Every week it seems like I read some story about a small start-up business (or just an idea) with 2 or 3 smart, capable people that after years of hard (but likely fun) work could turn into a enjoyable, fun, unique, nimble business that brings in maybe 1 or 2 or even 3 million dollars a year. With 2 or 3 or maybe 4 people that could provide a lifestyle and flexibility most would dream of. But no, these 2 founders just took a “first round” investment of $3MM and plan to spend the hell out it by hiring like crazy, opening big fancy offices on the east and west coast and outfitting the place with mac laptops, free snacks all day long and kick ass benefits. I get it that they are creating jobs (which we do need around here bad – so good on them) and buzz that the media want to talk about – but I’m guessing almost over night the founder’s lives are on their way to sucking….if they even make it. Imagine that? Having someone hand you 3 million dollars to get started and you blow it all on stuff that doesn’t really matter and end up having have to shut it down. Their vision for the business doesn’t even really matter anymore since a group of already rich people that have invested in it and own a big part of it want to get richer – and as soon as possible – and have a plan for how to get there. That can’t be really what they wanted – or maybe it was – who knows.
So on to an opposite approach and, in my opinion, a more fun and inspiring story. Two nights ago I spent the evening (over takeout Indochine and 2 bottles of wine) with my sister <a Holly Aiken, a badass hand-bag designer with a retail shop (Stitch) in downtown Raleigh NC. She has been designing hand made bags, totes, wallets and other accessories for 10-15 years I guess. Pretty much anything she makes – people want to buy it and the press wants to talk about it. Change purses, iPad cases and even guitar straps used by some well known musicians. I’d list a few of the artists (I’ve seen photos of them in concert using them) but that’s not Holly’s style and I respect her for that. In fact, she is so low key that she often wakes up to emails and phone calls from top industry publications wanting to write about her and no one from her business contacted them. And just this year the NC Museum of History honored her by adding 2 of her bags to their permanent collection. Seriously, she not does reach out to these people – they knock down her door because people love what she makes. She does not spend millions on marketing or sales or anything and the NC Museum of History now has her bags on display – forever. I don’t know many businesses (even those valued at billions) whose products and founder will be remembered in a museum long after they are gone.
It has taken her years and years and lots of blood and sweat and tears to create a brand and products people love. It’s not been easy but I think her journey so far has been fun – and unlike the VC backed business spending money simply so they can borrow more – she has no end in sight and she is in control of her life. I also think people now walk into her shop and visit her website to buy her bags not only because of the way the bags look, but the way her bags and her business in general make them feel. They want to experience her product because it makes them feel better when they use it. They feel like they are a part of what she has created – and that’s something only a small % of companies will ever achieve. She has ignored the people who like what she does and who’ve told her to take investment and open more shops and hire more people and blow it up. She has done it her way and has literally made history.
Here is a cool video with her in her shop. Bravo Holly!