Kalika Yap, an Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) member in Los Angeles, is founder and CEO of both Citrus Studios, a branding and design agency, and Orange & Bergamot, a creative agency for female founders. As the host of EO’s Wonder podcast, Kalika interviewed Maggie Drake, co-founder and CEO of Bandolier, the original cross-body phone accessory. Kalika shared highlights of their conversation about entrepreneurial lessons learned and takeaways from her startup journey:
Where do great ideas originate? Do they come out of nowhere during your workday? In the moments before you fall asleep? In the shower? Or when you need a solution to a daily challenge?
“I was a stay-at-home mom, standing in my kitchen,” says Maggie Drake during the EO Wonder podcast. “I had left my phone somewhere in the house for the umpteenth time that day. I was so frustrated. I remember thinking, ‘I need to attach my phone to my body, so it’s always on me.’ But it would be great if it also looked good, right? I thought of it as an accessory.”
That was 2011. She scoured the Internet, thinking that somebody must’ve already thought of the idea. “I knew exactly what I wanted: a plain leather phone case with slots on the back for credit cards–clean and simple.”
But the product didn’t exist. With no prior knowledge about product manufacturing, Drake let it rest.
A couple of years later, she went on vacation with a good friend and her family. The women were digging through their bags, looking for their phones to take pictures of the kids. Drake floated her idea to her friend, Colleen Karis, who had manufacturing experience. Karis, now Drake’s Bandolier co-founder, thought they should pursue it.
Velcro, Post-its, Bandolier
They had samples made. They tested the waters by wearing the cross-body phone cases around and asked their friends to do the same. The functional accessory got a strong response: “Every day, someone would ask, ‘What are you wearing? What is that? I need it. Where’d you get it?'”
They were onto something. Fast forward a bit, and thanks to their PR agency, stars including Halle Berry, Meryl Streep and Gwen Stefani were wearing the product. Sales took off! They branched into wholesale, landing in Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s and about 1,500 specialty stores around the country.
Drake shared her ultimate compliment: “My favorite celebrity moment was with Jamie Lee Curtis, who I love. I got to meet her, and she said to me, ‘Maggie: Velcro, Post-its, Bandolier. Life-changers!” I thought that was so great!”
Focusing on customer satisfaction
The company continued to grow, and the product line expanded. But a few years later, the company did an about-face and exited wholesale. Why?
“Customer service and customer satisfaction are a huge part of our business, and we couldn’t control that with wholesale. So, we decided to bring our business back to direct-to-consumer only, asking Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s and all of those specialty stores to send back product. That was the hardest decision I had to make as CEO.”
But she’s glad they did it. “In hindsight, it’s been wonderful to just focus on direct-to-consumer, having that constant dialogue with our customers. It’s the best decision that we made.”
Listening to their loyal customers helped to expand and transform the product. Customers suggested a pouch for lipstick or keys and asked the company to sell straps separately from cases so they could personalize their look.
As chief designer for the brand, Drake listens to what customers want. As CEO, she also oversees marketing and social media strategies, product orders and production scheduling challenges, all while fostering the company’s ongoing growth.
Drake never intended to be an entrepreneur. She grew up thinking she’d be a doctor until an 11th-grade art class sparked her creativity. Entrepreneurship is an unexpected twist, but she says with her personality, it makes sense that she’d design a product at the intersection of creativity and practicality.
Nine entrepreneurial characteristics to practice daily
In discussing whether entrepreneurs are born or made, Drake sides with “made.”
“I say that because I wasn’t born a leader. There are certainly people who are gifted with the charisma or the confidence to be natural leaders. But every top leader has certain characteristics that are consistent. I think those characteristics can be learned and practiced–which is what I do.”
Drake shared the following characteristics of top leaders, which she practices daily.
- Be passionate about your idea.
- Try to get the best out of people.
- Try to give the best of you.
- Be selfless.
- Don’t ask somebody to do something you wouldn’t do yourself.
- Understand fairness and have a high moral compass.
- Know what your vision is, and be able to communicate that vision to your people.
- Hold people accountable.
- Make your team take responsibility for their piece of the puzzle in creating your vision.
“All of those are characteristics that you can learn and practice,” Drake said. “If you do, it’s just like the 10,000-hour rule that Malcolm Gladwell mentions in Outliers: ‘If you practice something for 10,000 hours, you will become a pro at it’.”
Drake has clearly put in the time and hard work to achieve that accolade.