As a six-year-old, Jonathan Gold knew exactly what he wanted to do – design things and then construct them. True, back then they were built out of Lego, but today his designs are made from more durable materials and sold in 8,500 outlets in 32 countries, by Alex Galbinski
Chances are that if you are a new parent, you will have seen his brand of baby products – named Brother Max, after his eldest son – when you’re shopping in John Lewis, Boots, Tesco and other major retailers.
His designs are split into four categories: feeding, highchairs, bathtime, and health and safety, for which he was won 45 awards in eight years. One of those was for his 51st product, which is just about to be launched – the 2-Drinks Cooler Sports Bottle.
Since launching in 2005, the company now has a turnover of £3million and employs 16 people.
“I have an enormous passion for bringing things to market that generally make consumer lives easier,” he explains. “I’m not interested in ‘me-too’ products – I’m only interested in improving quality of life through good design.”
As a product designer, Gold was used to making things. But the inspiration to design the Brother Max products came shortly after he became a father and found some of the baby products he was using at home were less-than-user-friendly. These included thermometers, cups with lids that didn’t attach properly and highchairs that were an unhygienic food trap.
He would complain to his wife Sharon, a children’s book publisher, about the poor designs until one day she told him to stop grumbling and design his own.
“We never start with products – we start with observing,” Gold explains. “Most of us at Brother Max are parents and we see these parenting challenges day in, day out and the inspiration comes from taking a step back.”
It certainly seems that Gold’s venture into product design was a natural one. He describes how, aged six, he would tell anyone who would listen that he wanted to be a ship-builder. He would spend hours constructing boats from Lego and then fill the bath and watch them float.
“I wanted to build stuff I could actually create,” he recalls. “It was about things that could float, and cars and other things. I want products to look beautiful and work incredibly well.”
After taking his A-levels at University College School, Gold did a foundation degree in Arts and Design at Middlesex Polytechnic – after his headmaster at UCS made him agree to take two academic A-levels and apply for a deferred place at university, just in case he did not make it in his chosen field.
“I was very lucky that I knew I wanted to be a product designer at 16. The bloody-minded side of me thought: ‘I’ll prove my headmaster wrong on both fronts’ and I got into Leeds to study business studies – but would I have gone and would I have lasted? I don’t know.”
Instead, he completed a BA Hons degree in Industrial Product Design at Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design, which was followed by an MSc in Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Kingston University.
His first job, in 1993, was for a British-Italian furniture manufacturer, where he became general manager. He left after only four years to set up his own product development company, for which he designed the first ergonomic keyboard for Siemens, a disposable vase (10,000 of them were sold in Tesco) and a transportation and merchandising unit called a Tardis TM.
The Mill Hill resident then worked for design agencies until 2003, when he moved back into product development and designed his first baby product: a child car seat, which he sold under license to Graco. The projected royalties were in the region of £3million.
Brother Max was set up in 2005 and, within its first year, won three Mother & Baby magazine awards, two for its digital thermometer – the UK’s second bestselling thermometer – and for its weaning pots.
It has, however, not all been plane sailing. Gold recalls the time when his company was accused of entering the market in too many product categories at once, as well as the time it launched in Sainsbury’s with its first product and was losing money because of the exchange rate it had used when forecasting.
However, the 42-year-old entrepreneur is philosophical about these mistakes. “As you build the business, you become a bit wiser to those pitfalls,” he says. “But you make mistakes all the time – the business is growing at a rate that every week it looks a bit different. An important part of growing a business is saying, don’t be afraid to get things wrong, as long as you get enough things right.”
He certainly has a can-do attitude, adding: “If you’re constantly looking for the reasons not to do something, then you stand still,” he affirms. “And if you stand still, you die.”
Away from the office, Gold, who is a member of Edgware District Reform Synagogue, has passed on his love of Lego and construction to his sons, Max, 11, and Sam, who turns nine this month, and enjoys spending time with them and his wife, Sharon.
As for the future of Brother Max? “I hope for more of the same,” he says. “I hope for people to think of us as being leaders in innovation, style and value for money. I want to keep making life easier for mums, dads and their little ones through really good products. I know it sounds cheesy, but that’s really what it is about for us.”