Summer Wildfire 2017: Unruled.

In a world where everything seems to be regulated by one thing or another, why confine our ideas to the spaces between lines on ordinary notebooks? Let these ideas flow and simultaneously fight for a more sustainable future.

Unruled. is a sustainable notebook for creative thinkers. The team has designed a minimalist and aesthetically pleasing unlined spiral notebook that students can be proud of. It’s tailored to creatives and intellectuals alike by taking the best features from traditional notebooks and improving the rest. The Garage sat down with Bennett Hensey and Jacob Morgan from Unruled. to learn more about their startup and goals for the future.

From left to right: Lexy Praeger, Jacob Morgan, Ellen Ehrsam, Bennett Hensey, and Christina Allen

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What sparked the motivation for your startup?

Bennett: “We were in the same Principles of Entrepreneurship class and we needed to brainstorm problems that occurred in our lives.  One problem that I had as a freshman was that being an engineering student, a lot of my classes were not conducive to lined paper. So I was looking for a spiral notebook that didn’t have lines and that was really hard to find. I ended up just buying an expensive sketchbook that was big and bulky which wasn’t ideal at all. I remember writing this idea down in an Evernote file thinking that this could be a great project to fill a need and learn about what it takes to create and grow a business. Then I pitched this simple idea and we all went with it. Since then, it has turned into a lot more than just a simple idea.

How was the process from ideation to creation?

Jacob: “So like Bennett said, it started in the Principles of Entrepreneurship class where you come up with an idea during the first couple weeks and then you walk through all the steps of what it takes to start a business. This included business plans, marketing, social media, funding and more. So we created a plan for all of this and at the end of the quarter, we decided that we could take this a step further through The Garage. We applied to the Residency program and through that, we’ve started to implement our plan. Last quarter we had our Kickstarter that was very successful and we raised $6,400. That was our first funding goal and with that we have purchased our first round of manufacturing for our notebooks, which have just arrived, and we’ll begin selling very soon!”

How has The Garage helped you with your startup so far?

Bennett: “I think The Garage has given us a place that catalyzes our business. As students and first-time entrepreneurs, there are a lot of small things that you may not know how to do as well as thoughts and road bumps that can inhibit your progress. Having the guidance of our mentors who have worked through many entrepreneurial projects and having the help of other students who are struggling with their own projects, pushes us to do more than we could do alone. It also allows us to meet a lot of like-minded people and overall it’s just a great place to be.”

How did you choose the name Unruled. and what was that process like?

Jacob: “I think it came about when I was doing the graphic design for the cover. I was looking at traditional notebooks and they would say things like: 1-Subject, 80 sheets, Wide Ruled, 8” x 10.5”. So I wrote out: 1-Subject, 80 sheets, and I was thinking what we should put in the following spot and Unruled just made sense. It’s the one thing we all agree on and hasn’t changed.”

What has been your biggest failure so far and what have you learned from it?

Jacob: “Fortunately, we haven’t had any really big failures yet but one thing we could do better is delegating tasks and figuring out who is doing what to improve productivity. We’ve had a bit of trouble with that this quarter. We’ll come to meetings where we usually do a lot of problem solving as a team, and we’re at a point where that’s not the most effective way to go about things. We need to figure out everyone’s strengths and let those individuals take ownership of their particular projects and have a system that encourages trust and cooperation.”

What is the most important lesson you have learned?

Bennett: “I think for me, it’s taking criticism in stride. I think realizing that criticism always comes from a real and valid place is important and we need to understand and identify the root of that criticism. Whether it’s clearly explaining the purpose of the product or the product itself, there are always areas of improvement. So you need to accept criticism in order to learn and grow from it.”

What do you hope to achieve through the Summer Wildfire Accelerator?

Jacob: “I think it’ll be a huge motivator for us and a force that makes us go out there and really build Unruled. We have a lot of plans for this summer to grow and scale and start selling and solidify channels for manufacturing and distribution. Having the constant pressure of other students working on their projects and the mentors checking in on us will really help us get our work done whereas right now we have a ton of stuff going on like classes and clubs that can get in our way.”

Bennett: “I think it’ll be a good experience to not have any classwork and focus on Unruled. I’ve spent a lot of time in school where you’re told to do an assignment and you do it for the sake of doing it. But having an opportunity to do something you want to do and doing it full-time is something really special and not something that happens everyday. We also have a lot of personal goals in addition to our business goals that we hope to accomplish this summer as well.”

What are your next goals for Unruled.?

Jacob: “Right now, we’ve ordered 600 notebooks and we have to fill around 360 pre-orders that we received through our Kickstarter. So we have around 240 left that we need to sell, so that should be fun. We’ll be setting up pop-up shops around campus and maybe partnering with other startups and organizations on campus.

Over the summer, we will focus on establishing relationships with retail locations and also other distribution channels like a website for online orders or other platforms like Amazon to really solidify and streamline the process of ordering notebooks. So when school comes back around, hopefully we aren’t scrambling around to try to figure things out and instead we can run things smoothly.”

When did you first feel the entrepreneurial spirit?

Bennett: “I think I’ve always been motivated “to do.” I’ve realized that I learn best by struggling rather than learning to do something perfectly. As a recovering perfectionist, I’ve learned to push myself outside of my comfort zone like teaching myself how to code over a summer and thinking about how to monetize the terrible Twitter bot.  So I’ve always been motivated by learning to do new things and had an interest in entrepreneurship as it became more and more trendy. I read a book on entrepreneurship and always thought about how I could make money from various projects, so I wanted to learn how to actually do it and the process behind it.

Jacob: “I think I’ve always loved creating and making things. I think I always knew I wanted to do something with entrepreneurship even though I hadn’t done anything related to it before I took the class. Prior to the class, I actually made my own major which is Product Design and Entrepreneurship Engineering, so I jumped into it without knowing too much about it. I enjoy everything from designing, building, and making, but also being able to do something impactful. The class really opened my eyes to entrepreneurship and we see a lot of teams in The Garage who are working on their startups full-time and it’s a great way to see progress in real life. Hopefully working through Unruled. will give us the skills and experience to work on bigger projects in the future.”

Check out the Unruled. website and follow them on Instagram: @be_unruled!

This article is part of an ongoing series highlighting the startup teams admitted to Wildfire, The Garage’s Summer Pre-Accelerator Program. For more information about Wildfire, click here.