And utilized a passion for travel — along with a successful Kickstarter campaign — to build better bags for photography, travel and everyday carry.

How Ryan Cope co-founded WANDRD

And utilized a passion for travel — along with a successful Kickstarter campaign — to build better bags for photography, travel and everyday carry.

The Founder Series is a column by and about Utah founders and how they got to where they are today. Click here to read past articles in the series.

One day, my family and I took a long vacation — one that just kept going. 

When I was in the third grade, my mom and dad bought a motorhome and took us to Mexico for two months. They took us out of school, and we spent a long time getting very familiar with the coast of Baja California. It was an experience I’ll never forget, and it instilled an early love for traveling in us. 

It shaped all we did from that point on. Taking trips to other countries later in life felt 100 percent natural, and we fed our desires to experience the new and foreign. We were comfortable wanderers wherever we found ourselves. 

My dad is an entrepreneur and has owned his own corporate training company for over 22 years. My brothers and I watched him start his business and were highly aware of all the effort he put into it. Instead of scaring us off, it drew us toward building a similar lifestyle. We couldn’t help but share a desire to start our own businesses and make our respective marks. 

Once we became college students, my older brother Spencer and I got into photography. No matter where we went, we packed our cameras. At one point, my wife and I were headed to New Zealand on a babymoon, and my brother was going to shoot Paris Fashion Week at the same time. When it came time to shop for camera bags, we did so together and found that none of them were acceptable. In fact, they were terrible. Either they looked like gear our dad would wear (note: not a compliment), or they didn’t do what they were supposed to do very well. 

That experience was a blessing in disguise. Spencer and I didn’t know it immediately, but we’d just stumbled across a business idea to expand on: we believed we could make better camera bags. It seemed straightforward enough. With all the inexperience and gusto of a couple of twenty-somethings, we decided we’d give it a go. Right away, we started designing and iterating on a bag that we ultimately launched on Kickstarter. 

It was because that campaign succeeded in 2015 that WANDRD started. It’s the reason we’re still making the best bags we possibly can nearly 10 years later.

And utilized a passion for travel — along with a successful Kickstarter campaign — to build better bags for photography, travel and everyday carry.

What you don’t know won’t hurt you (in fact, it may be an advantage) 

Spencer and I were both in college and working for my dad when WANDRD started. We had no relevant experience in creating consumer goods or manufacturing consumer products, but that worked to our benefit. Knowing too much often leads you to think it’ll be too difficult to even try. Instead, we saw it as an adventure. Why not do it, stumbling along the way and figuring it all out at the same time? That made more sense to us. 

When our Kickstarter campaign succeeded, we thought we were on our way. Our goal was $60,000, and we raised $113,000. It was enough of a win to make us feel good about ourselves; for a minute, we even thought we could pay ourselves. After crunching the numbers and deciding how much we needed for the first order of bags, though, we discovered we were in the hole and actually owed $15,000. This sent us on a mission to figure out where to get the money we needed. 

Another hiccup happened in Vietnam during an early meeting with our factory partner. During the course of the conversation, he casually talked about an import tax on the bags we had in production. We were totally unaware there was going to be any such thing. He must have seen the look in our eyes when he said, “You know about the import tax, right?” As confidently as we could, we said that we did. At the same time, I was pulling out my calculator, crunching the numbers, trying to figure out how much more we’d have to come up with. It got figured out in the end.

When we first named the company, a couple of letter Es were included (WANDERED). When we tried to buy the URL, though, the price was $20,000. By removing a couple of letters to WANDRD, we were able to pay just $9.99 instead. I consider this the first good business decision we ever made. 

Challenges popped up and mistakes were frequent, but we always found our way forward. Sometimes, it just meant leaning on our creativity when it was needed. If we knew how hard it would be along the way, we might not have taken that first step. Looking back, our inexperience may have been one of our greatest strengths. 

Working with family can be the worst, but for us, it’s the best 

People began approaching us about carrying our bags either wholesale or in retail locations, but we didn’t sign those deals right away. It was a very intentional and strategic move on our part. Starting slowly allowed us ample time to work out the kinks. 

Instead, we created a Shopify site, and monthly sales of between $5,000 and $10,000 became regular. As that was happening, preparations for a second Kickstarter campaign were underway, this time for an update to the bag we originally launched. We had received great feedback from both Kickstarter and those who had purchased and used our bag, and we wanted to implement it all. People wanted more colors. They wanted a smaller size. Done and done. It was the bag they already liked, matched with all the new bells and whistles they asked for. 

As we were getting ready to launch, another brother became part of the WANDRD fold. Austin was in Kansas City, Kan., doing real estate at that time, but he saw how much fun we were having and asked if he could join us or even partner up. 

It was an immediate yes. While Spencer and I are both creatives, Austin earned the nickname “Spreadsheets” for a reason. Without him, we’d have probably run this company into the ground by now. Even though he never took credit for it, he helped that campaign not just succeed but explode. It earned about $450,000, more than four times what our last one had. 

From that point forward, our numbers kept pointing up. When we brought Austin on, we didn’t know what the future was going to look like. We weren’t even making enough to pay our salaries yet. It took a leap of faith, but the huge success of our second Kickstarter proved we’d made the right choice. We’ve been able to work full-time on WANDRD ever since. 

In addition to adding Conner (our fourth brother) to the business, we get to have our dad as an investor and owner. We asked, and he accepted. Our only stipulation was that he be a silent partner, which we continue to tease him about — to this day, we have to remind him he only has a certain number of words he can use every month. Jokes aside, he’s provided invaluable insight throughout this journey. 

The goal we presented our dad with was that we’d hit a million dollars in sales in 10 years. I don’t know if he fully believed we could do that, and he even questioned it. It only took two years to hit that goal, though. We never imagined we’d be able to grow as quickly as we did. 

Working together with my dad and brothers came together naturally. We love it because nobody else owns WANDRD but us. While there has been talk about bringing on another investor, it’s hard not to like the ability we have to shape this thing in a way that works for us. There’s more value in our ability to spend time together than there is needing to meet a metric or provide a return.

And utilized a passion for travel — along with a successful Kickstarter campaign — to build better bags for photography, travel and everyday carry.

“Challenges popped up and mistakes were frequent, but we always found our way forward. Sometimes, it just meant leaning on our creativity when it was needed.”

Four fast pieces of advice 

  1. Use Kickstarter. The ability to test the waters with your idea — without going into full production with it — saves so much money in the long run. Having the ability to launch through that platform, present an idea and then have people immediately support it financially is invaluable. It’s far better than putting out a survey, for example, or asking friends and family if they like it. When people actually commit to putting their money toward your idea, that brings it to life. People who buy on Kickstarter are passionate, so you inevitably receive a lot of great conversation and feedback from your supporters. Being able to receive and use funds to place a large order is a huge benefit. 
  2. Get going now. It’s easy to want to start a business but not do anything because you’re afraid to take the leap. Ignore your hesitations and get going. Talk about it with everybody. Sometimes, we want to wait until an idea is fully baked before we talk about it. That fear can stem from feeling like somebody might steal our idea. But the moment you start talking about it, people will want to connect you with a friend or contact that can help. Taking the first step is the hardest part. Even if your idea isn’t fully realized, you can always pivot and change course later. 
  3. Be an original. We’re in the bag business at WANDRD. Along the way, we have created a couple of patents. For the most part, people can (and sometimes have) copied our designs. Other companies have tried to follow a similar vein of creating bags. But at the end of the day, the brand is a thing that people will never really be able to copy. From the beginning and as we’ve continued to grow, we’ve placed a lot of emphasis on our brand. How do we invest in our brand and make certain it becomes something we remain maniacally focused on and devoted to? How do we make sure it feels authentic and a reflection of us? We’ll continue to answer those questions over and over.
  4. Practice intentional culture. As we’ve built our team over the past decade, our culture has evolved along with us. We have found that having the right people on the bus and being very intentional about our values is very important. If you’re a high performer but you don’t align with our company values, chances are we won’t gel very well together. We care about our culture and our team and protect that fiercely.
And utilized a passion for travel — along with a successful Kickstarter campaign — to build better bags for photography, travel and everyday carry.

Ryan Cope is the co-founder and director of brand strategy at WANDRD, a pioneering adventure and travel gear brand. He feels extremely grateful to work alongside his three brothers and help WANDRD become a trusted brand for more than 200,000 customers in over 100 countries. He’s a self-proclaimed travel addict and has traveled to more than 50 countries. He speaks fluent Spanish and terrible French and is always cooking up new adventures. He lives in Orem, Utah, with his wife and three children.