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Start Up The Right Way! Advice To Startups From Domino Clamps' Founder Justin Beardsell

Sarah Venning
Founder Justin Beardsell (left) and Business Partner Ruben wood (Right) gesture towards Their new domino clamp at the launch party.

London-based startup Container Clamps Ltd have successfully launched their flagship product, Domino Clamps.

Domino Clamps increase the versatility of shipping containers by offering customers a multi-purpose product that can be used in a number of ways. By attaching to a shipping container’s corner casting, Domino Clamps, in turn, allow almost anything to be attached to the container itself without damage. In addition, the clamps are removable and reusable, making them a popular choice for an array of industries including construction and container hire.

Container Clamps Ltd’s founder, Justin Beardsell, identified a gap in the market for such a product while working as a production manager within the events industry. Having originally conceived the idea in 2014, it wasn’t until early 2018 that Justin approached his friend and now business partner Ruben Wood with the idea, along with a rudimentary prototype of his design. They planned to commence prototype testing in the summer and have the product on sale by the autumn; however, as is often the case for startups, there were a number of challenges on the path to success for Justin and his team.

In fact, it took exactly two years and two weeks after their first meeting for the first batch of Domino Clamps to arrive. Justin remembers hauling the two pallets containing '1000kg of steel that we have poured countless hours into; seemingly unsolvable problems, ecstatic revelations, nail-biting tests, frustrating phone calls, joyful leaps forward, dispirited returns to the drawing board and many, many pushed-back deadlines'. However, when all was said and done, they now had 400 Domino Clamps ready to go to market - an incredible feat that serves as testament to their perseverance and their dedication to creating the best product possible.

Founder Justin Beardsell with one of the first pallets of Domino Clamps.

'I really can't begin to express just how much more work it was to get this far than I had ever imagined, even in my worst case scenario,' said Justin. 'I have spent days on comparatively tiny elements of this process that I had never even considered existed at first; juggling product design, development and testing, researching compliance, laws, marketing strategy and routes to market; hiring and firing, business development, finance raising, logistics and a hundred other tasks that I have thrown myself into the meticulous nuts and bolts of their inner workings.

'This doesn't even include the stuff that I managed to unload onto Ruben or any of the other contractors, freelancers and friends, family and loved ones that have contributed such a huge and valuable amount along the way.'

It goes without saying that starting a company - especially one that offers a tangible product - is not easy. For the countless other startups who are currently battling a myriad of dilemmas to bring their product to market, here is Justin's advice on keeping a level head and surviving the process with your product - and your sanity - in-tact:

When It Comes To Compliance, Seek Reputable Advice:

'Looking back, I think the thing which caused us the biggest problem was establishing for sure whether or not our product was subject to any regulations, or EU directives, and therefore if there were any specific hoops we had to jump through, or if we needed to CE mark our product. I can’t stress how incredibly infuriating this process was. On a few occasions, I found myself in some Kafka-esque nightmare of a circular conversation - I'd ask someone if we needed to CE mark. They’d tell us that only products which fall with an EU directive need to be CE marked. 

The realisation that someone could end up technically breaking the law, simply because they didn't have the money to find out IF they were breaking the law, seemed like something out of dystopian fiction.

"I know that", I'd say, "but we’re trying to figure out which ones might apply to us." 

"Well, all you need to do is look through the directive and see if any parts apply to you."

"OK then where do I get those documents?" 

“Well they’re on the website and £xxx each." 

"Which one should I buy? There’s hundreds." 

"Well, whichever one applies to your product."

A Domino Clamp tightened securely into a bottom Corner casting of a shipping container.

'It was utterly crazy. All we wanted to do was be compliant and operate within the law, but nobody would properly help us do it. I guess nobody wanted to shoulder the burden of the decision. Hours and hours spent reading and researching, hours and hours on the phone, with one conversation contradicting the next, trying to assemble and aggregate information and advice in order to arrive at a conclusion. We came away exhausted by that process, and utterly comprehending that some people would hit that particular wall and just go around it instead of over. 

'The realisation that someone could end up technically breaking the law, simply because they didn't have the money to find out IF they were breaking the law, seemed like something out of dystopian fiction.  

'I think BBACerts deserve a mention as an organisation which bucked the trend here. We had to get past the salespeople; however, we eventually spoke to a truly knowledgeable person in their operations department who was able to explain not only the up-to-date changes to the EU legislations, but also how the directives work and what our options were. Admittedly the process is very complicated, however, eventually we got our answer.'

A Domino Clamp holds some fire safety signage securely to a shipping container with a tube clamp and a short piece of scaffold tube.

Click here to visit the Domino Clamps website.

Customer Service & Communication Are Invaluable:

'Once we got to the point where we had final drawings, we hoped it would be plain sailing. I was pretty thorough in getting quotes for the manufacturing process. Although this wasn't a huge hurdle, one thing which did surprise me was how hard it was to get quotes from manufacturers and contractors. When it came to getting quotes for finishing our product (we were looking at various plating and coating processes to figure out what was what), I was pretty thorough about sending out requests for quotes. I must have reached out to about 20 companies. 

'Within about 2 weeks I had perhaps heard back from only 4 or 5. I don’t know if it was because we came across as "green", or because they already had plenty of work, but it was a battle sometimes to get a response out of some companies. I already had so much on my plate at the time that I didn't spend much time finding out why - I just set a limit on attempts to follow up with a phone call or email, before I gave up and moved on to a company that was more responsive. 

It was conversations like that where you walked away thinking search over, that's the company we're using.

'Generally speaking, throughout the whole process, we tended to go with the companies which were more forthcoming in conversation. We spoke to some fantastically helpful people on the way. Victoria Forgings, who we decided to use to drop-forge our product, were amazing. I went in to have a quick meeting one day to find out if they might be suitable and to find out a little more about the process. I didn’t leave until about 4 hours later, my head swimming with information. It was conversations like that where you walked away thinking search over, that's the company we're using.

'As soon as we made this decision, it seemed completely crazy that we had considered getting our product made in China. All my goals to make a high-end product, hopes to keep the stresses of a manufacturing process to a minimum, the need to have accountability and traceability given the nature of our products - this all fell into place with that decision. The first thing we did after paying the deposit on the tooling for the drop forging was to sign up to the Made In Britain organisation. We display the logo on our website and marketing material now with pride.'

Front view of the Domino Clamp for attaching to containers

Don't Become Overwhelmed:

All you can do is just keep going and take it one step at a time.

'With bigger issues, as well as the countless other hiccups and obstacles along the way, all you can do is just keep going and take it one step at a time. It can be, and was pretty overwhelming at times. Don’t have an answer yet? Keep researching and asking questions. Problem with the manufacturing process? Identify the problem and work with whoever is necessary to solve it. 

'I wish I was as practical and unemotional at problem solving at the beginning as I am now. At the beginning I let knockbacks grind me down too much. I was overly optimistic and not prepared in my wildest nightmares for just how many setbacks, delays and obstacles there would be. "Expect the unexpected" is a trite phrase often knocked around in cases like this, but I don't think it quite gets to the heart of it. I think “don't be surprised by the unexpected” is better advice, even if it lacks the same rhetorical neatness.'

Rear view of the Domino Clamp. The smaller piece rotates inside the corner casting to clamp the Domino to the Shipping container.

Click here to visit the Domino Clamps website.

Don't Be Afraid To Ask For Help:

'I probably did loads of things wrong in my approach and don't even know it. Though that would be one thing to remember; realise that you don’t know what you don’t know. You’ll never be an expert in all the things you need expertise in, so enlist the help of as many people as possible. Find as many mentors as possible. People you trust. One of the best people I went to for advice never told me what was best to do, he just asked me questions and gave me his opinion on certain things. It was more like therapy than teaching, and made for better guidance, even if there were times that I just wanted a straight answer to my problem. 

Ask questions, loads of them. Find people who are the experts in what you need, and get them on the phone.

'Ask questions, loads of them. Find people who are the experts in what you need, and get them on the phone. This doesn't necessarily work for straight-up business, law or accounting questions - services where the experts' income depends on handing out that info - but in my case for instance, if I wanted to find out about something really niche in manufacturing, like how different materials worked under stress, or bolt thread standards or something like that, you can find the person within a company that really knows about that thing, and ask them.   

'The people I needed to tell me things were generally too busy to sit and answer an email from a stranger, but once you got them on the phone, it was much easier to learn what you need to know. Generally speaking, specialists don't necessarily get to speak to people who are genuinely interested in their specialty, so are often all too happy to talk things through in detail. So i made use of that a lot, as well as appealing to people’s nurturing instincts and making clear we were mostly self-funded entrepreneurs trying to get our invention onto the market. People loved that, and generally were quite generous with their advice and wisdom. All this is on the phone though - rely only on email and it's often a different story.

'Another good method of getting face to face info was expos. We went to the Southern Manufacturing exhibition last year and that was a great opportunity to speak to people and get advice. Although it didn't lead to any final relationships with suppliers, it might well have done, and it was a great opportunity to see what was out there and to condense a lot of backwards-and-forwards email conversations into a single day.'

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Domino Clamps are now on sale! If you're looking for the best way to attach almost anything to shipping containers quickly, easily and without damage, then please follow the link below: 

 Click here to visit the Domino Clamps website.

 

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About Sarah Venning

Sarah is a sales & marketing content writer, with six years of experience within the engineering & manufacturing industry.  Working both at Qimtek and on a freelance basis, she can usually be found hammering away at a keyboard or with her head in a pile of engineering drawings. 

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