This Mom Designed A Double-Duty Bag With Family Outings In Mind
Mom entrepreneur Diane Le designed a blanket/backpack combo with her family hikes and picnics in mind, but after testing the concept, she found it had broader appeal. Not sure where to start the manufacturing process, she asked for help. Thanks to our partnership with Office Depot OfficeMax, we are sharing Diane's founder story and how she learned through Selfmade that networking gets you everywhere.
B + C: What motivated you to start MiniAlps? What problem are you trying to solve for your customers?
DL: For me, it was a product I really wanted for my own personal use and it just didn't exist. I love spending time outdoors with my family but outdoor blankets are so bulky to carry. I remember going on a day hike with my husband and daughter and I had to carry a backpack on my back with our water, food, diapers, sunscreen and supplies and then I had to carry our picnic blanket on the front and hold my dog's leash all while hiking. It was just too much.
I thought "Why can't an outdoor blanket actually be a carrying bag and it can do double duty by carrying my things as well?" That's when MiniAlps was born.
B + C: How has the company evolved since your initial "aha" moment?
DL: Originally, we were only focusing on moms who really liked multitasking products but after testing the concept, we actually found out that late teens and 20-somethings really loved the idea of a stylish blanket/backpack duo. It was perfect for picnic outdoors, wineries, music festivals or just being on the go.
B + C: What startup challenges have you faced along the way?
DL: We've had two really big challenges. First, neither Sharlene Bisram (my co-founder) nor I had ever launched an apparel or outdoor product, so there was a really big learning curve for us in terms of fabrics and performance. We bought so many fabric samples just to make sure we had the right materials. The second was manufacturing. Manufacturing during COVID times has been tricky. We aren't able to travel to meet manufacturers in person, production times are much longer than normal, and shipping times are very delayed.
B + C: What strategies helped you overcome them?
DL: Networking and asking for help has been the best strategy for us. Whenever we run into a challenge, we've reached out to our networks to just ask "Does anyone know someone who knows XYZ?" and we've met many amazing people that way. I think there was a session in Selfmade that talked about that exactly - that being able to network effectively was one of the best ways to grow a business. I'm a big proponent in paying it forward as well. If there's some help someone is looking for, I'm happy to share any information or potential leads with them.
B + C: What would you say are your top successes so far?
DL: Designing a product I'm really happy with is probably my favorite success so far. We've gone through seven different iterations before landing where we are and I'm pretty proud of what we've created. Our bag is everything we wanted it to be: stylish, minimalist, modern, and incredibly practical.
B + C: How have you approached marketing your brand and raising awareness?
DL: We're a startup so we have very limited marketing funds. It's been a fun challenge to figure out how to build our brand on almost no budget. We use Canva for a lot of our branding materials. For awareness, we are active with promoting to our local community and utilizing social media and social ads to drive traffic to our target market.
B + C: What was your most valuable takeaway from Selfmade?
DL: It really does start with mindset. When we had the first course about mindset, I was really confused on why we weren't focusing on more "business" type things first. But as I started building my business, I realized how important it is to be in a positive, winning frame of mind before anything else. It helps you weather all of the ups and downs of startup life.
B + C: Who and what inspires you?
DL: I have so many people in my life that I admire, it's hard to narrow it down! My daughter Camille was born with a rare disease and disability and she inspires me to beat the odds everyday. I also have to shout out to my mentor Sarah Grover, who is just a brilliant marketing and branding guru and Nurit Raich, who has been my incredible coach through a lot of life's challenges. It truly takes a village.
B + C: What's one piece of advice you would give to female entrepreneurs on the brink of starting?
DL: Just get started! Don't let the fear of failure stop you before you even get started.
B + C: What's next for MiniAlps?
DL: We're opening up for pre-orders on our first production run very shortly! Sign up for more information at minialps.com.
B + C: What has receiving the Office Depot OfficeMax scholarship to Selfmade done to help you grow your business?
DL: It has been so helpful to have the support of Office Depot OfficeMax scholarship! It was only through the scholarship I was able to access all of Selfmade's amazing resources, from the networking to the coaches to the sessions, it's been a combination of motivating, inspiring, and supportive. I couldn't imagine launching MiniAlps without Selfmade.
B + C: How have Office Depot OfficeMax services/products helped you accomplish more in your business?
DL: It's honestly not possible to start a business without the right tools and Office Depot OfficeMax has been my go-to source. Their printing services in particular are fantastic; it's high quality, affordable, and a quick turnaround.
Need help bringing your idea to market? Let Office Depot OfficeMax give you the confidence you need with a suite of business services & solutions to help you put your best foot forward. Make a good first impression with business cards & build the business pitch of your dreams with custom presentations. With Office Depot OfficeMax you'll find the tools to reach your customers with confidence. Learn more at Office Depot's Selfmade page.
Theresa Gonzalez is a content creator based in San Francisco and the author of Sunday Sews. She's a lover of all things design and spends most of her days momming her little one Matilda.