Gerard Rubio and Triambak Saxena, Kniterate, Export Champion Interview

Triambak-Saxena-Gerard-Rubio

Gerard Rubio and Triambak Saxena, Co-Founders, Kniterate

How did the idea for your business come about?
Kniterate is the brainchild of Gerard Rubio, who four years ago started OpenKnit, an open-source knitting machine. The project went viral thanks to its video “Made in the Neighbourhood”. In the fall of 2015 it was selected to be part of HAX, the world’s first and largest hardware accelerator, in Shenzhen, China. The spring of 2017 we did a Kickstarter campaign in which we raised $636K in crowdfunded finance.

Kniterate is a great innovative product of the future. What sort of impact are you hoping to have?
We want to change the current supply chain model of the garment industry. At the moment retailers ship garments half across the world and end up with excess stock, which then they are forced to mark down, or even worse, throw away. With Kniterate clothing is made locally and on demand, and because it’s made to shape there’s no waste due to cutting fabrics.

Tell us more about Kniterate’s ecosystem.
It’s driving force is the idea of “Made in the Neighbourhood” that Gerard envisioned when he started to work on this project. Kniterate, the digital knitting machine, is at the center of the production environment that we are developing. It will also offer easy-to-use design software and an online library of fashion templates. Imagine personalized greeting cards, but for knitwear. The digital designs can be customized to your needs and can be sent to Kniterate owners to be “printed”, with your choice of materials and colours.

What difficulties have you encountered setting up your business?
We are bringing an innovation to the market, which entails a certain degree of risk. Convincing investors and having continuous access to finance requires time and energy from the team. This needs to be balanced with what the daily requirements of running a company.

Another challenge, especially at the beginning, was trying to develop everything in-house and, for some aspects of the hardware, trying to reinvent the wheel. It was not until we partnered with a Chinese manufacturer of industrial knitting machines that we really accelerated the development of our product.

What are the biggest trade and export challenges you face?
One is managing the logistics of shipping and distributing Kniterate, a 150 kg digital knitting machine, across the world and to our customers’ doors at the lowest possible cost. The other is dealing with national, state and local laws and regulations, especially in regard to taxation, is a complex matter for a small company like Kniterate.

What are the most crucial things you have done to grow and develop your business? 
Joining an accelerator, HAX, that exposed us to the Chinese manufacturing ecosystem, building a close and strong partnership with a Chinese company making industrial knitting machines, which helped us to accelerate the development of our technology and raising funding through a crowdfunding campaign with the support of our incredible backers. Without them this would have not been possible.

You have had a successful crowdfunding campaign. What are the next steps to ensure timescale and delivery?
Before launching the campaign, we thoroughly reviewed the design and components of Kniterate with our manufacturing partner. With years of experience manufacturing a product similar to ours (industrial knitting machines) we knew we could trust them . Once they confirmed their ability to manufacture the machine and gave us production times, we were able to plan the delivery of our initial batches. We also took into account potential issues we could find down the road and gave ourselves a bit more time. To be in full control of the process and attend to everything with speed we have moved part of the team near the factory until delivery.

How did you hear about the CWF programme and what made you apply?
One of our friends shared the initiative with us. Our Kickstarter campaign had suddenly exposed us to an international customer base, making us instantly multinational. We knew that the depth of knowledge and breadth of connections that CWF had in the Canadian and Australian markets was going to help us to smoothly navigate them.

What are you hoping to get out of the CWF programme?
The support and resources to make the most of having our product sold in Canada, to build a supply-chain to be able to provide Kniterate to our Australian fans and explore the opportunities in other Commonwealth countries.

What is a typical working day for the team?
The team starts at around 8-9, working on our Chinese operations, mainly R&D and manufacturing. As the day progresses we engage with our UK and EU clients and partners before doing the same with the USA and Canada. We leave the office at around 8-9 in the evening.

Where would you like your business to be in 5 years time?
We have a clear idea of where we want to be in 5 years, but we’d like to surprise everyone!

What advice would you give to anybody looking to set up an SME?
Test your ideas as soon as possible; don’t reinvent the wheel, build partnerships and don’t be afraid to use external professional services outside of your core competencies, they will bring experience and speed.

 

View Kniterate’s CWF Profile

This interview was conducted as part of the CommonwealthFirst Export Champion interview series. Apply now to become an Export Champion.

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