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Five reasons I turned down Dragons’ Den (UK Shark Tank)

The rucksack revolution will not be televised.

To the disappointment of some, and support of others, I’ve decided not to go on Dragons’ Den. Whilst it could have been fun for you all to laugh at me as I stumble over the dreaded figures, fall over as I come in, forget the dragons’ names or forget my lines, 15 minutes of fame is not my startup strategy. And here’s why.

My idea

RiutBag: no outer zips; they’re all against your back for safe, calm city travel. See the whole range by clicking "choose your RiutBag" from the menu above.

In the commuter crush one day, I realised that the rucksack we all know and love is the wrong way round. What? Yup, the person behind you can get into your rucksack better than you. That’s unnerving for us city travellers surrounded by people we cannot know personally. So I created the RiutBag, pronounced “riot bag”, for commuters and city travellers. It’s a rucksack with no outer zips; they’re all against your back for safe, calm city travel. I hope to see the revolution of rucksacks everywhere in the coming decade, as people start wearing their bags the other way round.

Starting up

This time last year I left my job to start prototyping. In September 2014 I was happy with the third prototype. In October 2014 launched therevolutionary RiutBag Kickstarter campaign – crowdfunding concept – to let rucksack users show me whether they thought my idea and execution was right for them. Over 1000 people backed the RiutBag Kickstarter project in 30 days, raising over £63,000. I went to China, started manufacturing and the first of the amazing Kickstarter backers are using them already.

BBC interest

After the Kickstarter campaign the BBC got in touch and invited me to apply to the show, Dragons’ Den. There, 4 self-made millionaires question you about your invention and company for a TV show. If they are interested, they invest their cash – normally £30,000 to £80,000 – for a percentage of your company. The people you see on the TV are genuine applicants who apply to be there. There are also those who have been hand picked by the BBC. It makes sense when you think about it. You can’t leave the casting of a successful TV show up to the whims of who fancies taking part this year.

My initial response

At first, I dismissed it. But then I replied with my suggestion: I would like to come on the show, tell the dragons about my idea and share it with the UK. The investment I’m after? £0 investment for 0% of my company.

The BBC understood where I was coming from, but they felt this approach defeats the point of the show. I get that. It doesn’t work for them if they present people to their dragons in whom they cannot invest. We talked about trying to find a middle ground. After a week of thinking it over, I decided against it.

Why would I do such a thing? My reasons

1) The name of this company is Riut. Pronounced “riot” it stands for Revolution in user thinking. I created the RiutBag for urban rucksacks users. Rather than just imposing it on them, I surveyed 1000 commuters to allow them to build the RiutBag. I designed every aspect and material to suit the urban user and, most importantly, RiutBag users lifted the RiutBag off my sketchbook pages and on to their shoulders via Kickstarter. The company exists because RiutBag users want it to. I want that to keep being the case. This is a revolution in user thinking.

2) Shareholders and customers have conflicting interests. I want to focus purely on my customers. I’m a one person startup. Managing my RiutBag users’ needs with those of profit seeking investors is not necessary. I believe that we can make a company without investors who are only in it for the profit. If customers want Riut to exist, making simple products which have a positive impact in their lives, they can make it happen: not just by buying the RiutBag, but by talking about the idea, telling friends and colleagues and sharing it on social media. The dragons can become backers by buying the RiutBag, but not by buying Riut.

3) Doing things differently. This is a company created by and for the RiutBag users who benefit from the design: exemplified during the Kickstarter campaign. Getting investors on board means doing things their way. There are lots of business models out there which make a lot of money but do so at the expense of the customer or the user.

I want to do things in a new way, not the old way. If I were up for doing things the old way, I wouldn’t have called the company Riut. Revolution in user thinking. That’s what the name promises: I will revolve my thinking, the company and its profits around the user.

4) Long term thinking. Whilst it might seem crazy that I chose not to get my 15 minutes’ fame on the BBC with the RiutBag, imagine the scenario: if the UK likes the idea, my site will crash for one 5 minute rush of RiutBag retailing and leaves you all irritated because I have no stock. Or I could buy in extra stock only to find out that the UK and the dragons take a disliking to me and the idea and do a good job of destroying my company in a few swift minutes. All for the sake of an entertaining TV show.

15 minutes of fame is not my approach. I’d like you to hear about the RiutBag because your friend has tried it and it works. I’d like you to search for a safer travel bag, find the RiutBag, take your time to make an informed choice and get the right bag for you. If you use it, it works and you feel happier travelling or commuting in urban spaces, please spread the word: help make this a revolution built by the users of this product.

5) Normal people can do this. I want to show people out there that you don’t need a big investor to start a company. You can use free tools like Kickstarter, surveymonkey, wordpress and social media to ask consumers whether they think your product is a good idea. You execute the product creation well. They can buy it from you online. Simple.

I still believe it is possible to start a company by making a product that is useful for your customers, in my case: for my RiutBag users. It’s a simple design which gives you peace of mind on your commute and travels.

Why am I writing about this?

I’m writing about this because I want to share my thinking with you and with my future self. When you startup, you have lots of decisions to make. What you say yes and no to will shape the company you build in the future.

Revolution in user thinking is the name of this company and my personal mantra for everything this company does. I want to keep acting with integrity and remain totally user focussed. I believe this is good for product design, for the people who use them and a good basis on which to run the company. I want to see whether it works now and in the future.

I’m writing this so we can come back in the few years time and see whether I still think what I think today. And if not, why not. But if it works, then I’ll keep going. And we can look back and see what decisions led to Riut’s future.

The rucksack revolution will not be televised.