AMA: Joe Sillett, founder of The Funky Appliance Company
Brits love a cuppa. There's no doubt about it. So, acquiring a kettle in a new home or office is usually a top priority.
Joe Sillett is the founder of The Funky Appliance Company, reimagining classic domestic appliances such as the trusty kettle. Who said everyday household appliances had to be boring?
Hi Joe! Tell us a bit about your company.
The Funky Appliance Company was founded in June 2016 when my wife Sadie and I spotted a gap in the market for a great looking steam iron - we thought most irons looked the same.
FUNKY and Funky Appliances are great-looking products that put a smile on people's faces. Appliances with personality if you like. That's how many people have described our Funky Iron, Funky Kettle, Funky Toaster and Funky Microwave design.
How did the idea for The Funky Appliance Company come about?
I went to an entrepreneur's talk in Southampton in May 2016 where Mike Clare of Dreams Beds, and Nick Jenkins of Moonpig and Dragons Den talked about their path to success and how they eventually hit the big time.
I was the first person to stand up and ask a question, which was "This might sound strange coming from someone who has already founded three businesses, but how do you go about finding a good idea for a new business?"
Mike and Nick pretty much answered the question the same way. Mike sold beds and Nick sold personalised greeting cards. They both urged me to look for something which every household buys and said that I should put my own twist on whatever it is.
Three days later, Sadie and I were travelling to our local hardware store when Sadie said that she didn't think ironing board covers were very funky. I immediately stopped her in her tracks and said "forget about ironing board covers, there aren't any funky irons in the world."
As soon as we got home we started researching the iron marketplace, and this confirmed our view that most irons looked very similar in shape and design, so we set about designing our Funky Iron that day!
It took three months of design revisions before filing for the international design registration and once this was in place, I flew to China to sit down with the team at the factory who were going to make our new Funky Iron.
Great story! What is the biggest mistake you've made as an entrepreneur?
Partnering with a hedge fund with one of my previous businesses. I walked out of the meeting before we did the deal and I told my two fellow members of the management team that I really disliked the leader of the hedge fund and that I didn't want to go ahead.
Unfortunately, I was overruled and partnering with that hedge fund was the beginning of the end for us. It took two and a half years for that to come true and it was very painful indeed.
So now, I always listen closely to what my gut feeling and intuition is telling me about a person, a business or a deal. And if my gut feel doesn't like it, I walk away.
Always trust your instincts. How would you describe your leadership style?
I am very direct with people. I like to lead from the front with my enthusiasm and passion for what we are trying to achieve, and hopefully take people with me on that journey.
How do you keep your team aligned?
I am very open and transparent with my management team and our 360 investors spread over 25 countries. The management team gets regular communication from me via WhatsApp and emails most days. Investors get one if not two emails from me a month.
I have done this religiously since the Seedrs investors came on board. If you keep the communication flowing, everyone knows what is going on and what the next steps are.
We have had five crowdfunding campaigns to date and each time we need investment for a new product, investors are much more likely to support you if you have been crystal clear in your communication with them.
A lot of the work we do here at FUNKY is outsourced: outsourced product designers, a PR agency, a digital agency, an outsourced accounting function as well as all the distribution.
I have always believed that whilst growing a business in the early stages, you should pay for something when the tap is on and not when it is off.
Those who know me, know that I am very direct in my communication with people. That helps people to understand exactly what is required of them and so far, in the four and a half years of our company to date, this has worked very well.
Can you share any practical tips or processes to help people work remotely?
Working remotely is all about being disciplined and having a real structure to your day. Working remotely allows you to have more hours where you can focus on whatever you need to work-wise, as there is a lot less interaction with colleagues unless you are on Zoom or Teams calls all day.
Here at FUNKY, we have a WhatsApp group as well as using email and video calls to keep the team up to speed on what is needed from everyone. Without the face to face interaction in an office, it's really important that you keep the communication levels high and that everyone knows what they need to do.
Taking exercise during the day and having some time out is also very important. So you should have one hour in the middle of your day where you go for a walk or a bike ride to give yourself a change of scene, even if that means your mobile phone might ring during that time.
Do you have a share or option scheme in place for your team? If so, what impact has it made?
We have a share option scheme for two members of our management team, who we couldn't afford to pay, so we brought their expertise and insight into the business by giving them both the chance to have a good shareholding of the company via an option scheme, which was linked to performance and targets.
I think this is a really good way of finding out how much people believe in you, your business and the plan. We are very fortunate to have two members of our management team who bring considerable consumer product and appliance expertise with them - for that, they have and will be rewarded through the share option scheme.
Brilliant. What do you look for in a candidate when hiring new people?
Liking a candidate is very important to me. If I don't warm to them in an interview, this is normally quite intuitive. I want to know what makes them tick, what their goals are, how driven they are and whether they have real attention to detail.
It's obviously a prerequisite that before hiring someone, I have checked out their skill-set and experience and most probably taken up several references from previous employers.
And finally Joe, what do you like doing with your free time?
I enjoy spending time with my family, I have a son (16) and two daughters (14 and 12). Since taking the game of golf up in 2006, I have played virtually every weekend since then and am a member of Slinfold Golf Club in West Sussex.
My new world golf handicap is 8.8. I also enjoy music and travel. And I've played the trumpet since I was 9!
Thanks Joe, it’s been a pleasure!