I am delighted to inform you that His Majesty The King has approved…
It’s not every day that you get an email that reads: “I am delighted to inform you that His Majesty The King has approved the Prime Minister’s recommendation that your company should receive a King’s Award for Enterprise in the Innovation category this year.”
No matter what your political position is, it’s quite something.
For doddl it’s recognition of years of work inventing, researching, and testing products that are built to deliver genuine solutions to real life problems. All experienced by us, a business of parents. A business with a mission to nurture independence in children, whilst making life just that little bit easier for everyone who has a child in their life.
A lightbulb moment
It started back in 2013. Our founder, Cat, had a moment of inspiration when her now teenage daughter was only 3 years old. During the chaos of another stressful mealtime with her three young children, her eldest daughter’s fork handle broke off. Without pause, her daughter picked up the stubby utensil end and started eating more successfully. In that moment, Cat realised the problem didn’t lie with the child at mealtimes, but the utensils they were using.
Cue 18 months of research, testing and development with experts, engineers, product designers, parents and children. The award winning doddl cutlery was born. If you’re interested in finding out more about the blood, sweat and tears that went in to the development of doddl’s hero product – doddl toddler cutlery – have a look at Cat’s story.
Birth of a business
Based on the feedback from parents and experts, Cat realised the significance of her invention and knew she needed to grow the doddl team. Recruiting initially her sister Rosie (alongside the support of their parents) and then 12 months later me, her friend, Laura. The business started to take shape.
As three mums doing the bulk of the work, we were a resource-light, self-funded start-up, and our ability to invest in marketing was somewhat… limited. We did what we could, taking every opportunity to increase awareness and build sales, but little did we need to worry (although we did, endlessly). In reality, our customers became our marketeers, sharing their experiences on their social media channels, tagging us @doddl and recommending us. The genuine love for our products, and the desire to share it, is something that, as any marketeers out there will know, is priceless.
So, with our small team of three we grew, both our community and our sales. And not just in the UK, in Asia. And particularly in Taiwan and Japan. In Taiwan we were fortunate to experience the upside of a reality TV show, where a famous mum chose doddl to feed her child a. The response was overwhelming, kicking off an on-going love story between parents in Taiwan and doddl.
A new baby product is born
Then came the next product, doddl baby cutlery. We gathered feedback from experts, and the experiences of parents about the difference doddl was making to their toddlers. This led us to explore the concept of encouraging independent eating with cutlery, this time right from the start of weaning.
Baby-led weaning (you can find out more about weaning here) offers huge benefits to babies. Baby led weaning encourages the development of tastes and textures, and offers choice. It also helps independence to develop, in allowing a baby to recognise, and act upon, their own ‘full’ signals.
However. When it came to introducing cutlery, whether spoon fed or baby-led, our research showed many parents face a challenge when they introduce cutlery later down the line. This happens once their baby is already familiar with being fed or using their hands to feed. It can be an extra challenge to change already-established behaviours, in addition to learning a new skill. It can also be stressful for parents to allow their babies to feed themselves using the type of spoons on offer, because they offer a significant ‘gag’ risk due to the long handles. This combined with a baby’s limited co-ordination mean self-feeding is often unsuccessful.
Cutlery for the very start of the weaning journey
Based on this research, it was time for us to explore the design of cutlery that could work for a baby from 6 months. We wanted to help nurture their independence and encourage them to explore cutlery at the same time as they start to explore food and textures.
In conjunction with child development experts at the world-renowned Norland College, we undertook more research and testing. We wanted to refine the design, and engineer it to ensure the developmental benefits and ease of use were as impactful for babies. Just as doddl toddler cutlery is for toddlers.
With two multiple award-winning products, a growing doddl community and a very small team, we knew we needed to look for investment. An even smaller team, as we were one woman down as Rosie’s life took a uniquely different direction, leaving the business to have identical triplets (read more about Rosie’s experience here).
Having won another product award, we were made aware of Alex Chesterman, one of the UK’s most successful entrepreneurs, who had previously launched Love Film and Zoopla. Alex had judged the award and was impressed by the product engineering, innovation and effectiveness. After multiple meetings with Alex and introductions to his equally impressive investment partners Simon Franks and Gloria Monfrini we had our first investors. A further seal of approval came from their personal experiences of doddl with their own children.
We were now all set to take on the world. First, we headed to China to represent Great Britain at the ‘Best of British’ show in Shanghai.
Then we reviewed our brand alongside some very well-known and experienced professionals, found new talented team members, engaged new partners and then…. Covid.
Coping with a pandemic
The pandemic put pressure on every single part of our business. Access to stock, ability to sell, ability to work, kids to home-school. Nothing was simple. We did have some highlights, thanks to the marvellous Joe Wicks. Joe, during his meteoric rise as the king of home exercising through ‘PE with Joe’, chose doddl to use with his children. In addition, because of so much interest in the ‘clever cutlery’ from his followers, he gave us a genuine shout out from his social account.
And that was just the start of the celebrity love. Gemma Atkinson, Deliciously Ella, Kate Lawler, Lucy Mecklenburgh to name but a few, purchased doddl and showcased their babies and toddlers enjoying the doddl experience.
Parents stranded at home with their children every single mealtime certainly added to the increase in searches for a solution to make mealtimes easier. The challenges of Covid on our ability to deliver products continued to bite for some time. But Covid aside, we continued to grow.
doddl goes global
Adding over 35+ countries that now distribute doddl, was no mean feat. This is real testament to the passionate word of mouth from our customers, our dedicated team, the effectiveness of our products and our genuine belief in the power of doddl.
A new doddl product – the doddl plate
Enter the doddl plate. It was throughout late 2020 and into 2021 that the initial concept was born. And, as with all doddl products, was born out of the need to solve a problem. This time, the problem of a child moving on from a bowl to a plate. In reality, at some point, most parents will hit the ‘bowl wall’. This is where their child is no longer using just a spoon for meals (especially with doddl, as the spoon, fork and knife are so easy to use), but aren’t ready to move to a ‘grownup’ plate. And trying to use a knife and fork to eat food from a bowl is tricky at the best of times!
Although the plate is seemingly a simpler, less obviously engineered product, the truth is that it has features that make a world of difference to a small child. Importantly, it also supports their emotional desire to be independent and feel ‘grown up’. And for this reason the plate is another doddl product that is multi award winning and loved by feeding experts.
The future looks bright
Now, at the start of 2023, we have over 10,000 5-star reviews from parents. And we’re kicking off the launch of our newest innovation (plenty more to follow on that). With a recommendation from the Prime Minister and recognition from the King in the shape of a King’s Award for Enterprise, we can pause for just a second. And reflect that it’s been quite a journey so far.
We know there is a lot more still to come for doddl. The future’s bright… watch this space…!