I had the pleasure of interviewing Kelly Belknap.
My name is Kelly Belknap, and I am the 26 year old co-founder of Adventurist Backpack Co. We design minimalist backpacks for travel, with a social cause. For every backpack sold we provide 25 meals to families in need across the U.S. Since our launch in September, we have been able to provide over 17,000 meals to families in need.
Jean: Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory” of how you become a founder?
My wife Matilda and I started Adventurist Backpack Co. in September 2017.
I’m a native Coloradan, and Matilda is from Sweden. We first met in Colorado 5 years ago when we were 21 and 18, respectively, and quickly realized that we had a shared passion for travel and adventure. With our lives revolved around travel, and spending about 3–4 months out of the year in Sweden, we realized that a lot of people in Scandinavia use backpacks to add to their personal style. Backpacks are an accessory to their outfits, not just a functional tool to carry things around in. This idea, in combination with struggling to find a high quality/fashionable backpack (at a reasonable price) for our own travels led us to design a backpack that combined the minimalist style of Scandinavia with a rustic touch of Colorado.
Jean: What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
The idea that set the company into motion came during a backpacking trip around the world. During our travels throughout the spring/summer prior to starting the company, we witnessed the hardships of families that were struggling with hunger. Wanting to do what we could to help, we prepared meals each morning and filled up our packs, handing out meals to anyone in need throughout the day.
Though our whole experience influenced us, one interaction in specific inspired us to turn this idea in our heads into reality. While we were spending time in Bratislava, Slovakia we happened upon a family in a heartbreaking situation. The family consisted of two parents and their three young children. Less than a year ago, they were living in a house, working multiple jobs, and able to put food on the table each day. With layoffs from the father’s 2 employers, and a sudden illness making work scarce for the mother, they were put in an impossible situation. Rising medical costs and lack of income forced them from their home, and onto the street. (The absolute worst place we can imagine having to deal with these problems.) Seeing the pain and the guilt in the parents’ eyes, not being able to provide the basics for their children was truly heartbreaking. This really shed a light on a situation we realized we had heard a thousand times, but never truly witnessed. Anyone can really end up in this kind of situation due to purely unlucky circumstances.
Upon returning to the U.S. with this heightened awareness, we started noticing similar situations in our own city and community (Capitol Hill, Denver). Since we already had plans of introducing our backpacks to the market, we saw this as a perfect opportunity to do good. We wanted to guarantee a constant flow of meals to those in need in our communities, instead of the occasional donation from kind strangers when they are able.
Through entrepreneurship, we are able to help fight hunger more than ever before, while striving to give those in need every opportunity to succeed. We believe simple kindness can go a long way in life and in business. No formulas or percentages, just 25 meals provided every time.
Since our launch 9 months ago, we have provided over 17,000 meals to families in need across the U.S.
Jean: Are you working on any exciting projects now?
At the moment, we are designing our second backpack, which will be a larger version of our current daypack, for use on longer travel/weekend trips. We have additional designs in the works as well, which we hope to launch mid-2019.
Jean: Do you have a favorite book that made a deep impact on your life? Can you share a story?
This one is tough, as there are countless books that have influenced us in our journey to start a company.
A few that stand out are: Steve Jobs by Walter Issacson, Start Something That Matters by Blake Mycoskie, and The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.
The book Steve Jobs is a favorite because it showcases how will power, innovation, and design can create a company that influences the world.
Start Something That Matters is an amazing read that explains how to use entrepreneurship to help back an important cause, and that capitalism and for-profit businesses can do something good in the world.
The Alchemist is one of my all time favorites as a fictional journey with all sorts of lessons about life and following your passion. A highly recommended read for anyone at a crossroads.
Jean: What are your “5 Lessons I Learned as a Twentysomething Founder” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
#1 Go for it. Without taking the action to actually start something, you’ll be in the limbo of planning something forever. It’s so easy to want to wait until you’re completely ready to get something going, but just start now, the perfect time doesn’t exist.
#2 Social media is the best way to market on a shoestring budget. We started without any capital for marketing (Our $4000 investment from my parents went directly to paying for manufacturing/shipment of our backpacks, so there was nothing left over. This meant starting social media accounts, posting, and interacting with the community were our only real means of getting the word out. Two weeks in, we were approached by a chain retail store in Montana wanting to order 1/6 of our total backpack stock, all because we had a good Instagram page. You never know who you might come in contact with online.
#3 For me, I’ve realized that setting a schedule/to-do list for each day is invaluable. There are so many things to coordinate as a new business owner that the only way to get everything done is to have a checklist so that you can stay focused and on course. Some days it’s necessary to break everything down into 30 minute intervals in order to make sure my time is being managed as efficiently as possible. When you work for yourself, you have to value your time above all else, and try not to waste any of it. (That goes for time spent away from work as well.)
#4 Learn to step back and take a deep breath. Life, and especially business, is a roller coaster. At first, I would lay awake all night trying to figure out problems from the day before, and my tension/stress/anxiety levels were through the roof. Eventually, I learned that since there was nothing I could do about certain problems until the next day, or even the next week, it was best to put any non-urgent qualms to the side and return to them once I could take action rationally.
#5 Keep the curiosity alive and well. Back to question 4 in the interview, I think that books are one of the best things in the world. You can have Richard Branson or Marcus Aurelius or Meriwether Lewis, all as your personal mentor. Being able to come across new ideas, and ways of thinking is the best way to stay innovative and think outside your own box. Most of the ideas we’ve implemented into our own business have come directly from books that we’ve read, whether or not the book was related to business at all.
Jean: Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. :-)
A lunch with Blake Mycoskie would definitely be very high on the list of awesome things to happen. Blake and his brand TOMS have been probably the biggest influence on Adventurist Backpack Co. and how I view entrepreneurship and business as a whole. Other than reading his book Start Something That Matters, I’ve spent countless hours watching interviews, and trying to figure out how to follow both of my passions — entrepreneurship, and helping others. So if you’re out there Blake, I’ll buy the first round of Shiner Bock.
— Published on July 19, 2018