Contributed by Krystal Covington, MBA
Seeing the world can be a catalyst for change by bringing greater awareness of global communities and a connection to all of humanity. The empathy we earn through traveling and talking with diverse groups of individuals allows us to see past our own cultures and to be more compassionate.
For Matilda and Kelly, the millennial founders of Adventurist Backpack Co., their awakening came during an overseas backpacking trip where they witnessed first-hand the challenges of poverty and hunger. Driven by their desire to bring compassion and support to those struggling with food insecurity, they began a journey to develop a social enterprise company that has provided 65,000 meals to families across the country so far.
Launched in September 2017, the company has been in hyper-growth mode, quickly surpassing the coveted 6-figure mark with just a $7,000 starting investment. Adventurist Backpacks can now be found in over 40 retail locations across the country.
We caught up with Matilda Sandstroem to learn more about her journey as a co-founder of this inspiring Colorado company.
WOD Was there something special about the Colorado business community that helped you on your journey to starting a company like this? Were there local resources you utilized that helped you?
Colorado has been a great place to start a company. Coloradans love to support local businesses, and entrepreneurs that we've met in Denver and across the state are incredibly supportive and collaborative with one another.
After gaining a bit of press around the state and country, we had Visit Denver,the marketing agency for the City of Denver, reach out to us about becoming a vendor. Now Visit Denver orders hundreds of backpacks from us each year, helping our business (and many other companies) have a chance to grow. We've also found that all sorts of shops across the state have been excited to team up with us. [They’re] very supportive and happy to have a Colorado-based brand and product in their shop.
WOD You originated from Sweden and even traveled to many countries around the world. How has this global perspective impacted the way you lead your business and live your life?
Being born and raised in Sweden, I never imagined that I would come to the U.S. and stay to start a business. Since I moved away from home and my family at 19, it can definitely be tough at times, though it has forced me to be braver, bolder, and more independent.
Traveling has also impacted our business and life in numerous ways. Travel inspires through exposure to different cultures, types of fashion, design, language, food, and traditions. It can definitely broaden your views about the possibilities that are out there. Travel also teaches you to take risks, which I think is a big part of living life to the fullest, and growing in life and in business.
WOD How did you know how to design a backpack and source a supplier? And how did you fund your business in the beginning to purchase inventory?
Neither Kelly (my husband/co-founder) nor I had any experience at all in product design before starting the company. After coming up with the idea to design a backpack that was fashionable, high-quality, and affordable, we sat down at the kitchen table with a pad of graph paper and a small pencil and just started to sketch out the measurements, materials, etc. until we had a design that we were happy with.
We also knew that we would need to have samples made and contact a manufacturer, so we turned to Alibaba.com (a website that connects companies looking to create a product with manufacturers all over the world). After sending messages with our design to dozens of manufacturers and getting a handful of replies back, we had a lot of samples made (many that were extremely bad). We continued this process until we found a manufacturer that was able to create a high-quality backpack using the materials we wanted, while also having the certifications necessary so that we could rest assured that they treated and paid their employees fairly as well as offered above-average work conditions.
After we found the right manufacturer, we placed an order for about 1000 backpacks and contacted a freight forwarding agent in order to transport the backpacks from the factory to our 600 square foot apartment. Our initial funding was $7000, $3,000 which we had saved up ourselves and $4,000 that Kelly's parents invested in helping us start the company.
WOD What has been the impact of leading this company, and what advice can you share for others following your journey?
The business has definitely been a huge part of our lives since launching in September 2017. A big impact that the company has had is making us very passionate about being at the forefront of brands that give back as part of their business model. We truly believe that entrepreneurship and business is the best way for Americans to be able to solve problems, whether environmental, social, etc.
We want to spread the message that it is a company's responsibility to not only make a great product or service, but to start something that matters.
I think the best advice that I'm able to give is that there will never be a perfect time to start a business or travel or move halfway across the world, so you might as well give it a shot and do it now.