The first post in our series on founders’ stories is about how Hannah Fastov, founder of Go Dash Dot, created the bag she knew professional women wanted…and only later realized she had created a company, too! We are going to use as many of our founders’ own words as possible in these posts, to give you a sense of who they are and how they did it.
Hannah Fastov was 24 years old with, she admits, very little real world experience, when she decided to create a stylish bag that could multitask morning to night. Her intended customer? The professional woman who carried all her stuff from the office to the gym to an evening out with friends. It was a personal challenge.
“I was working in product development in footwear, handbags, and accessories, leaving home at 6 am and getting back at 10 or 11 at night, working really long hours. Fitness has always been important to me, so I made time to work out, and then I’d meet friends for drinks or family for a late dinner,” Hannah recalled.
“I’d pack everything I needed for the day into two or three or, at one point, six bags. I got tired of moments like when I reached into my bag for my notebook in a meeting and pulled my bra out with it.”
She was not alone.
“I’d ask women in the gym locker room and my friends for recommendations for a bag, and everyone said they hated their current bag and had a million things that could improve it. I thought, hmm, that’s interesting. So I created a survey and sent it to over 150 women, asking about their lifestyles, behaviors, did they wash their hair at the gym or at home, what did they carry in their bags, that kind of thing.”
Her experience in the fashion world bolstered Hannah’s belief that she could create The Best Bag Ever. She bought a big black utility bag from Urban Outfitters, cut it up, taped in new pieces, and made a mock-up of what she had in mind.
Hannah had researched a list of manufacturers in the garment district for a previous job. She scoured those names and came up with one that seemed perfect, run by a guy about her age.
“I thought, ‘I totally got this.’ I set up a meeting, and I took my little bag design thing with me, and the guy was like, ‘I don’t know what this is, I can’t help you, you’re never going to succeed, and…no.’ That’s when I realized I was going to need help.”
This marked the first of several times Hannah turned to the entrepreneur’s best friend, Google.
“I came across Upwork.com, which is an awesome website that I’ve used over and over again for a variety of different things. Out of sheer coincidence, my current designer, Yudhisty Saridjo, was between opportunities and she made an account randomly on Upwork. The one day she was up there and the one day I was looking we happened to cross paths.
“I reached out to Yudhisty, and we met at this coffee place. I was so young and naïve and she was so professional with her portfolio. She is incredible, and we’ve worked together ever since to come up with designs for all the functionality I wanted to include in the bags.”
Designer, check. What next? Deciding on and sourcing the materials, and finding a factory that would make the bag.
“We decided on mesh, and I turned to Google again. I discovered Alibaba.com and literally just starting reaching out to all the gold-star suppliers. They all use What’s App, so I was What’s App-ing these suppliers in China all night long. They didn’t speak so much English and I don’t speak Chinese, so I wasn’t really sure what was happening, but I was hoping something was.
“For manufacturing, my boss, who was really supportive/didn’t really know I was doing this while I was working there, texted me the contact information for a factory we were no longer using. My dad knew a guy who sold bags from China, and that guy gave me the name of the factory we settled on. When we got the factory, I asked them to contact the suppliers directly because they all spoke Chinese.”
The first sample bag was not exactly what Hannah expected.
“We had nine months of iterations, fixing, changing, Skyping back and forth watching the factory make the sample to save on shipping. Finally we got a bag.”
It was time to return to the internet.
“I Googled ‘how to sell a bag,’ and trade show came up. There was a trade show in California for active wear, and I thought, perfect! I called this lady in California, I don’t even know how I got the number, and she said, ‘Sure, it’s $5000.’
“I got a small loan from my family, and my mom, who was looking to slow down her psychology practice, said she would help, and off we went to California! We made no money from it, not one person bought a bag, but we made a lot of friends. What was really great was that the trade show was mostly female-owned small businesses started within the last one to three years. They were all so friendly and helpful. Especially coming from the traditional fashion world, where people aren’t always so nice, I wasn’t expecting that, but that was really great.”
The next trade show brought actual sales!
“Another trade show in New York City was where we got our first order. The buyer was like, “I want two of those, and I was like, oh my God, I don’t know how to write an order! And my mom was saying ‘get a pad!’ and I was like, I don’t even know, where’s a pad?”
It was great to actually make a sale, but wholesale was not the way Hannah had expected to go when she first thought about making the Go Dash Dot bag.
“I just thought you make a website and people buy things! Wholesale is the hardest thing. It’s perseverance. No one really needs what you’re selling, so you have to make them need it. It was a really long period of trial and error and begging. Little by little, stores started being receptive because we were just getting bags into their hands, sometimes just like, ‘Take a bag, don’t even pay for it,’ which maybe is not the best thing.”
About a month after the NYC trade show, the accessories buyer from Free People contacted Go Dash Dot asking if they could carry the bags. Hannah’s response? Um, yes. And the next trade show brought tons of orders. That’s when Hannah decided to quit her job.
The transition from day job to full-time entrepreneurship was surprisingly stressful.
“I found myself thinking, ‘I quit my paying job, so I have to spend every minute of every day making this work or it’s going to be a waste.’ That’s not actually true, of course. But I spent hours on LinkedIn and emailing anyone who might be interested in carrying the bag.
“It was a lonely time. It was weird to think there was no one waiting for me anymore. And my friends’ work problems were so different from the problems I was facing. They would see a post on Instagram, and be like, ‘But you’re killing it!” And I would know it was the one good thing out of 700 things that went wrong that day. No one posts anything bad on social media.”
And dealing with the business side of making a bag was not Hannah’s...bag.
“When I started out, I thought I’m going to make the best bag ever that everyone will want and it’s going to be easy because it’s not a business, it’s a bag. I was two years into this before I realized I had started a business.”
Creative problem-solving was the driving force behind Hannah’s decision to make the Go Dash Dot bag. Bookkeeping? Hiring? The numbers? Not so much. But she gave it the old Google try.
“I read about it and I realized I don’t have time to learn everything. Accounting is a whole major in college! So after trial and error, trying to do it all myself, I had to find the right people.”
Hannah’s father, who has been in the business world a long time, has held her feet to the fire by asking hard questions about structuring the business.
“It’s become my mission not just to create the best bag ever, but to be a profitable business. Each time we have a win, that revenue has to go somewhere else in the business. Getting funding always sounds so cool, but money doesn’t solve fundamental problems. It helps, but that’s not what’s going to make us profitable. Sometimes I say, ‘But I want to grow this business,’ and my dad says, ‘But you have to have a business to grow.’ And he’s right.”
Go Dash Dot is expanding direct-to-consumer sales via a revamped website, but keeping wholesale is important, Hannah says, because of the tangibility of the bags.
“People need to touch and feel them, and look inside to see all they have to offer. Having that in-person contact is really important. So maybe we can pare down to two trade shows instead of seven, and then put some of that money into building out our direct-to-consumer business and advertising.”
So what’s the best part of creating this company? Hannah says it’s being able to share her story.
“When I look back, I can see I’ve done a lot. In the day to day, I’m just trying to breath.”
The other great thing that happens? Walking down the street and seeing someone with a Go Dash Dot bag.
“It’s so many emotions at once. I have so many awkward encounters where I either don’t want to say anything and I’m acting all weird, then people are staring at me, or I run up and forget I don’t know them and I’m like, ‘I know your bag!’”
The most challenging thing?
“It’s a humbling experience coming from a corporate job where you know exactly what’s expected of you, where people say ‘Good job!’ In this world, no one ever tells you you’re doing great. You hear the worst of everything. It’s a lot of really digging deep down and knowing you’re creating something that works. You can’t take it personally…you just have to keep going.”