As a part of my series about “Big Ideas That Might Change The World In The Next Few Years” I had the pleasure of interviewing Kelly Belknap and Matilda Sandstrom. Kelly Belknap and Matilda Sandstrom are the husband/wife co-founders of Adventurist Backpack Co. They design minimalist backpacks for travel. For every backpack purchased, they provide 25 meals to families in need across the U.S. Since the company’s recent launch, they have provided over 65,000 meals to families in need. Their goal is to provide over 100,000 meals to families in need during their second year in business. Kelly grew up in Monument, a mountain town nestled in the Front Range of Colorado, and Matilda grew up in a lakeside village in northern Sweden called Brunflo, and moved to the U.S. from Sweden when she was 19. They are both included in SUCCESS Magazine’s 30 Under 30 list for 2019, and have been featured in Forbes, Travel Channel, Woman’s Day, Mashable, ABC, Fox News, CBS, and more. They are 27 and 24 years old, respectively.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Our story starts with a backpacking trip around the world. Over the spring and summer of 2017, we traveled throughout Europe and South America. During our travels we witnessed and met with families struggling with hunger. We wanted to do something to help, so we prepared meals each morning and filled up our backpacks, handing the meals out to anyone in need throughout the day.
Although travel can open your eyes to these situations, the reality is that this situation is prevalent in our own communities and cities. In 2017, 41 million Americans were food insecure, 13 million of them are children. (Statistic from Feeding America. )
Since we already wanted to start a company and design backpacks, we saw it as a perfect opportunity to start something that matters. Starting Adventurist Backpack Co, we can continue to provide meals from our backpacks at home. We wanted to guarantee a continuous flow of meals to those in need, instead of the occasional donation from kind strangers. On our travels that led us around the world and sparked our mission to give back, we were able to fit 25 meals into each of our backpacks. Today, we continue to provide 25 meals from each backpack.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
Although our experience traveling influenced our mission at Adventurist Backpack Co., one particular story really stand out. We were in Bratislava, Slovakia, when we met a family in a harrowing situation.
Less than a year ago, the family of five (parents and three children) lived in a home. The parents both worked multiple jobs to put food on the table. Due to the father’s layoffs (from both of his employers), and the mother’s sudden illness making work difficult, the family was put in a difficult situation. With rising medical costs and a lack of income, the family was forced out of their home and into the streets.
We saw the worry and guilt in the parents eyes at not being able to provide the basics for their children. It was truly heartbreaking.
This shed a light on a situation we had heard of a thousand times, but had never actually witnessed. Anyone, including entire families, can end up in this kind of situation due to unlucky circumstances. Regular families like the one living next door can be at risk for hunger and homelessness.
This was hard to take in, especially when we felt we couldn’t do anything to help. While stories like this isn’t pleasant to hear, it’s a daily reality for millions of people around the world
Can you tell us about your “Big Idea That Might Change The World”?
As humans, and as a company, we believe that a little kindness can go a long way. Our team is committed to help feed hungry families not only to fill his / her stomachs, but to fuel his/her ability to progress, to learn, and to create. We are committed to give them every opportunity to succeed, which in turn, will also strength our communities and our countries.
We have the strong belief that by spreading kindness, encouraging corporations to integrate ‘giving back’ as a business model, and maintain a standard of responsibility for entrepreneurs, we can start solving real problems — one interaction at a time.
In countries like Sweden (Matilda’s home country) there is virtually no homelessness or poverty. There are many factors — including Sweden’s smaller population size, semi-socialist government, free medical care and many other services. We are not suggesting that what works for a country of 12 million people will work for a country with 340 million, let alone the whole world. Sweden is good at what they do, and it works for them — but we, as Americans, can do as they do and leverage our strengths and values to our advantage.
Since the U.S. is a capitalist country, we want to embrace this and help spread the idea that the we can solve problems –hunger, climate change, poverty, education- through capitalism and building ‘giving back’ into the corporation. Imagine how much we can accomplish if every corporation and business built ‘giving back’ and ‘kindness’ into their business model?
As millennials, our generation views the world similarly. We are the generation that expects corporations and organizations to be environmentally, socially, and ethically responsible. Consumers are turning towards brands with missions greater than selling a product or service — brands with missions to help change the world for the better. We should use this belief, this mindset, and this opportunity to solve real problems.
It is almost 2020-we are in the age of self-driving cars and 1-click shopping, we have the responsibility, and now, the resources and knowledge, to solve big problems and raise the standards of living for everyone.
How do you think this will change the world?
We think it will change the world when we spread the message that kindness and ‘giving back’ is a responsibility, not a rarity. The business who do not embrace this change in mindset and practice will be left behind like dinosaurs, for modern consumers expect a higher level of commitment from our business partners to the world and the people in it.
Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this idea? Can you tell us that story?
We are influenced by our generations values, and we want to be part of the movement of doing good with business. Brands like TOMS have led the way, and has inspired us to start something that matters. Our generation is embracing different mindsets and values, and we want to help lead the wave of social responsibility.
What do you need to lead this idea to widespread adoption?
For widespread adoption, we need the older generation to embrace the ideas of entrepreneurial innovation and technology. It isn’t a question of whether we are able to solve social, environmental or economical problems, it’s a question of how and when we will solve them. We have more resources today then we do just 10 years ago through technology. With a broader scope of knowledge, and with commitment, we can raise the standard of living for everyone.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why.
- Start now. There will never be a perfect time or opportunity to launch a company, so you might as well start today.
- There are things that you can’t learn in class, or by reading books. Many lessons entrepreneurs learn are through facing problems, dealing with them first-hand, and getting the experience.
- Ask for help. Every entrepreneur has been where you are, and has dealt with similar setbacks. Most are more than willing to help out a new entrepreneur, but asking is key.
- Stay curious and open minded. Even if you are incredibly committed to your plan or idea, leave room to change things when necessary. By staying curious and learning your field, you can adapt and grow more efficiently.
- Stay optimistic. There will be plenty of very stressful and difficult times, and that is just par for the course. Don’t let a large setback stray you from your goal. If you push through it and keep working hard, it is just a matter of time before things start to click again.
Based on the future trends in your industry, if you had a million dollars, what would you invest in?
We would invest in entrepreneurs with big ideas to change the world for the better.
Which principles or philosophies have guided your life? Your career?
One philosophy that I’ve always lived by is “just go for it”. Nothing great in life happens without taking risks sometimes, and I definitely don’t want a boring life.
Another one that I try to live by and think of in each situation is the Platinum Rule — treat others how THEY want to be treated.
Can you share with our readers what you think are the most important “success habits” or “success mindsets”?
I think one of the most successful habits that we’ve learned is to stay organized and write down an hour by hour schedule of what you need to get done each day — otherwise it’s easy to get distracted by less important tasks or fall behind.
I truly believe the best mindset for achieving each and every goal is “grit”. You have to keep with things even after they seem impossibly difficult, when problems arise, or when you’re feeling unmotivated.
Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Like Warby Parker did with eyeglasses, Adventurist is shaking up the backpack industry by providing high quality and fashionable backpacks for less than $100. Adventurist Backpack Co. has grown very quickly since our launch last year, and our backpacks are currently sold on eBags.com and 40+ shops across the U.S., as well as our own website. We are part of Feeding America’s Enterprise Society, led by Tony Robbins, helping lead the way for brands doing good. To date, we have provided over 65,000 meals to families in need.
Adventurist Backpack Co. has been featured in Forbes, Woman’s Day, Mashable, and on Travel Channel, ABC, Disney, CBS, Fox News, and more.
We started our company with $7000, and have taken no outside investment, yet.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
You can find and follow us on Instagram @adventuristbackpacks or on our website www.adventuristbackpacks.com
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.