The making of an Irish consumer electronics giant

3 Dec 2009

As he eased himself into his airplane seat, his aching limbs could not dim Ivan Eustace’s elation after completing the recent New York City Marathon. Eustace had further cause for elation on his flight home from the Big Apple – passengers on many of the seats ahead of him were sporting iPod headsets manufactured by his company, Jivo.

Dublin-headquartered Jivo produces accessories for Apple’s iPhone and iPod devices under the Silicon Valley giant’s “Made for iPod/Works with iPhone” accredited programme. All of the products are designed in Ireland and made in the Far East.

Offices in several countries

The products are then sold across music stores such as HMV, electronics outlets and on airlines such as Virgin and United Airlines across the US. And as well as agents in the Far East, Jivo has offices in France, the UK, Spain, Germany and in Scandinavian countries.

Some 30pc of Jivo’s products are shipped to Europe, 60pc to the UK and the rest are sold in the Irish market. After scoring distribution deals with US-based airlines, the US market is ripe for the taking.

The company is also basing its future growth on Apple’s expansion plans for its stores worldwide, with between 40 to 50 new stores planned, mainly in Europe and Asia. Eustace says Jivo has one simple maxim – “where Apple goes Jivo will follow.”

Jivo emerged out of Irish electronics channel company TNS Distribution and Freight Wise when Eustace and his business partner John McHugh saw there was an opportunity for iPod accessories.

“Our objective was to create quality products that weren’t going to be ripped off by competitors. We had a background in distributing gadgets and we were distributing these all around Europe, so we knew how the business worked.

“We saw that other companies were making accessories in the Far East and putting their own brand on it and we decided ‘why not?’”

Local outlets’ support

With support from local outlets such as the O2 stores, Jivo located an agent in the Far East who would co-ordinate with manufacturers and got to work.

“We use the resources of our sister company, TNS, and our back office and we have people who co-ordinate with manufacturers in China. Our industrial design is done by a fantastic designer, Eva Grundy, who also does the art and design for the packaging. We do the physical mock-ups here in Dublin and then when we’re happy we’ll send it off for manufacture.”

Jivo’s product range now spans everything from in-car electronics accessories to iPhone and iPod cases, headsets, chargers and laptop accessories.

“Our strategy is to be sold in any reputable consumer electronics shop. We’ve been doing deals with multiple retail chains across Scandinavia and Europe and we are now available in 3,500 stores across Russia.

“Our headphones are doing really well in the US on airlines such as Continental and Delta Airlines.”

Working hard

Eustace says Jivo is hard at work exploiting the success of its sub-€10 headphone range, Jivo Jellies, as well as preparing to launch a new range of sports headphones and a sports carrying case for the iPhone.

“We’ve got to follow where we think the market is going well and Apple’s march is interesting to follow.”

Asked if Jivo – which is now in the top 10pc of Irish electronics exporters – has taken on any investment, Eustace says no. “We’ve never needed it. We always loved the idea of being in control. There’s a lot of growth left in the market. We like to talk to retailers and instinctively follow up where we see growth opportunities.

“There are important markets we haven’t tackled yet, such as the Australian market. Myself and John are over and back constantly to the Far East and there are so many products that we could take a risk on – there’s so many variables you have to be careful.

“If we want to go with a particular product it usually means taking a calculated risk. For example, there’s huge hype around eco-friendly products, but to actually make them is often prohibitively expensive. This is where you take the calculated risk – what would be the end retail price for the products and would consumers pay the extra? Ultimately, you need to ask yourself: ‘would it sell?’”

Worldwide plans

Eustace has global plans for Jivo, but is determined not to make the mistake of growing too fast and too big.

“You have to take calculated risks in business, that’s a fact of life. But at the same time I listened to the Alan Sugar story with Amstrad – he used to make calculated risks but when the business got too big and he wasn’t involved in day-to-day decision-making and he took his eye off the ball to buy (Tottenham) Hotspur Football Club, it went wrong.

“With Jivo being a young, successful company so early on, this is when you need to be careful,” Eustace adds.

By John Kennedy

Photo: Young Irish consumer electronics firm Jivo sells Apple accessories across Europe and is opening up new markets in the US, Russia and the Far East. Pictured are founders Ivan Eustace and John McHugh.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years