Novel glue a hit on social media

Entrepreneur Jane Ni Dhulchaointigh with her mouldable glue, Sugru.
Entrepreneur Jane Ni Dhulchaointigh with her mouldable glue, Sugru. PHOTO: NEW YORK TIMES

Sugru, a mouldable glue flexible enough to repair phone chargers, is attracting fans online

NEW YORK • It can fix a broken statue, repair a frayed iPhone cable, add a rubbery grip to a kitchen knife, make those Bose earbuds better, repair a leaky boat - and even create a prosthetic leg for a chicken. So, what is this product?

It is Sugru and it is being heralded as the product you never knew you needed - until you did.

Sugru is a mouldable glue. It looks like Play-Doh, can be shaped around any object, sticks to almost any material, is waterproof, is heat resistant and dries to a silicone rubbery finish in 24 hours.

Its ability to bond to virtually any surface - wood, glass, metals and ceramics among others - and its mouldable nature make it unusual in the world of adhesives, sealants and glues.

"I wanted to design something that was so easy and so fun to use that more people would consider fixing things again," said Ms Jane Ni Dhulchaointigh, the Irish entrepreneur behind Sugru. Even the name is taken from the Irish word "sugradh", which means "play".

Ms Bridget Grunst, a buyer for Target Corp. stores, admits she was sceptical before meeting Sugru's team in 2014. After all, Target already carried more than 40 glue products in its home improvement section alone.

"Did I roll my eyes? Yes," she said, laughing. "I mean, glue is not the most innovative category out there."

But all of that changed when she met the Sugru team and watched in amazement at the myriad ways, both practical and creative, that the glue could be used. The iPhone charger repair was the clincher.

"I have frayed cords at home and it's a unique way to fix it versus having to go buy another charger" for US$50 (S$69), Ms Grunst said.

Sugru's rubbery flexible finish allowed it to repair charger cords, which super glues, with their rock-hard finishes, cannot do, she said.

It was at college where Ms Ni Dhulchaointigh first started experimenting with clay, silicone sealants and other materials for sculpting.

She started using them around the house - using the putty to fix a leaky kitchen sink stopper, adding it as rubber "feet" to the bottom of a laptop and repairing a mug handle.

Her boyfriend, now her husband, noticed her clever repairs and suggested she try to market it.

When she showcased the prototype at a student product design exhibition in 2004, the response was overwhelming.

With a US$50,000 grant from Nesta, a British research firm, in 2005, and a US$500,000 equity investment from Lacomp, a venture fund, in 2006, she dove in.

It took five years, 5,000 experiments and 8,000 lab hours to perfect and patent the formula. At this point, the recession had hit and financing was almost non- existent to market the product to retailers.

So, in 2009, she took the social media route, sending samples to dozens of technology bloggers, in the belief that if they saw the glue's potential role in repairing information technology equipment, they would promote it. The strategy worked. "It went viral," she said.

When the company introduced its website in December 2009, 1,000 packages, which took two months to make by hand, sold out within six hours. An additional 2,000 were sold on back order.

Time magazine listed Sugru, alongside the iPad, as one of the top 50 inventions of 2010.

Sales topped US$5.5 million last year, up from US$3.4 million in 2014 and US$250,000 in its first year in 2010. It is now sold online to more than 160 countries.

Still, Sugru has its limitations: Its shelf life is 13 months and, once a packet is opened, it must be used within 24 hours. It cannot compete with products that promote their sticking power, where advertisements show a man dangling in a helmet glued to a steel beam. Sugru holds up to about 1.8kg.

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 04, 2016, with the headline 'Novel glue a hit on social media'. Print Edition | Subscribe