Novelty gift guru who wants to be the next Zuckerberg (and he's not joking)

He made a fortune from goofy toys. Now he's making it big in Silicon Valley

Adam Sherwin@adamsherwin10
Wednesday 02 November 2011 01:00

You may not have heard of him, but you'll almost certainly have been tempted by one of his goofy inventions. His self-published book contains 200 blank pages, while his other creations include the iNotePad and Credit Crunch breakfast cereal.

Now Sheridan Simove is heading to Silicon Valley after US investors backed his latest venture, a social network which could turn him into Britain's Mark Zuckerberg. The performer, serial "ideas man" and former television executive has built a novelty gifts empire after selling one million products which straddle the line between genius and idiocy.

"My philosophy is, if you throw enough against the wall, some of it will stick," says Mr Simove, 40, an Oxford psychology graduate who was born in Cardiff.

He began his career in television, becoming a commissioning editor at Big Brother. He later managed to pose as a 16-year-old school pupil (he was 30 at the time) and filmed the results for a Channel 4 series. The school was furious upon discovering it had been duped and the footage was never broadcast – but the story still made headlines. "I hurt a lot of good people and I never wanted to do that," admits Simove.

"Experiments never fail – they just produce different results which take you in a different direction," he adds.

He changed his name to God by deed poll until a higher power, HSBC, cancelled his bank account as a result. Utilising an overheated brain constantly throwing out ideas, Simove soon turned to the development of a lucrative line of "end-of-the-pier" style gifts.

His Control-a-Woman remote control has sold 250,000 units ("A man said they didn't work. I said, 'What did you expect for £2.99?'"). There's his fecal response to the iPod, the iPood; a turd-shaped memory stick; Chavstick lip balm; and a Sergeant Pepper mill that will be hitting the shelves of Sainsbury's, trademarks permitting.

"It's nothing to do with The Beatles," Mr Simove says. "It's a pepper mill with a sergeant design."

Mr Simove has delivered his philosophy in seminars for Philips, Unilever, eBay, Sony and B&Q. "I want to bring a bit of personality to the corporate world," he says. "Break a rule. Meld things that have never been put together before. I would love to become a creative tsar for the Government. No one says at school you can go into novelty products."

Now, a leading California venture capital fund, Y Combinator, has invited Mr Simove to discuss the new project he calls his "lottery ticket" – a social network for business people "which mixes Chatroulette with LinkedIn".

Mr Simove takes his work seriously. "I'll sweat into the small hours over the little details. What is the difference between Damien Hirst and me? We both do gags. His works sell for £50m. Mine sell for £4.99 in novelty shops. Who is to say who is better? Me."

But HM Revenue & Customs didn't see the funny side when he printed his blank sex book. "They said a book has to have words inside or it's counted as a notepad, which is VAT payable – so I had to pay the VAT."

Living alone in a spartan, south-west London flat, Simove's dream is to become the Willy Wonka of the novelty world. "I want to set up an ideas factory. I would come up with ideas in the morning, talk to my people in China and have it prototyped and ready to take to market by the evening. My Oompa-Loompas would be graphic designers and 3D modellers."

And then Mr Simove, who retains a "child-like belief that anything is possible", is off to pursue his latest brainwave – "An optimistic office clock, it only shows 5pm-6pm: going home time..."

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