Friday, November 16, 2018

Po Campo, LLC - Brooklyn, NY

Po Campo, LLC - Brooklyn, NY

After years of bungee-cording her work bag to her bike, Maria Boustead realized that she needed a bag that was “practical enough to attach to her bike and stylish enough to take into her office.” Using her experience as an industrial designer and knowledge of the market, Maria started Po Campo, LLC in 2009, to address her unique need. Her functional yet fashionable vegan, weatherproof bags, have since helped empower women and girls around the world by making biking a more accessible and practical mode of transportation.

We sat down with Maria to learn more about her business and how it’s helping to redefine the bike industry.

What inspired you to start Po Campo?

I biked to work most days while working at my previous job, and I had a makeshift way of transporting my bag. I would bungee cord my normal bag to the top of my bike and then one day I thought there must be a better way. I started thinking about how many people use biking as a form of transportation, but when I googled stylish bike bags I was surprised to learn that no one was making bike bags for this market. I thought, “Why hasn’t anyone thought to do this yet?” From there I came up with an idea to make a stylish but functional bag that you could easily transport on your bike and take off and use throughout your day. With my background in industrial design and designing bags, I knew I could come up with the perfect solution.

Before starting Po Campo, I was also looking for a business that better fit my way of life. In my previous jobs, I felt like my life was centered around work. So I started Po Campo, in part, because it granted me more time and freedom to do what I wanted. I think this idea of living a rich and full life is also mirrored in Po Campo’s mission. The beauty of the bicycle is that it allows people to access adventures and discover new things, and we’re trying to make this lifestyle more accessible to our customers.  

How did you incorporate your previous experience as an industrial designer into Po Campo?

My first job out of school was designing bags for a manufacturer. Through this job I learned how to design products, sketch them, and communicate with manufacturers, etc., which of course was very useful when starting Po Campo. After that, I worked at a branding and packaging design agency, where my role evolved from an industrial designer to more of a design and brand strategy position. At this time I took on the responsibility of helping our clients identify spaces in the market for their products and what design language they should use to reach their intended customer. This experience has been helpful for marketing and selling my bags.

Is there any significance to the name Po Campo?

I was reading the book Lonesome Dove when I came up with the idea for my business. Po Campo is a minor character in the story but his personality is incredibly rich. While reading, I was inspired by his independence and desire to do things his own way. He valued the little things in life and took each day as it came. I liked his attitude and I thought the name was catchy.

Can you tell us more about what is unique and innovative about your bags? What sets it apart from other biking bags on the market?

When I started Po Campo, the bike industry was still heavily focused on biking as a sport but I recognized that for many people biking was a lifestyle. I wanted to create a product that could fit this evolving market and the shift in biking culture.

Today, we’re still the only bike bag that you would ever use on days that you’re not biking. Most bags that attach to bikes on the market aren’t really designed to carry off a bike. They’re more for the bike touring market and not something that you can really use as a normal bag. Our bags are functional, versatile, adaptable and stylish.

On your website it says that you are a part of World Bicycle Relief – can you tell us a bit about the organization, its mission, and how Po Campo is involved?

World Bicycle Relief (WBR) is a Chicago-based nonprofit whose mission is to mobilize people through the power of bicycles. In the developing world, many people – especially women and children – face barriers when it comes to transportation, which makes it harder to complete everyday tasks like going to school, visiting a health clinic or delivering goods to market. Oftentimes it can be a four mile walk for these women and children to get to where they need to go. WBR helps combat this problem by providing “specifically-designed, locally assembled, rugged bicycles” to individuals in developing nations. We have partnered with WBR, so every time we sell 50 bags through our online store we donate the equivalent of a bicycle to a girl in Africa. With a bike they can get to these places in 30 minutes, so it makes the journey much easier and more doable. WBR also trains people on how to repair the bicycles, so it’s sustainable.

From the very beginning, I knew that I wanted to partner with a charity. I was already donating to WBR on my own and I thought that it was such a great charity that connected with our business. It has the bicycle angle of course, but I also appreciated that the organization focused on empowering women and girls through bikes. The bike world is incredibly male-dominated. As a woman, I have often felt alone in the bike world, like I was not taken seriously. I like that WBR is changing the bike culture and making it more accessible to females.

Did you encounter any challenges when opening your own business?

Financing was the primary issue I faced when starting Po Campo. One thing I didn’t anticipate was how many expensive lessons there was going to be in figuring out how best to manufacture and market the product. There are always added costs and you have to factor in money for problems that inevitably occur along the way. I didn’t think about this when starting Po Campo. In the beginning I was beating myself up over this, but I have since realized that starting a business is a learning process and that I grow and learn from each of these mistakes.

How did you find out about EGF?

I am a part of a New York City-based organization called Women’s Enterprise Action Loan Fund (WEALF), a non-profit organization that helps women obtain first round capital to start their businesses. When I told the founder that I was looking for an additional loan to grow my business, she connected me to EGF advisor who helped me get an SBA Microloan for $10,000 through EGF. I am grateful for WEALF’s mentorship and the guidance they provided me by connecting me to a lender that could help me grow my business.

How do you plan to use your EGF loan?

A big reason why our customers bike is because it is good for the environment and I want to make sure our product and business mirrors that value. We're in the process of switching to a new factory that shares our sustainability goals. They require a down payment, which our previous factory did not, so our EGF loan helped us make the switch to a more sustainable factory.

What are your upcoming goals for your business?

My ultimate vision is when I look out the window I see more people biking and I see more of these people with Po Campo bag on their bikes.

When I started the company in 2009, I was a little ahead of the curve. This was before bike share and even bike lanes for the most part. I knew these were trends that were coming and that biking for transportation was on the verge of becoming increasingly popular. But at the time, it was harder to find our customers, so we broadened our product line in order to target a larger client base. That’s why we sold the travel bags and yoga bags. These bags helped grow the business but they also pulled away from the original vision. We’ve been in the process of letting these styles go and have since refocused on the bike bags.

In a larger sense, I would like Po campo to play a part in making America more bike-friendly for everyone. I am now on the Board of Director’s of the League of American Cyclists, America’s oldest bike advocacy group, which has this goal as their mission statement. I’m proud to use my experience as an entrepreneur and industry contacts to help realize this mission.

EGF is proud to have played a part in Maria’s success story and is excited to see how Po Campo helps empower women and girls around the world through the power of bicycles.