Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
My companies started when I was looking for quality fashion products that wouldn’t break the bank. But most brands we found that actually created decent watch or wallet had an exorbitant price tag. Currently, the accessory market is dominated by big brands with huge retailer, wholesaler, and simply middlemen markups.
Furthermore, there aren't many quality brands that offer socially conscious products. That means using quality, responsible materials, and offering them at a reasonable price. On top of that, we believe in the quality of our products so much, that we offer extended warranties on our products.
Simply, we want to make high quality, functional fashion accessories at an affordable price, direct to consumer. To date, we’ve sold over 250,000 wallets in 95 different countries. We’re doing over 150k in sales monthly and are on track for more product lines in 2019.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
Coming from a humble family in San Francisco, I never had an allowance or “spending money” as a kid.
I had to figure that out on my own. This was fine with me because I really didn’t know much better growing up. My mom ran a daycare in the downstairs of my childhood home and my dad worked odd jobs in construction. At least I had a roof over my head and food on the table.
College was the first time I was really on my own so in addition to no “spending money”, I had to worry about eating money, and gas money, and rent money. When I started in 2012, I had just finished my first year of university at UCLA studying economics. I was also working full time as a file clerk at a big law firm in the summer to help pay for tuition and housing. At this point in my life, it was a huge priority to be less of a financial burden on my family.
I began searching for more opportunities where I could build something sustainable so I could take care of myself and help my family too. I started with my personal interests. Fashion was always something that intrigued me. But it was always so expensive to keep up with the latest styles. I saw that there was a problem with the luxury accessories market, specifically watches and wallets. *I took a deep dive into the online e-commerce space and *I discovered that manufacturers, importers, wholesalers, retailers ALL mark up the prices of watches and wallets up to even 1000%. I researched how much these products actually cost to make by simply googling the manufacturing process and the components necessary to create a finished product.
This inspired me to launch a Kickstarter project of my own. I didn’t have any idea how to start a company but I somehow managed to scrape together a prototype, learn how to take some photos/video and stitched together a campaign.
I launched my first project Dash Wallets and in two months, it was successfully funded with $64,000+. I was 19 at the time.
Describe the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing the product.
For me, the first step is always product research. After scouring the internet for a product that I actually wanted to buy, I realized it wasn’t available.
I looked at what the existing products were missing and looked at what I could improve on. Entrepreneurs have to understand the improvements people want in their current products. I quickly discovered that the problem was usually only one issue: the big, bulky wallet problem.
When I was designing the first Dash Wallet, I focused on making a minimal and durable design. I tested many different materials and landed on an elastic fabric that could make for an expandable/collapsible design.
I used this fabric to create a single panel design that was strategically folded and sewn to create multiple pockets. Here are some early sketches of my first wallet.
My economics classes hadn’t prepared me for running any type of business, let alone Kickstarter campaigns.
I had never sketched a design or created a prototype before. I hadn’t used Photoshop and couldn’t edit or shoot video. I had zero experience in marketing. But I turned to internet tutorials to pick up these skills quickly.
Being good enough was better than nothing at all. I wasn’t a pro, I couldn’t afford a pro, so I did my best. In the end, this was enough to get my little project off the ground.
I drew my original design with a pencil and paper. It took me a couple of months before I decided on a final product to launch to the world. I scanned the sketch and emailed manufacturers.
I used the Chinese e-commerce platform Alibaba to find manufacturers.
It was tough to find a manufacturer that wanted to work with a small time guy like me but after weeks of searching, I found one.
It was about finding the right fit. They were a medium-sized factory looking to take on new clients and I was looking for a manufacturing partner who would take on my guinea pig project.
It helped to present myself as an organized, motivated, and professional company even though I was a kid in my college apartment at the time. There was a lot of back and forth with late-night emails.
They worked with me to create my first line of designs and created the prototype I featured in my promotional Kickstarter video. My design standards are much higher today, but at the time, ‘almost there’ was good enough to get the job done.
Takeaway: You don’t need all the skills to build something. Having an idea and finding the right partners is key.
Describe the process of launching the business.
I shot my own promotional video, created graphics, and wrote all the copy.
It was a one-man show essentially. I had never picked up a camera before this and there was quite a learning curve. I took hours and hours of footage only to cut it down to a couple of minutes. Most of my footage was unstable, or blurry i.e. unusable. But this enabled me to have creative control, learn on the fly, and I still shoot a majority of our creative assets today.
Here’s a look at my latest project:
I developed relationships with lifestyle bloggers who would review my products and encourage their audience to check out the Kickstarter project. I simply cold emailed them, talked about their recent press work and was sincere about my project. They’re looking for new content, and I was trying to get the word out. Kickstarter provided me with a platform to raise money with little overhead and investment costs.
The takeaway: You can’t fail if you never start something. Get friends to proofread your work, and hire cheap workers – on Fiverr.com, for example – to do the graphics you can’t. Otherwise, take a stab at any part of the business building process you can. Build relationships with bloggers who will support you in your product launches.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
We are constantly launching new products quarterly. We take the input and feedback from our customers to improve our products. This ensures that we continue creating new and innovative essentials that our customers actually want.
We’ve launched over 15 Kickstarters to date and that’s because we’re creating things that our customers ask for.
Tips for launching a Kickstarter:
Create something with your own twist on a solution to a problem. Don’t just copy what someone else sold well. People can sniff out inauthenticity easily.
Do your research. Do your beta testing. Run the numbers. Many projects fail even after funding because of a lack of preparation to manufacture a product.
Don’t Give up
You’ll most likely fail. A lot. I have had more failed projects than successful ones. Not every single idea will stick. Find out why not, and improve!
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
We’re going to continue our current business model for the near future. We want to continue launching new products on Kickstarter as we have a strong community base there.
In 2019, we plan to expand our product lines to include some unisex and female lines in luxury wallets and minimalist wallet solutions. It’s an exciting time as we explore these untapped markets for us.
We’ve already got 3 new product launches planned for Q1 2019. In terms of metrics, we’re looking for our first 8-figure revenue year in 2019.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Any great product starts with an idea — and is built by the person behind that idea. There are no guaranteed wins, but if you’ve identified a problem in the market and can build something to address that problem, you’re offering a unique proposition. Keep learning and keep failing. And, if you get lucky, and work super fucking hard, it might just pay off.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Books I would recommend:
Think and Grow Rich - An excellent book on self-improvement and business.
The Alchemist - A classic book about finding yourself and perseverance.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
It requires a ton of passion. You have to LOVE building products other people would love.
And for every win, I’ve had a number of failed ideas. I’ll spend four months of research on a product concept that just gets killed. Establishing your revenue model is key: How much will something cost to produce, ship, and advertise? And what’s the market willing to pay?
There will always be obstacles like running out of money or having problems with your manufacturers. But staying mentally strong is what separates the successful makers from the failures.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We are looking for a Paid Ads Specialist and a Videographer!
Where can we go to learn more?
Want to start your own business?
Hey! 👋I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
We interview successful business owners and share the stories behind their business.
By sharing these stories, we want to help others get started.
If you liked this story, join our mailing list for new interviews every Tuesday.
- Pat Walls, Founder of Starter Story