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World Challenge 2011 - Down to Business - Blog - Leo Johnson's D2B Production Blog - The Jompy Stove from Scotland


Leo Johnson's D2B Production Blog - The Jompy Stove from Scotland

Tue, 20 Sep 2011
It was Logie Baird, the great Scotsman, who pulled off the ultimate failure to capture value. He managed to invent television (admittedly in green, very small, upside down, and without a really developed programme of reality TV on it) and still die a pauper. Is David Osborne, a Scottish heating engineer from the town of Troon, about to follow suit? Am I sitting in front of the next great Scottish inventor not to reap the rewards of his ingenuity?

What, first of all, is his invention about? Across the African continent there are five hundred million people without power. The poorest of the poor then spend 70% of their income on kerosene and firewood for fuel, a collective US$38 billion a year globally. The WHO estimate there is a greater cost than this though; in addition to the 150 million tonnes a year of carbon released, smoke inhalation causes over 2 million deaths a year, a million of them infants.

Enter the 'Jompy', a water-heater Dave invented after he saw the fuel crisis and its impact on the poor on a visit to the slums of Nairobi. The Jompy is a simple aluminium coil that heats up water almost instantly as people cook. It saves the user 60% of the time spent boiling water, and so cuts the carbon and cash costs of heating water. It also, crucially, kills the pathogens and makes the water disease free.

Culturally-sensitive advertisingWith Rob Gould, the Director for this edition of BBC World's "Down to Business", I have made my way under lowering Scottish skies to Troon to see if we can support the business. Dave is there to meet us, a Jompy in hand. He fires up the stove, puts the Jompy on (just attach a hose to the coil) then puts the pot on top of it. Within five seconds hot water is pouring out of the Jompy's exit pipe. I'm wowed. Hot, disease free, cheap water, and in a flash. Even more wowed are people not as used as I am to clean hot water on demand. In Southern Africa Jompy demos are carried out by Kalfan, a 6 foot 2 local rep, who insists on wearing a Tartan kilt in Dave's honour, complete with sporran. The crowds are tumultuous.

So why isn't the business making it big, and fast? Why isn't the Jompy all over the emerging markets? It turns out the biggest order to date has been one just in for 1000 for Namibia, made by a business man who happened to see the tool on BBC World Challenge. So what is the execution strategy to roll this invention out to market? We sit down at Dave's dining room table, joined by his wife and business partner Claire. Dave is just about to talk us through the business model when the phone rings. A client with a leaky bath. He leaves the room to fix an appointment. He comes back with a drawing in his hand and two cups. The drawing is a design he has made for a car that can run on compressed gas. The cups are coffee. "Freshly brewed" he says, "out of water from the toilet. I boiled it with the Jompy. Should work fine" he says.
Tea for (number) two
"Dave," I begin, undeterred, "Give it to me straight. What is the number one market you want to focus on for the Jompy? What is the priority?" He doesn't hesitate. This is, after all, a mission-driven company. "The UK camping market" he tells me. I take a long and soothing sip of the coffee. "Help me understand this," I reply. "You have got a product inspired by and designed for the emerging markets poor, and you want to market it instead to UK campers? How does that work?" Then Dave explains the logic. The emerging markets poor are the market he wants to reach. That is the company's mission. Over the course of the last 3 years Dave has approached NGOs repeatedly. Their response? As Dave put it, "With very few exceptions (for example with organisations like the Tear Fund, who we've received a lot of support from), a lot of NGOs very politely told me to get lost." Then he elaborates why. "They are focused on their specific agenda, bore holes or solar cookers or whatever it is. And if you don't fit that, they are not interested. I have wasted enough time. So our new strategy is to focus in Phase 1 on a market we understand and know we can reach, the UK camping market." Their plan is then, with that revenue, to move back to the emerging markets as Phase 2.

Another great British inventionTwo hours later we are testing this retail camping market in Troon's High Street. Our strategy is a veritable greatest hits of British marketing. On our Jompy we're cooking up baked beans for passersby while serving up instant hot water for PG Tips tea in a 'Carry On Up the Khyber' mug bought in one of Troon's Poundland stores. It's an iconic display of the UK's cultural and economic might, what the French refer to as our 'hyperpuissance culturelle'. And many of the citizens of Troon are indeed not just impressed by this ensemble, but quick to see its potential. "You know what?", a passerby advises, " You could even make a pot noodle with that."

Something doesn't seem to add up with the strategy though. There is no question there is a market for the campers. But how big is it? And what's going to hold the company together if its origin is as a mission-driven organisation, and it's neither spinning out major cash for the long term nor directly delivering on that mission?

Outside Cafe Nero in Troon, I finally corner Dave. We need to clear this up. This is about him and his motivation. Maybe it's the coffee. A sudden fatalistic urge has overtaken me. Forget Phase 2. There is no Phase 2. Phase 2 we're all dead. All we have is Phase 1. "Dave" I ask him, "what do you want your legacy to be? Is it 'Dave-he made a quicker cuppa for UK campers'. Or 'Dave, he shaved seconds off the pot noodle'? In which case, go for it. Or is it still your original vision?"

Dave is clear, "My vision hasn't changed" he tells me. But there is a big unanswered question. What is the route to that market?

A lasting legacy?The light is fading. The beans are congealing in a pan by our feet. In search of inspiration, we pack up the camera and drive off to visit the Museum of Scottish Invention at Irvine, built in 2000, at a cost of UK£14 million, on the island site of the old Alfred Nobel dynamite factory. The dynamite might as well have gone off. The site is boarded over. The bridge to the island is up, with an unpassable gap in the middle. The metal gates on which the names of the great inventors are carved, from Bell to Edison, are padlocked and rusting.

Inspiration doesn't come to me, but one thought does. The Museum is shut because people didn't show. The Museum got their analysis of the customer wrong. Is Dave doing the same thing? Is he misreading the customer? Which is the one segment that has the incentive and revenues to buy and distribute the Jompy in large volumes internationally? It's not the UK campers, not even the emerging markets poor. It's the development community--the NGOs and aid agencies.

So the challenge looks like this. How do Dave and the Jompy team go back to the NGO and donor market, and this time get them to buy in? What is the Jompy proposition that will make them get it?

And the answer is clear. Data on its impacts. If there's one thing the development community need for them to step up and distribute the Jompy, it's credible data proving it's a highly cost-effective tool to help them to deliver on their goals.

And it is. The thing is the development equivalent of a Swiss Army knife in terms of the range of its potential benefits, from carbon to health. But each benefit needs to be made explicit and credible to convince the relevant development partner. If it's a carbon focused partner, they need proof that the Jompy saves 26 tons of carbon over a ten year life cycle at the cost of only 26kg embedded carbon in its production and use. For an NGO focused on urban poverty, they need proof of the financial benefits to users. Is it consistently 60 percent of energy bills avoided. For health-focused organisations, what are the avoided cases of pulmonary disease in children? What are the avoided health care costs for municipalities?

Dave interrupts. He has contacts at Stellenbosch University in South Africa, and has already discussed this topic with them. They can do an academic study of the Jompy's benefits as part of a user trial already planned by the South African Government. Dave can then take the right data to the right partners, demonstrate the Jompy's value to them, and do the bulk sale. It is a watershed. Dave, versed in the nuts and bolts, used to delivering practical solutions directly to clients as a sole trader, is about to head down a different path. It's one with development theory headlining alongside the engineering excellence of his tool, and people fluent in that theory as critical partners. To deliver in volume this tool that can give independence to so many, Dave is going to sacrifice some of his own. He is going to put his side of the bridge down. The question is, will they?

All views expressed within this article are those of the writer and not of the BBC.
posted by Leo Johnson


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