How can you make your home business into a world leader? When British housewife Julie Deane first launched her Cambridge Satchel Company from her kitchen table, she had no idea that she would become a world fashion leader. Yet Julie's satchels are worn today by the rich and famous.
How did Julie get there? I heard her story when I interviewed her on the Goldstein on Gelt show recently. Below is a transcript of our interesting conversation, in which she told me how she realized her dream:
Douglas Goldstein: Your company has made quite a splash in the world, and really the story behind it is what I'd like to start with. Could you tell us how you came up with this idea and how you got to be where you are today?
Julie Deane: The first thing I always say to people is that I would never describe myself as an entrepreneur. It was never something I intended to do. I was very happy being at home with the children. I was a full-time mom, and when my children were 6 and 8 years old, I suddenly realized that my daughter was being bullied at school. I worked with the school to try and make things better but the situation wasn't getting resolved and so I thought that at times like that, it's got to be the mom who sorts things out. I talked to my mom as well and we decided the thing to do is to look around at all of the schools and then pick what would be an absolute dream, something that would be worth striving for and something that would be worth doing everything you possibly could for, not something that was affordable but slightly better, something that was an absolute dream.
We looked around and we found a school. As I have two children, that was two sets of school fees. So I sat down and looked at what I would need to earn before tax to pay the school fees. Then I picked myself up off the floor and said, "Gosh, this is going to be a challenge," but as I promised my daughter that I was going to do this, I had to do it. I had a budget and that budget was 600 pounds to start a business. The school fees are 15,000 pounds a year per child. I think if you look at it thinking, "I have an investment to make of 600 pounds and that's got to generate after tax 30,000 pounds a year," then you'll get scared off. But I think that if you have the single-mindedness when you know you don't have a choice, and this is what you're going to do for your child, then you look at it slightly differently. So I wasn't put off.
I talked to my mom and she said, "Well, I can't afford to pay the school fees either, but I'm very healthy and I'm going to work at whatever it is you decide to do every day until this is done," and that's what she's done. We had the 600 pounds and everything started with the one first step. I sat down and had a cup of tea and I thought I'm going to think of 10 things that Julie can do to make school fees. I made a list of 10 jobs that I thought I could do, 10 ideas of things, and then I thought now I'm going to rank each one according to how much money I need to start it. Will it generate enough soon enough to make it possible to send the children to school? And what would happen if I was run over by a bus? It can't be something that only depends on me. I weeded these ideas out until I came down to the last three. Satchel was one of those last three, because I tried to find a really well-made, traditional-type satchel as a school bag for the children early on in the year but they just weren't being made in the UK anymore. As I can't be the only person who'd be interested, I knew that hopefully there would be enough people to make my dream come true.
Douglas Goldstein: What was it like working with your mother?
Julie Deane: I love working with my mom because from day one, we had exactly the same purpose. Our purpose was to get the children into that school, and so it wasn't that I was working with somebody else who had dreams of doing something entirely different. We were completely focused in the same direction, and that was really good. The other thing I'd say is that my mom has got more common sense than virtually anyone I've come across. She didn't grow up in the age where there's the internet and websites and all this kind of thing. So we'd sit down and she'd say, "Where are we going to sell it?" and I said, "We're going to sell it all over the world." I needed a website and she didn't then straight away think, "Okay, we're going to get a website designer. We need a logo, so go get a graphic designer." It was all about keeping the overheads really low, and she always had this fantastic belief in me that she thinks I can do anything. It's marvelous to have someone like that in your corner. We sat down and she said, "You can do that," and I thought, "My mom really believes I can do that."
We sell satchels and we live in Cambridge, so we called it the Cambridge Satchel Company. That's the name done, what's the next? It's the logo, so we'll do that. I can use a computer and I can't draw but I'm sure there are enough images out there that I can work on. Step by step, I was able to do all the things that were needed to start the business and the vast majority I put into search engines on how to build a website because I needed the 600 pounds to buy my first samples, so I was never going to be able to have a web designer do that. It wasn't that difficult. Even to start advertising, I had one of those 50 pound Google AdWords vouchers, so I started off with that. I think you just have to be a lot more resourceful, but if anything that makes you more effective.
Douglas Goldstein: What were you expecting when you got started?
Julie Deane: I thought that it would be people like me, where I had looked for a school bag for the children, something that would last, that would keep looking really good and was plain enough that they could hang earrings on them, personalize it themselves, and have it grow with them rather than having brands that that they would grow out of and want a new bag all the time. So I thought it would be people wanting them for school, but it turned out that that's just a really small part of our market.
Douglas Goldstein: You were describing what you did with your mother, and frankly it sounds to me as though being organized was what you really brought to the table. I've often told people that simply to be successful, organization is probably the number one skill that you have to have. Is that true? Did you bring any other business experience to the table when you got started?
Julie Deane: I think that's absolutely true, because if you're organized, you keep on top of things. You follow through on things and you make the most of every opportunity, and you don't drop the ball even in dealing with other people, whether it's the suppliers or whether it's the shop. I was selling to urbanized cities in America and I was doing it from my kitchen. But they had no idea that all of this was being done from my kitchen and in the end, I'd been selling through them for quite a long time, for about 6 months and the buyer in the States said to me, "Do you have a showroom in London?" I said "I have a kitchen in Fern Ditton, but you're welcome to come."
That's the thing. If you're organized and professional, most of this is done through distance selling. We just gave this impression without setting out to do, so but just because we were very on the ball that we must have all these people behind us, with me and my mom.
Douglas Goldstein: If you were going to advise other women who want to get ahead as well, what would be the first thing that they should do today if they want to begin to build their own businesses?
Julie Deane: I think that you need to realize that it's never ever been a better time to start a business because the internet means that you can reach people all over the world. So it's something that might appeal to a small group of people if you've got such a huge global audience that makes it viable, and the other big thing is - don't be put off. This is something that's important to you. There will be plenty of people around you that will say, "If that was such a good idea, somebody else would've already done it."
Douglas Goldstein: Are you a technology person?
Julie Deane: I love gadgets. I studied natural sciences. I'm a bit of a geeky person. That's my background, and a lot of the people who knew me, particularly in the 1980s, find it unbelievable that I was listed as one of the 100 most influential people in fashion. If you'd have seen me in the 80s, you would think it was unbelievable too. Don't be put off that maybe your background isn't in the area that you want to move in. If that's where your passion is, that's a hundred times more important.
Douglas Goldstein: How can people follow your work and learn more about the Cambridge Satchel Company?
Julie Deane: There are two ways. The first is to get a picture of the story and it would only take 1 minute. If you go to YouTube and type in Julie Deane, you'll see a film that Google made about our story because they liked it so much. After that, if you want to learn more about what we're doing, then you can just go to our website, which is www.cambridgesatchel.co.uk.