Chris Hughes - Founder of Artifact Bag Co.

[quote style=”boxed”]Ideas do not have to be important. Look at me–I make bags. I did not invent bags. Success lies in execution and marketing. The idea has to inspire you. Are you crazy passionate about your idea? If you are not, you will burn out. I would be designing and making bags even if nobody wanted to buy one from me. Would you want to pursue your idea even if it could not be monetized? Does your idea haunt you?[/quote]

Chris Hughes founded Artifact Bag Co. in Omaha, Nebraska, in 2010. His artisan-made products use American-sourced materials and offer a lifetime guarantee. Chris launched Artifact Bag Co. from his basement with one vintage commercial sewing machine, and grew the company into an international brand receiving press in The New York Times, GQ, Rolling Stone, Popular Mechanics, Gizmodo and Garden Design. Chris was selected among Omaha Midlands Business Journal’s 40 under 40 to receive the top honor of 2011 Young Entrepreneur of the Year.

What are you working on right now?

I am working with Omaha designer Cody Peterson on a new site that utilizes responsive design for a cleaner user experience on all devices. I’m also finishing up a line of utilitarian aprons in waxed canvas and selvage denim, as well as a zippered briefcase in waxed canvas and leather, with internal padding for up to 15” laptops.

Where did the idea for Artifact Bag come from?

Artifact Bag Co. is a synthesis of many interests. I love designing and making things. I love textiles. I love bags. I love vintage equipment. I acquired a commercial sewing machine from Craigslist and was making objects that solved personal needs (like a nice lunch tote). With the help of the internet, I was able to determine I was not the only person looking for a better lunch tote, tool tote, etc. I started selling my bags online and a business emerged.

What does your typical day look like?

It looks like a man straddling the 19th and 21st century. I repair antique machines, answer emails, cut hides of leather, check analytics, hammer rivets, write blog posts and sketch designs–all while soaking up podcasts and audio books from my MacBook Pro that rests on a vintage woodworking bench. I love my workday.

How do you bring ideas to life?

Ideas come at any time. I carry a pocket notebook to jot things down and make sketches. There are more ideas than time to execute them, so I have to use a vetting process to single out the ones that stack highest in terms of cost/benefit.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

I love the increasing amount of data being made available on the internet. Every year there are more blogs, more podcasts, more images, more videos, etc. Most of my interests are esoteric and long tail. Organic search democratizes information so I am no longer limited to the books at my local bookstore, library or university.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

I’ve had a lot of shitty jobs. My last job was at PayPal, working on the phones in “Customer Solutions.” I had formerly been a product manager, but the 2008 recession took care of that. After nine months of job searching, PayPal was the only job offer I received. It ended up being a valuable experience for someone who soon would be launching a company. My daily struggle of trying to help people within the arbitrary constraints of the PayPal system, coupled with reading Tony Hsieh’s Delivering Happiness gave me a valuable perspective on how to treat people. That experience was the basis of my decision to offer a lifetime guarantee on my products.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

I’m tempted to say I should have started a company sooner, but all the rabbit holes I’ve crawled through over the years are now valuable experiences which I continually draw from. I’ve had to learn a lot of things the hard way, but I’m better for it.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Focus. Focus. Focus.

What is one problem you encountered as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

I had to learn to say “no” all the time. I only say “yes” when that which is being asked of me is absolutely in line with my core objectives for Artifact Bag Co. Otherwise, I miss deadlines on my roadmap and have little to show for it.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Ideas do not have to be important. Look at me–I make bags. I did not invent bags. Success lies in execution and marketing. The idea has to inspire you. Are you crazy passionate about your idea? If you are not, you will burn out. I would be designing and making bags even if nobody wanted to buy one from me. Would you want to pursue your idea even if it could not be monetized? Does your idea haunt you?

If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?

I would like to see people be more resourceful. It pains me to see the usable stuff that gets thrown away. Hopefully, if people see me mending my clothing, fixing my machines and recycling materials, they’ll realize it’s not that difficult.

Tell us a secret.

Let others be the ones to refer to you as the “entrepreneur.” Do not refer to yourself as one unless you are in the company of strangers and you are the only one wearing a tuxedo.

What are your three favorite online tools or resources and what do you love about them?

  1. iTunes. It lovingly houses my podcasts and audiobooks.
  2. Google. I am smarter because of Google. Thank you, Google.
  3. Ebay. Their user experience for selling has dropped over the years, but their completed auction data remains one of the best ways for determining fair market values.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

I would have to go with How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie, because it contains information that everyone will benefit from.

Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?

  1. @jasonfried, the founder of 37signals. Enough said.
  2. @acontinuouslean. Michael Williams is an influencer of men’s style and writes in a voice I appreciate.
  3. @siliconprairie is an excellent Omaha-based resource for news and events regarding technology and startups in the Midwest.

When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?

My shop is on the second floor of a downtown building my friends own. The main floor is a private recording studio and their band (The Faint) rehearses there. Today, I entertained the idea of walking into their rehearsal wearing nothing but my shop apron to offer them some exotic candy given to me yesterday during a visit from a Tokyo gentleman. I ended up giving The Faint my candy, but I was fully clothed.

Who is your hero?

My wife. She does the lion’s share of the parenting and I don’t know how she does it. I love my boys more than the world, but they are seriously high maintenance.

Are there advantages to being based in Omaha, Nebraska?

Definitely. Omaha has been getting notable attention for its growing startup community. This is drawing in investors and generating awareness. Companies are getting funded. Connections are being made. The environment is unique in that it’s still very Midwest and not trying to emulate other established startup cities. I have a lot of people in my corner helping me in Omaha.

What are you currently reading?

Basics Fashion Design: Menswear by John Hopkins, The New Rules of Retail by Robin Lewis and Michael Dary, the August 2012 issue of Military Trader, and 100 Great Businesses: And The Minds Behind Them by Emily Ross and Angus Holland.


Artifact Bag on Twitter: @artifactbags
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