Posted: Fri 26th May 2017
Enterprise Nation member David O'Coimin is the creator of Nook, a mobile pod that is transforming offices and making people think people differently about the place where they work.
Here, the Bristol-based entrepreneur shares his story.
How did you come up with your idea and turn it into an actual business?
It all started when I observed critical issues in open workspaces: seeing people put headphones on just to get some headspace, watching phone calls being taken in corridors to avoid the too noisy or too quiet open space and noticing meeting rooms that were too large or too few to accommodate small get togethers.
At the same time my interests were taking me research which taught me that distraction has become a huge problem in the digital age.
It showed that 20% of people suffer from some level of auditory processing disorder (part of which is trouble discerning sounds in a noisy environment), the importance of the ability to concentrate is critical to productivity; small rather than large teams are more effective at getting project work done and workforces are becoming increasingly distributed and working remotely part or all of the time.
I felt workspaces needed some better options. They need something that would fit between the meeting room and the open office. I wanted to create a quiet semi-private and affordable off-the-shelf pod that any business can try, adapt and add to.
Nook can be a place to catch up over a coffee first thing, get your head down mid morning, pulled together for a lunch-and-learn, used for meetings in the afternoon and an event in the evening. It can even provide a sound barrier between different areas of a space.
The turning it in to a business part happened by aligning with great organisations that saw promise in the idea, had a need themselves and allowed me to use their workspace as a test ground.
The Engine Shed, a co-working hub and business incubation space in Bristol, was the first to get on board. It has exploded from there really.
That gave me confidence to invest further in producing a fleet of Nooks to rent to events and send to companies on trial. Not one customer has sent a Nook back after a trial. All are now either renting or buying from us.
What start-up challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?
Money, money, money, awareness, believability and money. There are three parts to how I've overcome the money issue.
Firstly, I had some from a previous venture which I exited in 2011. Secondly, I created a minimum viable product of sorts which could be sold almost immediately after testing and trials. Thirdly, having an amazing manufacturing partner that believes in Nook and supports me in ways that take pressure off a young, lean, growing business.
The awareness is being worked on every day. Things like this article help a great deal, as does advertising through Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, AdWords etc.
One huge beautiful advantage of the Nook is that it has become very popular with the event world. There's nothing currently quite like it in that it can be wheeled in, form a meeting village, used in different ways and be gone in minutes at the end.
This means that either they get rented and seen by thousands organically, or we can target particularly relevant events.
We've also worked very hard to get them in to places with high traffic of forward-thinking types, such as co-working spaces science parks and incubators. They are hot-spots for smart folks who understand things quickly and are keen to take advantage of new ideas.
We've also featured on TV programmes including Best Places In Britain To Live and BBC News.
As for the believability part, that comes through people talking about their experience of the product in an open way, themselves socially, or through us promoting their tales.
We've done some fun things like 360 degree photographs of the Nook so potential customers can 'virtually' sit in a Nook.
What has been your biggest achievement with your business so far?
All of it. I mean, its really hard to single one part out. It all feels like a great proud achievement.
But if I must, I'd say I was very proud to become a supplier of Nooks to Adidas European HQ in Amsterdam. It was also a tremendous experience to have the Web Summit offer to partner with us and take 10 Nooks to Lisbon last November. And as I mentioned above, seeing Nooks appear on TV three times in the space of 6-8 weeks was mad.
What is your next big business goal?
Nook in its current form is just the acorn of the long term plan. Eventually we see amazing applications for Nook with technology integrated.
We've already partnered with a company taking wireless power charging to the next level. That's available to Nook customers now.
Following that we'll be integrating bookability, targeting transport hubs, developing solutions around podcasting and video blogging. Part of the appeal of Nook to us right now is not trying to do it all ourselves but to see what others conjure up for them.
We've already had to recalibrate due to the whole events thing (rental model) and react to demands for more privacy in certain situations (Nook soundproofing curtains on the way).
Long term, we see Nook as a vehicle for delivering services to users, be they in offices, airports, homes or at festivals or in restaurants.
What do you think will be your biggest challenge getting there?
Money, money, money, bandwidth and too many opportunities to chase hard and win well in them all.
How has Enterprise Nation helped your business?
Three ways so far, with more to come.
Firstly, through the Meet the Journalists at The Shard event. The networking was superb and is still resonating for us.
Secondly, the monthly get togethers have helped us build new connections and find customers closer to home in Bristol.
And thirdly, the Enterprise Nation team has been active in putting us in touch with valuable companies and individuals who can help us on our journey.
We've yet to fully avail of what appears to be a tremendous online resource of webinars and we're looking forward to seeing our story up in lights for all to enjoy.
Which other entrepreneur inspires you and why?
It's perhaps an obvious one but Elon Musk blows me away completely. The level of JFDI that guy has going on is astounding.
From visionary mega-projects taking years and costing billions, to minute widgets to improve a process and taking literally days from a customers tweet of complaint to 'on the street', the guy waits for no man.
His commitment to bettering the world seems front and centre, his tolerance for negativity appears low and the breakthrough nature of his products continues to take my breath away. Solar roof tiles? Come on!
What are your three tips for business success based on your experiences so far?
Be aware that it is going to take longer than you think. Much longer. So be ready to scrimp, beg, borrow and do whatever it takes.
Gather people around you who are better than you at stuff and who like doing the stuff you hate. Know what you suck at and either get better fast or hire well. If it's a critical part of your business, learn it.
Drink lots of water. Try decaf. You will run yourself in to the ground. That stuff will keep you alive. Mind your health.