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Matt Johnson: Bringing Electronics and Our Environment Together

Today’s guest is CEO and co-founder of Bare Conductive, Matt Johnson. Bare Conductive is a company inventing radical new ways to interact with and place electronics in our environment. With key customers such as Ikea and Dupont, this relatively new London-based technology startup is developing a platform of sensing technologies based around its electrically conductive paint and capacitive hardware. 

Since launching its first product in 2011, Bare Conductive has sold over 220,000 units in more than 120 countries, as well as winning a number of competitions including Innovate UK’s Digital Disruptive Solutions £100k award, been nominated for Design of the Year Award by the Design Museum, and received an Honorary Mention at Ars Electronica, this self-funded company is going from strength to strength.

On today’s podcast:

  • Why the company is about more than just ink
  • Why they’re still figuring out how to get the most from their product
  • How they’ve whittled their applications down to 3, from 53
  • Why they struggle with identifying who the customer is
  • Why sticking with the original plan is so tough
  • How they’ve managed to run a lean startup

Links:

Matt Johnson is one-quarter of the founding team of Bare Conductive, a company that was founded in 2009 by four graduates of the Royal College of Art and Imperial College London. Despite still trying to find their feet and establish their key purpose in this world, today this young, lean technology startup counts Ikea and Dupont among its main customers. 

So how can you create and grow a company if you don’t know where the company is ultimately headed? Matt Johnson shares a few secrets about how they’ve achieved such phenomenal success in such a short space of time, whilst still exploring their potential.

Running a business on limited funding

They decided they wanted to run a lean startup whilst they figured out their place in the world. Self-funded and with some support from a Kickstarter campaign, Bare Conductive has been able to function, grow and explore on a tight budget. But how has that affected the business as a whole? 

Obviously, they have had to face the pressures of cash flow on a daily basis, but by maintaining control of the finances, they’ve been able to retain control of the company’s direction. Matt agrees that every funding route has its challenges, but they feel they’ve dodged a huge bullet by not handing power to investors early on in their journey. 

For Bare Conductive, the reward they’ve purchased by remaining lean is the ability to take the time to figure out where they want to go. Some businesses take money too early and aim at targets that they feel obligated to head toward because investors want to know early whether a venture is going to work, regardless of the potential negative impact on the business.

Keep exploring

Matt wishes he could go back in time and tell his former self to stop worrying about the amount of time the company was spending figuring out its direction. 

There was a period where he didn’t have the confidence in the organic nature of the company. He thought they ought to have their plan nailed down by that point, and that they’d done something wrong because they were constantly going through an exploratory process. He has since realised that exploring is how you learn. Besides, it’s not the plan that’s important, it’s the planning.

Know your customers, but know what is right for you too

You can’t please everyone; that’s one of the key fundamentals of business. You have to know who is your target audience and how your products benefit them. One challenge Bare Conductive faced was that they started with 53 applications and have had to whittle those down to the current three, and they’re still figuring out which will be their end product.

Because all of the applications have customers, and whilst they enhance the lives of those customers who use them, not all of the applications deliver value both ways. Plus, the Bare Conductive team knows they can’t reach their full potential with their focus spread across all of these applications.  

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