Mostyn Thomas is the general manger of D3O, the ground breaking impact solutions business. D3O or “super goo” (as it is known) is a bright orange putty that is soft when handled but stiffens immediately when hit. First discovered by British scientist Richard Palmer in 1999 and earlier this year winning the Queens Award for Enterprise, we caught up with Mostyn to find out more.
D3O has experienced an impressive growth path, talk us through where the “super goo” idea came from and how you have achieved the growth trajectory (300% in 2 years) that you have ?
D3O licenses a range of unique patented smart materials. This market changing technology is used to produce a shock absorbing material which can be found in a range of products. D3O was proven during the 2006 Winter Olympics, when the US and Canadian ski teams pioneered D3O’s revolutionary soft armour.
After starting out in the snow and extreme sports, D3O brought its unique patented technology into six key industry sectors: sport, motorcycle, industrial workwear, defence, footwear and consumer electronics. Across each of these sectors, over the past six years, D3O has delivered strong performance in international trade, after demonstrating growth both in absolute sales, and in the percentage it exports: an increase to 88% in 2013. Of these export sales in 2013, over 40% were generated from North America, thanks to US customers including American Football helmet manufacturer Schutt Sports, All Star Baseball, RPS, Icon, Klim, Burton Snowboards, and the US Special Forces.
Unusual name D3O, where did the name D3O come from?
Well, we’ve actually heard a lot of different explanations over the years as to what the D3O name indicates! One of the explanations that we like is that D3O was the name of a lab at the university where the original company founder first invented the technology.
As a British manufacturing start up business, from your window on the world in Portslade what have been the biggest challenges/obstacles you have experienced ?
As a British manufacturing business based on the south coast of England, attracting talented chemists, mechanical engineers and industrial designers to join D3O is something we obsess about. A dynamic fast growing company needs a certain type of character who has not only first class technical expertise but also can deliver in the short term and build for the future at the same time. We look for people who can grow with us and are always looking for talented people who want to be part of a British manufacturing success story.
With the wisdom achieved from a steep learning curve, looking ahead to the next three years, what are the biggest challenges and/or opportunities that D3O faces?
The sheer amount of interest in the material and the number of applications for the material and our solutions means that the biggest challenge for D3O is making sure we focus on the applications that are the best fit for us as a business. For the consumer electronics market, products are getting ever smaller and more fragile, and yet more important to the successful running of our lives (eg recent launches of the new Samsung Galaxy Note and the Apple Watch). While in sport, everything is getting faster and more extreme with a consequence that the hits competitors take are ever harder and the impact energies higher. Expectations and requirements for impact protection are always changing whilst more and more part of everyday life.
Continuing to maintain great attention to detail for each and every customer as we get larger, will also be a focus. It is about continually reviewing our processes and systems to drive improvement whilst allowing the D3O entrepreneurial spirit, that has served us so well to date, to continue to shine through.
In terms of opportunities and future technologies, head protection is something for which D3O will continue to innovate. Following on from the work the company has done with sports manufacturers in the US around incorporating impact protection technology in to the liners of baseball and football helmets. In a variety of sports and in the military, traumatic brain injuries are a significant issue. The tragic high profile skiing accident suffered by Formula One driver Michael Schumacher, highlighted this and made the global public aware of the scale and implications of traumatic brain injury.
D3O would also like to see the global standardisation and adoption of safety industry standards, especially for industrial workwear. D3O are partnering with RPS, oil riggers across the US who are currently trialling the RPS Crude Hands glove, featuring D3O Smart Skin, that could significantly reduce the number of hand injuries.
Earlier this year you won the Queen’s Award for Enterprise, what does that mean to D3O?
The response we have had from customers and suppliers alike has shown us how well respected both the award and the Queen’s support for the award is around the world. It was great to be recognised as a successful, innovative British business.
D3O was a small company of just 20 people with some great ideas when I joined in 2011. It has been a great journey and I am proud to see the company grow from its small roots in Hove to a team of 60 in our Portslade offices and trading in 40 countries around the world. Everyone in the company feels proud to be acknowledged for our work and significant export growth. We remain committed to expanding both our technology and our global footprint for our patented, innovative, protective solutions.
What approach has contributed to the success of D3O?
As a management team we constantly talk about keeping the customer at the heart of what we do and we look at all decisions across the whole business through that prism. Many companies talk about being a solutions provider; it is easy to say but much harder to actually do. At D3O it has been key to our dramatic growth. Right across the business from material development, product development, testing, supply chain execution, marketing support, or joint growth roadmaps with our customers we always think about providing solutions to customers’ problems not just selling a product. This is how we have built our reputation in the market place and why customers continue to approach D3O to solve their problems and help them boost their sales.
How do you think the Government can better support UK manufacturers?
The Government’s key role is in maintaining macro- economic stability for both exporters and importers alike. Harnessing organisations such as UKTI and the Technology Strategy Board have, through practical advice and guidance, helped supercharge our innovation and increase our worldwide revenue potential. The R&D Tax Credit and the Patent Box, can make a significant impact on a business’s cash flow. These schemes can give manufacturers the confidence to re invest in innovation and can unlock triple-digit growth as it has done at D3O.
Where do you see the opportunities in the manufacturing sector in the UK in the next 12-18 months?
Exporting products and services still remains a great opportunity for the manufacturing sector. We speak to a number of UK manufacturers and we feel that sometimes they lack confidence. There are some fantastic world class manufacturing companies in the UK, more than people think. As a manufacturing sector in the UK we should have more confidence in the brilliant products, services and people that we have. We are capable of winning business and servicing new needs in all parts of the globe. Clearly emerging markets are a priority but we can also compete in the traditional export markets and it is just a matter of getting out there and showing people what you can do.
Innovation is perhaps an overused word, but not in the case of D3O, where your entire business model lives or dies on innovation I imagine – so in that context do you think British manufacturers do innovation well?
Yes, there are a large number of companies doing some extraordinary innovation and we are as well placed as any country in the world for innovation. Ideas and the execution of innovation is not the main issue here in Britain, but prioritising and securing the resource to enable it. It’s easy to blame the banks for being too risk averse but I also think as an industry we have an obligation to make the broader case for innovation. Every company has a duty to communicate the nature of the innovation process and technical risk in a much clearer way.
As a business with a retired windsurfing champion as CEO and a scientist/lecturer as founder do you think that our manufacturers need business credentials or just a great idea and a vision?
The UK has a great pedigree of producing manufacturing companies whose success is built not only upon the technical expertise and vision of their founder or CEO, but their innate understanding of a particular market, and commercial ability to identify and exploit applications of technology or solutions. Creativity and business acumen are not mutually exclusive: if manufacturers are to be successful they have to be equally good at both. I would also say that great leaders surround themselves with great teams and D3O is no exception in that regard.
If you were to sum up British manufacturing in just five words, which words would you choose?
Growing, surprising, talented, winning, shy!
And finally aside from Dr. Martens, trainers, American football players and A list celebrities, what is the most unusual request for a D3O application you have received?
We have had some very intriguing requests over the years, but perhaps one of the most unusual was from NASA which made an enquiry about using D3O in its space habitat to protect astronauts from asteroids.