I’m very happy to be sharing a new Behind The Biz interview with you this week. Before we start, if you’re new around here, Behind The Biz is an interview series where I discover small and growing businesses, the people behind them and their business journey.
Today’s interview is with Michael Utley, the founder of Maunder XV.
Please tell us about your business.
I created Maunder XV to redefine the outerwear market and create a new, British brand to disrupt the outdoor clothing market. We’ve created two initial jackets based on a unique philosophy – the Deepcover V and the Deepcover C which hit our Kickstarter target in 30 days.
We want Maunder XV to fill a void in outerwear with a very considered, British approach to utility, style and value.
Where did the inspiration for Maunder XV come from?
I’ve always travelled a lot for work & I love the outdoors so rather than letting business travel keep me indoors, I made sure I get outside wherever & whenever possible, whether that’s walking, getting on a bike, or extending trips by a day or so. The pain was that I’d always have to decide on whether I’d pack a jacket best for going outdoors or going to meetings.
There was one particular moment when I’d been hiking in the Alps, so had a typical mountain-branded rain jacket but was following this up with some work in Milan. I was due to go for quite a smart dinner (as most in Italy are) when the heavens opened & I had to choose between taking a soaking in a smart business jacket, or wearing my mountain jacket & being the worst dressed person there!
This was the moment I knew that I & everyone like me needed something better.
How did you decide upon the name of your brand?
Maunder is a slightly older, more traditional take on ‘meander’ – with the idea being that wherever you may find yourself, be it a smart work meeting, or in the rain in the woods, Maunder XV kit will do you well. We chose the XV to mark 2015 as the year we set up the business & starting trying to make the dream happen.
What did you do before starting Maunder XV?
My background is in sales and marketing, bringing products to the market and overseeing sales and marketing strategies for consumer technology brands and award-winning companies focusing on international business development.
More recently, I have spent the last three years in the Netherlands running a sales consultancy specializing in market strategy and business planning for crowd-funded start-ups.
I’ve developed a real taste for seeing products being developed & taken to market. It’s a real buzz, so was probably a matter of time before I did it for myself – it was just a case of combining it with a personal passion.
Did you always plan to be self-employed?
Tough question – I’m not sure, I always wanted to work on projects I believed in, with products I was excited about. I’ve been involved in lots of tech and audio projects, which, as an electronic music nut has been right up my street.
I think the key has been staying open minded, optimistic and making the most of opportunities that may arise in front of you.
What has been the biggest challenge in running your business so far?
Outlining everything we wanted from a jacket was easy, finding it was impossible. So over two years we met with designers, factories and production houses and through an arduous sampling process created our ultimate jacket.
What has been the highlight of your business journey to date?
Seeing our first prototypes come to life was a big moment for us & they’ve rarely left my side, or my back.
Hitting our £14k Kickstarter target with the help of 50 backers was amazing because it demonstrated bow that our brand is something people believe in & that we’re meeting a genuine need that isn’t currently being met.
There are plenty of great new businesses out there, but unless you’re truly fulfilling a need, any business will struggle.
What role does social media play for your business and do you have a favourite social platform?
It’s early days, so social media has been about getting the message out there about our brand & product – with the 3,000 or so followers we have on Instagram, which is probably my favourite social network at the moment. It’s also great for gathering inspiration from brands and people we admire.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
Understanding your audience, your market and your competition. When we first fell upon the need for a jacket that works for being active but also has the looks for smarter occasions, we scoured the market to validate our thoughts.
In our case, we tried on hundreds of jackets and found a complete split in the market between formal jackets from old fashioned materials and high-tech mountain jackets covered in big logos with complicated features.
This process also solidified our vision and understanding of what we wanted to achieve with our first products. For example, we saw so many nice looking sports jackets that were ruined by bulky hoods and OTT logos, smart coats you wouldn’t want to take anywhere near a splatter of mud and many which were just far too expensive.
Spending a lot of time in Amsterdam, we also studied cyclists and the fact there was nothing that combined the darker materials people wanted to wear around town and to work with the clear benefits of reflectivity and visibility. It really pays to become a nerd in whatever your industry is!
Once you’ve done your research, set about validating your concept, for us, we used Kickstarter to show we can sell jackets without the upfront costs of making them. For others it may be about going to markets, or interviewing potential customers – often it’s this activity that helps you best refine your plans and thinking.
Where do you hope to take your business in the year ahead?
The next year is all about getting coats on people’s backs and in high street stores, so we’ll have our first batch of jackets shipping early in the year, and we’re so excited to get even more feedback.
We’ll also need to continue raising funds and investment as we’d love to be able to bring all of our production over to the UK and create some new product lines which still capture the essence of Maunder XV.
Thank you so much to Michael for taking the time to be involved with Behind The Biz. I hope you all enjoyed the interview as much as I did. Finding a gap in the market and having a passion to pursue it is one of the many roads to success. I wish Michael and his team the best of luck in the exciting year ahead.
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