We had an interesting chat with Mr. “Mihaela Muruianu”, Co-Founder of the London based start-up “Lapkin”
Below is the interview we conducted with him:
1.What is it exactly that you do and what your start-up is all about?
Laptops are an indispensable item for many of us. We eat, work, play and travel with our laptops, however few know that laptop keyboards are actually dirtier than toilet seats. Lapkin is the only biodegradable laptop keyboard cover that protects your device from spills, grease and crumbs and prevents cross-contamination. Lapkin has you covered!
2. When has your startup been founded? And what stage is your startup currently at?
We started developing the idea in March 2013 while we were still students at Imperial. Since then, things have moved quickly. In April 2013 we cooked our first prototypes out of tapioca starch and vinegar in Valash’s kitchen, and realized the product was feasible and simple enough for us to make. Now, we manufacture Lapkin at a certified eco-plant in Thailand. Lapkin is currently available for purchase on our website,www.lapkin.co.uk , Ebay and will be on Amazon.co.uk very soon.
3. What is your startup’s business model and how does it work?
About two months ago we launched Lapkin sales on Ebay and Lapkin.co.uk. As you might expect, the B2C laptop keyboard cover market is quite niche! However, the good news is that our online sales have been steadily increasing, and we’re getting a ton of positive feedback and suggestions from customers that will help us perfect the product.
The big opportunity that we’re all working towards for Lapkin is B2B. Just as napkins are branded with café, restaurant, university, and corporate logos, so can the Lapkin. We’ve just started testing and experimenting with B2B channels like food delivery services and cafés—situations where there’s a high probability that the end customer will end up eating and/or drinking at his laptop.
4. How did your team meet? And who in your team does what?
Believe it or not, we were assigned to work together by Imperial College London on the Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Management MSc. Their main criterion for team formation was diversity, which is why we’re a mix of Asians, Europeans and American. Luckily, our shuffle turned out to be creative, productive and a lot of fun, and so we decided to stick together.
Andreas is our IT guy, Chris and Mihaela are working on business development, Valash is our digital marketing guru and Weal is in charge of manufacturing and packaging. Our work process is a little different than most jobs. We don’t have a task division based on previous experience or education. Everyone is free to get involved in everything, but there is usually one person who has some specific expertise in an area which he/she leads, having such a process allow the members of the team to learn new things and be able to cover for each other when necessary.
5. What, exactly, makes you different from existing options, what will make your product and/or service stand out in the marketplace? In other words what’s unique about you and what’s new about what you make?
Lapkin is different from anything else on the market. Take a look at laptop keyboard covers, and you’ll find a lot of generic polyurethane and silicon skins that only cover the keyboard.
Lapkin covers the keyboard and the trackpad. It’s made from biodegradable material. It even doubles as a post-it-note if you have a pen nearby.
Other covers are sold individually and are meant to be used for long periods of time, then washed and used again. Lapkin is much more like a napkin. It does the job while you eat and drink, but when it get’s dirty you toss it in the bin and grab a clean one for next time.
6. What is your growth like? And what milestones has your startup achieved so far?
So far we have incorporated a company in the UK, registered a trademark, filed for patent protection and manufactured our first batch of Lapkins. Currently we are trying to generate buzz around the product with interactive giveaway campaigns, social media communication and at start-up events across London.
7. Who are your competitors? And what is your start-up’s competitive advantage over them?
Luckily for us there is no leading product or design on the market, nor is there a strong competitor. There is no focus on marketing, branding, customization or the sustainability of the product. The analogues do not cover the trackpad and are actually more expensive. What other reasons could one need?
8. What obstacles did you face and how did you overcome them?
There is an overwhelming amount of networking and support given to the tech industry in both Europe and US. Every week you hear about events, funds, meet-ups that are meant to help tech start-ups succeed. We would have definitely enjoyed to see more activity and help going to consumer goods start-ups.
9. What are the key things about your field that outsiders don’t understand? (Min. 150 characters
Regulations are getting harder on products that don’t meet the sustainability criteria of the economy, and the consumer is becoming a little more responsible in the choices he makes. For us, that means that products that don’t cover the trackpad and are designed to be kept on for too long, collecting germs and contributing to cross-contamination, is becoming less attractive.
10. Why are you going to succeed?
We believe Lapkin is a great product, and a superior design compared to its competition. It’s easy to apply, use and remove. There is no need to wash it or be concerned if it get’s dirty, you just toss it in the bin and get another one from your pack. Also, you don’t have to stay home and wait for your package to arrive or be stressed by missing a delivery, the Lapkin is delivered to your mailbox as a letter which makes the process fuss-free.
11. If your startup succeeds, what additional areas might you be able to expand into?
Besides the obvious choices like tablets and other touchscreen covers, we think our team has an enormous potential to find more creative solutions for various quotidian problems. Our meeting is a great fun and we often end up with ideas we would like to implement once we have managed to make Lapkin successful.
12. Why did you choose this idea and concept to build your start-up based on?
Chris, one of our founders accidentally destroyed his laptop with an Indian curry. He came in the next day determined to find a solution for the problem that was so familiar to all of us. We have analyzed the existent market and found out there was no decent solution. After several brainstorming and prototyping sessions the Lapkin was born.
13. What have you learned so far from launching your idea?
It’s not enough to just have a brilliant idea, execution is the key to success. There are a lot of aspects of doing business that you need to research : the market, segments, channels, regulations, import, export, VAT, delivery, accounting, copyright. As a start-up founder you need to be ready to learn new things and able to take on new duties as they arise.
14. Six months from now, what’s going to be your biggest problem?
Many people don’t realize how dirty their laptop keyboards are. It’s really important to convey the need for a cover that protects your device from spills and grease as well as the user from cross-contamination. Educating the user and making them want to try the Lapkin will be one of our top priorities.
15. What’s the benefit for the customer/user?
Spills are the number one cause for laptop repairs, and they can end up costing the owner an arm and a leg, especially with MacBooks. Little drips and crumbs work their way beneath the keyboard and have an insidious effect on performance. Over time, these add up and can significantly shorten the lifetime of a laptop. It’s why Apple tells you not to eat or drink anything at your laptop. There’s also the unsanitary problems of cross-contamination and touching something that has more germs and bacteria than a toilet seat. Lapkin solves both of these problems and has the added bonus of being made from material that you can write notes and doodle on with a pen.
16. How did customers / users find out about you?
Online search is our main customer driver. In spring 2014 we did a campaign in several cafes in Shoreditch, London where people who were planning on having a coffee or lunch while working on their laptop could grab a Lapkin. This campaign generated a lot of buzz and interest around Lapkin and our website. Our story was also featured in an Imperial College article and in their newsletter. We are currently planning some new engaging activities that will help spread awareness about Lapkin.
17. Who are your current customers / users? Who are your target customers / users?
We target university students and office professionals, because they’re almost never separated from their laptops. It’s an integral part of their life, and we want to make Lapkin available to them wherever it is that they need it: in cafes, airports, hotels or with a food delivery. Lapkin is also a great solution for businesses that want to protect their company laptops and/or provide their customers a branded protection for their devices.
18. Where do new customers / users come from and what makes new customers/users try you?
A lot of our customers come from organic online search, word of mouth, and social media. It’s no secret that online shoppers are only a few clicks away from researching, reviewing and comparing products, and we’re finding that our online presence really helps differentiate us from current competition.
19. What do your customers / users say about your product and/or service?
Giving the fact that our first batch was more of an experiment, we were frankly overwhelmed with the positive feedback received. Obviously there is space for improvement and we are working on making the product even better, but reading the good reviews made us understand we are moving in the right direction.
20. How are you going to scale?
A big advantage of being a consumer good is that the higher you scale up production, the lower your costs fall. We believe our main challenges will be marketing and distribution arrangements. For the success of the Lapkin we need to get as many people as possible using it and spreading a good word about it.
21. What’s the biggest missing feature? The one thing customers/users keep asking for?
Currently, Lapkin fits 13” laptops perfectly, and covers most 15” models. We are really happy when our customers send us emails asking for more sizes for their laptop and other devices. We’ve received several requests from people working in the NHS. Apparently there is a big need for protective covers in their sector. We also received a request to make Lapkin for hotel TV remotes! We are of course considering all the requests and definitely will be enhancing the current design of the Lapkin as well as extending our product line to tablets and other touch-screens.
22. Are you going to internationalize? And if yes how are you planning to expand your start-up’s operations accordingly?
We have had customers from overseas enquiring about Lapkin and of course, international expansion is on our to-do list but only once we’ve managed to get the business going and have a better understanding of the market as well as the consumer. If things go well, we hope to have the Lapkin available in US by the beginning of 2015.
23. How big do you think you can get? Why? And how you are planning to achieve your goals?
In our opinion, there is an obvious need for a Lapkin anywhere a laptop is in potential danger. We believe our product could become indispensable the same way napkins are. In order for this to happen it is really important to have it available in the right place at the right time and this is exactly what we will be working on.
24. Are you looking to hire a new workforce? And if yes, what job vacancies do you currently offer and where can potential applicants contact you at?
We are not hiring at the moment but hopefully if things go well we will be considering enlarging our team next spring. In the meantime, we invite those interested to follow us on Twitter and Facebook. It is always a great pleasure for us to chat with Lapkin fans or people who are just interested in finding out more information about us.
25. Are you looking for partnership opportunities or funding from Venture Capitals (VC) or other funding sources? Or your business is self-sustainable? And if the first option applies where potential can partners / investors contact you at?
So far we have bootstrapped £21,000 and are currently looking to find a VC or an angel investor with experience in fast moving consumer goods and B2B operations to help expedite our growth. To discuss possible partnerships or customized Lapkin solutions for your business, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
26. What advice do you have for fresh entrepreneurs?
Network, as much as possible. Talk about your product with as many people as you can. Seek different ideas, opinions and perspectives, but don’t take anyone’s word for gospel. Use those insights and data, but stay true to your unique vision for the business/ product/service.