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This Mom Took $775 and a Simple Idea and Turned It Into a $65 Million Business

In 2007, Julie Deane’s 8-year-old daughter, Emily, was being bullied — she’d lost her happy, extroverted personality and came home from school with bruises on her arms. The British mother of two made a promise that day to send her children to private school. But Deane only had £600 ($775) to spare, not the £24,000 ($31,000) it would take to pay tuition.

So the strong-willed Deane decided to invest the money, little as it was, into creating a business to earn the income she needed.

“That’s kind of like gamble money. It isn’t allocated to anything, so I thought, ‘This will be fine, that’s what you call seed capital right?'” says Deane, speaking at the Vanity Fair Founders Fair in New York City recently.

It was more than fine: In just over five years, Deane turned that $775 in to a $65 million business, The Cambridge Satchel Company, selling bags to 120 countries all over the world. Celebrities like Taylor Swift, Alexa Chung, Zooey Deschanel and Elle Fanning have worn the satchels.

The Cambridge Satchel Company is born

By 2008, Deane, who was at various times an accountant, stay-at-home mom and university employee, had a simple plan to launch a business; it started with tea in the kitchen. “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 says.

As she was brainstorming business ideas, Deane zeroed in on her frustration with the poor quality of school backpacks for her children. When she had gone looking for a traditional satchel, she couldn’t find one.

“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 says.

So Deane decided she would be the one to start making quality satchels. “I am really really lucky because I am a very awkward person and so I tend to get really irritated when things don’t work properly,” she says.

Deane fashioned together a couple old cereal boxes and wrapped them in brown paper for a prototype. She came up with the name quite matter-of-factly. “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,” she says.

She came up with the logo similarly. She used Microsoft Word’s “Paint” function. “Job done. Job done,” says Deane.

Deane, who openly expresses bewilderment that launching a business could require expensive consultants and strategists, at the time had no budget to hire a staff — so she enlisted her mom. “Well, the thing is you have got to get somebody who will work really hard, put up with your slightly easily irritated temperament, not expect to be paid. It narrows until you are left with your mother.”

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Source: CNBC | Catherine Clifford