Assism Ishaque invested everything he had to launch Simbrix – his own range of colourful toy building bricks – a year ago.
Since then, sales have risen on Amazon and amongst a growing network of independent UK retailers, and Ishaque has been in talks with Argos and Hobbycraft about placing larger listings before Christmas 2017.
Here, Ishaque talks to Business Advice about combining entrepreneurship with fatherhood and creating a toy to rival the likes of Lego.
(1) Who are you and what’s your business?
My name is Assim Ishaque. I’m a 43-year-old dad, husband and inventor. I have taken my patented invention Simbrix and turned it into a business.
Simbrix can be described as a colourful pixelated bead art toy. Specially designed bricks fit together to create a wide range of designs that don’t fall apart, but can be taken apart and played with over again.
I had the idea when I watched my children struggle with one of their favourite toys, Hama beads. When the table was nudged their designs would fall apart.
The idea for a sturdier toy sat with me for nine months before I went on to spend two years designing and developing the product.
(2) How long have you been around for?
Simbrix has been around a three-year project, but has only just launched on the market this year.
In summer 2013 I had the idea for Simbrix. I developed 400 prototypes here in the UK with guidance from the UK manufacturing advisory service.
In April 2015 I launched a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter. Since then my two members of staff and I have been working to grow the business.
(3) How do you make money?
We make money by selling Simbrix kits on our website and Amazon, as well as independent retailers across the UK.
(4) What makes you different and why should people take notice?
The most unique aspect about Simbrix is that creations stay together as long as the user wants them to, without the need to iron or glue.
Players can build a sturdy design that doesn’t fall to pieces but can also be taken apart and played with again. Users still have the option to make it permanent by ironing too.
There is no ability restriction either. Parents and adults have fed back to say they themselves find it enjoyable and relaxing playing with Simbrix. Creations can be as simple or complex as the user desires, which is why adults like it too.
Our fans tell us that Simbrix is one of the best toys in the bricks and bead category. Some have even said that Simbrix is better than Lego – a massive complement for a startup in the toy industry.
(5) What was key in terms of getting started?
I solved a problem I felt was worth solving, and then realised I had something unique. The energy and excitement I had, along with my family’s, encouraged me to make a proper go of Simbrix.
The 400 prototypes I went through to finalise the product were key in terms of establishing quality design.
The crowdfunding project on Kickstarter, and the grants I applied for, also helped get Simbrix off the ground.
In terms of selling, applying for Amazon Launch programme was key to getting the product out there. The really positive and consistent reviews have made all the difference.
I learned that the best way to use social media was to introduce the world to Simbrix and engage with that audience.
(6) What’s your biggest achievement to date?
I would say, simply, reading the lovely reviews from our customers and Simbrix fans. It’s still amazing to think that my idea is becoming a craze, and people are having so much fun with Simbrix.
It might seem small, but even each new sale is another achievement, another person interested in learning about and trying Simbrix. It’s never taken for granted.
(7) What’s been your experience approaching big retailers with your offering?
At the beginning I was faced with specific expectations from some larger retailers that I was just not comfortable with.
They wanted to put fewer products in a box with a much larger margin, and I’m not too keen on the idea of selling big half empty boxes. I wanted Simbrix customers to have the same experience as my own children.
It was then I decided I must go at my own pace. I worked hard to keep the look authentic, taking feedback from my children and existing customers.
It may have taken longer to get Simbrix where it is today, but the brand is exactly where I want it to be.
I’ve also found that, often, retailers are quick in requesting samples, but slow in making things happen. The beauty of giving a toy away to sample though, is that many retailers let their children or younger family members trial it out. In these cases, almost all would end up taking it on.
(8) What setbacks have you had along the way?
At the beginning I had an offer from an American company to license the product. It was very flattering to get that offer, but the company was introducing a new CEO and it unfortunately fell through.
That’s when I realised I would have to put everything to doing this on my own. I have no prior experience in the toy industry, and that means I’ve made a few mistakes.
I have taken longer to make bigger decisions, and become distracted a few times by potential investment offers along the way.
I am much clearer about what I want for Simbrix now, and have steps in mind to build on the amazing and growing support from Simbrix fans.
(9) In five years’ time, I will be…
Stocking Simbrix in the best toy shops across the world. I would love for Simbrix to be stocked in John Lewis, that’s a real aspiration. I’ll hopefully have lots of other products in the Simbrix range too, such as a board game or even a 3D version.
(10) What one tip would you give to others starting out?
Really simply, to just stop hesitating and get stuck in. I also feel like it’s been a good business move to share ideas. Some of our best opportunities have come from conversations.
I applied for the Amazon Launch programme as I knew someone who worked for Amazon at the time – they recommended I go for it.
Many people in business seem to keep everything to themselves for fear of getting something wrong or being judged. They assume they must already know everything and this isn’t the case. Mistakes are part of the process – don’t be afraid to make them to start off with.
(11) Who are your business heroes and why?
The first person that comes to mind is my dear Dad. He had ambition, tried his best and worked hard to make his little business ideas a reality.
I have always been impressed with the perspective of Martin Sorrell, the CEO of the advertising firm WPP – he always speaks with intelligence about business and politics.
And I would ultimately say my business heroes include all of the entrepreneurs who, despite the odds, took control and realised their ambitions.
Find out why Peter Jones has begun searching for the UK’s next generation of young entrepreneurs.
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