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    Making Play

    Making Play

    Bringing MURO to life has been an incredible journey so far.  The saying that ‘hardware is hard’ is very true, luckily for MURO, I only heard that one a few weeks ago otherwise I may have stuck to medical sales. But now that the majority of the critical elements of production and distribution are taken care of, I’m looking forward to getting back to the creative aspects of actually making MURO.


    My initial mission for this design project was to create a busy board for young children, then to creating a modular activity platform that stayed engaging for much longer than traditional wooden toys. This finally evolved to creating play.  The arrival at this final mission statement came from the insight that the heart of everything I’m trying to do is to get children to play and engage in their new physical world.

    “Play is the highest form of research” - Albert Einstein

    Putting play front and centre has helped direct design in a much more intelligent and interesting direction. It transpires the old business maxims of clear mission and purpose I used to cringe at are, in fact, completely true.


    This crucial evolution came from the intense introspection precipitated by the invitation to the WeWork Creator Award finals last August and a well timed YouTube discovery of Simon Sinek (“people don’t buy what you do they buy why you do it”). A quick Einstein quote, a well placed full stop and an empathetic pause in my presentation gave the message enough gravitas to convince the wework panel I was on to something. If I’m honest, I fell for it a bit myself too.


    Fast forward to 8 week post-award, production is finally sorted, panic over and I start to think about our new mission; play.  At this point I realise my big epiphany is an empty and fragile shell, well formed but ready to crack at the slightest scrutiny. What is play?  Why is it educational? How do you nurture it? I looked at ‘educational toys’ on the market (if you believe the hype that’s is pretty much every toy!) and found lots of claims, nice graphics advertising education qualities but very little substance.  Coming from a science background, this wasn’t good enough for me.


    At this point you’re probably (hopefully) expecting a insightful and concise explanation of my new found understanding of the educational properties of play and how that relates to MURO.  I’ve spent a lot of time over the last 10 months researching and speaking to experts, but the truth is I’m not quite there yet. I know that the type of play I want MURO to promote should be encouraging is open, incorporates owned-choice and is intrinsically motivating.  


    Watch this space, an explanation is on its way!

    MURO Makers

    MURO Makers

    The most amazing thing which came out of MURO’s Kickstarter campaign (please excuse the smarminess) were our backers.  I was taken aback by how much people bought into and supported the project, whether that be by accepting the changes to the project or more directly, by reaching out with words of support.  

    Those of you who have been following our story will know that there have been some difficult times and a couple of points where it looked like, certainly from my position, it would never be produced. Being the emotional creature that I am that support had a massive role in getting us (me and MURO) through those stages, so thank you everyone!

    Another great thing about our backers is they are full of ideas.  One of the best promotional ideas, the MURO bike, we’ve done so far came from one of our early supporters.  Unfortunately though, a lot of these ideas have ended up being sent to my inbox to die and never get nurtured to their full potential.

    After going around and around in circles trying to solve this I’ve come back to where it all started, and the principle that MURO was founded on, that our users know best.  Rather than trying to guess what people would most like on their busy boards, we created a platform that allowed you to decide for yourself.  Now I want to embed that principle deeper in MURO by creating a platform for our user to share ideas about any aspect of both the product and business with us and with each other.

    Enter the ‘MURO Makers’ Facebook Group.

    This group will bring together the elite MURO fans and invite them to share their ideas and observations about MURO’s at the hands of children!  Ultimately MURO only exists because of you, and it’s right if it is going to carry on existing then it should do so for you.

    I can't promise that every idea will become a reality, but they will all be considered and discussed and I'm looking forward to seeing what comes out of this.

    The long road from Kickstarter to business.

    The long road from Kickstarter to business.

    MURO has been quiet on social media for a while now, but much like a downy duckling, below the surface has been a clumsy but intense drive to create the business infrastructure we need.  Clumps of downy spreadsheets are now being replaced by systems that will allow us to automate and operate (and fly)!


    Transitioning from a Kickstarter idea, to a business ready to grow is a big step.  MURO’s my baby, and the 9 months between its crowd-funded conception and delivery at the port of Folkestone did nothing to prepare me for looking after a newborn company.  It’s only now I’m able to look back at the last 3 months that I’m able to see that I was suffering from postpartum burnout, that took me as close to breaking point as I’ve ever been.


    But leaving mental health discussions to one side for now, MURO is now ready!


    In short, our remaining stock has been packaged into set in our new boxes, fulfillment has been outsourced to a company I’m satisfied have a good balance of computer driven efficiency and human being flexibility.  We have a new website up and running, with chat function and a customer service ticketing system so that we can deliver the customer experience I always envisioned we would.


    AND (drum roll….) I have an intern! That’s right, MURO has its first employee and I can now legitimately say ‘we’ without implied undertones of schizophrenia! More about Morteza to follow, but having someone else in the business is a massive relief and I’m already looking for another to work on content creation and social media, if you can think of anyone let me know!  Getting my head out of the day-to-day should allow more talk to translate into action!


    To our ‘EVERYTHING’ Kickstarter backers who were short changed by the reduced number of toys, we’re currently planning another production run which will be complete later in the year.  As part of this there will be approximately another 5 toys, which you’ll all receive more details to follow but I'm confident you'll think it's a good deal.


    Finally, I’ve spoken about MUROmembers a couple of times but I wanted to wait until I had a clearer idea of what it was before going into any more detail.  I’m excited to say it’s pretty much there and I plan to share the idea next week (probably Wednesday). All I’ll say for now is it’s had a name change….it’s now going to be called either Making MURO or MURO Makers.


    Until then, have a great weekend!

    Collaboration.

    Collaboration.

    Collaboration has become a dirty word, an overused euphemism for paid content-creation and distribution, hopefully to an engaged and targeted, but potentially entirely false audience.


    I’ve been @my_muro on instagram for 18 months now and I get almost daily DM’s proposing collaborations, shortly followed by follower statistics and a price tag. Before I go any further, I should say this grumble isn’t against targeted cold-calling, any business trying to grow should be doing it, but please don't call it collaboration!


    Considering first days of summer we’ve just experienced in London, Ben and Jerry’s couldn’t better example of actual collaboration.  Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, childhood friends who together created an ice cream Jerry could enjoy as an anosmia suffer, the condition which led him having no sense of taste, and their trade-mark delicious chunks to add texture.  As individuals these two could have created any ice cream, yet in collaboration they created magic, what’s more is that it was Jerry's weakness that provided the space for that magic to happen.


    This is the sort of collaboration I want to do with MURO, bringing the skilled and the unskilled together, giving them an common objective (like making toys for example), the space to work together, and seeing what’s created when people play around.


    I’m still waiting for various things to be confirmed but I’m very excited about the plans I’ve planned.  Watch out for announcements over the next couple of weeks.

     

    Rest assured, there will be ice cream.

    Frantic February, March Madness.

    Frantic February, March Madness.

    What a month it’s been, over the last 5 weeks we’ve shipped out the remaining 30% of our Kickstarter rewards, and been to the Baby Show in London.  We approached both of these challenges as beta tests, putting what you have out there before is polished, letting the real-world show you the way and making sure you’re listening.


    Making the decision to organise the dispatch of the remaining rewards meant manhandling 145 boxes of stock into a undersized, under heated self-storage unit whilst trying to maintain some sort of order ready for picking and packing.  Followed by picking and packing 72 unique orders. It was hard work, 3 days of working in a cramped sub-zero metal box, but it got me up close with the product for an extended period for the first time, and lead to some important developments.


    1. Optimized external box to minimise packaging and reduce shipping costs.
    2. Determined important quality-control final checks.
    3. Spotted patterns of toy selection.
    4. Pick and pack should be outsourced.

    The second major event this month was the London Baby Show.  With the benefit of hindsight, this turned out to be a misjudged reaction to the budget sneaking out the back door (see previous blog post). At the time, the Baby Show’s 25,000 expectant parents and a modest target of 20 sales seemed like the obvious solution, and with late-comer discount I was able to get made the gamble risky but not potentially fatal.


    What I didn’t realise (but every other toy company seems to) is that expectant parents are thinking prams, car seats and Tommee Tippee’s. Not toys, definitely not toys.  Measured in sales (as intended) the show was a complete flop, but luckily I’ve decided to post-rationalise it as a research and branding event, as which, it was a resounding success at which offered important customer insights.


    1. Customers do not want to choose each toy.
    2. Pricing model is about right.
    3. Expectant parents are not thinking about toys yet!

    Magically switching goal criteria are a tool exclusively reserved for the one-man band companies.  MURO currently falls into this category (hence the recurring I/we confusion!) but not for much longer.  Sales through our website are gradually increasing and now we’re (me and MURO) generating revenue I’m much more comfortable starting to hire people.

    Kickstarter fulfilled (“the good news”) and bringing goods into the UK (“bad news”).

    Kickstarter fulfilled (“the good news”) and bringing goods into the UK (“bad news”).

     


    That’s it!! 161 MUROs have made it out into the world and despite being quite a few months later (September...2...3...4...5...February) than intended, I’m still putting it down as a massive overall win and having resisting the urge to fall to my knees heroically!


    The stock arrived on 12th February at my UK distribution hub (aka Attic self-storage) and after 2 days of intense boxing, interrupted by a trip up to Nottingham to discuss a potentially exciting educational partnership, the 30% of MUROs that didn’t make it home in time for Christmas were collected by a very helpful DHL driver (who loaded slowly so I could finishing boxing the last couple!) and shipped all around the world.


    The final hold up was a big one, it took trading standards more than 30 days to finish their inspection. This inspection resulted in 3 things: the Beaded Rope being rejected/recalled, a long-delay for our customers and an eye-watering bill for storage.  The first two are what they are; the third however came as a devastating shock.  


    It turns out when goods are imported into the country they have to be stored at an accredited warehouse.  5 days are provided for free after which you’re charged at £25 per m2 per day at one these warehouses, this means that it only takes 6 pallets to rack you up a bill of £6500 in 28 days to be paid before the goods are released and wiping out the already bootstrapped budget in the process.

     

    The warehouse company actually took pity and issued a £2000, but that still means that I badly need to release some capital from my held stock. So it’s time to start selling MURO properly, I’m almost happy with the website and will be donning my trusty salesman's cap and hitting the road - first stop The Baby Show at Excel in London next weekend (2 - 4 March).