Those Co-Founders Get Joto to the Finishing Line - Central Research Laboratory Skip to main content

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At the last count: 7 trucks, 100 pallets, 600 boxes… and 2400 Jotos were finally on the move to their new homes. It’s the moment that their customers and supporters have all be waiting for – a chance to have a Joto in their hot little hands – and adorning their walls with its ever-changing artistic display.


Joto, the robotic whiteboard that everyone’s talking about, started life as an idea from Those, a small design studio focussed on connecting the physical and digital worlds. Co-founders Jim Rhodes and Barney Mason had already designed a drawing machine, called Woodpecker, which was being used in shop windows and exhibition displays. So, the natural progression was to design something similar, but even more exciting, for the consumer market.


The team were initially drawn to CRL’s Accelerator programme because of the product development expertise on offer, the ready access to co-working space and the prototyping workshops, and investor advice. They joined the first Accelerator cohort and soon discovered the additional benefits of being part of a changemaking community with ideas to share.


Jim explained “The Accelerator team helped us come up with a design for a more customer-focussed version of our previous product and a more scalable plan for development. They helped us set up the crowdfunding, through Kickstarter, and it took us a year to prepare.”


The Kickstarter campaign went so well that they ended up with a pre-order of 2000 units, and it’s taken them 18 months to get to where they are now – shipping out the finished product.


Jim says, “It was a hard slog and there were a few issues on the way. Our first manufacturer dropped us because they decided we were too small for them. That put us back 6 months but being part of the programme, and the CRL community, meant that we had a great network and could find another one quickly.


“Another problem that we had to overcome was the fact that Chinese manufacturers were generally geared up for electronic and screen-based devices. For them that meant integrated circuits… and a box to put them in. We turned things on their heads a bit, with Joto, because the manufacturing process covered a lot of different disciplines and components including mechanics, electronics, IoT, and pen and ink… We had to work hard to get manufacturers to understand the device itself, plus there was the added complication of sourcing and supplying the consumables.”


He added, “The Accelerator programme helped us to define what we wanted to do and showed us that our product had the potential for scaling up. We learned a lot about manufacturing and what was involved. Our trip to Shenzhen was good for contacts and we probably couldn’t have done it without the amazing manufacturing networks. We were able to get stuff done and prototyped quickly – there’s an impressive level of knowledge out there. The programme helped us think about things in a more business-like way.”


Now, after more than 2 years, they are proud to be shipping Jotos out to the many customers who supported their start-up through crowdfunding.


In the next few months they plan to launch ‘365 Days of Art’, which will treat subscribing Joto owners to daily artwork, from top illustrators, delivered straight to their walls. In the meantime, they’re finalising the accompanying app, and they’re looking for a major retailer to work with as they scale up. With Joto on its way, the team are looking forward to the next stage – seeing the fun things that people do with it.


Applications for the sixth CRL Accelerator programme is now closed but interested start-ups can still contact, at any time, to find out more and express an interest in the programme.

Part funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), the programme supports the next generation of product-focused entrepreneurs by helping them to develop crucial areas of their business, to help ‘accelerate’ growth, and take products to market.