How the woman behind The Cambridge Satchel Company turned $775 into a $65 million company

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It all started when Julie Deane’s 8-year-old daughter was being bullied. Deane wanted to send her and her sister to private school, where she could escape her tormentors, but she didn’t have the money. Tuition for just one daughter would come out to $31,000 (£24,000). To raise the extra cash, she decided to start a business with the $775 she did have. Five years later, she’s a multimillionaire.

Deane’s business is The Cambridge Satchel Company, and it’s worth $65 million today. Deane sells bags to 120 countries around the world, and celebrities like Taylor Swift, Alexa Chung, Zooey Deschanel and Elle Fanning have all been spotted with the bags.

“I needed to make my children’s lives better and I had a limited budget with which to do it: £600. My daughter was unhappy at the local school. I promised her she’d go somewhere where she’d be happy so that’s a promise I had to follow through,” she told Forbes in an interview. “But isn’t that what makes it exciting, a mission that drives you with such passion that there is no option than to succeed?”

Courtesy The Cambridge Satchel Company

It was 2008, and Deane was an accountant, a stay-at-home mom and a university employee. She had no business experience, but she wasn’t worried.

“I thought, obviously, what you do is you go home, and if you are British, you have a cup of tea, and you put the computer on in the kitchen and you get excel up,” she told MSN.

Deane began brainstorming business ideas, and realized that one of her biggest frustrations—poor-quality school backpacks—left a serious hole in the market. She went looking for a traditional leather satchel and couldn’t find one. The light bulb clicked on.

“I am outraged, properly outraged, because the satchel is the most British bag you can ever imagine, everybody had a satchel at school. Nobody was making them. Nobody was making satchels in Britain,” she said.

With a few old cereal boxes wrapped in brown paper, Deane created a prototype for her satchel. She used Microsoft Word to create her logo. Then, she came up with the name:

“Well, it’s not hard is it. You have got to have a name for your company. I am living in Cambridge. And I sell satchels,” Deane said.

Courtesy The Cambridge Satchel Company

Deane launched a business without consultants or strategists and had no budget for a staff to help, so she employed her mother. She read the book Guerrilla Marketing and began to think about inexpensive ways to reach customers, like low-cost flyers and online campaigns. The company became incorporated in 2008 and most of her customers were pitying friends and family.

Business picked up when, in 2010, Deane sent a few of her brightest neon satchels to fashion bloggers who would wear them at New York Fashion Week. In the dark rooms of fashion week, the satchels glowed brightly. The Cambridge Satchel Company received 16,000 orders.

It wasn’t all smooth sailing after that—Deane had to struggle with a dishonest manufacturer and every other issue that goes into running a business—but today she is successful, and loves being able to integrate her business into the rest of her life.

“I love the freedom to do things my own way, from including my mother in the business every day, and being able to work with her and picking my children up from school, which is still really important to me,” she told Forbes.

She also hopes to inspire others to be their own business moguls:

“I hope to be able to spread the story far and wide so that others who haven’t been lucky enough to have someone constantly in their corner encouraging them can read or hear about it and think ‘I’m going to give that a go!’ because only you can change your life. There, I’ll get off my soap box now!”

About the Author

Jessica Suss

An aspiring food and health writer, native Chicagoan, and nut butter enthusiast. Jessica is also the creator of BiteMeBlog, but don't call her a foodie More.

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