John and Avril of Ding

John and Avril of Ding

Smart doorbell pioneers reach out to the crowd

The newlywed couple behind smart doorbell Ding, a £2.5m start-up endorsed by John Lewis, are getting set to take their business to the next level with a new crowdfunding campaign.

John Nussey and Avril O'Neil have developed a revolutionary smart doorbell which they are hoping to make a household name in the smart home market.

The couple met whilst working together and over the last 10 years have worked on many products since launching their own design consultancy.

They had spent years working on a wide range of products from the prototyping of secret products for entrepreneurs to the build of exhibitions and installations for artists, catwalk shows and museums.

However, they knew the time had come to launch something of their own.

John told BQ: “We had been working in the design and technology industry for years and we had a long list of simple products of our own that we wanted to improve.

“We were tired of working on client products and wanted to put our energy into something of our own.”

With this in mind, the couple put a stop to client work and decided to put all of their energy into a project of their own.

John added: “Ding was at the top of our list and this meant rethinking the doorbell, updating it to suit modern life and using enough technology to make it useful but not so much that it is complicated.”

The Ding concept is simple. It’s a smart doorbell which, as well as making a sound in your home, rings your phone to tell you someone is at the door. Then similar to an intercom, it phones you up wherever you are and lets you speak to them.

It wasn’t until 2015 however when they entered the Ding Smart Doorbell idea as part of the Design Council Spark programme, and were awarded funding for being the most innovative product. This is when they realised the business really had potential.

“We officially launched in the summer of 2015,” John adds. “We then got accepted to join Design Council Spark which is an accelerator by the UK Design Council based out of Islington.

“For the accelerator, we simply had to pitch an idea. We literally applied the night before the deadline with a rough idea of what the product could be without giving it much more thought, it was a spur of the moment thing.

“We entered the accelerator alongside 350 teams and finished in the top three and received funding to help us work on the idea, the business plan, marketing, prototyping, all sorts. We pulled together the whole product over that time.”

Once the Design Council Spark programme finished, the couple had a business plan and prototype they could get to work on. They knew however, that if it were to be sustainable, they would need to secure more funding and conduct more market research.

This led the pair to launch a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter, where potential customers could pledge money to be among the first people to get their hands on the product.

This gave John and Avril the chance to secure orders before they pumped money into their first batch being developed.

John adds: “After the accelerator, we took to Kickstarter. We had a good idea of the company, a working prototype, and a budget.”

The Kickstarter campaign proved a huge success and the couple raised over £80,000 from 845 backers, providing them with enough capital to bring their product to market.

It was in 2016 though when they pulled off their biggest coup yet as the doorbell caught the attention of leading UK retailer John Lewis.

The couple were invited to join John Lewis’ JLAB Accelerator, which helps start-ups shape the future of retail whether it be new products or new services that can enhance the retail experience.

“The following summer following the Kickstarter campaign, we were accepted onto the JLAB’s accelerator. As part of this we worked with John Lewis’ buying team to look at Ding from a retail perspective and to look at what their consumers wanted.

“John Lewis is a great customer to work with, they’re exactly the type of store we want to work with. They gave us a lot of advice on what we were designing, we’d show them our latest work and they would give us their opinions.

“This really helped us turn the prototype into a commercial product which I think was a major turning point for us. Getting the critical opinion of someone like John Lewis was huge and when they said they thought people would buy it, we knew we had something worth pursuing.”

The support from John Lewis has now helped the couple refine their business plan and as they get set for their next step of growth, they are looking to raise further capital to take the business to the next level.

This has led to Ding, which is already valued at £2.5m, launching a crowdfunding campaign today (30 May) in a bid to raise £250,000 for 9.06% equity in the firm. The money raised will go towards growing its team in order to meet demand from retailers.

John concluded: “Using the money from Seedrs we will be able to scale up and meet the demand from retail that we have.

“We have also had quite a lot of interest from people in other territories as well so we’re hoping that by appointing sales and marketing staff it will help us break into extra markets and grasp any opportunities that come our way.”

The first batch of prototype products will be shipped to Ding’s Kickstarter backers in August 2017 and its first batch of retail products are set to hit shelves in October. Watch this space!

John’s top tips for entrepreneurs:

  • The first thing is to just start doing something. Whatever your idea is, get out there quickly and test the water with it. Don’t wait until you have got funding or backing, make something quick and dirty then learn from it and move on, see how it goes.
  • Find a good team. I think that has took us the longest to find, finding people willing to work with us on our ideas and commit to them.
  • There is a lot of advice out there and a lot of it is very useful but the most important bit is to find people who will actually help you do stuff. Whether it’s a manufacturer or an expert in a certain area, you can get a lot of advice from people and it’ll help you get stuff done as opposed to just talking about it.