Ten years ago, I had the idea for the Dad Wallet. As we wrote in our last blog entry, I wanted something I could take with me for a few hours as my kids got older. I couldn’t find what I wanted, so I began bootstrapping a series of prototypes. As you can see in the picture, put together, these nine wallets show the progression of a product from idea to reality.
HAND-SEWN PROTOTYPES (#1-3):
The journey begins in the right-hand corner of the picture with wallets I made out of felt and pleather. It was a whole-family process; I took the girls with me to Hobby Lobby or Joanne’s (craft stores with fabric) to get the supplies I needed.
Then we sat down and I sewed the wallets together. It was not easy; I learned some of the basics of sewing from my mother and some other people over the years, but sewing is not my forte. The stitches are terrible and the seams aren’t always straight. But the ideas are there and I could adjust the sizes of the pockets as needed.
Most importantly, for me, was that the girls and I worked together on those early prototypes. Some of their earliest memories are of us at the table with scraps of fabric, listening to music and working on crafts. They mostly used glue while I hand-stitched fabric, but we cut and sized and had a great time.
ARTISAN-MADE PROTOTYPES (#4-7):
Two of the prototypes (#4 and #5 in the picture) are made by a woman in Austin who took my sketched designs and my hand-sewn wallets and made her own versions. She is a woman in town who employs first-generation immigrants as tailors and we were excited about the idea of having products made in town. But the process never took off—it took months for each prototype to come back to us and, when they did, the materials, sizes, shape, and vibe were definitely not what we were looking for. After several months, we decided to move on.
Next, we found a leather-maker who works with belts and saddles. He made prototypes #6 and #7 in the picture. They are closer to what we were looking for—slightly rustic leather, cool pockets—but there were several things that were off. For example, wallet #4, made from saddle leather, doesn’t actually close, which is kind of a problem for a wallet.
The artisan-made prototypes took over a year; we ended up with products that weren’t really close to what we wanted. It was hard not to be frustrated or to feel like we’d wasted our money.
CAR-UPHOLSTERY PROTOTYPE (#8):
As part of our bootstrapping technique, we asked a family friend to help us make a prototype; he owns a factory that makes car upholstery out of leather. He graciously allowed us to work with his factory and they made us #1 above, which was the closest we had come so far to an actual wallet. It still wasn’t quite right—the leather that they worked with was too soft and thin for a wallet. But it was definitely better than anything we had so far.
Most importantly for us, we learned a lot in the process about working with a factory and making a product from start to finish.
DESIGNER-LED PROTOTYPE (#9):
And then we found Corie Humble. She was a friend of a friend who happened to be the former Senior Leather Designer for Fossil and Skagen. Corie knew everything we needed to take our designs from sketches to tech-pack to prototype. Prototype #9 is our earliest version of the Dad Wallet. It wasn’t perfect—we changed several things before the final version—but it was so exciting to finally see our vision start to come to life.
As you can see from the pictures, from start to finish, the prototypes change quite a bit—hand-sewn, off-seam craft projects ended up in a nice, high-quality result.
But for me, what matters the most is that the journey didn’t happen overnight. Prototyping is an existential experience. If forced me to examine my reasons for wanting to start a business, to understand and manage my insecurities after every failure, and to learn the endurance it takes to keep moving forward.
The journey took me from hand stitching with my daughters during craft time 10 years ago to launching high-quality products for dads a few months ago, and learning that being intentional about connecting with my wife and kids during the journey was actually the most important lesson I could have learned. I’ve loved getting to start this business with my whole family.
To me, each of these wallets represents a stepping stone along the way, not just to the kind of products we want to have, but the kind of dad, husband, and business entrepreneur I want to be.