided to create a range of accessories that work with your existing kitchen.’ Of course the likes of Bosch and Samsung are working on their own versions of this tech but Lane says it will be a long time until they are standard in most fridges.
‘Their biggest restriction is retail price, they’re selling their smart fridge for about £3,000+, which isn’t affordable for most people, and they’re targeting a tiny percentage of the market.’ The iKettle and Fridge Cam each have an RRP of £99.99 while the more complex coffee maker sells for £179.99. ‘We’d like to keep everything under £100,’ says Lane
Lane is proud of getting the business to where it is without any investor help, especially because it now exports around Europe and has deals with the likes of Target and Best Buy across the pond. ‘People look at us and assume we’re a Silicon Valley company that’s received millions in investment and actually we came from a very different background in retail and applied that knowledge to the technology industry.’
Now the company plans to turn over an ambitious £12m this year so he plans to raise some cash. So if you’ve got deep pockets and want to help create a kitchen the Jetsons would be proud of then you know who to call.