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Q&A with James Morin of Flowfold

How a scrappy startup built their new headquarters using staff-power and a hefty dose of passion.

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Jame Morin
James Morin repping Flowfold and L.L. Bean on top of Mt. Kilimanjaro.James Morin

Last we heard from Maine-based startup Flowfold, the team—armed with new backpack prototypes—was headed up for a quick summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro. Now more than a year later we caught up with COO and President of Sales James Morin to talk about their new Gorham, Maine, headquarters.

What made you guys decide to build your own headquarters?

JM: “It was 100 percent necessity, but it’s going to be one of those things we look back on and it’s just going to be a really important part of our company’s history. Because it truly is Flowfold.

We didn’t have the money to hire someone to do the construction work, so Devin, Charley, and I—with the help of the entire team—would come in here every day after work for a few months and paint walls, put up insulation, and install lights. It was really tough, but what I think is really special is when you walk in here now and look at the blue ceiling and it’s like, we painted that. This is ours; this is our home.

With roughly 10,000 square feet we will be fine on space for a really long time, which is great because that means that we don’t have to ever think about where Flowfold is going to be. We’ll be here for the foreseeable future, and we can now put all our energy into making more kick-ass products for our customers, and that’s really what we’re passionate about.”

You’ve recently launched several successful collaborations with your neighbor, L.L.Bean. Tell us how those came to be and why they represent an important part of the Flowfold business model.

JM: “Well it took years and years of failure, to be honest. A lot of people ask us how we pulled it off? How did we convince Bean to produce the first ever Bean Boot branded with someone else’s logo? Well, we didn’t just go straight for the boot.

In November 2015 we were able to get a four-store trial for wallets, and after the wallets sold, we said “let’s put some bags in there, let’s try some color.” But every single season we had to prove success. Every single season we had to get good reviews from customers. And then eventually when we came to know L.L.Bean and came to know what we brought to the table as two separate entities, that’s when we were able to come together and really create this incredible collaboration. It’s taken a lot of years of small successes to get here.”

How have the L.L. Bean collaboration products been selling?

JM: “L.L.Bean reported a 300 percent growth over the prior year as a result of the collab items. The boots are are almost entirely sold out in store, the women’s version is completely sold out online, and certain sizes of the men’s boot is also sold out.”

In other words, they crushed it.

Do you have any more exciting collaborations in the works?

JM: “We do, but they aren’t quite far enough along to share. We’re constantly looking to do collaborations that expand our customer reach or skill set. For example, we’re looking to partner with a smaller Maine maker to help us break into a new market we haven’t done well at penetrating. We’re also talking with a fashion brand out of New York City. They approach product design and development much different than companies we’ve worked with in the outdoor space, so it’s been a great learning experience.”

Flowfold has had some great successes. What advice would you give to startups or future entrepreneurs?

JM: “The one thing I’d like to change about the entrepreneurial world is the sensationalizing of lack of sleep. Yes, we put in really long nights. During construction we worked all day at Flowfold and then painted walls and installed lights at night. We did it because we love the company.

But I think it’s important to know that this was a special project. We have no desire to work 80 hours a week all the time, and we don’t expect that from our employees. I think it’s healthy to realize that you need to have a work/life balance.

If there are any small start-ups reading this, I would encourage them to think about ways to get their employees outside enjoying the world around them and have that healthy work/life balance.”