An interview with Melissa Mash | Co-founder and CEO of Dagne Dover
Ever rummaged through your purse for a full five minutes before finding your keys … or wallet … or headphones?
Girl, we’ve all been there.
Most of the bags I own never have enough compartments and are impossible to keep organized.
Luckily, one woman is changing the game in a MAJOR way.
Melissa Mash is the c0-founder and CEO of Dagne Dover, a company that builds functional handbags, backpacks, and accessories for fashion-forward women.
Watch our interview above or read it below … I hope you enjoy!
Melissa Mash: After seeing this was a problem that every single woman had (and actually a lot of men too!), I thought, “OK. Absolutely, I’m gonna start this.”
Melissa Mash: I worked at Coach corporate for a long time in New York. In 2009, I had the opportunity to turnaround Coach’s 1st store ,which was in London at Heathrow Terminal 5. It was through that experience of managing a store, a team and actually speaking with customers every single day that I got to hear their biggest handbag frustrations. I saw that there was a real need in the market for a brand that nailed the fashion piece, that of course nailed the work/organization piece and that was a very compelling value.
Jen Hacker: So, when this light bulb went off for you, where did you take from there? Did you think, “yes, I need to start a business!” or did you think “ these other brands need to fix their bags”?
Melissa Mash: No, I was like “they’re not gonna do it.” There really need to be a new brand that is made for this generation that really speaks to their values. This was in 2009, so Bonobos and Baublebar had started to emerge for direct-to-consumer verticals, but no one had done it yet for handbags. I honestly wasn’t totally sold that I was going to do this immediately, but I had always wanted to start my own business. It was always part of the plan but I tabled that idea, I decided to apply to business school and went in with a completely different business idea. It was during that time that I saw my peers doing what I call the ‘two-bag schlep.’
They’d go to recruiting events and they’d have 15 clothes in one bag and their professional stuff in the other and they’d try to pull out a resume, chargers, gum wrappers, flyers … these were people who were perfectly put together from head to toe: the hair, the makeup, the clothes, the shoes – but their bags were a complete disaster. A lot of the time also, they would either carry something that looked like a gym bag or something that was too flashy to be professional. They knew it but they didn’t know what else buy to replace it. So, after seeing that this was literally a problem that every single woman had and actually a lot of men too wanted different options, I was like “OK. Absolutely. I’m gonna start this.” So, the first thing that was really important was doing adequate market research – we were not going to pretend we know everything and just create this thing, put it out there, and hope people buy it. We wanted to make sure there was product-market fit, so we surveyed a focus group of 1,000 people. We got samples made so that people could have something to base their opinions off of. But, it was really backwards engineering based off of that feedback: “OK, the drop length of the handle needs to be this length … the key strap needs to be this length.” Taking all that feedback into consideration, we did pricing studies, we did the basic branding elements, and built it all into our brand.
Jen Hacker: Talk about that a bit more because I’m always interested to understand how the brand part comes about. Obviously you had the product. But how did you come up with like the actual Dagne Dover brand and the identity and what it was going to mean?
Melissa Mash: So, it was really important for our brand to be something more than just arm candy or a pretty face and we felt the name really needed to reflect that. Dagne is a Nordic word for “new day.” This bag is really there to prep you for whatever the day hits you with. It should be as intuitive as an iPhone, it should have everything so you have easy access to your things. Dover is Jessie’s last name, so it really is like the creative face is part of the brand name, and Dagne is, “there for you.”
Jen Hacker: What was that space then from all the research to actually getting to launch? What were the steps?
Melissa Mash: We were running dual paths in terms of doing the branding, market research and connecting with factories, suppliers, and sourcing everything. It was a lot of hustling all these tiny little pieces to get the samples made, get a website up, and all of that. We launched the brand in 2013 with a pre-sale and said this is what the bag looks like, this is what the price is at, these are the colors … would you buy it? And people did, it was awesome! A lot of our first customers came from that group who were in the focus groups and they were like “yes, I really wanna try this product” but I think that something that really resonated with our customer base is feeling like they’re a part of the story. So much of what we attribute our early success to was our early social media following – organic social media. This was a time where you could post and people would actually see your posts. You didn’t have to pay for everything. We couldn’t pay. Every single dollar was going towards making the product, improving how this business needed to exist. But really, that’s what a lot of people were super drawn to is we were three women and we had handbag problems and we decided to do something about it and this is made for a generation of us.
Jen Hacker: We often see or hear these stories where it sounds like everything just went perfect. Was there any moment where you thought, what are we doing? Is this going to work?
Melissa Mash: To be totally fair, that was the cliff notes version, so that’s why it may sound like that. It wasn’t like that at the time. There was no moment where we were like “we’re going to fail, this is it, this was a mistake”. I think there are a lot of like foundational things that are really important early on that founders need to do their due diligence for before they take anything at face value. You should never think just because everyone does something that’s the right way of doing it.
Jen Hacker: That leads into my last question which is that for someone who’s got an idea and wants to start their business, what would you advise them right now to think about?
Melissa Mash: Following through with that concept, there is no formula for success in a digital media brand today. What worked for us 2-3 years ago is not necessarily what’s going to work for a brand today and certainly not two years from now. Sometimes, we go to talks or sit on panels and people ask us, “who did you use for PR? Who did you use for this?” This is part of the ecosystem in your head that you should have in mind, like “oh, this could be helpful for that my work” but you figure out which of those points are actually helpful for your business and then focus on them, versus just assuming that there is a formula for working with this PR agency, you work with this distribution center or you get funded by this type of investor, that’s absolutely not true.
Jen Hacker: Well, I think what you’re doing is working, I have seen the process, I’ve seen you guys everywhere … so congratulations on all the success! I appreciate you sharing your story with us and for everyone who’s aspiring to take the same path or their own version of that path. So, thank you and a toast to you and Dagne Dover!
Ready to learn how to build your own brand? This post is for you.