After Colby Bauer, co-founder of Thread Wallets, lost his wallet into the ocean, he dedicated his life to creating a better rubber band. Why a rubber band, you ask? Because he used a thick rubber band instead of a wallet after this incident and found that he loved the minimalist feel of it. In researching the current wallets on the market, he found that most of them were stuck in the ’80s with the so called “Costanza” wallet (The “stuffed full” giant wallet made famous by the “Seinfeld” TV character George Costanza), and decided he wanted to create something that had both style and substance.
The Need for Expression
“Thread was born out of a need for expression,” Bauer says. “We brought life to a category saturated with bulky and boring. Our purpose is to offer functional products that allow you to do what you love and to look good doing it.
Bauer grew up in Arizona and loved action sports — from wakeboarding to snowboarding. He got a scholarship to play soccer at Brigham Young University, both in Provo and at the Hawaii campus. Throughout his school days, however, he always had trouble figuring out what he wanted to do. He loved entrepreneurship, but he wasn’t sure what direction to take.
He had gotten his first taste of it when he was 14 years old and talked about creating T-shirts for wakeboarders with his best friend. They drew up a bunch of designs and his father, a businessman himself, asked, “Why don’t you actually do it?” With his help they did and were able to get their products into a variety of local shops.
His father, a financial adviser, had created a successful firm and had been grooming his son to take over for him eventually. But for some reason, the idea, though financially promising, didn’t resonate with Bauer. “Some people would call me crazy for leaving the gold mine my dad had left for me. I wanted to find my own gold mine,” he says.
After volunteering as a missionary for his church in Oregon, Bauer returned to BYU and decided to try his hand at app development. He created an app named “Pic Play,” which he describes as “Apples to Apples (a board game) with pictures.” Though he enjoyed some moderate success, he found this route to simply cost too much money to be sustainable.
So he shifted gears back to apparel and accessories. He recalls, “Some of the brands that have always spoken to me are those that have a niche in the market. I wanted to focus on wallets.”
In 2014, and at the same time he started developing this idea, he was dating McKenzie, who would eventually become his wife as well as co-founder and chief marketing officer for the business. They worked on this idea together and sewed the prototypes in her childhood bedroom. They launched a Kickstarter which got enough funding that they were able to develop the business. Soon after, they got married and moved to Hawaii. They had 1,000 wallets to sell and were able to sell them all in six months. They set up shop at farmer’s markets and sold them face to face for $5 and gathered invaluable feedback from their customers.
Redefining the Way You Do You
When considering what to do after graduation, Colby and McKenzie had several options. Colby could continue his soccer career, he could go to work for his dad, or they could try to launch their wallet business. After much consideration, they decided to give the wallet business a go for six months. They launched another Kickstarter, developed a website and the Thread Wallets business took off with the operations still headquartered in McKenzie’s childhood room.
Five years later, they have grown to a team of 22 and now operate out of a building in Provo, Utah. Thread Wallet product line now includes several types of wallets including the original elastic, vertical, bifold, and phone. (All of these minimalist wallets are far from being anything close to the “Costanza” wallet).
They added lanyards to their product lineup as well as lip balm holders and wearables, including beanies, hats and T-shirts.
“We’re redefining the way you carry you, and you look damn good doing it. With our wallets, we know that functionality and expression are woven together to create the perfect extension of who you are. On the shelf, the hook, in your bag or pocket, we’ll hold it together while you do your thing,” states their website.
When asked what plans he has for the future, Colby said he has admired the Vans company and hopes one day to get Thread Wallets to that level. “Vans has an amazing audience and aesthetic. They promote this youthful attitude,” he says, “We’ll be focusing on our ‘carry’ products and accessories. I want to grow the product line in the next few years and expand distribution to all sorts of retailers. We hope to have a strong foothold in the industry in the next five years.”
Colby and McKenzie are the parents of two children and have found creative ways to balance personal and business life, even through difficult times. They now have a system in place where each of them spends half a day in the office and the other half of the day at home with their children. “I get a lot more done being alone,” Colby admits, “Even though things are stressful and we want to grow this thing, it is so important to spend time with family. With entrepreneurship, you think you have all the freedom in the world, but only if you focus on that. You can quickly get handcuffed by your own business. In the first few years, we were burning the candle at both ends. We were balancing a new business with a new marriage and it can cause your personal life to struggle. The best and most healthy way to run a business is to find balance. For me, that’s skateboarding. That helps me manage my stress levels. If I need a 15-minute break, I go do that because we have a skate ramp in my office. Balance is key in business, especially when it feels impossible to find it.”