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.
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: