My West London Life

Riva-Melissa Tez

July
15

We catch up with Riva-Melissa Tez, co-founder of R.S.Currie & Co toyshop, in Berlin where she runs StickStar, an online children's creative social network, lectures at the DAB University, and chairs a Futurist Technology PR group. All whilst keeping her teddy bear by her side

Where do you live and why?

I split my time between Holland Park and Berlin where my company is based.

Where is your favourite place in the world?

Holland Park is home. It doesn’t matter how far I’ve come from when I see Holland Park Avenue I feel calm. It was the first place I lived when I moved to London aged 18 – I rented a room in a house just off the roundabout. I also spent some time living east but it didn’t last long. I’m definitely a west Londoner. I love the streets that look like rows of Victorian dolls houses. People walking their dogs in the evenings, saying hello. It’s a far cry from where I grew up, so I guess I’m still in awe of it all.

You co-founded the classical toyshop R.S.Currie on Westbourne Grove. How did that come about?

I met my ex-boyfriend Tom whilst I was living in Holland Park. He lived above an empty shop on Westbourne Grove that used to belong to his grandfather. Tom got quite sick early on and I ended up moving in to help care for him. I had just started university and he had been playing drums in a band. We used the shop space to do a pop-up shop during carnival in 2009 selling masks and things like sweets and toys for kids. It was such fun that we worked on a business plan to turn the entire space into a toyshop. We opened just before Christmas 2009 and by the time I graduated from UCL in 2011 it had expanded to a party venue and kids club on site also. I’m sure it’s still the coolest place in town.

Do you think your time at R.S Currie steered you towards creating a children’s app? Did you always want to work with children?

I don’t like the social inclination to separate children and adults. It seems that society wants you to think that there’s a perfect window of age between being a child and being elderly. I feel the opposite. Children are humans in their purest form, not touched by anything. And the elderly are just so wise and interesting. Being 20–60 is probably when you’re the most unsure of yourself. I loved starting and building the children’s business with Tom, just seeing people every day – children, anyone. I’d go and have dinner with Albert, the wonderful 102 year-old who lived on Chepstow Road. R.S.Currie was definitely a steeping stone to get me to where I am now. I had so much fun there.

What is StickStar?

Stickstar is a social network for children where they can collect, swap and share images. It’s like a mash-up of Pinterest and Tumblr with the content of an entire Encyclopedia. It’s a place for children to discover the world and create online scrapbooks of the things that interest them, to share with their friends in a way that is safe and fun.

How did you get into tech? It seems quite a side-step from kids’ parties?

Retail and the high street are tough. It’s hard to play with ideas when you have massive overheads. I came to Berlin for a change of scenery and to learn some new things. So I ended up doing a course in computer programming, thinking if I could learn more about technology, it could be the key for me to build and adapt some business ideas.

Did you know anything about technology when you first had the idea for an app?

It was after the computer course that I was thinking of little ideas. I didn’t plan to turn any of them into a business. But I was interested in the educational technology space, finding most of it inherently boring. I was back in London when a friend invited me to an event at Google. I asked a question to do with coding and the speaker asked what I was working on. I told them I used to run a toyshop but I had this idea for this specific creative kids’ platform. The next day I was literally flooded with emails from people representing brands and potential investors. I called my lawyer first and organized an emergency lunch at The Mitre. I then went back to Berlin and proposed the idea to an American man named Daniel who ran a brilliant digital agency and who is now my co-founder.

What do you do to relax?

I run. My mum runs the three Royal Parks three times a week and got me into it. Nothing beats running in London, but when I’m in Berlin I run by the canal and hit the gym. I ran the London Marathon this year and it was wonderful.

What has the learning curve been like with StickStar? Any unforeseen glitches? Has it been tougher than you imagined?

Digital products might be more easily malleable than retail businesses but they are complicated – It’s not easy managing the engineering side. It’s a modern art form all the math and design behind it. People don’t realise how these things work. I ran a toyshop just with Tom and a few members of staff. I have a whole team in Berlin and I have to spend time studying to catch up with what each of them is doing. Translating an idea like StickStar requires a whole multitude of disciplines. I’ve learnt a ton.

Who will be your typical user?

The kids who came to R.S.Currie. I still email and Skype quite a lot of them and see them when I’m back in town. They give me feedback on my ideas and tell me things like my new fringe is ‘stupid’.

Talk us through a typical day in your life…

On the days when I’m home, I like to wake up and have breakfast with my boyfriend Arthur before he goes to work. He’s also a former west Londoner. I’ll reply to all my emails and go for a run. I usually come to the office around midday and have lunch with the team. I’ve been lecturing at a University, so on some afternoons I’ll be teaching. By 6ish I’ll cycle home by the canal- it’s so scenic when it’s sunny. I live slightly out of town in a crazy former bank that we’ve filled with surreal things like giant inflatables and toys, kinda like Jeff Koons meets Toy Story. I turned one of the studio rooms into a dining room that sits 25 people, so we often have dinner parties and discussion nights. I like to play host, I guess that’s the kids’ party organizer in me.

How important do you think it is to express yourself creatively?

I’m not sure if it’s more abhorrence of the banal than about self-expression. Our home is quite bizarre. I don’t take things too seriously. I like to make myself laugh.

Who inspires you, and why?

My mother because she says the most beautiful things.

Do you have a favourite place to eat or hang out in West London?

I miss hitting the antiques market on Portobello very early on a Saturday morning before the crowds arrive. And I used to go to Le Cafe Anglais and Halepi on Leinster Terrace with a friend and eat and drink and talk all night. They hold some of my favorite memories.

What do you hope to achieve in the future?

I’m happiest when I’m laughing, so lots of laughter. That is, unless I am being tickled.

What are your three favourite things?

Futurist technologies, art galleries and my teddy bear Smudge.

www.stickstar.com

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