This week, The Fetch London curator, Chloe Nicholls, interviews Joanna Montgomery from Little Riot, a company which specialises in connecting people with technology, through design.
Joanna Montgomery, Little Riot
Tell us a little about your company Little Riot and how it evolved from a research company to a design and product development agency?
I graduated in 2010 and started the company almost straight away. I knew I wanted to run my own business, and exploring the ways people communicate using technology really interested me – but when my degree project, Pillow Talk, began to receive so much publicity, I knew I needed to focus on developing it into a commercial product.
Little Riot specialises in ”connecting people with technology, through design”. What inspired you to design and develop your first product ‘Pillow Talk’?
I studied Interaction Design at university and, along the way, I began to find it frustrating that technology has become quite two-dimensional. Things that are ‘interactive’ used to be really exciting and engaging – but now they all revolve around the same things; screens, buttons, etc. I thought technology could do better, so I set out to develop a more intimate way for two people to interact – and so Pillow Talk was born.
Have you ever been in a long distance relationship?
My boyfriend of three years works on a ship which builds off-shore wind farms, so he spends over half the year at sea! It’s not really a conventional “long distance relationship” – but we do spend a lot of time apart.
Since you launched the idea of ‘Pillow Talk’ (via a very successful YouTube video campaign) have you been able to bring your product to market?
The product has been in development for about eighteen months now. We’re on the home stretch and – subject to securing a bit more funding – are on track to release Pillow Talk this year. Developing a physical, technological product is a very expensive and time-consuming process with a lot of hurdles to overcome.
What are some of the challenges you have faced in designing, developing and manufacturing a product for consumers?
Pillow Talk started out as a university project and I remember deciding I was going to turn it into a commercial product… and then looking down at my homemade prototype, with wires hanging out of it, and thinking “where do I start?!”. I had just graduated and I didn’t have a clue where to begin, so I guess the biggest challenge was coming up with a realistic game plan. I had no business experience, no product development knowledge, and was founding a company on my own. I had to build a team around me very quickly and finding the right people to support me was challenging. The last year and a half has been an incredibly steep learning curve and the reality is that every single day brings a new challenge.
What other products do you love that connect people through great technology and design?
Right now I’m a big fan of the Pebble watch which just raised a whopping $10m on crowdfunding site Kickstarter. It’s a really nice way of integrating technology within people’s lives and I suspect that is why it’s so popular. However, I would still like to see more products that have a focus on communication hit the market.
You’ve won some great awards and funding during the lead up to the launch of Pillow Talk; £25,000 development funding from the Technology Strategy Board, winning £10,000 at NACUE’s National Varsity Pitch Competition and £1000 for Shell Livewire Grand Ideas Award, do you have any tips and tricks to other entrepenuers pitching their product for funding?
I’ve been really lucky. My best advice is to just believe in your product and always be honest. If you are committed and passionate, it will show, and if you have an idea worth believing in then people will support it. Know your business inside out – a lot of people I know get the most nervous over the Q&A session that usually follows a pitch, but if you can’t answer every question you are asked, then you’re not working hard enough to understand your goals.
What’s getting you excited about startups and small business at the moment? Any great tools and sites you would like to share?
I’m a big fan of Shell LiveWIRE. They offer several £1,000 cash awards every month for 16-30yr olds. I won a Grand Ideas Award in May last year – but the support and opportunities I have received since have been far more valuable. The site also has a buzzing community where there are always people to offer advice and bounce ideas off.
You are based in Newcastle. Can you tell us London fetchers about the tech and startup scene there? Any events you recommend we should attend?
Newcastle now has a great tech and start-up scene. There is a thriving community of start-ups and support networks, with regular events and after-work get-togethers. Soon to launch for its second year is Europe’s first £1m tech accelerator programme, Ignite100 which offers a 13-week mentorship programme and the opportunity to receive VC funding at the end. It all kicks off in September, so the North East will see another influx of creative start-ups and businesses [Entries for application close on 30th June 2012].
Finally what’s next for Little Riot and are you bring any other products to market?
Pillow Talk is due to launch this year. At the moment, all of our focus is on this, but we do have plans for other products in the future, so watch this space!