THE GUARDIAN: Anyone home? Meet the Couple Revolutionising the Humble Doorbell

Published by The Guardian, Lottie O'Conor, Tue 18 Jul 2017 


John Nussey and wife, Avril O’Neill, were inspired to create smart doorbell Ding after working on prototypes for other entrepreneurs

There are few things more infuriating than arriving home to a “Sorry we missed you” card after waiting hours for a delivery. A report last year from IMRG estimated that , not to mention the frustration and inconvenience for customers who happen to be in the shower or out when the doorbell rings.

It’s a problem that the co-founder of Ding, John Nussey, was inspired to do something about. He and his wife, Avril O’Neill, have run their own business for 10 years, making product prototypes for other entrepreneurs, and began to develop their own list of ideas: “Simple, everyday things that had been forgotten about,” Nussey says. The doorbell was at the top of that list. The idea was to “make products that don’t forget the job they’re supposed to do [but] that use technology to be better”.

Ding smart doorbell
Facebook Twitter Pinterest The Ding bell and speaker. Photograph: Ding
With Ding, Nussey and O’Neill have designed a product that looks like a modern doorbell button, but which connects to a chime inside the house via wifi. This in turn connects to an app on your phone, via an alert “like a Skype or WhatsApp call”. Answering the call allows you to talk directly to the person at your door from anywhere in the world.

It’s a simple idea but one that has potential not just for deliveries but also for those living with disabilities or who are at home with young children – anyone who might find it difficult to get to the door quickly. “You need something that allows you to live that kind of on-demand lifestyle,” Nussey says. “The next step is to get the product out of the door and into people’s homes.”

The doorbell will compete in the fast-growing smart home technology market, a sector estimated to be worth $150bn (£118bn) by 2020, with rising demand for smart energy meters, fridge cams and virtual assistants such as Amazon Alexa and Google Home.

It all started in 2015, when Nussey and O’Neill were awarded funding by the Design Council Spark programme. The following year, they joined John Lewis’s JLAB accelerator, where they caught the eye of the company’s buying director, Johnathan Marsh. He has described Ding as “the perfect product” and intends to stock the doorbell when it’s released later this year. In 2016, Nussey and O’Neill ran two successful campaigns on Kickstarter and Indiegogo, picking up more than 800 pre-orders (deliveries are expected in August), and have recently launched an equity crowdfunding campaign through Seedrs to raise £250,000.

“There are always challenges getting to market, no matter what route you take, but the benefit of Kickstarter and other crowdfunding sites is that they are a sounding board for your idea,” Nussey says. “There are a few changes we’ve made based on feedback and a few features that we’ve prioritised due to popular demand.

“It’s often a bit of a chicken and egg situation [with venture capitalists]”, he adds, when asked about his decision to crowdfund for a third time. “They are keen to invest but want you to sell some products first. You need the cash to make the product, so you need to generate interest and prove there’s a market, and then follow through quickly enough to make sure you can supply the product.”

For a product that hasn’t launched yet, Ding is generating a lot of buzz and has already won a Design Council Award. Nussey credits their success to their reputation in the industry and the collaborative co-working space where the company is currently based, which helps boost their profile and keeps morale high. “It’s a great network of people doing different, exciting projects – we all learn from each other,” he says.

They have plans to launch more products in the smart home space, particularly for home security and deliveries. “We’ve had a lot of interest from architects and property developers for something that’s a bit more commercial, so either for flats and apartments or office buildings like a door entry system.

“Around delivery systems, there are a lot of smart locks out there to open up your home, but people are nervous about opening up their entire house to someone, so we’re looking at some delivery box solutions as well – you could just open it up to the delivery guy.”

On the subject of collaboration, what does Nussey make of running a business as part of a married couple? He admits it isn’t for everyone, but insists it has been the right path for them. “Rather than each of you having separate work lives and dealing with your own ups and downs, you tackle everything together,” he says. “We spoke with some friends of ours recently who put it quite nicely. They said, ‘The bad times are probably worse, but the good times are better’.”

Could the same be said for entrepreneurship? “It’s always something we’ve wanted to do,” Nussey says. “It’s not something to do lightly, but it does give you a lot of freedom to explore. I wouldn’t change a thing.”

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