Bare Conductive: Electric Paint
Founded in 2009 by four graduates, Bare Conductive has already launched two successful Kickstarter campaigns. Startups Magazine talks with with Isabel Lizardi, CCO and co-founder.
The company started in 2009 when four students studying a dual masters in industrial design between the Royal College of Art and Imperial College London worked on a team project that produced the electric paint product that they would go on to commercialise.
“We weren’t planning on commercialising it afterwards, but the project received so much attention and people started emailing us asking whether they could buy the paint. So we were shown that there was demand.
“You can create smart sensing technology on unexpected materials and surfaces and that’s what I find really fascinating about it,” said Lizardi.
“We were a bit unique in the sense that we started with a big group, and we’re all still here.
“Individuals start a business and struggle to find a partner that complements the skills that they have, but also is as devoted to the project. The flip-side is that one person can just make decisions and run. Whereas with four of us there’s a lot of negotiation, but you also have a lot of resources to do all the work. We started out with fairly similar backgrounds even though our studies were different, we were on the same course. We were all product designers, so differentiating skills to where we are now was actually quite a transition.”
THE BIGGEST SURPRISE SO FAR?
“That somebody wanted to buy this stuff. The strand that we were doing in our course was experimental design. So we didn’t come up with a brief that was meant to target a specific market group.”
UX IN PRODUCT DESIGN
“The first thing was making sure the technology did what we claim it did. We also wanted to create an ecosystem of products that work together that are easy and simple to use - and follow the same vision.”
One way in which Bare Conductive incorporated User Experience (UX) was its adaptation of the conductive paint - they changed the packaging from a jar to a tube with a nib for easier application.
“With the hardware and the kits it’s all very much about the user journey. Out of the box the first thing you can do without programming after you power it on, is play MP3s that have been rerecorded to help you get set up. We spend a lot of time on our web resources and on making sure that the products are well documented and have tutorials.”
“Kickstarter was a way for us to get the funding to push that part of the business forward. What’s great about crowdfunding is that it’s never a failure because it provides proof of market - and if the campaign fails you know not to spend resources on that product.
“Our first Kickstarter campaign was in 2013 for the touch board. The conductive paint is dumb on its own - it needs power and hardware to make it intelligent. We made prototypes for this, but people wanted to replicate these products, but couldn’t without hardware that was easy to use. The difference between making paint and hardware is massive, not in terms of just production but also cost implications - it’s a completely different monster.”
“I think the reason our products appeal to STEM is because we make things easy to use. We tried to break down the perception that technology has to be difficult.”
WHEN ARE YOU NO LONGER A STARTUP?
“There is hype about the startup, everyone wants to be one - it’s cool, but even very big companies are constantly reinventing themselves in order to stay in touch with technology and changing markets.”
DID BREXIT IMPACT YOU?
“Yes, the pound dropped dramatically - this was positive for us at that time as a third of our sales are from the US. I think in the long term, as a small company, getting talent and being able to compete for talent with other companies that can offer resources that we can’t will be difficult if it is harder to hire from Europe.
Also it could make filing patents more difficult if there are separate charges for the EU. We are also concerned that shipping and VAT for European customers could become complicated. It trickles down to every level.”
“We have several projects with business partners in the pipeline. Large companies have approached us with specific problems. They have very specific applications that they want to use our sensors in and we are developing custom technology for them.”
SUM IT ALL UP IN A SENTENCE
“You have to be comfortable with constant change.”