Drawn-out process brings sty­lus to mar­ket

Bring­ing Scriba to the mar­ket was more dif­fi­cult than its in­ven­tor David Craig ever imag­ined

The Irish Times - Business - - BUSINESS - Char­lie Tay­lor

There is a rea­son why com­pa­nies usu­ally steer clear of de­vel­op­ing con­nected hard­ware. Not only is it of­ten a pro­hib­i­tively ex­pen­sive project, but it is also a night­mare try­ing to jug­gle all the dis­parate parts, par­tic­u­larly if you’re not an engi­neer by train­ing. Given this, it is some­thing of a mir­a­cle when a prod­uct like Scriba man­ages to get from ini­tial idea to mar­ket.

Scriba is an Ir­ish-de­signed smart sty­lus for mo­bile de­vices that has a unique squeeze mo­tion and many months of bat­tery life.

The prod­uct is fi­nally avail­able to the pub­lic from next week, con­sid­er­ably later than its in­ven­tor orig­i­nally in­tended. But as David Craig is the first to ad­mit, it is a case of bet­ter late than never.

“If I’d have known how dif­fi­cult a jour­ney this was all go­ing to be, I’m not sure I’d have both­ered at all but there came a point when I had in­vested so much into it that I couldn’t not see it through to the end,” Craig told The Ir­ish Times.

Dublin De­sign Stu­dio, the com­pany es­tab­lished by Craig a few years ago to get Scriba to mar­ket, launched a suc­cess­ful Kick­starter cam­paign for a pro­to­type ver­sion of the sty­lus back in July 2015 with the hope that the fi­nal model would go on sale a short time later.

As it hap­pens, the route to mar­ket took some­what longer than ex­pected as Craig sought to re­solve tricky prob­lems in the man­u­fac­tur­ing process, all the while try­ing to sup­port a grow­ing fam­ily on lit­tle or no in­come.

An ar­chi­tect by trade and for­merly a part­ner with Bur­don Craig Dunne Henry – win­ner of the com­pe­ti­tion to de­sign the ill-fated U2 Tower in Dublin’s Dock­lands – the en­tre­pre­neur came up with the idea for Scriba back in 2014 when strug­gling to find a prod­uct that would en­able him to make quick sketches on the go while on site.

The prod­uct that even­tu­ally emerged is a dig­i­tal pen that has a unique squeeze mo­tion, which Craig claims com­pletely changes the way peo­ple can in­ter­act with iPads and other tablets. The pinch­ing ac­tion prom­ises a wider range of move­ment than seen with other sty­luses, al­low­ing users to ad­just line weight, opac­ity or blurs, more smoothly and pre­cisely.

With a standby charge of more than six months and hun­dreds of hours of user time, Scriba is also one of the most re­li­able de­vices of its type in terms of bat­tery life, ac­cord­ing to Craig.

“Scriba ac­tu­ally hasn’t changed that much from the orig­i­nal con­cept I had but there has been plenty of jug­gling things as ev­ery­thing that could go wrong did go wrong, from ma­te­ri­als not stick­ing to­gether to bro­ken pack­ag­ing boxes,” he says.

Given that Craig is go­ing head-to-head with the likes of Ap­ple and Mi­crosoft, which have all come out with their own sty­luses in the past few years, he had to en­sure it was a cut above the rest. This meant us­ing costly ma­te­ri­als and call­ing in plenty of favours.

“There have been so many peo­ple who have played a part in get­ting Scriba to this point, rang­ing from prod­uct de­sign­ers to soft­ware en­gi­neers and plas­tic spe­cial­ists . . . Peo­ple who gave their time for free or who helped out in other ways and with­out them it wouldn’t have hap­pened,” he says.

Down­turn

“When the process started, I was pretty much run­ning away from ar­chi­tec­ture be­cause ev­ery­thing had dried up with the down­turn so there was plenty of in­cen­tive to keep me fo­cused on Scriba. There was also a cer­tain amount of guilt af­ter a while af­ter so many other peo­ple had put in so much work on it to keep me go­ing,” he adds.

In the end, Craig reck­ons he has been able to get the fin­ished prod­uct de­vel­oped for a cost of about €250,000, con­sid­er­ably lower than the es­ti­mated €1 mil­lion or so it would have likely cost him if he hadn’t been able to en­gage the wider com­mu­nity to give a dig out.

Pro­duc­ing a prod­uct such as Scriba has many chal­lenges. De­liv­er­ing as com­plex a curved form is par­tic­u­larly dif­fi­cult as there is no real back to the prod­uct. The de­sign for it in­volves two moulds with hun­dreds of mov­ing parts.

Car­taMundi (pre­vi­ously Has­bro), which man­u­fac­tured and as­sem­bled the fin­ished prod­uct, de­scribed it as one of the hard­est projects of its size the com­pany has worked on, says Craig.

“There have been chal­lenges all the way and I did a lot of grunt work be­cause I have had to do what­ever I couldn’t farm out but we’ve got there. I’ve ef­fec­tively not earned much in­come out­side of that I’ve gained from ar­chi­tec­tural stuff, which has taken off again. There has been some money com­ing in from things like En­ter­prise Ire­land pro­grammes, and I’ve man­aged it very frugally be­cause I am Scot­tish af­ter all,” he says.

“Over the years I’ve also bor­rowed money from some peo­ple but for 2½ years I’ve pretty much worked on this for free. Worse, I’ve been putting in any money I have been able to lay my hands on into the project,” he adds.

In the years lead­ing up to it be­ing com­pleted, Scriba has been pick­ing up prizes every­where, in­clud­ing in The Ir­ish Times In­no­va­tion Awards. The fin­ished prod­uct has been ac­cepted on Ama­zon’s launch­pad pro­gramme in the UK, pro­vid­ing Dublin De­sign Stu­dio with a good shopfront. The firm is also sell­ing the prod­uct through the Hack­ett group and via the GetScriba web­site.

It will re­tail for an in­tro­duc­tory price of £50 as Craig is more fo­cused ini­tially on gen­er­at­ing in­ter­est and get­ting feed­back on the prod­uct from users than mak­ing money (al­though that would also be wel­come).

“We’ve been through a cou­ple of hun­dred pro­to­types and I’ve es­sen­tially spent the last two years or so desrisk­ing the prod­uct. But re­ally we are just at the start­ing line.

“There have been lot of plau­dits but at the end of the day I’m still just an ar­chi­tect with a fancy pen. Right now, I’m some­thing of an un­known quan­tity and we have a need to ed­u­cate the mar­ket as to how Scriba is un­like any­thing else that is out there,” says Craig.

“I’m busy look­ing ahead though and there is a pos­si­ble col­lab­o­ra­tion with a big Chi­nese man­u­fac­turer and I am think­ing about sim­pler ver­sions of the sty­lus that could ben­e­fit peo­ple with carpal tun­nel and other ail­ments. For the next few years though, the fo­cus is all about build­ing a sus­tain­able busi­ness,” he adds.

The prod­uct that even­tu­ally emerged is a dig­i­tal pen that has a unique squeeze mo­tion, which Craig claims com­pletely changes the way peo­ple can in­ter­act with iPads and other tablets At the end of the day I’m still just an ar­chi­tect with a fancy pen. We have a need to ed­u­cate the mar­ket as to how Scriba is un­like any­thing else David Craig

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