Nottingham-born environmental consultant Assim Ishaque is the founder of Simbrix, a toy company manufacturing colourful building bricks which connect together to create an endless range of two-dimensional images. Here, we talk to him about coming up with the idea and starting his business.
1. How did you come up with the idea and what were you doing before?
Simbrix was born out of a simple question: how could I make pixel art less frustrating for my children?
It was the Autumn half-term holidays and my children were playing with their favourite bead toys at the time. They’d make their lovely designs but a simple nudge would cause them to fall apart, unless they were ironed together. More often than not it was my own heavy touch that would cause the designs to come apart before I had ironed them.
It happened many times and it was these frustrating moments that got me thinking about a solution. At this time, I was also working on another company, developing my new insulation system which was quite a complex project. I ended up focusing on my toy company Simbrix for the sheer pleasure of working on something fun that my children could play with.
2. Procedurally, what were the steps you went through? Was the process what you had been expecting ?
I focused for the first two years entirely on the product, producing hundreds of prototypes, 400 to be exact. Along with some market research, I went about testing, refining, researching and working on the patent.
The company only took form once I was confident that I had something that had some commercial potential. My accountant supported me with the financial matters but as I have been in business for over 14 years already, I found the process of setting up a new company even easier and quicker than before.
3. How did you raise money for your toy company?
I lived the concept of ‘bootstrapping’ for as long as I could; calling in favours, working with my local university, getting some government funding and even a little European funding.
I had three investment offers early on, but they were too early. They used very low valuations and more importantly, they did not offer me the expertise I felt I needed at the time.
I went on the Kickstarter funding site twice, and together with the little savings I had went on to order minimum quantities of Simbrix from my selected suppliers.
4. How did you go about marketing?
Initially, quite badly. It was trial and error until we found something that worked. We are still testing ways to get consumer interest. But one thing that really stood was simply going out to and taking to shops around the country, doing lots of craft fairs and making real connections with real people.
5. How did you grow your turnover?
It grew gradually, and more rapidly month by month. We listed on Amazon through their Launchpad programme which was really helpful. We also listed with a number of independent toy shops around the country.
6. Any challenges or interesting anecdotes you would like to share about the whole experience?
As I had little funds to make Simbrix happen, I took on lots of undergrads to support the development of the project over the years. As well as helping my business, this has given them fantastic real-life work experience. It’s been wonderful to hear about their career development since their start with us.
7. What advice would you give to others going into the toy company sector?
It’s important to accept that you cannot know everything to make your project successful. Accept that there will more than likely be pitfalls, and keep focused on your project.
But don’t get too fixated on your strategy, accept it will have to change and adapt. When you can, make time to build networks within your industry and learn from people who have made it happen for them.