Entrepreneur’s Notebook – The Cambridge Satchel Company

Why do folks decide to start their own business? Entrepreneur magazine offers a laundry list of possible motivations that include financial independence, tax benefits, ‘a story to tell’ and reinvention. For Cambridge Satchel Company founder, Julie Deane, her motivation was to fund a private education for her daughter and remove her from a school where she was bullied. Her ‘story to tell’ is one of reinventing the traditional school satchel.

A Daily Mail article summarized her journey from kitchen table to fashionista:

“When Julie Deane discovered her daughter was being bullied, she vowed to move her to the £12,000-a-year school down the road.

But unable to afford the fees, the housewife sat down at her kitchen table and wrote a list of ten ways to raise money.

Halfway down the list she wrote ‘selling traditional leather satchels’. It was a business venture which, just four years later, would generate an annual turnover of more than £12million.”

And this is why you should listen to your family (and your potential customer) :

“Emily and her younger brother Max, now 11, were reading Harry Potter at the time and had asked their mother for leather satchels similar to those worn by the book’s characters. Starting small, she found a leather supplier in Hull and asked him to make her eight chestnut brown satchels.

She said: ‘I chose satchels because I had always loved mine as a child. It lasted me all the way through school, whereas my children’s rucksacks became tatty and dirty within a few months.’

The Cambridge University graduate had been enjoying life as a full-time mother while her husband, a partner at an engineering consultancy firm, was the breadwinner. But she immersed herself in books on how to run a business and quickly found herself working all hours of the day from the kitchen of the family home near Cambridge to keep up with demand.”

The bags caught on as a fashion accessory worn by celebrities. Her satchels are sold in the U.S. at Bloomingdales and Saks Fifth Avenue.

Growing her business from a website, she obtained $21m in investments earlier this year, from U.S. backers, Index Ventures. Her plan, after an international trade visit with the Prime Minister, is to break into China and “train up the next generation” of British craftsmen. All the bags are handcrafted in the UK.

Why do some ventures succeed while others do not? Ms. Deane knew her product, had strong motivation for success and worked hard to translate her vision into a reality. The result? She has created jobs, preserved a vocation for leather craftsman and offered a quality product.

In an interview with the Huff Post Third Metric she was asked:

“Did you ever dream – a few years ago, that you would own such a successful company?”

“I didn’t think about it, I have always worked hard at following up every opportunity and building the brand. Trying to exceed expectations of customers (individuals and trade) and not compromising ethics or quality.”

Asked what advice she would share with aspiring entrepreneurs:

“Give it a go, it’s never been a better time to reach a global market. Don’t risk what you can’t afford to lose, that way you will remain optimistic, creative and happy.”

That’s my red satchel in the photo. I bought it online four years ago after returning from a trip to the UK. I had seen the competition in a variety of retail outlets, but her story and the quality of the product closed the sale.

If you have an idea and are committed to hard work, then ‘give it a go!’

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