'Until 2014, I had never designed and manufactured anything in my life.' Sarah Giblin of her successful startup

‘Until 2014, I had never designed and manufactured anything in my life.’ Sarah Giblin of her successful startup

Some people think it takes superpowers to run a successful small business. Whilst it’s a world away from being an employee, the skills you need are recognisable to most of us: complaining. Thinking of something that will fix that complaint. Being able to pay your bills every month. Being able to plan about six to 12 months ahead. If you can do these, then you have the skills required to run your own small business. I say this to take the mystery out of the startup so that more people feel able to put their ideas out there.

Once you realise you’ve most likely got what it takes to run a business, here are the extras that helped me to have a living, breathing startup with a future today.

Swim or swim

I decided not to stay in my existing office job to create a startup on the side. I had a hunch that if I cut off my income at its source, I would be forced to make decisions focused on financial viability in Riut’s start up phase. By doing this, I was motivated by the need – not just a desire – to make it work. It worked: I left my job in March 2014 with sketches of the RiutBag idea.

Within one year I had three complete prototypes, a fully funded crowdfunding project, my first production run underway and I’d shipped the first ever RiutBags. In February 2015 there were RiutBag users wandering around London, Singapore, San Fransisco. In fact, all over the world. I moved fast out of necessity and forced myself to learn to make the company financially viable.

Ask for help

Whilst prototyping I realised I needed a lot more information about my customers: commuters. What do they carry and how do they travel with backpacks today? After all, I wasn’t just creating my ideal backpack, I was building it for people who I don’t know out there in global cities.

After searching for reports and studies online, I realised there was nothing relevant to the questions I had. So I created a free survey on www.surveymonkey.com and asked people on Facebook to fill it in and share. About 30 people took part in my first survey. The second was answered by nearly 300. My final survey during the prototyping period was completed by 1000 respondents.

My surveys gave me three vital things:

1) I was building my prototype with current, relevant data from real city travellers

2) these travellers played an active role helping to create my prototype with their user thinking. They felt a meaningful connection to my project and

3) by the time I released my design on Kickstarter, I had about 500 email addresses of people who had engaged in my project.

This may not sound like a lot, but it was enough to give me a good start on Kickstarter and I went on to gather £63,000 of funds in 30 days to create the first RiutBag production.

Be honest and solve more problems

In theory, the RiutBag exists to solve one fundamental problem: the person behind you can get into your backpack more easily than you can. So I turned the backpack around to give us all the chance to have calm, confident travel. Think about the core problem that your company exists to solve. What do you do once you’ve created a, or even “the”, solution to that problem?

When we’re honest with ourselves, we know our work is not yet done. There are two kinds of general problems that we all need to keeping finding and solving.

1) There are those problems in the world that we haven’t yet discovered. It’s our job to search for those problems relevant to our core topics and think, ‘Is there something I can do to fix this too?’ Keep thinking, looking and prototyping new ideas.

2)Then there are the problems created by our designs and products. In reality, the things that we create – the services, the products, the things, the ideas – are not perfect. Not a single thing is. So be honest with yourself and with your customers. Get their feedback on what you’ve made. What was good? What was not? Let your amazing customers and users – the reason your company exists – show you what you should do next and what you haven’t yet cracked.

Your users, collectively, know more than you. Making my users an active part of RiutBag creation is how I create new designs: I read my user feedback, prototype, manufacture and repeat. In our ever-changing world, it’s possible our work will never be done. There’s no need to overwhelmed by this impossible task. Instead, chip away at it with at least one improvement every time you do what you do.

Revolution in user thinking

Leaving innovation and problem solving up to huge companies is not the way forward. It’s users like you and me – people who aren’t experts but simply use products and services in their real lives – that are best placed to spot real problems and come up with simple solutions to them. If the solution is good and solves a problem, today in 2017 anyone can go direct to other users for support, work direct with a manufacturer and take orders online.

You can do this as a one-person startup. This way of thinking is so important to me that I built it into my company’s name to remind me to focus on my users and not fear that I started as a mere user: Riut, stands for Revolution in user thinking.

Sarah Giblin, RiutBag creator.

Further reading on a successful startup

Nominations are now open for the British Small Business Awards 2017, the leading event celebrating the brightest stars in the SME sector. Click here to enter, and make sure you get involved today using the hashtag #BSBAwards. Good luck!

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