Most entrepreneurs agree that when they start businesses, it’s great to move quickly. Some people have limited timelines before they need to move onto other work, while others thrive on momentum. However, moving through research and development to sales in less than one year is almost unheard of.
Wellington & Cromwell defied the typical startup timeline. In January 2015, Rachel Chang (Johnson ‘16) and Edward Chang, her husband, imagined developing a high quality leather goods company. They wasted no time – after many drafts and negotiating with manufacturers, they had their first bag produced in April with sales beginning last September.
Entrepreneurship@Dyson had the privilege of meeting the couple and learning more about their journey:
What makes your product unique?
Edward: Everyone is trying to make things as cheap as possible and is chasing the low-end mass market. We decided to go in the opposite direction and make the best product regardless of price. I think we have a unique aesthetic within the rugged luxury category. We back our products with a lifetime warranty, and the quality of our materials and construction are similar to European luxury brands like Brunello Cucinelli.
Rachel: When we talk about using the best materials, we mean we use top grain leather. In the market, most companies use bonded leather or genuine leather. Bonded leather and genuine leather are glued together like chicken nuggets are glued together. Our leather is like filet mignon – the real piece of beef. That’s why our bags are so durable and beautiful. We don’t want to cut costs.
What is the story behind your name and brand?
Edward: I’m an attorney, so I like these kind of old sounding names. I like the Indiana Jones type of explorers like Henry Cromwell, and I wanted to capture the time and place of the British explorers. This comes through in our marketing. We put our bags on the Great Wall and pyramids. We try to capture a vintage exploration vibe. I like to poke around in vintage shops and see leather goods. They’re beautiful. Our logo is based on the eight escudo Spanish doubloon. That’s because I like pirates. We thought a lot about logos – we were going to do a mallard duck and we thought about a pirate mermaid.
What has been the most important step in advancing Wellington & Cromwell?
Edward: My experience is in working in Nike factories. Through that, I knew a lot about sourcing the raw materials and factories that would put things together. More importantly, I knew how to evaluate what was a good factory. My expertise is in Asia factories, and when I worked for Nike I worked in Vietnam, China, Indonesia, and China. We had to see if the factories could do what we wanted. The first few samples we got were not good enough. They thought it was good, but we knew we had to be better because our competitors spend a ton in marketing. It took 3 or 4 tries to get the materials right and the sourcing right. We get an incidental benefit through going through these factories – lower costs – that we pass along to our customers.
Rachel: We are a startup business, and a part of that is not having a lot of capital. We’ve been scrappy, and we’ve been doing inventory in our small apartment. If there is anything we can do by ourselves, we try. We rely on online marketing like Instagram. We found Instagram is the most appropriate channel for us because it’s visual. Apart of being a small brand is we try to raise money through a lot of channels. We raised money through Kickstarter. Most of our customers are lawyers and investment bankers that live all around the world. Through the Internet, we have been able to reach our customers without knowing them.
What piece of advice would you give to present or future entrepreneurs?
Edward: Just do it. Just give it a try and see. Draw from your past experiences. It’s good to have foundational experience from that first job or jobs. Learn everything you can because you have to do everything for yourself. I was a corporate lawyer at Nike, but I visited factories all the time and asked tons of questions. When you are at a major organization like Google, Nike, or Toyota, learn as much as you can. Don’t stay in your functional role if you want to be an entrepreneur.
We go to a lot of meetups with other entrepreneurs. Often we are the only ones with product to show. Don’t wait until something is perfect. Perfect is the enemy of good. If you can build something that is even 50%, do it. At least you have something tangible, whether it’s a website or an app or a physical product. Until you have something, it’s just an idea, and many people have ideas.
Rachel: Being a startup means you are not going to live a glamorous life. You have to think about budgeting, marketing, how to get products made, delivery, and customer experience. If you are committed to it, you can do it. It’s not a failure to fail. Fail, but fail fast, and learn from it.