Three months ago I got into my car and drove down to Provence to bring a decade long dream to reality. I didn’t have a plan, all I had were a few borrowed euros in my pocket, an appointment with a young French industrial designer and the belief of my wife that said: “Christian you have been wanting to build suitcases for 10 years now, if we are going to go broke we might as well do it for your dream”. What was about to happen over the next three months would surpass anything I could have ever imagined and would bring me to tears when my team presented me this weekend with the first Corvin suitcase.
Compared to previous ventures, this is what I did different and what I think entrepreneurs and leaders should keep in mind when trying to build a successful team.
Inspire, Motivate and Get Out Of Their Way
There are a few things I am very good at but building things with my hands are not one of them. My carpenter experience is limited to putting together the odd IKEA nightstand (and even that takes me hours), which is why I was known as “Mr Bean” in our atelier. In fact, the more I would try to help the slower the process would become. So I realised my role as the founder was simple: build a clear vision, energise the team with abundant enthusiasm, teach them how to dream and then, when they were all fired up, get the hell out of their way.
Let People Choose Their Compensation
We were on an extremely tight budget to build this prototype. Traditional thinking would therefore imply that the success of this venture would be dependant on how well I could negotiate and how much I could ‘squeeze’ out of my team and suppliers. Personally I hate to negotiate, I find it always follows the same pattern which is where one party overshoots, the other undershoots and in the end they meet in the middle but neither are happy. It just sounds like a terrible waste of time. So this time around I decided to simply explain the situation and leave the choice of compensation to each individual. Every person could choose the compensation, structure and involvement in the project and I would simply do my best to match their expectations. The end result, nobody overshot and everybody was highly motivated.
Get Your Freak Under Control
As a renown control freak, it is very difficult for me to let go when the stakes are high and there is no margin for error. This was therefore the toughest challenge of all for me and sometimes my bad habits did creep in again. My ambition was to set the overall architecture but then let each individual the maximum amount of liberty in doing what they do best. I would wait to see what their interpretation was first and then complement it with, what has now become an inside joke, “j’ai une petite suggestion” (I have a small suggestion). Taking a blind leap of faith in my team was both one of the hardest and most rewarding experiences of my life. The hardest because I have severe trust issues when it comes to depending entirely on others and rewarding because this incredible team didn’t only deliver but did so by giving me everything they had in them. On the last day before our photoshoot they worked 36 hours straight with no sleep and although I told them to get some rest they simply ignored me and pulled through. It was one of the most generous sacrifices I have ever experienced and one I will for always be grateful for. As Thibault, our industrial designer, likes to remind me: sometimes by taking a leap of faith you can be pleasantly surprised in life.
In the end this approach brought 6 very talented people together. Thibault our industrial designer, Mathilde who initially was our photographer but then when she saw we were running late spontaneously picked up a screwdriver and became our most valued prototyper, Olivier our iron craftsman who became an expert in bamboo, Olivia our handbag designer who did our travel cases and interior, Florent our fashion photographer who shot our carry-on beautifully and Matthias the video producer that is doing our storytelling for our Kickstarter campaign. Together, with Claudia and myself, we are the Corvin team and I believe the end result speaks for itself.