NOMATIC Co-Founders Discuss Entrepreneurship and More

Nomatic Toiletry Bag

MP recently spoke with Jacob Durham and Jon Richards, the Co-Founders of NOMATIC, a company committed to inspiring people to elevate every moment through intentionally designed products. In 2014, Jacob and his cousin, Jon, decided to take a stab at launching a wallet on Kickstarter, which slowly has transformed into what is known today as NOMATIC. NOMATIC has successfully launched 11 crowdfunding campaigns raising over $15M total.

NOMATIC

MP: Why did you start NOMATIC?

In 2014, 2 cousins, Jon Richards and Jacob Durham, didn’t set out to start a business but rather wanted to try something new. We didn’t start with a mission statement and a product road map. We just wanted to experience business in a new way and maybe make some extra cash on the side. While researching different ways to launch products, we came across Kickstarter. We were excited that we could get funding through pre-orders and not have to stomach as much financial risk. So, after researching the platform, we saw that wallets consistently did well time and time again. Afterfour4 months of prototyping 50+ iterations of wallets, we ended up with what is now known as the NOMATIC Wallet. We launched it on Kickstarter and raised $170k. Well above our original goal of $10k. So, over the following seven years, we launched 11 more products on Kickstarter and have become a brand known for quality, innovation, and design in the travel, photography, and everyday carry space.

Where did the name NOMATIC come from, and why was it chosen?

We were originally called “Basics Products” but learned quickly that we were going to have to change it based on IP issues. At the same time, we were in the process of launching our first bag for Travel and thought that Travel was a direction we might be going. So, we started searching databases for available domains that resonated with what we were creating. We ran across the name nomatic.com and said, “That’s the one.” 

How did you build a successful customer base?

Two factors grew our customer base in the early days. The first was the fact that we started our business out on Kickstarter. It was a great community of people looking for new and innovative products. The second factor was that we started our business in 2014, when Facebook ads were extremely cheap. So, with a platform like Kickstarter, where people were eager to find new and innovative products, combined with a ROAS of 10:1, we could speak to a large group of people inexpensively and drive them to a platform and to a product they were interested in. Then we continued to go back to the Kickstarter platform and launch products that that customer base was excited about because we dedicated so much time and energy into making our products just right for our newfound audience.  

Nomatic Toiletry Bag
NOMATIC toiletry bag / Photo courtesy of NOMATIC

What experience did you want customers to have when thinking about and interacting with NOMATIC, and why?

Jon and I were always deeply driven by a desire to create products that just made EVERY aspect of life better through functional and innovative products. We wanted our customers to try our gear and immediately realize the thought and attention that went into every detail of the bag. We were relentless in our commitment to never settling and only launching when we had done all we could to make the products great.

Entrepreneurship

Jacob Durham headshot
NOMATIC Co-Founder Jacob Durham / Photo courtesy of NOMATIC

One-On-One with Jacob

What are your three biggest fears as an entrepreneur, and how do you manage them?

I have always been known in my life to have tunnel vision. To set a goal and not stop until I accomplish it. Often this comes at the expense of a balanced life. So my biggest fear is losing sight of the priorities in my life and not maintaining a balance of all things that matter most to me.

What are three obstacles you’ve faced while growing NOMATIC, and how have you overcome them?

  1. Running a travel business amidst a worldwide pandemic. COVID directly impacted our company. We sell bags for travel and people commuting to work, and during the Pandemic, people stopped doing both of those. When the world shut down in March of 2020, I set up shop in my unfinished basement. It was a scary time, and we had to trim down a lot of fat that existed in the business, unfortunately, we had to reduce our team, which was one of the hardest things we’ve had to do as owners. Fortunately, the people who remained were strong and capable, and as a team, we were able to pull together and work through it. On top of acting quickly to make our operations leaner, we had just launched a new product in the photography space, which just so happened to be a growing category during the pandemic. We worked on it for two years before March 2020, and we just so happened to launch it at the end of 2020. So this product line quickly became our best seller and helped our company pull through the tough times.
  2. Team Alignment and leadership. Learning to create a single vision for the team and keep the team aligned and motivated has been a constant focus for me and has become much more difficult than I had expected. I can’t say that I have overcome the obstacle of team alignment and leadership, but I am working hard to figure out how to do it right. I am trying to implement to facilitate this is listed in #10 below.
  3. Shipping and 3PLs. This has always been the most frustrating part of our business no matter what we have done. It has never been something that we have fully wanted to own, so we have never warehoused our products and shipped them out, so we have always relied on 3PLs. But I think this has caused us more pain than other parts of our business. I think we have tried to counter this has been deepening our communications and relationships with our 3PL. Try to share problems more and visit them more often to show that we are serious about this relationship and want it to succeed.

What questions should would-be entrepreneurs ask themselves before starting a new venture, and why?

What are you wanting to accomplish, and why, and does that align with your values in your life? Being an entrepreneur takes every part of you. You will spend every sleeping and waking hour for the next 5+ years 100% committed to this task, and if it doesn’t 100% align with who you are at your core and what you value, it will make for a very difficult and exhausting ride.

Nomatic Toiletry Bag
NOMATIC toiletry bag / Photo courtesy of NOMATIC

Do you believe there is some sort of pattern or formula to becoming a successful leader?

I’m slowly learning this myself, so you have to take what I say with a grain of salt, but my most recent lessons in leadership have taught me that you need to do three things.

Create a clear and understandable vision of where you are going and how you will get there.

You need to show your team that you truly care about this vision and that you equally care about each of them individually.

You need to put in the work yourself and work hard to accomplish the task and work just hard to create the vision and show them that you care about that vision. Leading is exhausting, but experiencing the power of a team is extremely rewarding.

How do you market your products, which tactics have been most successful, and why do you think this is the case?

The most successful marketing tactics for us have been Facebook, and social media paid ads. However, moving forward, based on pricing and costs for paid ads continuing to increase so dramatically, we have been. We will continue to make big changes to add in new marketing and traffic channels.

Jon Richards headshot
NOMATIC Co-Founder Jon Richards / Photo courtesy of NOMATIC

One-on-One with Jon Richards

What are your three biggest fears as an entrepreneur, and how do you manage them?

  1. Having all my eggs in one basket. I have had shiny object syndrome in the past, where I get distracted by all the little opportunities that come along. Early on, I had to eliminate all of these distractions and just focus on building NOMATIC. This is my first business, I have ever started, and it has done so well. I’ve invested all my time and energy into this brand which has contributed to its success but potentially hurt me on diversification. I have tried to save and invest in other less distracting opportunities, such as real estate, along the way so that I am not left empty-handed should the business fail.
  2. There is a potential inability to manage company culture and a solid brand vision and mission. We are working hard to put programs, challenges, and incentives in place to encourage a stronger connection and company culture to avoid losing sight of what is truly important.
  3. If I am not able to replicate this success. Wherever I end up, will I be a one-hit-wonder and always ride the coattails of my NOMATIC success? Or is this just the beginning for me, and there are much bigger, more impactful businesses I was born to be a part of? To manage this, I try to make time to always improve myself, Physically, Mentally, in my relationships, and other personal goals so that I stay sharp. If any, when another opportunity presents itself, I am ready to take it head-on.
Nomatic Toiletry Bag
NOMATIC toiletry bag / Photo courtesy of NOMATIC

What are three obstacles you’ve faced while growing NOMATIC, and how have you overcome them?  

  1. Shipping. This has been an issue from the beginning. It’s one of the few parts of our business we have outsourced, and because we don’t control it, it’s always been a pain point for us. We have moved through third-party logistics companies more times than I care to admit in hopes of finding the perfect partners, and it turns out they don’t exist. On top of that, you throw a worldwide pandemic and all the logistical nightmares the world has seen, and you have light nights and long hours stressing over how to fix the issues that come up every day. Luckily, we have some of the best team members in the house working around the clock to resolve these issues, and our customer service team always does its best to make sure our customers are taken care of in the end.
  2. Selling travel products during worldwide lockdowns. We launched a full set of travel bags in April of 2020, only weeks after the first wave of COVID-19 hit. All travel-related product sales were cut by roughly 60%, which was extremely painful. Luckily, we were working on a photography line of bags that hobbyists got excited about, and we were able to recoup almost all lost sales from travel items through our new photography line.
  3. Funding growth. One of the main struggles all companies have is managing growth and capital. We have been very intentional about using crowdfunding to launch our products which has helped us get fast, free funding, prove the product and the price point, and create a community of customers. We have launched 11 Crowdfunding campaigns raising over $15M Total, which has allowed us to grow without sacrificing equity.

What questions should would-be entrepreneurs ask themselves before starting a new venture, and why?

Am I in this for the right reason, with the right people, and in the right place?

Right reason. Many people see entrepreneurship as glamorous and fun when in reality, it can take a major toll on your mental and physical health and distract you from more important things such as family and relationships. I’ve heard it said that entrepreneurs are the only people willing to work 80 hours to avoid working 40, which is very true. The right reason is that I value control and freedom and feel trapped if I don’t feel like I am building my destiny. I am intentional about spending my time and have made sacrifices to put the most important things first in my life. I have not been perfect, but I continue to try and elevate the moments that matter in my life.

Right people. I like to say that if I had interviewed 1000 people in hopes of finding the best business partner for me, I would have never ended up with as good a match as Jacob Durham. I have been lucky enough to be surrounded by great people in this business. We have built a great culture without ego… It’s impossible to interview for these types of things and know them for sure until you are in the trenches together. And for Jacob and I, we have passed the test again and again. On the flip side, I was lucky to have an amazing life partner, my wife Amy, who has supported me in the ups and downs and has been the silent sounding board and business partner for so many decisions I have made. I could not have done this without her support.

Right place. I don’t mean physical location. I mean that you are in a place where you can innovate and thrive. It is so easy to get caught chasing big money, but ultimately you will have a much better experience if you build something passionate about and love.

Nomatic Toiletry Bag
NOMATIC toiletry bag / Photo courtesy of NOMATIC

Do you believe there is some sort of pattern or formula to becoming a successful leader? If so, what is it?

If there is a secret formula, I’d love to know about it, haha. I guess the biggest thing I feel like employees have expressed gratitude for is our trust in them and always keeping our egos out of decisions… we often say it’s not about who is right but what is right. That has helped be our guide through the years.

What are three pieces of advice you can share with people looking to become influential leaders in their businesses, and why?

Build a personal brand. I think it’s important to speak openly and authentically about who you are and the struggles you are facing. People want to hear real stories and relate more to this type of influence.

I love the quote that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. One very important leadership principle is to listen to them with love, without jumping to conclusions or pushing your agenda. Take time to hear them, which will go a long way in their willingness to follow.

Try new things! To truly lead, it’s important that you not get stuck in a mundane routine. You can’t keep doing the same thing and expect new results. So, mix it up, don’t be afraid to try new things. You just might strike gold!

How do you market your products, which tactics have been most successful, and why do you think this is the case?

Paid advertising. NOMATIC started in the golden age of Facebook. We have built entire marketing agencies around paid advertising on social platforms and seen massive success. We have had to continue adapting and progressing because it is constantly changing, but it has been well worth the effort.

Partnerships. Some of our biggest success has been in part because we partnered with the right people or brands at the right time. We launched an entire line of bags in collaboration with photographer Peter Mckinnon and have seen tremendous success. The Photo community immediately trusted us because they trusted Peter and the brand he had built for himself.

Crowdfunding. Using Kickstarter to release new products has helped us build hype and excitement around each product we launch. It helps people feel like they are part of a community, and they have some say in how the product ends up. They feel invested like they helped it come to life, and that is a lot of fun to interact with customers in that way.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Erin Hanson, a 21-year-old poet from Australia, captured the world’s attention with her beautiful words, and I think she describes entrepreneurship perfectly: “There is freedom waiting for you, on the breezes of the sky. And you ask, “What if I fall?” Oh, but my darling, “What if you fly?