Simon Daniel: Charged with success

Simon Daniel is a little bit strange. He says things like: 'Fifteen billion batteries a year are made and thrown away. I worked that out the other day to be the equivalent to a column of batteries going to the moon and back.'

Unusual he may be, but the MD of Moixa, which undertakes research and development (R&D) and investment in renewable energy and portable power technologies, has invented the folding keyboard and a battery that can be recharged using a computer’s USB port. Both have created a storm.

With minimal marketing, the company released the USBCELL rechargeable battery last September. Google hits on the company’s website went from zero to 1.5 million in the first week.

The US loves it. Daniel says America’s largest paper, USA Today, put a story on its front page and soon the Wall Street Journal was chasing him too: ‘We had 190 countries visit the website, including the Vatican, and as a result we had thousands of people throughout the world calling, saying please can we have, distribute, manage or agent your product.’

Déjà vu

In a sense, the 36 year old has been here before. A decade ago he invented the folding keyboard and arranged a lucrative licensing deal with a manufacturer, leading to sales of £21 million in the first year of production. ‘It sold faster than the iPod when that was introduced,’ he notes dryly.

Daniel works closely with his design director, Chris Wright. Their aim is to provide cleaner and more efficient forms of energy. ‘The amount of resource waste from alkaline batteries is phenomenal, especially if you think about the raw materials, metals and chemicals going into producing them,’ says Daniel.

‘In terms of toxic waste, it’s a nightmare. Then there is the CO2 expelled when producing the batteries and shipping them around. The whole design of disposable energy sources, which stems from 1950s America, is much less appropriate for life in the 21st century.’

Daniel and Wright formed Moixa in 2004 and work on a variety of products: ‘We have many different portable devices, such as new keyboards, screens, mice and wrist phones. Each one is either battery operated or needs to be recharged.’

Point of inspiration

The ‘eureka’ moment hit Daniel when he was trying to take a photograph with one of the aforementioned wrist phones and the battery went flat. He couldn’t find the charger and suddenly realised that numerous gadgets – each with their own charger – have a similar problem.
To Daniel, it seemed sensible to try and build one rechargeable battery that could supply power to the wrist phone, but also to other devices. It’s a lucrative market to enter considering people in the UK spend £5 million a week on batteries.

After protecting the intellectual property (IP), Daniel and Wright prototyped the battery and took it to manufacturers to get feedback. They soon realised it was better to build it themselves than to licence it.

Daniel says: ‘We like to build the technology ourselves to demonstrate the best way to create the product. The IP, for one, is always much stronger if you state clearly: this is how, for instance, you build a folding keyboard and, mechanically, this is the engineering required to solve this electronic problem.’

For an inventor, Daniel is rare in that he is shrewd when it comes to business. He was a senior manager at the consulting firm Accenture – formerly the consulting arm of Arthur Andersen – for nine years. ‘I was highly instrumental in setting up its global practice for start-ups and technology businesses around the world,’ he says, adding that he even went to Singapore for six months to help restructure a bank.

Array of talent

It’s a useful mix of skills to have and means little is left to chance. While many people might confess to being taken aback by the scale of the response to the USBCELL, Daniel takes it in his stride.

‘The reaction [to the battery] was partly because it is a significant innovation but also because the battery is explained by the name, the domain name and the images on the website extremely effectively,’ he says. ‘We spent a long time getting everything right, whether it was the packaging, the design, branding or the navigation of the site itself, so the basic communication would be lucid.

‘This succeeded in creating an ongoing wave of tension through myriad countries and on blog sites too. We are trying to bring a new battery to the market and, frankly speaking, we don’t have the luxury of billions of dollars to spend on advertising that the traditional battery companies do.’

The USBCELL’s success demonstrates that in today’s global village of multinationals, David can still beat Goliath – for a while at least. ‘We have had to compete by entering a new territory, online, and using a new medium, the blog, as the kicker for growth rather than utilising the size of our business,’ Daniel explains.

Moixa employs ten people and the batteries are currently manufactured in China. Other operational aspects of the business are outsourced, as are elements of the R&D. It’s a minuscule operating unit given that the company is distributing to 50 countries and has an agreement with Applestore, John Lewis and DSGi, which owns the likes of household names and PC World. Over the coming year, the intention is to expand distribution channels so the batteries can be bought in cornershops.

Rapid progress

The battery entity of the business – Moixa Energy – has evolved quickly as it was only formed in November 2005. In April 2006, an external fundraising brought £675,000, and £152,000 was provided by the Department of Trade and Industry. Five months later, the company went live.

Production is currently in ‘the hundreds of thousands’, says Daniel, and the immediate priorities are to bring out different-sized batteries, monitor sales in the UK and figure the scalability for mass production in 2008. ‘Battery buyers around the world will essentially be the same,’ he says.

Daniel compares inventing and delivering a product to a comedian’s skill in judging context and timing. If that’s the case, then he’s become the king of comedy for 2007 as green issues and initiatives make the headlines ad nauseam. ‘We are interested in devising products that are better for consumers and significantly reduce waste,’ he says. ‘What is unusual for a British company is that rather than talk about things, we are actually putting products on the shelves.’

As for growing the business, Daniel says that the Alternative Investment Market (AIM) is an option and, for the battery element of the business, a lucrative trade sale could be in the offing. The likeliest route for the near future seems to be via licence agreements and partnerships.

Private investors have a 25 per cent stake in Moixa Energy and comprise Asian and US investors, not to mention Jon Moulton, managing partner at UK-based private equity firm Alchemy. ‘We selected passive investors who will be useful for questions the business might have in the short term, such as if we try to do a deal with a multinational,’ says Daniel.

As for other projects, Daniel and Wright are set to launch an adapter that can simplify the use of energy in the home. Then there is their commitment to flexible screen technology.

Design is in the blood

Daniel, a keen artist who has exhibited in New York, appears relaxed and assured about developing the company and is confident of other successes too. He says the experience gained at Accenture means that he has a lucid strategy for growth and knows ‘what the inflection points are as you scale a business’.

So far, things are going according to plan and Daniel’s hunger for creating, both on a personal level and in registering potentially groundbreaking IP, appears insatiable.

He says: ‘What I’m about is innovation in every facet, whether it is product design, generating business, effective marketing, new science or art. For me, the idea is the essence of things.’

Marc Barber

Marc Barber

Marc was editor of GrowthBusiness from 2006 to 2010. He specialised in writing about entrepreneurs, private equity and venture capital, mid-market M&A, small caps and high-growth businesses.