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Image / Editorial

The Startup Sisters of Love and Robots


by Jeanne Sutton
18th Dec 2014
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Love & Robots is the quirkily titled Dublin-based startup that is creating tech and design waves among Ireland’s in-the-know population. Emer, Kate and Aoibheann O’Daly are three sisters using 3d printing to create a new kind of design brand that invites the customer to sit at the drawing table. Through Love & Robot’s website your savvy self can tweak, personalize and re-design their products, which include jewellery, coasters, iPhone cases and clocks. Your unique mini masterpiece is then 3d printed on-demand and shipped to you. How very modern! And great fun. Trust us – you won’t stop browsing.

We caught up with the O’Daly sisters to talk about what it’s like to set up their own company at such a young age and in such a young industry. With shared backgrounds in architecture and computer science prepare to be overwhelmed by this wildly impressive trio.

3D printing. How did you know this was going to be the next big thing when you initially founded the company?
We could see how 3d printing and digital manufacturing would fundamentally change the way we design and make products and we are excited to be part of that.? For instance, everything we make and sell is built from a digital file. This enables customers to tweak and re-design products online before they are even manufactured; It hugely reduces the complexity of supply chains; And it is more environmentally friendly than current supply chain structures.
For example, if we get an order from Australia, we can email a file to our manufacturing partners in Sydney. They can download it, 3d print it and ship it locally.? Not only can we email rather than ship products, we can also sell or stream the digital files themselves.? This is similar to how the music industry has been affected by digital products but it affects all consumer products. It’s also ultimately a much more environmentally friendly way of producing products.

You have a small team of six – what kind of people make a start-up flow?
We have a fantastic, hard-working team, who pitch in to solve any problem that arises. Every day is different and having that support is invaluable. Our team includes 3 architects, who have turned their skills to designing on a smaller scale – as Coco Chanel said, “Fashion is Architecture: It is a matter of proportion!”
What is invaluable in a startup is having that flexibility to think outside the box. We are combining software with product design and manufacturing in a way that hasn’t been done before, so we must adapt as we go.? We are actually hiring at the moment in the areas of marketing, content creation & design and front-end development so our team is set to expand to 12 over the coming months.? If you know anyone who would be interested in joining us, please put them in contact!

What is the wackiest thing you’ve tried printing?
We have been asked to do lots of different things (a boomerang was maybe the most random!) but what we’ve mostly found is that people don’t want to design completely from scratch. Most people want to take a well-designed product and tweak and personalize it to themselves in a fun and intuitive way. So we have developed customization tools on our site. You can go online, choose a product, tweak it to yourself and we’ll make it and send it to you.

You’re three sisters running a start-up together. How do you make that work?
Luckily we each have strengths in very different areas, so we compliment each other well. We each take on different roles within the company and take a lead in those roles. We understand and trust each other, which is invaluable in starting a new company.

What’s the best thing about being your own bosses?
There is an immense satisfaction in building something from scratch. We are proud of what we have so far achieved with Love & Robots and look forward to expanding more. We have a chance to determine our own futures and create something that we are passionate about and we enjoy doing.

What’s the worst?
It can be difficult to switch off. We’re always thinking about the business. We are in a completely new and disruptive industry and part of our job is educating people about it. It’s very broad and the possibilities are endless, but our biggest challenge has been finding our niche within this new area – something that we can believe in and be passionate about. Combining design (love) and technology (robots), we have now found our niche – a design & fashion brand for personalized products!

How supportive are your parents? Is shoptalk banned during Sunday roasts?
Discussion is never banned! They have been incredibly supportive of us – always there to lend a hand if needed. They are both architects and really interested in the design aspects of what we do. In fact they have both contributed to our design challenges.

Okay, you’re going to gift yourself for Christmas. What do you pilfer from Love & Robots for yourself?
Emer: I love the 3d printed necklaces – especially the cubes necklaces – I tend to wear pretty neutral colours – black, grey or blue – so the bright nylon jewelry goes well with that.
Kate: I would love the Ampersand necklace in gold. I think the ampersand is a very beautiful symbol by itself and being able to put your own letters either side makes it even more special. k&m for me and my husband.
Aoibh: I’ve just moved into a new apartment, so I’m eyeing up the clocks for sure! I just need to decide on my colour scheme and then I can make one to match perfectly.

What do you turn to when you need to switch off? (music, film, quotes, etc.)
We all have different methods of escape – Emer with drawing, reading and badminton; Kate with cycling and pilates; and Aoibh is a movie buff. Also, every Friday, we finish up our working week by watching a TED talk and chatting. It gives us as a team some down-time and a chance to discuss things in a relaxed way.

You won an award at the Web Summit last month. How important are these sort of events to young businesses?
The ESB Spark of Genius award was great validation for us and the Web Summit was a fantastic opportunity to meet new people and get feedback on Love & Robots.

The Web Summit had a very low percentage of female speakers – what is it about the industry that keeps the gender disparity so despairing?
The vast majority of hugely successful businesses have been built by men.? But that does not necessarily mean this will always be the case.? Women control 80% of the buying power globally for consumer products – this represents a huge advantage for female founders.
One of the things holding women back is access to capital.?? It has been shown that women are far less likely to receive venture capital and this has a huge effect on our ability to build big businesses.? But this is an industry that is changing fast too.? There are already some great success stories of women building companies with a female audience in mind (Jess Lee, CEO of Polyvore, Adi Tatarka CEO of Houzz, Leah Busque CEO of TaskRabbit) and personally we know loads of amazing female founders both here in Ireland and abroad.? Times are changing so watch this space!

Who are your career heroines?
One heroine we all agree on is J.K. Rowling. We all love her books and her own story is inspirational. And our mum, Geraldine, who is an incredible self-starter and also self-made. She ran a successful architecture practice for 30 years. She is creative and incredibly capable – she knows how to get things done!

Do you think the government could do more to support young entrepreneurs?
I think the government can always do more to support entrepreneurs – for instance more effort could be made in accommodating startups and small businesses in our cities’ unoccupied buildings by reducing rates, opening up NAMA-owned premises and offering more flexible lease terms.
That said, for the most part, we believe that Ireland is a great place to start a company. There is now a Dublin commissioner for startups – Niamh Bushnell – who is doing great things for the sector. There are numerous grants, support systems and networks available.? We have taken part in programmes in the NDRC and DCU Ryan Academy. Enterprise Ireland have invested in Love & Robots and through an event they ran, we got into Seedcamp, a London-based accelerator.

And finally, what one piece of advice would you give a young woman looking to start her own business?
Step away from your drawingboard/kitchen table! It is too easy to keep your idea to yourself and procrastinate on starting something up. The best things that have happened to us have been because we got out and started talking about our ideas and meeting new people. It is what has led us to co-founders, collaborators and partners and has helped us distill our business and vision for Love & Robots.

Follow Jeanne Sutton on Twitter @jeannedesutun

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