Sarah Giblin, founder of RiutBag, answers key questions on starting a business and becoming an entrepreneur
Can I be an entrepreneur with no previous experience?
Anyone can have a great idea and build a successful business to deliver that idea to the people who will benefit from it. I run a one-person start up. Three years ago I was just a backpack user with a feeling that urban backpacks are the wrong way round. I'd never designed and manufactured anything in my life.
I have an idea for a business. How do I know if it will work?
You cannot know everything at the beginning, so test your idea and your ability to run a business one step at a time. I started out by sketching my idea for a backwards backpack. After leaving my job, I created a prototype of my bag and crowdfunded my idea.
Get customer feedback. Ask people to answer surveys to help build your prototype so your product solves other people's problems and not just your own. It worked for me. There are now thousands of RiutBag (pronounced “riot”) users across the planet who enjoy safe travel thanks to my product.
Can I run a company?
Some people think you need superpowers to run a start up. Whilst it is a world away from being an employee, if you have a problem and can think up a simple solution that will generate enough sales to pay your bills every month - and you can think 6-12 months ahead - you can run a business.
How can I compete with big companies?
By being a user, you already have the upper hand in innovation. It's not just that we can have ideas, users are best placed to spot problems and come up with real solutions. Take this example: when an umbrella manufacturer looks at an umbrella they see manufacturing methods, costs, profits and quarterly targets. It's difficult to innovate in that environment. If you can dream up a better way of keeping individuals dry, your intention is purely user focused, unclouded by short-term gains.
How can I avoid expensive mistakes?
Test the market by crowdfunding your first production run rather than spending your life's savings on a something others might not value. Keep revolving your thinking around your users, solving problems and improving what you've made with their feedback. These steps will help lower your risk, and avoid expensive mistakes.
What are your top tips for someone starting out?
Don't just start things, complete them. Start and finish your prototype, start and finish your market research, start and finish your website. It's possible to start many things and never finish anything. You can always perfect things later, but only if you finish the first iterations.
Enjoy living on a budget during the start-up phase and don't complain about it. You can go back to a life of little luxuries when you've made your idea work. Would you rather be doing what you did before you started your business? I didn't think so. Focus on reaching breakeven and then you can have the nice things again.
Revolve your thinking around your customers. Do everything you can to create a great product. Getting customer feedback and making your product even better is the way to start-up happiness. Your company will not exist without customers who are willing to support your idea.