How to energise the millennial mind

Matthew Martin founded skiwear brand Retro Mountain straight from University. Here, he describes why his business is so appealing to millennials and what bigger and more established businesses can do to emulate the ‘fun’ vibe.

I graduated in 2013 and, except for a few odd-jobs, launched myself straight into my start-up business Retro Mountain. I gained a degree in mechanical engineering, a really useful qualification which opened a lot of doors to job opportunities, but I didn’t want to work for anyone else.

Millennials leaving university often do so with a lot of student debt and are attracted to big firms that can pay well. I think it’s a shame that more people who want to start-up a business of their own after graduation aren’t able to because of financial constraints, since young people have so many fresh ideas.

Retro Mountain designs and sells one-piece ski wear based on the wild, zany patterns of the 1980s and 90s, but using modern high-performance materials.

Our mission is to channel the fun and enjoyment of skiing holidays all year round. We will soon be launching a jacuzzi-wear range, essentially beach wear, to cater for both ends of the market; sun and snow.

How to get the most out of millennials

As a young start-up we don’t have a problem attracting interest from millennials. Graduates and other young people care about more than just salaries; they want a work-life balance and they care very much about what they do for a living.

Many will take a smaller wage if the job is interesting, fun and engaging. Others want the organisation they work for to have a clear cause or mission statement, explaining what they want to achieve – over and above the bottom line figures posted at the end of the year.

For bigger and longer established businesses than Retro Mountain I think it can be a challenge to replicate the dynamism of a start-up.

A lot of graduates I know have gone after well-paid jobs but have become disillusioned. It’s just not appealing having to work in bland rooms with strip lights and rows of computers five days a week. They tell me they are given very basic, menial tasks and they feel like a very insignificant cog in a very large machine. I don’t know what the alternative is to this, but it feels like some companies could get a lot more from grads if they gave them better projects to work on and more responsibility.

Really the only advantage of working with a large corporate, it seems, is a higher degree of job security and better benefits, but that’s not what gets most millennials up in the morning. They want to have fun and be productive and companies need to factor this into job responsibilities.

Some young people are starting to tap into the start-up scene, either by creating their own businesses or actively seeking a job in one. We have a growing number of messages from young people asking for work; even if it’s just to volunteer their time to gain job experience.
I don’t have full-time employees yet. The business is working on a lean model and I don’t need to employ people on a permanent basis. When I do, I know I’ll have a rich vein of applicants to choose from.

Establishing the brand

The business model is essentially very simple: we design items, send them for manufacture and sell them to sports enthusiasts who care about what they look like on the slopes.

Before I launched Retro Mountain I researched the likely demand for colourful skiwear and looked at ways I could enhance the performance, so it was not just novelty. We create the designs and the cuts and they are manufactured in Shanghai before being shipped back to the UK.

The primary business aim is to become profitable – like any start-up – by driving sales through XYZ, then eventually expanding the product portfolio to include other sports and leisure lines like beachwear.

But our first objective is to establish the brand and let everyone know what we are about. We are essentially ‘selling fun’ and using interesting technologies like social media as sales channels. As Millennials we have grown up using digital platforms and so creating a Twitter campaign, for example, is second nature.

As an entrepreneur I’m learning fast. Taking part in the Ready Business mentoring competition gave me access to some great advice and information and you can never have too much help from people who’ve been there and done it before you.

My plan is to go on learning and to incorporate that advice into the business as it grows. But I will always keep the company thinking young, even as the people in it get older.