Interview with Dave Munson
Dave started Saddleback Leather
by complete accident when he was a volunteer English teacher near Mexico City and found a man that made custom leather bags. Dave asked for a bag that would last forever and looked similar to one that Indiana Jones would own. Once the bag was made, Dave proudly travelled the world with it, receiving constant compliments, sometimes 4-5 a day!
Dave then decided to move with his wife, back to Mexico and start making similar bags. The lived in a small $100-a month apartment whilst they grew the business literally from the ground up. Today, Saddleback makes 15 million dollars a year in online sales.
Dave himself is an adventurer and a natural storyteller, and his bags are for people just like him, who want to carry their possessions around the world just like Indiana Jones would.
Hi Dave! Could you please introduce Saddleback Leather and tell us a bit more about your experience founding the company?
So my name's Dave and I own Saddleback Leather, I founded it back in 1999. Well what happened was I had a bag made because I was looking for a bag to carry my books. I was down in southern Mexico teaching English and I found a guy making a bag and making bags, I sketched it out he made it and everywhere I went. When I got back to the U.S. People were asking- how can I get one of those bags? Well what happened was I ended up moving back to to Juarez Mexico with my black lab named Blue and we slept on the floor of a one hundred dollars a month apartment, we didn't have hot water for three years but every penny that I was saving I would send it back down to Mexico way south and they would since bags up on the bus, I'd take him across the river to El Paso and I used a friend's shop at night and I sold them on eBay. It just kept growing and growing until then we started our factory in down central Mexico. It's been fantastic.
What are some of the main things you recommend founders NOT to do when starting a business?
Ok this may seem a little silly but it's super important! You want to have who your company is, what is it about? This goes for all your marketing, all your signs, everything. So if you're an animal, if your company were an animal would it be a horse. Would it be a pitbull? Would it be a dolphin? Would it be a shark? Would it be a Black Panther? If it were a plate of food, what would it be a beefsteak? Would it be banana cream pie or would it be asparagus? If you were a mode of transportation, would it be an old, you know, old pickup truck? Would it be a brand new Lamborghini? I mean what describes who your business is and with what things and just go through the list. What kind of a what kind of country, will they were to make a film about your business. What kind of country would it be? What it does is it helps you to think about your business really, really well and it helps you to market right.
What extra challenges came from founding a manufacturing company?
So I had a couple extra challenges by starting my own manufacturing company- Old Mexico Manufacturing, down in central Mexico well so it's a little ways away from Texas. So I would go down a once or twice a month with the family usually with the little kids and all and but the problem was I didn't know anything about manufacturing so I was just learning about leather with the company. So I had to learn all of that. I didn't know which questions to ask. I didn't know what looked right or didn't look right in manufacturing and saw in the in that whole thing too. I didn't have people I really trusted so well and they stole from me, like a lot. Not everybody but some of the people really ripped me off and I didn't know because I didn't know what things were supposed to look like. I didn't know which questions to ask. So that was a couple of things that were very difficult. But I did get quality bags out of the deal and it seemed to work.
Who were your first clients for Saddleback Leather? How did you establish your niche within the market?
So I was the first client of me, of Saddleback Leather, and then I went onto Ebay and began selling to people who had my same tastes. The way that I attracted people was by being authentic and real and being the face of the company myself instead of the Saddleback Leather corporation trying to talk in third person. That sort of thing. And so I found that real people liked my things. The other thing that I did was I learned as much as I could about about leather and about hardware and about thread. And I learned as much as I could. And then I I just shared what I was learning with those people and they appreciated it, that I was that I was educating them and helping them whether or not they bought one of my bags. That's fine. I wanted them to buy quality.
What's next for your work with Saddleback Leather? What are the main projects, partnerships and products you'll be focusing on throughout 2019?
So for 2019 we're really focusing hard on our manufacturing. We have some nice clients possibly in the pipeline to do manufacturing with us. We really want to grow that, so Saddleback isn't such a big part of that. We also have a brand new Web site. Now we're on Magento now, before we were on a different one that was horrible horrible horrible and so now we hired a team of people who are excellent. They have a team of experts to do this. So I would recommend not finding one expert in all things because they can't be. So find a place that has a team of experts and asked for their help. Just be humble and buckle-down and say I need help can I learn what to do with you maybe. But just so you know what what it should be done and what it looks right. So we're going to be working on more of a kind of a core infrastructure and going back to who we were as Saddleback leather company a couple of years back.