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James Tuthill and Johannes Paul
Johannes Paul, Simon Nicholls and William Windham (aka award-winning product-design company Omlet) have a lot to thank fellow RCA graduate and business partner James Tuthill’s mother for. ‘I’d kept chickens before and I’d made a wooden house for them then,’ Tuthill explains, ‘but it wasn’t until I was looking for ideas for a final-year project and my mum suggested that I update my design for a chicken coop that I decided to take that idea further.’

The resulting product – a funky, colourful creation called the Eglu – has been a runaway success for the four friends who left the College in 2003.

The group had come together at the beginning of their second and final year at the College with, notes Paul, a ‘clear aim’.

‘We were looking for a product that was straightforward to take to market and we didn’t have to rely on anyone else to sell," Tuthill adds. His mother’s suggestion, with its quirky, gap-in-the-market appeal, was instantly recognised as something that could work.

So, as Tuthill got busy designing the first prototypes to be exhibited at their graduation show, the partners set about, says Paul, ‘developing the business idea’.

Competitions such as the Deutsche Bank Pyramid Awards and the Matthew Wrightson Production Award, just two of many that are nurtured between business sponsors and the RCA to encourage and support students across all of the College’s courses, not only allowed the group to raise some much-needed cash for their fledgling business, but also, notes Tuthill, ‘gave us deadlines’, helping to sharpen the focus of their business plan: ‘By the time we graduated we already knew what our vision for the company was,’ says Paul.

The first Eglu prototypes were displayed to the public as part of their degree show, an experience that was invaluable to the team. The Show ‘attracts so many people,' explains Paul. ‘Not just people in the art and design world, but the general public as well.’ It is, he adds, ‘a great litmus test for your ideas’.

The feedback they received was overwhelmingly positive, encouraging the team to set themselves a deadline to refine their design and business ideas ready for a trade fair eight months later. They built a website (Eglu was deliberately developed to be sold online), sourced chickens ready to be dispatched with the coops and developed a marketing strategy.

With consumer interest turning Greener by the day, the timing for such a product was perfect: not only are Eglus made from 100% recyclable energy-efficient polymers but, as Paul reveals, people ‘love that it’s a real step towards self-sufficiency and sustainability’. But for all Omlet’s green credentials, they still prefer to entice potential customers with ‘the idea that it’s fun and exciting to do’. And, most importantly, ‘for the love of keeping chickens’.

It’s a strategy that has clearly worked. Demand for Eglus has been consistently high since their official launch two years ago, with other, related products currently in development. Earlier this year popular demand saw Omlet expand their market into America, and plans for locations in Australia and Europe are under consideration.

It all seems a very long way from their student years, although Omlet are adamant that their time at the RCA was crucial to their success. Tuthill recalls that having a year in which to develop his idea within what he calls ‘a supportive environment’ was invaluable, while for Paul their time at the College contributed in other, less quantifiable ways.

‘You leave full of confidence,’ he grins. ‘Brimming with confidence that you can pretty much take anything on. Even if it’s things that you haven’t directly studied, it doesn’t matter – you’ve got the enthusiasm and the confidence to give it a go and see what happens.’ If Omlet’s example is anything to go by, what happens is a very large, very satisfying slice of success indeed.

Enjoyed this story? Discover more alumni stories here.

"You leave full of confidence. Brimming with confidence that you can pretty much take anything on. Even if it’s things that you haven’t directly studied, it doesn’t matter – you’ve got the enthusiasm and the confidence to give it a go and see what happens." Johannes Paul

MA Innovation Design Engineering, 2001–3