How I came to start my company

I’m an industrial designer by trade, which means my profession is designing new products that look great and work great. There are some people that may disagree with this simplified definition, but I think it sums it up pretty well.

I spent the bulk of the first 10 years of my career working for Webb deVlam, a design agency where we were hired to creatively solve problems for our clients. This was a fun job, kind of like Mad Men but without all the drinking and blatant sexism. Over time, I migrated from the core industrial design team to leading the strategy and research team, which turned out to be a better fit for me because I’m more of a big picture person and less of an anal detail oriented person.

In this role, my main responsibility was finding white space for our clients to explore and own. I found this to be quite fun because it’s like discovering uncharted waters where brands could really make a splash if they decided to go for the big business opportunity. In most cases, they didn’t because it was too risky and, instead, they thanked me and my team for our great ideas and filed them away somewhere. Regardless, I was always  curious to know if our ideas would have made the big splash in the marketplace that I had imagined had they been implemented.

In the summer of 2008 I came up with an idea that I thought was just killer: cute bike bags. I’ve always enjoyed biking around town and firmly believe more people would enjoy it as much as I do if they tried it. Many of my female friends also like biking for transportation. You also hear how cities around the world are strongly encouraging more of their citizens to bike for short trips because of the myriad of positive benefits. Yet there were no cute bike accessories. Like, none. This discovery seemed to me to be the biggest white space possible and I wanted to own it for myself.

I became pretty enthralled with this idea and convinced myself I had the skills to launch a new company to make these cute bike bags. I knew the basics of cut-and-sew manufacturing from a previous job, I loved branding, I had the aforementioned strategy experience – that’s good, right? I took a six week business plan writing class to fill in some of the blanks and went from there. I do think industrial design gives you a great background to starting a business. But, man, is it not enough.

So, that was almost four years ago and it has been a pretty wild ride since then. I still think cute bike bags is an awesome idea but it didn’t quite take off in the market like I thought it would. Realizing and then accepting the need to tweak and alter the original idea was a big step forward. Now Po Campo has grown beyond just bike bags and we have national and international distribution. I’ve just imported my first container of product from China. I’ve also lost my founding business partner, had to recall bags, borrow ungodly amounts of money from friends and family, grown alienated from social circles and a myriad of other woes. Entrepreneurialism has a high price tag it turns out.

Last fall I took a two week vacation and the time to reflect made me realize what a completely transformational experience starting my own business has been. I think it is worth sharing. And that’s why I started this blog.

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5 thoughts on “How I came to start my company

  1. RichYoung says:

    I’m sure it’s tougher than you ever thought. I had my own business in 1999-2001 until the dot com bubble burst. But I think your idea is great! Much better than mine.

    I am completely jealous.

    • Maria says:

      Hey Rich, I didn’t know you had your own business! I hope the bike bubble doesn’t burst. Anytime soon anyway.

  2. Mitch says:

    Reading between the lines here, I applaud you for never giving up and keeping an open mind through such a chaotic and unfamiliar process. I’d like to know more about how you adapted to customer feedback and how it affected your overall business plan.
    Thank you for sharing your experience Maria, I finished reading this wanting to know more.

  3. […] the change you wish to see in the world”. Despite all the hardships I’ve faced since quitting my good job and taking the plunge, overcoming the challenges with starting and growing a business have […]

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