This piece originally appeared on the Hustle.
I’m baffled why so many startup founders have the mindset of “raise lots of funding” and “make zero profit.” I’ve never understood that. Don’t businesses want to make something people want and then profit from their hard work and ingenuity?
Thankfully, whenever I get in one of these “am I taking crazy pills?” moods I come across someone, or something, that shows me that not everyone has lost their mind.
Jennifer Chong is one of those people. Chong is the founder of Linjer, a hot new brand that proves you don’t have to raise millions of dollars to create a massive business..
Chong and her partner Roman Khan started their design studio in 2014 with $20,000 of their own savings. They had a simple concept: to create beautiful, well-crafted products with the highest quality materials they could find.
And so, after spending a couple years as a management consultant, Chong decided to pursue her simple, but brilliant idea. What started as a small IndieGogo campaign a couple years ago has quickly become a massively successful startup that’s profitable and quickly growing.
However, unlike other lifestyle brand startups that raise multi-million dollar seed rounds before a single dollar in revenue or profit, Linjer has quietly been building a (profitably) cult following with little press.
For more on startup, watch this Fortune video:
So how did Linjer come to be and how did Chong pull it all off? I interviewed her to find out.
Jennifer Chong from Linjer: Roman and I started our design studio in 2014 in response to the rise of fast fashion and the “planned obsolescence.” Linjer is all about creating beautifully designed, high-quality everyday products that last. We started with leather bags, but we plan to expand to more categories in the near future.
Our vision is for Linjer to be where discerning, design-minded people go to find elegant products made with meticulous craftsmanship.
SP: I read your background on Linkedin – you studied economics at Dartmouth before working in a lab at MIT and then as a management consultant in the Middle East.
How the hell did you end up in the design business?
JC: I’ve always loved design, especially design that delights. As a kid, I used to build intricate Lego houses with winding secret passages hidden behind bookshelves. For my 6-year-old self, the delight was in the surprise and mystery. My taste has evolved since then — nowadays, I find delight in simplicity, beauty and natural materials.
Bag design came naturally to me — it requires a sense of form, appreciation of your materials, and strict attention to detail. Of course I also think about the user, and how the product can fit in their life. Once you have a vision, all of the other parts (learning to sketch, creating design specs, coming up with a construction, finding manufacturers, branding etc.) are just a means to an end. Those parts can all be learned to an extent, and I just picked them up as I went along.
SP: So let’s talk a little bit about your numbers. You’ve done ~$1 million in sales in your first year, and you’re hoping to 5x that this year. That’s mind-boggling. What’s the secret sauce?
JC: We started with $20,000 from our savings, but needed $70,000 for our first production run, so we put our first collection on Indiegogo. Amazingly, we reached our goal within 48 hours and ended up raising $180,000 during that campaign. We’ve now raised ∼ $600,000 through campaigns, which has helped fund our growth and, more importantly, has kept us close to our customers.
Of course, we also started with a great product. We had focused on creating a high-quality leather briefcase for less than $500. Before Linjer, there was no polished, vegetable-tanned, full grain leather briefcase at that price point.
From there, the key to our success was connecting with a hardcore and genuine community online on Styleforum, where men around the world go to share their passion for menswear. A few senior members took interest in us and positively reviewed our products, which gave us credibility. These guys saw what we were trying to do and how much we were nerding out on specs, and it created a very strong level of trust. Once we found a community online that cared deeply about quality, our products sold themselves.
SP: I’m amazed that you were able to do all this with just a two-person team. How big is your team now?
JC: Ha! Actually, until 7 months ago, we were a 1.5-person team. Either Roman or I were working a full-time job to keep a roof over our heads and pay the bills. I was working at Square managing international growth, and coming home and working on Linjer until the early hours of the morning. Going from 1.5 to 2 people was a big deal for us.
This summer, we had three interns join us. It’s given us a huge boost and allowed us to spend more time on brand, product and marketing. (By the way, we are further expanding our team and are currently hiring for both permanent positions and internships! See linjer.co/pages/careers)
SP: What’s the biggest challenge facing Linjer right now?
JC: We’re trying to keep up with demand. In our first year, we had ~$1 million in sales and we’re expecting that to increase 5x this year.
We’ve been out of stock for 9 of the last 12 months and some of our customers have waited 6 months for their bags. We’re working on scaling our supply chain and making it more efficient so that we can reduce wait times — which has been challenging as we haven’t taken on any additional investment. We’ve been running off our revenue since day 1.
SP: What’s next for Linjer?
JC: We want to expand into a number of different categories, always with the same objective of creating beautiful, well-designed products that are timeless in both design and craft.
We’re launching in category #2 in a few weeks. We’re super pumped for it – we think it’ll be massive. If you want to know more, sign up to our newsletter on our site.