Featured Entrepreneur: Jim Rokos

09 MAR 2013

What’s the name of your business and what promise does it make to customers?

Rokos creates playful, functional, sculptural products, that behave in unexpected ways. The products encourage a rich interactive experience. I like to explore the physical properties of materials to generate aesthetic, intriguing concepts. I work to ensure Rokos delivers exceptional quality in every piece. I won’t compromise at any stage of the process, from design through to manufacturing.

You can find Rokos at www.rokos.co.uk. I’m also on Facebook and Twitter.

What made you decide to start your business?

I had a design for a fruit bowl the 22° 36° 48°. It sits at the three angles of the title, to display or hide it’s contents.

I had pitched it to the buyer at the Conran shop, who liked the bowl, but they did not wish to set up an account for only one product. Since my other work was conceptual rather than commercial, it was clear that if I were to supply Conran with my products, I would need to have a range of things to sell them.

Rokos 22-36-48 Stainless Steel Bowl

So I created a wine decanter – the 13° 60° 104°. It leans over and gets drunk, with the drinkers.

However, at this point, I realised that it made sense to create a brand to sell these products under, that brand has now taken on a life of it’s own.

Rokos Decanter

What made you decide to enroll in School for Startups a year ago?

Starting a new business alone is very tough. Whilst things had been moving forward steadily, it was a daunting journey ahead and I was well aware that there was so much I didn’t know about setting up and running a business.

There were many things I knew I needed to learn and gaining all this business knowledge was going to be a very steep hill to climb.

I saw Doug speak for the first time and I went over to chat with him right after his talk. I presented him with a leaflet about the Blindspot range of products and he reviewed them from a business perspective – an angle I hadn’t seen them from before.

He gave me very clear and insightful advice. I was able to afford the subsidised course fee for School for Creative Startups so the decision to join was a no-brainer.

Tip:  If you own a creative startup, or would like to, check out the SchoolforCreativeStartups website.  Learn how to build and run a successful creative enterprise properly. Apply for a sponsored space in our full one year program now or come to an S4CS free evening.

What meaningful answers did you discover in working with Doug Richard and the experts he’s brought in to advise and mentor you?

My most important lesson has been not to do every job personally. Many things can be outsourced which is more efficient than trying to do everything myself. This saves time, which I am learning to treat as a valuable and limited resource.

What meaningful and useful knowledge have you acquired over the last year through School for Creative Startups?

Doug taught me to use the support of companies larger than mine: Google Ad-Words can help my customers to find me. Amazon Fulfillment will deliver my goods. Shopify’s built in e-commerce takes payments for me.

We had training in how to negotiate and I learned that by asking some questions first, it is possible to discover opportunities for a better deal for both parties.

What were the most important topics covered at School for Creative Startups bootcamps and seminars? Why were they important to you?

Doug’s lectures about the web were fascinating. It was a revelation to realize I could develop a relationship with the press. I had seen them as closed doors, but now I know that it is okay to ring them and have a chat. Getting a design into the press is more powerful than paid advertising (and it is also, of course, free).

Shane Reading taught us that it is perfectly acceptable to email news to the people on our mailing lists. They want to know what’s happening with me and my brand. She explained the importance of using creativity to make the experience of receiving goods more personal.

Who you have met, through School for Creative Startups, that made a real impact on you?

My first sale was made at our opening exhibition by fellow student Jamal. Not only did he close the deal, but he also discovered that the selling price was too low and suggested that I increase the retail price to the piece’s market value. We have continued to help each other at events and I am hoping that Jamal’s flair for sales will rub off on me.

I have found it highly supportive having the school behind me. Program director Medeia Cohan and program coordinator Chris Cunniff run the school from the London office. When I reach a point where I do not see an answer to a problem I call on them and they will suggest an answer or put me in touch with one of their many contacts who can help me with the particular problem. Chris has recently put me in touch with Nova Stevenson of Post Creative, who has agreed to take on my website development at a special discount for students on the course.

Business guru Nancy Fulton sits at her computer in Los Angeles and provides lightening fast answers to my business questions. I asked her to review the Rokos e-shop and I implemented the suggestions only moments after having sent my questions!

Which speakers and mentors have had the biggest impact on you and your business?

I am supported by several mentors – serial entrepreneur and celebrity, Doug Richards is guiding the business. He had advised to have something creative to post out to the London shops, telling them about the 22° 36° 48° bowl.

Fortunately, my current intern Leo Choi is a genius and he is turning my request for a paper pop-up bowl card into reality. It was particularly appreciated last weekend, when I needed some emergency business advice on a bank holiday Saturday evening. I emailed my dilemma to Doug and he emailed back a suggestion within a couple of hours.

Medeia, who has a spectrum of contacts, puts me in touch with some fantastic people, when I reach out for help. One of which is Jamie Scrimgeour, who has a proven background in design and manufacturing and has been advising me on manufacturing strategy.

I had exchanged more than five hundred emails in my search for a manufacturer to produce the 13° 60° 104° wine decanter. I realised that there must be something wrong with my approach. Jamie explained that large orders are everything to a manufacturer. My best offer so far had been to produce 10,000 units – not possible for me just yet.

Jamie taught me that, even though I can not promise specific large numbers, I can communicate my goals for the future. So, even though I am starting with small orders, a manufacturer can see that I am likely to be making larger orders in the future. With this new approach, I immediately had strong interest from two manufacturers.

Home chef Arno Maasdorp, (owner of a magnificent beard and the man behind the Saltoun Supper Club) noted how the three concave bases are reminiscent of the deep punts found at the bottom of an expensive bottle of wine. Arno explains that the correct way to hold a bottle of wine is not by the neck, but by the bowl and observes how it is possible to hold the large bowled 13° 60° 104° decanter here, because the thumb can sit inside the punt. With his precise attention to detail, he advised that by making small adjustments to the scale, the three angles could also represent standard wine measures: now the upright position measures a Magnum, the middle position holds a 750ml and the downward position shows that the decanter could use a refill. “That’s very good”, I said. “It’s bloody genius, that’s what it is”, Arno replied. He is generously promoting both products at events and in his diners’ club. His insights enrich the experience of enjoying a Rokos.

Which of your products are you proudest of? Why?

People react most strongly to the 13° 60° 104° wine decanter. It is a pleasure to see their immediate desire for the product, and it has recently won the prestigious Red Dot design award for outstanding product design.

Do you feel you’ve developed relationships through this program that will help you in the months and years to come?

I do think so. School for Creative Startups offers ongoing support to it’s alumni and I’ve made some personal relationships with mentors and fellow students that I think will last many years.

About Jim Rokos

Jim is a multi award-winning designer. This year he won the Red Dot design award for product design and also Faces of Design competitions. He holds an RSA award and his innovative cat food bowl won BBC’s tomorrow’s world’s Best Inventions pilot. His Blindspot series is Design Parade selected. While studying, D&AD included his work in their competition’s book.

Jim had explored many creative areas, before discovering his passion for Industrial Design. Originally trained as a model-maker in the film and television industry (The Muppet Treasure Island, Band of Brothers, Tomb Raider, Victoria and Albert), Jim’s innovative cat-food bowl sold over 50,000 pieces throughout Europe. Jim then went on to teach at a special needs school in London, before completing a Master’s degree (2006) in Industrial Design, at Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design (part of London’s University of the Arts).

Working from the studio in London, Jim is passionate to explore materials to create original and visually beautiful, refined concepts. He enjoys every stage of the design process. New creative techniques are sought to generate original ideas.

Now he is launching the brand ‘Rokos’, which creates products that are playful in their form and behave in unexpected ways, promoting an exceptional interactive experience. ROKOS explores the physical properties of materials to generate visually beautiful, intriguing concepts.