Riut blog

My message, as an entrepreneur, to all 14 year olds

This post is for the parents of teenagers and teenagers out there. At the end of every week I think about startups, entrepreneurism and share my experience creating my one person startup, Riut. I'm Sarah, designer of the secure backwards backpack RiutBag. 

When I was 14, I had no idea. "Careers" was just another word you needed to recognise. I could describe it but I had no idea what it really was. I had a Saturday job and I thought it was for fun. I didn't understand what a job would mean in the future.

sarah giblin riutbag riut entrepreneur advice to teenagers

Recently, I was invited back to my secondary school, Kendrick School. It happened to be careers week, and the head mistress asked me to come into the morning assembly to share my story with the students there. 

When I walked to the front of the hall, I saw the eyes of 150 girls, aged thirteen to fifteen, looking at me blankly. I was transported back to my own clueless days at school. Young women in their 20s and 30s, who had previously been to my school, would come in and talk about their amazing achievements as olympic rowers, lawyers and doctors. I had no idea who they were, that they used to be my age and that a future - where I would have to take control of my own life - was waiting for me. I had no idea what I was meant to be learning from them.

So, rather, than start with the way I usually tell the story of the RiutBag, I took it back to the basics that were never made clear to me. Here's what I said:

"If you continue to stay alive there will be a time in the future when all the things you have - your clothes, your breakfast, your shoes, backpack, home, electricity, water, your dinner, cinema tickets, bus ticket, your bed, your knives and forks - will have to be paid for by you. You, on your own, will have to buy and pay for everything you have and do.

We live in a society where money is the standard form of payment. Therefore, in the future, you have to work out a way to get enough money to pay for all the things you need in your life. 

You can do this any way you want. 

I have chosen to design backpacks called RiutBags. I design them with the help of my current RiutBag users' feedback. I draw out the design. I send it to my factory in China. They make them. I check them. Then they are shipped back to England. I sell them online on my website riut.co.uk. I am my whole company. I run my company with this pencil - for designing - and with my mobile phone."

What is success? Job

After leaving school, I started to understand the meaning of "job", but it seemed to come with very specific parameters. A "proper" job was one that impressed everyone, that everyone could understand with a simple title like "lawyer", "doctor". And if they couldn't understand what the job was, then you needed to show that you had an impressive job via the car and house you had. I though that success - according to everyone else - was wearing a suit, living in London whilst being very serious and busy. I tried to be that person and it didn't work out.

I'll also add, it was often implied, and still is, that an easier form of "success" was just to get a rich husband.

Let them shape the world with their ideas

My parents thought that starting Riut was too risky. I had a good, solid job in Reading, working in financial services, so why risk it all for a little idea I'd had?* Whilst they love me and think I'm great, I think - deep down - they thought I didn't have what it takes. But it turns out even a pretty normal person like me can do it. 

The girls in that school hall - and the kids in each assembly and every street across the globe -  are all capable of doing separate, new and amazing things. Yet, we suggest that the only picture of success is working in grey suits in an office. Enough people will do those jobs. But there are other paths that we can create for ourselves. 

Imagine what the world, and teenagers' lives, would be like if they did the things in the world they are best at, with confidence, and made them work in a way that they understand financial responsibility and independence. They will shape the future - our future - with their ideas and have an impact if they know its possible.  

Revolution in user thinking

Riut, the name of my startup, stands for Revolution in user thinking. I believe we need to have a revolution in our own thinking: remember we - no matter what age - can have an idea and make it happen. I not only do I think we can do this, I think we - the non-experts of this world - are best placed to do it. Computer games aren't a waste of time, they form a multi-billion dollar industry. Social media isn't scrambling their brains, understanding it is the future of online businesses. Playing the guitar isn't just nice, it's a potential life long career even if you're not in the charts. Drawing stuff isn't just for fun, it's a fundamental tool of design and creation on which much of the world is based. The "besuited" idea of career success might not be the right thing for the coming decades for all of us. 

Explain it from their perspective

I don't think adults remember that kids have no idea about the context, the meaning and importance of the things they are being told. Tell children why what you're saying is important. Explain it in new and simple terms. I'm sure not everyone will take it in, but I wish I'd understood it sooner.

*My parents have come round it to now and are pretty serious RiutBag users :)

p.s. This is how I explain my process of not realising I'd had an idea, and then slowly realising it and doing something about it. Here's how I went from my office job to running my own company with my idea, you can hear about it in my TEDx Talk:

 

 

4 tips to stay sane on your public transport commute

We've all read the lists telling us how to behave on public transport: no eating, no loud music, no smelling and so on. Of course this is how we would travel in an ideal world. But we're setting ourselves up for daily frustration if we don't accept the reality: we live in cities. This means, by definition, living with many other humans who we cannot control. When we forget this, our fellow passengers appear to be superfluous, annoying and a cause of stress rather than a necessary condition of urban life and travel. 

Stress is an important bodily reaction to serious situations where our body offers us the flight or fight options - so there's no need eliminate all stress from our lives. But being stressed out by everyday life is not a sustainable way to live in a city. So lower your stress levels every time you get on a packed train with these simple tips.

annoying people on public transport

Rules for surviving public transport without getting angry:

  1. Rather than disliking all other people for being on public transport, just remember: you couldn’t be making this journey without them. The tracks, the trains - none of it would be there without us all using it.
  2. Presume the worst and being kinder will be easier: We have no idea what the people around us did before they got on the train this morning or where they’re going when they get off. They may be completing a 32 hour journey at 7:00am in the morning, someone close to them may have passed away the night before or perhaps they’re on their way to get divorced. Give everyone the benefit of the doubt and you'll find yourself feeling instantly calmer.  
  3. Being nice doesn’t mean being late: You can be quick and kind. Have a go at matching your journey time without aiming an inner monologue of rage at the rest of your city.
  4. Yes, you can have a bad day too: Let’s just hope on that day, that the rest of your city has read this blog post. Otherwise your bad day is about to get a lot worse.
annoying tourists in cities

How to handle classic causes of stress in cities: Tourists, food, music and BO

Tourists will be tourists: Yes, tourists are slow, they get in the way, they don't know the rules and they make mistakes. Just remember: When you are a tourist in New York, London or Hong Kong, you too walk around in awe in blissful ignorance. Tourists are new, they don’t have meetings to rush to and they don’t know where they’re going. Do your annoyance levels a favour, move around them without huffing and remember the good times you had on your trips to amazing cities. 

We need food to live: On public transport, the person sitting next to us is pretty close. When their sandwich smells, you can smell it. Whether you’re a fully grown adult or a baby, on occasion your schedule means you’ll have to grab your meal on a the train. This is not the end of the world. Try to relax and imagine the packed day this person is having and the reason they are eating on the train. They have a busy schedule today and need to refuel before the next thing.

Teenagers (and some adults) have crap earphones: I know this one is particularly annoying. But you can deal with it without needing a heart bypass. Scenario one: You’re in a quiet zone and someone’s music is audible to everyone. Solution: sooner rather than later - I mean the first 15 seconds - tap them on the shoulder and let them know. No anger, no judgment. You’ll be the hero of the carriage and be able to get back to what you were doing straight away. Scenario two: You’re in a normal non-quiet-zone carriage and someone’s music is too loud. Solution: Either choose to speak to them, again quickly, or focus on something else. Crucially, don’t sit there enraged for 30 minutes. You could even have a laugh and remember what rubbish music you used to listen to at that age :)

Body odour: Whilst it's not pleasant, we cannot ban body odour. Yes, we live in an age and society where there is a spray, medicine and perfume to cover up even the worst body processes, but on some days something’s got to give. You can be judgmental and disgusted by it, but it’s just not within your control to fix it. So let them go home for their shower and get back to your book. It’ll be over in a matter of minutes.

getting angry at other passengers

****

The boring truth is, when we spend our time judging others and getting stressed out by their presence, we're only stressing ourselves out. There is no upside. Unless we learn to be calm, think about more important things or have a laugh about the mix of people on the train every day, the morning commute is a more hostile environment for us all when tensions are high. 

Cities are full of strangers. We all do things differently, we all have bad days and we are all sitting next to each other, thigh by thigh, on the train. That’s how cities work. Ignore them entirely, take an interest and wonder what they’ve been doing that day. Speak to them if there’s a real problem. Do it all without inner commuter rage and you should have a better commute every day of your life.

The author is Sarah Giblin, designer of the RiutBag: secure backwards backpack for calm city travel. It's her job to design things that make city life more bearable, to reduce hostility and suspicion between city dwellers. "I can design the RiutBag to help your commute in many ways, but some things we can only control within our minds. That's what Riut is all about. Riut stands for Revolution in user thinking. Sometimes we need a reminder to adapt our mindset and attitude if we're going to enjoy the benefits of city but also have high quality of life." These are her laptop backpack designs for commuters and city travellers which are not accessible by anyone except you:

 

 

All about that base: laptop backpacks that protect our tech #gobackwards

For many of us, we travel with our offices on our back. Tablet, phone, external hard drive and, still relied on by so many of us, the laptop.

When your laptop is in your backpack the last thing you want it hear is it grinding into the gravel beneath your feet. It's a sound Sarah Giblin, RiutBag designer, knows all too well from previous backpacks. Here, she shows us her old backpack, the weaknesses in the design and how she answered those weaknesses in her secure backwards laptop backpack RiutBag R10, R15 and R25. 

RiutBag laptop backpacks are built to keep your belongings safe when they're on your back and when you put them down in any weather.

Maximum laptop dimensions for RiutBag laptop models: 

RiutBag R10 (10 litre slim): 35cm x 24.5cm x 3cm (14 inches x 9.6 inch x 1.18 inch)

RiutBag R15 (15 litre daypack): 35cm x 24.5cm x 3cm (14 inches x 9.6 inch x 1.18 inch)

RiutBag R25 (25 litre max carry-on): 38cm x 25cm x 3.5cm (14.9 inches x 9.8 inch x 1.37 inch)

Five important things I learnt starting a small business

It's three years since I left my job, started my company and set out to reinvent the backpack for safe travel called RiutBag. Why did I do it? Because backpacks are the wrong way round. The person behind you can get into your backpack more easily than you can. That's not ideal if you commute in a busy city every day with important devices and valuables with you.

I am a one-person startup who had no experience in this industry. With the help of the crowd online, I prototyped the RiutBag, created and successfully funded two Kickstarter campaigns and I'm now working on my 8th production run with RiutBags bringing safe travel to people all over the world. Every Friday, I look at the questions I've received from other people starting up and I share the things I've learnt. There are so many people out there with good ideas, they just have to make them happen. 

I could pretend it's all easy, but what you really need to know before, or as, you start is what is challenging. So here are some of the most important things I've learnt so far:

1) Every detail is your decision

Sarah Giblin, RiutBag designer 2017

Sarah Giblin, RiutBag designer 2017

Going from being a consumer to a designer is a big jump. As a consumer, the choice is limited to a few things other people have made. As a designer, you are only limited by what is physically and financially possible. The range of design decisions you have to make to narrow down *everything possible* to your one design is overwhelming at first and then you begin to function on the correct level, understanding every decision made and how it impacts the whole. 

Every angle, every material - including the thread colour and material - needs to be considered and chosen on a RiutBag. My tip is this: have good reasons for every decision you take and don't say "oh, it doesn't matter". This way, if something goes wrong you can understand why it went wrong, you can update your thinking and make a better decision next time.

2) Be ready to learn every day

I knew my first startup years would involve a steep learning curve. In fact, I forgot there would ever be another time after that! However, coming into your second year, you might begin to think: I know what I'm doing! Perhaps you do. But that's the moment when it's time to start challenging yourself again.

Experience is great but feeling comfortable because things are getting easy isn't the right place to be, in my view. Think long term and think big, weird and wonderful for your customers and the future. Here's a snippet of a great interview with David Bowie talking about putting yourself in a position where you can make exciting things

    3) Your suppliers will make mistakes

    Having high expectations of your suppliers is good. Expecting perfection will lead to disappointment for you and your customers. You'll learn this yourself as problems arise for the first time. When you're working with suppliers, learn to talk about which problems are likely to arise and agree how you're going to handle them when they happen.

    In your first meeting with a new supplier, a simple sentence like this can help: "We know that it's possible that things will go wrong. It's important that we can handle those things well together. Let's discuss." If you can create a space to communicate problems early and well when things go wrong, it might help you to build an extra week into your freight shipping time for example. The definition of "perfection" with your suppliers might just be planning ahead and good communication. 

    4) If your idea is good, someone will copy it

    I knew when I started out that the RiutBag is a simple idea that makes a positive impact on travellers' lives. Many people warned me off starting because it was so likely that someone would copy it. Here's my view: nothing in the world would ever happen if people failed to make new things because they might be copied.

    If your idea is patentable (in the strict UK sense) and you have the money for it, go for it. Otherwise, you'll be able to register for the weaker design protection. This stops people copying the exact way in which you have designed your product but doesn't protect function.

    In reality, unless you've got a lot of cash and a good legal team, your real tools for fighting copying is to roll up your sleeves and design something even better. Keep moving, make small production runs and keep improving your designs. Listen to customer feedback, respond quickly and make changes. You could go the litigious route and spend the rest of your life in court whilst your product remains stationary. Or, you could choose to compete, forget the legal stuff and have fun building the best version of the thing you create every production run. After 10 years of each option -the legal route or the competition - which do you think will have been a more awesome use of your time? And which option do you think your customers would prefer?

    5) Starting up is different from building a company

    Looking back, I think I spent the first 2 years starting up. I had no income, no timeline, I was just hungry and willing to do anything to make it work the hard way. I did nothing but think about making RiutBags and how to reach breakeven. That was startup mode: short term, sprinting, out of breath, everything was the first time and I was learning how to answer every question.

    Suddenly, I was there. I'd reached breakeven and it was time to build a company that could stand on its own two feet and repeatedly keep making new things, keep creating better things and tell more people that the RiutBag exists. This requires a completely different set of rules. Building a company requires you to balance short and - the new rather exciting - medium term. Think about the structure of the year, look back at past data! Understand what you got wrong and what you do well, change the bad and enhance the good. It's a different ball game. You'll work out when it's time to switch from one to the other.

    My favourite analogy for starting up and then running a business

    There's no other analogy I've found that fits more closely than this. Starting your own business is like jumping off a cliff and building an functioning plane on the way down.

    flying riutbag

    The analogy works because: 1) You start with no knowledge and you're forced to pick it up very quickly. 2) Your life and future is in your hands, so you have to make it work. 3) Time is rushing by and every second counts before you've got your company/plane working. 4) At the last moment, just as you manage to swoop up and avoid crashing into the rocks below, you will have done something you thought almost impossible previously. 5) This is the most important one, you're now flying. That's good. But you've got to keep this thing flying. You need to refuel, change parts and avoid crashing into things, all whilst flying it yourself of course :)


    When Father's Day gifts go wrong: a true story that took 10 years to fix

    Thinking a father's day gift through can save all sorts of headaches in the future. Father's day is this Sunday in the UK. There are plenty of useful things you can get your dad - some bigger, some smaller - but panicking on the day is not the way to go! I know from experience. Here's my tale.

    2006 Reading, England

    My dad plays the guitar. For father's day in 2006 I panicked and, on the day, I got him.. an ice cube tray that made ice cubes in the shape of guitars. It seemed whimsical, something fun to add to a cocktail and quite fitting for the coming summer. What wasn't to like? I grabbed a card and headed his way.

    As soon as I walked through his door I knew where I'd gone wrong. For some unfathomable reason his fridge is just a fridge. There is no freezer. He was kind and said it would be great some day! It's the thought that counts. The man who had spent his adult life making my life possible gets just one day a year, just for him, and my gift did not do it justice. It would have been 100 times better if I'd only given him the card and written something thoughtful.  

    10 years later in 2016

    The guitar ice cube tray was still playing on my mind. I'd spotted it in a number of different drawers over the years, unopened - of course. I was a little more grown up now and I could only think of one thing to put it all right. For father's day 2016 I got my dad an entire new fridge with a freezer. I found the ice cube tray, made ice and the world was once again in equilibrium.

    Overall it turned out well. A freezer is a very practical thing to have for all sorts of reasons. But in this case the motivating force for putting the world to right was my lack of thought in 2006. 

    Don't do what I did, kids. Think about father's day gifts now and not on the day (18 June 2017). Otherwise your future self may well be fixing things you got wrong for years to come.

    Tips for father's day 2017

    If you're getting a gift, aim for useful - i.e. something your dad can actually use - or personal. If your dad travels, has holidays coming up or commutes, you can get him a RiutBag of course.

    If you're not going in for the gift, I recommend a nice card with your favourite memory.

    After last year's whopper of a useful father's day gift, I'm going for a RiutBag Crush and something personal. I collected a few leaves from Bothwell Castle near Uddgingston in Scotland: my first home as a child, a favourite place where my parents used to push me around in a pram and, notably, the home of Tunnocks caramel wafer :) I'll add the leaves to a card and we can reminisce about the times before I can remember.

    My dad and I at Bothwell Castle on the Clyde in Scotland

    My dad and I at Bothwell Castle on the Clyde in Scotland

    The Tunnocks factory in Uddingston, Scotland. My first home :)

    The Tunnocks factory in Uddingston, Scotland. My first home :)

    Wishing all fathers a great weekend!