Tom Dudderidge: Riding the iPod bandwagon to £25m

Salesman Tom Dudderidge started his own business selling Taiwanese i-Pod docks for cars. Four year slater his form was designing its own products, and bringing in sales of £25 a year.

In 2004 Tom Dudderidge was on a plane back to London, having just closed "the biggest deal of my career". But something wasn't right. "It wasn't that I didn't like sales. I loved it. It was just that completing contracts after a sale was such a long, drawn-out process. It was soul-destroying." Dudderidge, now 31, had carved out a career selling mobile text-messaging software to large telecoms firms. By the time the plane landed, he decided he would start his own business.

With a young family and a mortgage to pay, the newly unemployed Dudderidge needed to make his idea work. "I had just bought an iPod and thought it would change the music industry completely." The iPod music player was nothing new, but the most recent version was the first that could be used with all PCs, not just Apple's Macs. So Dudderidge and his business partner, brother Jamie, began to focus on gadgets and accessories. They scoured trade shows for a product and eventually hit on a Taiwanese manufacturer who was making an iPod dock that allowed people to listen to the device in their cars. The pair had managed to "scrape together" £23,000 from friends, family and credit cards and bought their first shipment. "We had exclusivity with the producer and there was only one other firm in the UK with a similar product." Naming their firm Disruptive, the brothers persuaded online iPod accessory vendors to sell the car dock. They also sourced other accessories, such as cables and cases.

It took just six months for their breakthrough deal to arrive. One of their distributors told the brothers that a major retailer was interested. "He wouldn't say who it was because he wanted us to conduct business through him. We refused and waited for the retailer to contact us directly." This tough line worked within days Boots came up with an offer. "It was coming up to Christmas and they wanted a lot of our products and fast." By the end of 2005 Disruptive had sold more than £1m worth of accessories. "The iPod was taking off and we were going up with it," recalls Dudderidge.

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All the same, they decided to change tack. "We had benefited from getting in early, but now lots of other companies were entering the market and driving down prices." They rebranded the company GEAR4 and started developing their own products. "We came up with the idea for a micro speaker that people could connect to their iPod to share music with friends." This time they found a Chinese manufacturer to make the Pocket Party'. That sold well and helped them sign deals with retailers such as Dixons and Amazon. Dudderidge also began an overseas push. By the end of 2006 sales hit £4.8m, enabling the firm to reinvest heavily in product design.

By 2008, the firm's beefed-up technical department was able to design and engineer products inhouse. These included wireless speakers for iPods and iPad tablets plus a range of appcessories' accessories that interact with software applications. This bigger range helped sales to soar to £25m last year, with more than 50% coming from outside the UK. Dudderidge is optimistic that "tablets and smartphones are the PCs of the next generation GEAR4 has a lot more [room] to grow."

James graduated from Keele University with a BA (Hons) in English literature and history, and has a NCTJ certificate in journalism.


After working as a freelance journalist in various Latin American countries, and a spell at ITV, James wrote for Television Business International and covered the European equity markets for the London bureau. 


James has travelled extensively in emerging markets, reporting for international energy magazines such as Oil and Gas Investor, and institutional publications such as the Commonwealth Business Environment Report. 


He is currently the managing editor of LatAm INVESTOR, the UK's only Latin American finance magazine.