In 2013, Abel Samet and Samuel Bail, two friends and former colleagues living in London, decided to design the perfect overnight bag. Unbeknownst to them, it would be the beginning of a 10-year journey that would result in running a seven-figure business.
Co-founded by Samet and Bail nearly a decade ago, Troubadour crafts modern bags—backpacks, totes, briefcases, and duffles—with comfort, luxury, and performance in mind. The name “Troubadour” is a nod to traveling minstrels and bags that can be taken anywhere—from mountain hikes to boardroom meetings.
It hasn’t always been easy. “There were definitely more dead ends than highways along the path,” says Samet about the early days of the company. But they’ve grown a brand that customers love, have forged partnerships with retailers like Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue, and opened a flagship retail store in Central London. Facing a downturn in the bag sales following the pandemic, fuelled by less commuting and less travel, Troubadour still had its best year in business in 2021.
In this episode of the Shopify Masters podcast, we sat down with Abel Samet to discuss the company-building lessons he’s learned throughout Troubadour’s decade in business.
1. Design your product with yourself in mind
It was a long and unsuccessful search for a high-performing weekender bag that fuelled Samet and Bail’s idea. This took them on an 18-month odyssey across Europe, meeting with manufacturers and artisans. Those conversations taught them about the manufacturing process and helped them create their first prototype.
As professionals who enjoyed travel, they wanted a weekender bag that was beautiful, but also performed like sportsgear does—lightweight, waterproof, and comfortable. By building for themselves, they created a product others enjoyed, too.
“The journey really started with creating bags for ourselves,” says Samet. “It wasn't originally about trying to create a bag business for others.”
2. Start small before expanding
Before becoming an ecommerce force, Troubadour products were a well-kept secret amongst the co-founders’ inner circle. Once colleagues caught wind of their side-project, they asked for bags too. After finding the right manufacturer with a minimum order quantity of 30, they got to work finding more people who might be interested in their bags.
“We'll just do a friends and family event, one in London, one in New York, and if we hit 30, everybody gets a better price in their bag,” says Samet, recalling their strategy to fulfill the minimum order quantity. A small step became a big business.
3. Lean in to word-of-mouth marketing and referrals
“Our number one way that we acquire new customers is through word of mouth and referral,” says Samet. “Since the very early days of Troubadour, the number one way that we've really grown is with how enthusiastic our customers are and journalists who get exposure to the brand.”
This reliance of word-of-mouth marketing and referrals has helped Troubadour do what other businesses can’t: avoid a reliance on paid advertising. Says Samet, “If Facebook shut down tomorrow we would be fine.”
4. Hire a multi-talented team
What started as the quest for the perfect bag has led to a diversified product line that includes products like their Ridge backpack and Daytripper Carry All. Samet attributes the success of their products to building a strong team that works holistically to understand what customers want and uncover pain points in their current products.
“...[We’re] making the improvement process a more holistic team discussion,” says Samet. “Instead of just having a design team that's designing whatever the next season's bag is, it's bringing in our store sales team into the conversation, bringing in our online customer service team into the conversation, or our repairs team into the conversation.”
5. Make decisions with qualitative and quantitative data
Troubadour collects and tracks qualitative feedback from customers, like what buyers like about their bags and what they might change. But Troubadour also tracks quantitative data to understand their best selling bags or products with a higher return rate. Often they go even deeper, collecting data on which suppliers provide zippers that last, informing their supply chain decisions.
“There's often a lot of discussion of big data and analytics as part of design, [which] I think it can be tricky to do,” says Samet. “But that's one area where we've really found it very useful.”
6. Continuously improve your product and processes
Troubadour is constantly iterating towards improvement. This ethos on advancement extends to every corner of their business—from their product development to manufacturing.
“We have our major production runs roughly every six months…each of those is an opportunity for revision and improvement,” says Samet. “No bag is ever done, no supply chain is ever done.”
7. Provide strong customer service
Strong customer service touches every corner of the Troubadour brand—from their online support and email marketing to their in-store retail staff. To manage all its customer channels, Troubadour uses Shopify Point of Sale (POS), a system that unifies customer’s shopping experiences in real life and online.
“I'm a big fan of Shopify Point of Sale. I've recommended it to a few other entrepreneurs who are also opening their own business,” says Samet. “The integration of the website and Shopify POS has been great, both for understanding a customer and giving that customer a more seamless experience with us as a brand.”
8. Take bold risks instead of playing it safe
When the pandemic began in 2020, the Troubadour team saw an opportunity. Samet noticed their competitors were bracing for the worst—fellow bag brands, who they competed with for factory time and design time in sampling rooms, had cut back.
“...there [was] a real open capacity from some of the best sampling rooms and some of the best factories in the world to be doing product development,” says Samet. “We had a real belief that…if we continue to develop and create what we think are some of the most exciting bags out there, that there's going to be a market for them.” The end result was a period of creative focus that led to the design of eight to ten new products.
During this same time at the height of the pandemic, as other stores shifted their focus to ecommerce and shuttered, Troubadour opened its flagship store in central London. Again, their risk paid off. Troubadour had their best revenue year in 2021.
9. Go further by partnering with others
Troubadour has partnered with over 60 retailers to spread their brand further, including Harrods, Harvey Nichols, Liberty, Nordstrom, Equinox, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, and more. “That's often a great way for customers to discover Troubadour,” says Samet.
Additionally, Troubadour recently acquired Mojjo, an innovative phone case and tech accessories brand. “Both teams are very focused on creating best in class products and growing because customers are so passionate about the products that we make,” says Samet.
10. Leave a positive impact on the world
Troubadour has always aimed to have a positive impact, beyond the products they sell. In 2021, Troubadour became a Certified B Corporation, taking an approach to business with people, communities, and the planet in mind. The journey to becoming a B Corp included a rigorous auditing of their financials and the impact of their business.
Troubadour considers the environmental impact of its products and uses materials that can be recycled without downgrading. This has meant keeping polyurethane out of their products, in favor of polyester, to keep their bags out of landfills.
“It's really important that we back up anything we're saying about sustainability,” says Samet. ”Having an audit process and a certification from an independent nonprofit focused on this for the right reasons…that's the kind of sustainability that we really want to be focused on.”