My Week: Tom Dudderidge of GEAR4

Tom Dudderidge is the peripatetic entrepreneur behind mobile accessories brand GEAR4. Here's what happened when MT pinned him down to talk Angry Birds, manufacturing in China, and the rising trend for 'app accessories'.

by Rebecca Burn-Callander
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

I’m either travelling or I’m not. When I’m travelling, I leave High Wycombe where I’m based on a Sunday night or Monday morning. Then, either I head east to visit our suppliers in China. Or I fly west to go see Apple and talk about new products. We also have offices in Shenzhen, Seattle, and dotted around Europe, so I’m often dropping by to find out how the various territories (we’ve got products in 50 countries) are doing. Videoconferencing is great, but it doesn’t quite make up for face to face.

We have 15 to 20 factories making products for us over in China at any one time. Our product range gets completely overhauled each year, so I spend a lot of time there. Especially at the moment with the labour cost increases and raw materials price rises - it’s important to keep our suppliers motivated and get a good deal.  

It’s no chore, though. I've been working with many of our Chinese suppliers long enought to call them friends. And, when we’ve been a bit late with a new product, they’ve pulled some incredibly fast turnarounds. Last year, for example, we only had the idea to release an Angry-Birds-themed set of speakers in February. We managed to have them on shelves by September. But we don't indulge in that kind of rule-breaking too often.

When I’m not travelling, my life is very regimented. My typical day starts just after 8 when I’ve seen the kids off to school. My time is spent between meetings and interviews – we’re always recruiting it seems – and I work quite late during the week. Well, every day except Friday. That’s family night (also, incidentally, pizza night) and it’s sacred.

It’s very important for me to keep my finger on the pulse and know what digital innovations are going on around the world. At the moment, I’m really excited about wireless music. Docking stations have been around for years but soon every speaker will be wireless, connecting to your computer or mobile via the internet.

But the most important strategic niche for us right now is the app accessories market. If you haven’t heard of it yet, a good example is the Renew AlarmClock, a product we’re launching in the US. A sensor works with your iPhone to measure your sleeping patterns, breathing rates and movement. You can keep a record of your sleeping patterns – how much deep sleep you had, how long it took you to nod off. You can also program it to do cool things like wake you up before 8am, but only during a period of light sleep. Or tell it to turn the radio off once you’re asleep.

The other big upcoming revenue generator for us is the new Angry Birds game. The series already has close to a billion users; that's a massive potential customer base. It takes us six to nine months to develop a new product so we’ve been planning our Angry Birds Space range for a while. You need the instincts of a seer to plan a year ahead in this business - we’re already thinking about Christmas 2013!

And then there's our very first deal with a rock band. Temper Trap are on their second album and are about to go on a massive world tour, so we’re delighted to be doing things with them. It’s not your typical, ‘Give us a plug in every interview’ style partnership; we want to be cooler than that. Now quite sure how, yet.

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