How I Did It: Chelsea Abingdon Welch, Founder of The Abingdon Co.

Most businesses are started for one of two reasons: either something is broken and needs to be fixed, or there’s a need for something that doesn’t exist yet. I started The Abingdon Co. for the latter reason.

I’ve wanted to be a pilot since I was fourteen when I heard about it at career day. Getting paid to travel? Really, you can get paid to do that? I was instantly hooked. I thought it would be really neat to say that my office was 35,000 feet in the air!

I saved up money for flight training, working different jobs in college, and at twenty-two began flying. The traveler’s watch — or “Aviator’s” watch as it’s called — has been around since the 1950’s. The problem is that they’ve only existed for men. You see, women make up 7% of the aviation industry; therefore, no one saw a need for an aviator watch designed for women.

I wasn’t about to sit around and let that continue. This tool that all of my fight instructors had was so stylish and cool, I wanted one too. When you start a new venture in life, you want to get all the gear that you need for it. I had started flying and I had my headset, my kneeboard, my sunglasses, and I wanted my pilot’s watch. It was such a slap in the face that the market hadn’t brought a women’s line out yet.

It was as if the market was perpetuating the stereotype that only men are pilots, and that is not true. So while completing my flight training courses in 2006, I decided to start a watch company that would make the first aviator’s watch for women.

Now let me make something clear: I don’t come from a horological (watch) background nor had I ever started or run a business before. I was a poor, twenty-three-year-old flight student. However, I have always lived by something I heard when I was a teenager: “Act as though it were impossible to fail.”Mix that with a positive attitude and you can do anything.

I created a deadline of my birthday the following November, which meant I had eleven months to get everything together. Goals are so important when it comes to anything in life, and I knew if I hadn’t set a deadline, I would never succeed.

My grandmother always said, “Shoot for the stars and you’ll hit a mountain, but shoot for the mountain and you’ll only hit your roof.” To me, that made it okay if I didn’t make the eleven-month deadline, because I knew I’d be close.  I needed to figure out how to manufacture a watch, make a website to take orders, establish everything legally, and raise all of the necessary funds to get everything done.

Thanks to a Google search for “watch manufacturers”, I discovered a great website called Alibaba.com and found a whole bunch of manufacturers. After some serious vetting, I chose two manufacturers from overseas. I was very nervous sending money abroad to a company I had never met, but if you do your homework, any gamble becomes a calculated risk.

Eventually, you have to jump. I was grateful I did, because the manufacturers I chose proved to be not only exemplary companies, but also exemplary people. Prototypes were built, tested, revised, and ordered by the summer before the November launch.

I had my boyfriend’s brother build a website for me for free (not the greatest idea). In hindsight, I’d recommend using a template website. It doesn’t make sense to tackle a website on your own, unless you’re a programmer, and templates are easy and cheap.

I had the website built with merchant services installed so I could process credit cards. For how everything was being structured, I decided an LLC was the best corporate structure, and subsequently established copyrights, trademarks, and patents.

Raising all of the money was the biggest challenge. My business plan kept costs low by keeping everything online and using the Internet to reach large groups of consumers. I approached friends and family to invest with the promise of payback plus interest in five years time. I was able to raise enough to cover all of the legal fees, website, and my first supply of inventory.

It came down to the eleven-month wire, and I was getting very anxious about raising the last $5,000, but let me say that as an entrepreneur, you get really creative when the threat of failure is over your head! It seems that when tough times approach your business – if you are passionate enough – you’ll always find a way to move forward.

I buckled down, told myself I wouldn’t fail and worked harder, calling everyone I knew for a small loan, and ultimately pulled through. November 2012 was the five-year anniversary of the company. All investors have been paid back and the company is even paying small salaries to its employees. It is a self-sustaining entity that is focused on small steady growth.

Every decision is evaluated for cost, effectiveness, and creativity. My mentors have taught me that a small business needs to focus on customer satisfaction over everything because your customers will always be your best salespeople.

Having good customer service allows our marketing budget to be small. Word-of-mouth marketing will always be better than paying for an advertisement in a magazine. With growth over 105% each year since its launch, I owe our success to an incredible team of manufactures, distributors, the Abingdon Crew, and our amazing customers.

If you have had an idea brewing or one suddenly falls in your lap, recognize opportunity. You can’t wait for someone to give you the keys to starting a business. Not one entrepreneur I know went to entrepreneurial school, graduated, and said, “Okay, now I’ll start this business.”

If you are passionate about an idea, and put your blood, sweat, and tears (I have literally put in all three), you will succeed as an entrepreneur and small business owner. It may not happen overnight — probably won’t — but it will happen.

Your life changes and you’ll find that everything becomes much more colorful and creative. You’ll realize, five years later as I have, that you’ll never want to go back.

Act as though it were impossible to fail.

About the Author

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Chelsea “Abingdon” Welch was born in England and grew up in Los Angeles. She holds a bachelor degree in Psychology and Film, is a licensed Flight Instructor and has flown dozens of aircraft from Citation jets to B25 bombers from WWII. A fluent French speaker, moderate Spanish and Portuguese speaker, Abingdon loves culture, travel, and has lived in North America, Europe, and Africa.

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