His newest undertaking, the RunMask, has made it onto the list of TIME’s 100 Best Inventions of 2020; an incredible feat for any. Based in Lund, IAMRUNBOX finds its roots in xPlot’s predecessor, The Creative Plot, and the 2016 Barcamper accelerator. In preparation for xPlot’s launch of a new accelerator for cultural and creative businesses, we sat down with Noskov to chat about his thoughts on entrepreneurship, joining Barcamper, and growing his company to global success.
Before featuring in TIME’s 100 Best Inventions of 2020, Kirill Noskov had a full-time position at a multinational logistics company. Disenchanted by the hours spent sitting still at an office desk, Noskov decided to start running to work in order to squeeze exercise into his busy everyday routine. A simple concept – according to Noskov, who is an avid athlete – running to work came with more hassle than he could’ve ever imagined. While running, the backpack would slam against his back as his feet hit the ground; and when arriving to work, his suit, packed in his backpack, had gotten wrinkly. It was under these circumstances that IAMRUNBOX was born.
The backpack company specializes in the intersection of business and athleticism, fulfilling Noskov’s own ambition of being able to run to work without facing any external obstacles. What started off as a tool for personal satisfaction quickly escalated as Noskov decided to leave his full-time job to chase after his dreams. With the help of Barcamper and The Creative Plot, Noskov grew hisstart-up to global success. Today, IAMRUNBOX is reaching markets in the UnitedStates, Hong Kong, and Chile, while Noskov, always on the go, prepares for the next move.
What inspired you to leave the comfort of having a stable income and career, to delve into the more high-risk game of entrepreneurship?
When I started running to work, I was running an hour back and forth everyday. While I was exercising, I was becoming stronger and healthier – and also more mentally agile. Carving that time out of the day means you get a lot of time to think and reflect. I realized that I simply didn’t want to have a 9–5 job all my life. It was not that I didn’t want to work – I can work 24/7 if needed – but I wanted to do work on my own terms. I came to the realization that corporate work would never allow me the flexibility I was looking for, and the only alternative was to start my own company.
Being an entrepreneur allows me to feel in charge over my own career. I can work where I want, and when I want. When I had that realization, it was easy to take the first step.
And taking that first step… was it scary? Looking back, would you have done anything differently?
Well, everything is scary at first. But you have to just keep going. I’m an endurance athlete – I run; and when running, you just have to keep going. It’s very simple: if you want to run, you need to run. If you want to do business, you need to do business.
As for if I would’ve done anything differently… Everything! But it’s very easy to say that now. Back then, I was so confident that I was doing the right thing.You learn a lot along the way – and I did learn a lot, especially through Barcamper. Now, with years of knowledge, I know how to do things more efficiently. But back then I kept grinding, kept going… and it worked out.
Tell me about your experience with Barcamper! How did it help expand your business?
IAMRUNBOX was actually already growing when I came to Barcamper in 2016. It wasn’t a fully developed product, but a garment bag that fit inside other backpacks. The organizational system kept clothes wrinkle-free, facilitating the process of active commuting to work. In many ways, it was a product I had designed for myself, fitting my own needs of running. I had done some crowdfunding using Kickstarter, but wanted to bring my idea to real investors. Without entrepreneurial background, coming from a corporate job, Barcamper seemed like an excellent opportunity to get more experience and grow my network.
With the Barcamper program, I got the opportunity to both meet other like-minded entrepreneurs, but also make connections with a really high-quality team of investors and business consultants. These people have so much experience, intuition, and skill – and you get the chance to work very closely with them.
What’s so unique about Barcamper, in our opinion, is the idea of involving investors already at the early stages of company growth. We believe pitching is not a shark tank, nor a yes/no game, and believe that business ideas would benefit from growing and developing in collaboration with an experienced network. Can you share your thoughts about this model?
I thought it was really great. Honestly, I am not usually a huge fan of these incubator programs, where it seems like all you do is reporting statistics rather than focusing on this human-to-human connection. Barcamper was not like that, though. Having the opportunity to get in touch with investors at the very early stages of my company helped me shape my entire business idea and formulate what exactly it is that I was doing – and why. Being an entrepreneur, you often don’t have that business intuition and your thoughts are often very scrambled. Barcamper helped me compile and structure my ideas, giving me feedback along the way, and helping bounce ideas back and forth.
Being in a setting with other entrepreneurs, too, was extremely helpful and very needed. I think entrepreneurs can often feel like they’re in it by themselves, but we can all learn something from each other. Even now, four years later, there are lessons from Barcamper that I still carry with me.
This wouldn’t be a 2020 story without a question about COVID-19. What has your experience been in this tumultuous year? Have your priorities shifted?
Asa start-up, you have to see crisis as an opportunity. The COVID pandemic hit us very hard at first. We are a backpack company for commuters, so when office work started receding, our Amazon sales went to zero… We realized we needed to be agile and quick to react. As lockdowns and mask-requirements started to get implemented around the world, we came up with the idea of making an ActiveEssentials Kit. The kit features a mask, an armband, and a recycled shopping backpack, which is perfect during a lockdown, when you are forced to stay at home for the most part, but have to go out to do the essential things – like buying groceries. It was our fastest product development yet, taking less than a month from ideation to execution; and always keeping our customer’s comfort and safety in mind.
And now RunMask is featured inTIME’s 100 Best Inventions of 2020! Can you tell me more about the designprocess?
Well, it all started when I was talking to my partner in the United States. We were talking about COVID and how when you’re outside in the US, you always need to wear a mask. As a runner, wearing a mask is not the most comfortable; especially when that mask is unsustainably made and also in an unbreathable material. Our mission has always been to inspire people to become more active –through design. RunMask is made out of breathable material, fits comfortably around your face, and thus facilitates the process of running.
We had to be really quick to react and adapt to this “new normal,” especially as we retail in a very diverse number of countries that all handled the new restrictions very differently.
Could you talk more about this global growth?
I am interested in exponential growth and expanding internationally thus came very naturally to us. In the four years since I joined Barcamper, IAMRUNBOX has grown to 13 employees that are stationed all over the world. Because I was interested in the global market, I needed a multicultural team to better understand the local markets.
As of now, IAMRUNBOX is based in Lund, where everything started. When COVID-19came around, we decided to start an active lab in downtown Lund. It’s a mix of everything: an office, a showroom, and a co-creation space where customers can test our products. As I said earlier, we needed to view the pandemic as an opportunity and make the best out of it. Since there was no immediate future in retail, we adapted and created this fluid and flexible space that could do a little bit of everything.
In the beginning of 2021, xPlot is launching a new accelerator for creative and cultural businesses. Do you have any words of encouragement for people who want to start their own business?
If you want to be an entrepreneur, the first step is quitting your job. Surely, you can think and plan and do everything simultaneously – but in order to truly get there, you need to take the first step. Just do it!
Kirill is currently working with Sigma Lundinova to create a connected backpack that tracks your carbon footprint. The goal is to make a carbon negative backpack and find more sustainable solutions for the backpack and accessories industry. You can visit Kirill Noskov and IAMRUNBOX at Bytaregatan 4B, Lund.
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