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Business Advice

Putting some colour into laptop sleeves

Two friends score a hit with their online business offering customised designs
The Straits Times - March 28, 2012
By: Yunita Ong
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Putting some colour into laptop sleeves Best friends Bryan Lee (left) and Darcy Li with some of Snupped's colourful laptop sleeves. -- ST PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN

YOU cannot blame Mr Darcy Li's mum for being angry when her son ripped one of her curtains to make a laptop sleeve, but she might be rather pleased with how it all turned out.

That humble beginning was the seed for what has become a successful online business called Snupped - a play on Snoopy, one of Mr Li's favourite cartoon characters - which he started with his best pal Bryan Lee four years ago.

Snupped's colourful laptop sleeves have been selling all over the world, generating double-digit growth in revenue every year since it was started in 2008.

The firm generated revenue of between $8,000 and $15,000 a month for the last quarter.

And all this was achieved while the men, both 23, were juggling their studies at Republic Polytechnic, where Mr Li studied sports and exercise sciences and Mr Lee, business computing.

That was where they got the idea for Snupped, says Mr Li. 'We noticed that many of our classmates were carrying black and boring laptop cases to class. These were often of very poor quality and would disintegrate very easily.'

Sensing a market, they pooled a few thousand dollars from their savings and used whatever free time they had after class to start their business.

Despite their limited capital, they decided to go for broke and launch the business internationally.

'We wanted to reach as large a customer base as possible quickly. So we figured an online shop could do that besides helping us save on expenses like rental fees,' Mr Lee says.

They started with advertisements on Google and in 2009 began to target popular technology websites.

They also struck up deals with popular fashion and designer bloggers. Snupped created laptop sleeves designed by the bloggers in exchange for a review and photo shoots on their blogs.

'It was not easy and it took quite a few months for us to get the attention we needed. There were many other innovative companies vying for attention to be featured on these sites,' Mr Li says.

Snupped tried to stand out from the crowd by ensuring that its laptop sleeves were literally tailored for the individual.

The firm initially made a range of fixed sizes to cater to a variety of gadgets, but in February 2010 it rolled out an online function that allows customers to have their sleeves made according to the exact dimensions of their laptops.

It also allows customers to select their desired combinations of designs for the interior and exterior of their laptop sleeves.

The new features caught the eye of popular tech blog Mashable, which featured Snupped six months later.

That ignited interest, with visits to the Snupped site surging by almost 200 per cent.

The firm sells between 100 and 300 sleeves a month, all hand-sewn by five seamstresses in Singapore out of high-quality vinyl and cotton.

Depending on the sizes, the sleeves cost between $14.90 and $39.90 each.

There have been tough times for Snupped, but the pals' friendship has helped keep the business afloat.

'Sometimes we would run into little problems, like our suppliers running out of the materials we wanted. But because there are two of us, one of us would always be there to remind the other not to give up,' Mr Li says.

While they do not skimp on materials, they are resourceful about finding cost savings elsewhere.

They work from home or coffee shops and store the sleeves in their seamstresses' homes or their own.

To get designers, they simply approach people they see doing eye-catching design work on their laptops - that could be anywhere from planes to coffee shops - and request collaborations on laptop-sleeve designs.

Last year, Snupped gained a foothold in Russia after it caught the eye of Interstice Consulting, a firm that provides expertise to ease the entry of promising international brands into the country.

'Russia was an emerging market that was relatively untapped and was exciting to us,' notes Mr Li. 'But it was not easy to crack. There were significant cultural barriers such as language. If you didn't speak Russian, you wouldn't be able to get in.'

Interstice Consulting, which shares profits with Snupped, helped it create a webpage and customer service capabilities in Russian.

Russia now accounts for close to 20 per cent of the company's revenue, and Snupped has become a full-time job for the pals.

They hope to collaborate with more local designers for sleeve designs and are looking for potential contacts to expand the manufacturing capabilities of the company.

They are thinking of allowing customers to submit their own designs - such as a personal picture - for printing on the sleeves.

They also want to sell lifestyle products such as backpacks and pencil cases with customised designs.

Mr Lee says: 'We want to allow people to customise their lives.'



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