On becoming a Product Design Entrepreneur in your 40s – Meet David Mateo

We asked David Mateo, Product Designer and Stylist at David Mateo Design how he made the switch from employed to self-employed. While we mostly thought about getting an insight into his daily life as entrepreneur, this interview turned out to be an inspirational guide for aspiring Design Entrepreneurs. So:

This interview is for (Product) Designers who think about starting their own brand. It's an insight into the advantages of designing for more than one brand, it's a motivational piece on becoming self-employed when you have gained enough experience. It's also a chance to get to know more about the creative man David Mateo.

Introduction

Your Job / Company Name:

Product Designer & Stylist at SARL DAVID MATEO DESIGN

Your Field of Profession:

Product Design for bags, shoes and eyewear.

Your Company (Idea) in 2-3 Sentences:

To be recognised as an expert in bags, shoes and accessories design and development. A long experience and a lot of projects in the same domain makes the difference. To make the smartest design and the most beautiful product. To understand the DNA of each brand and bring the appropriate design, at the right moment. To push the creativity out of the boundaries to innovate. To work as a team with the customers on all steps of the project!

Careerwise, what have you been doing before you got self-employed?

I started in the car industry as I love cars and transport design. As a surfer, I moved to the surf industry in 2001 to design bags, accessories, footwear and eyewear for 6 years at Ripcurl, 2 years at O'Neill and 5 years at Oxbow. These jobs left me with a lot of experience!

Before you started David Mateo Design SARL, you’ve been working as an employed Product Designer for more than 20 years. How did you move from employee to Entrepreneur?

I worked as a Product Designer for 17 years before I started my own business. Indeed, I didn't go from employee to entrepreneur straight away because I wanted to check if it was doable. I did one super freelance project in the same time: MUB was born. And then, Pataugas, a famous french shoe brand, were seeking for a freelance designer to create a bag collection. I made it! I was employed at Oxbow at the same time and I went to the far east to visit luxury bag factories during my holiday! Then, another project came and I left Oxbow.

When I had enough experience and an extended network to start, I started my own business. I wanted to work on different domains with different people.

How would you say did the freelance projects prepare for starting your own business?

I would always recommend to proceed so. It permits to test if it's works, if you can make enough money, get several customers while having the security of employment. 
But I would not recommend to do both for a long time; I remember I worked day and night at this time.


Sketch from David Mateo showing the shoe design process for Pataugas
PATAUGAS SHOE DESIGN PROCESS
© David Mateo

What advantages and disadvantages does entrepreneurship have for you in comparison to being employed?

The main advantage is the freedom to balance private and professional life the way we want. I can go surfing in the morning and work after diner instead. I have time to pick up my kids at school. The other advantage is the opportunity to work on different domains, projects and people, making my work quite varied.

The main disadvantage is the fact you never really know in advance how much turn over you can make at the end of the year. The advantages definitely outweigh the disadvantages though :-)

Would you say it's advantageous becoming an entrepreneur 40+ than in your twenties?

For me, in my domain, in product design, it's crucial to gain experience first by being employed in different companies for a couple of years before you can start your own brand. Only through this you'll be able to learn from others and create a relevant network.

For many, the fear of failure is the reason not to start their own business. What would you say to someone to convince them to go through with it anyway?

The fear of failure is normal but I would say it's better to regret things we've done than things we haven't. Every success comes with a risk. It's worth the try!


Ashoka Paris X Pamela Anderson
© David Mateo

What’s the biggest reward(s) of having your own business?

To work on super cool projects! As the designer of Ashoka Paris, I recently created a handbag collection for Pamela Anderson in collaboration with Ashoka. I worked with her for 16 months and it was an awesome experience!


Other posts you might like:

Entrepreneurship 40+: Alain Marhic from MARCH LA.B

Introduction

Your Job / Company Name:

CEO, Alavie SAS (March LA.b)

Your Field of Profession:

Luxury Goods & Jewelry

Your Company (Idea) in 2-3 Sentences:

Simple elegant affordable watches made in France

Careerwise, what have you been doing before you got self-employed?

I was a business unit manager in the Quiksilver group.

What was your motivation to found your own business?

I could not see my product vision anywhere in the watch business as this kind of product range had not been fulfilled yet, especially not in the way that I was thinking, so I wanted to bring it alive. Also, I was frustrated by the lack of vision and missing reward and recognition with my ex-employer. Having this outlook, I was thinking that my passion and vision should be used for myself instead of someone else who does not care enough at the end of the day.

How did you move from an idea to a business success?

Well, let' say 10 years, minimum. With baby steps including lots of meetings, little successes, big failures, and a huge amount of work and positivity.

What, in your opinion, makes a successful entrepreneur?

Someone who listens a lot and knows his own weaknesses. Someone who moves fast and stays focussed on his primary vision.

How do you think is it different to start an entrepreneurship 40+ than in your twenties?

Well, family and kids increase the pressure to succeed. But 40+ is probably the best moment to start your own business as you combine experience and network. And you are still full of energy to conquer the world! 

For a lot of people, the fear of failure is the reason not to start their own business. What would you say to someone to convince them to go through with it anyway? Which impact did fear have on you?

I never really had any fear to fail. Leaving your comfort zone is the best thing you can do as far as your personal evolution is concerned. You learn so much and stay so much younger in your heart, body and mind at the same time.

Saint Augustine said something similar. It goes somehow like "The fear to loose what you have should not prevent you from becoming who you are."

How is your daily life as an entrepreneur?

Coffee at 7:30 in Paris to talk to people, handle some work before the team arrives at 9:30, and then managing my team and meetings all day long with a lot of shops to stay close to the market.

What’s the biggest reward(s) of having your own business?

That's easy! When people are sending me messages saying how happy and proud they are to wear my watches! After 10 years, it is still a very intense feeling. Those words give meaning to the whole adventure.

Entrepreneurship 40+: Meet Anthony Cazottes

Entrepreneur over 40: Anthony Cazottes

Trust in your experience. Make your vision come reality. Be brave to start your business over 40.

Our Entrepreneurship 40+ series introduces you to personalities from the sports industry who followed through with their ideas to start their own business.

In our third interview, we spoke to Anthony Cazottes from Biarritz, owner and founder of the agency French Albion. When he lost his job in 2015, he was shocked at first, but then realised the chance to finally be free to create his own future. A vision he already had for almost 10 years.

Introduction

Your Job / Company Name:

Founder of French Albion, based in Biarritz (France)

Your agency French Albion in 2-3 Sentences:

French Albion is a forward thinking agency focused on introducing Outdoor & Lifestyle brands from overseas to the European market through an innovative hybrid business model.

Careerwise, what have you been doing before you got self-employed?

I started my career in 1998 in the Action Sports industry working for Quiksilver in the UK as a visual merchandiser, then went on to become a sales rep covering menswear in London and looking after a selection of key accounts. In 2002 I came back to the Quiksilver HQ in France to look after the off price business for the Na Pali group. Then in 2004 when Quiksilver bought DC Shoes I was named Sales Manager for France. After 10 years working for the group I sailed off to NIXON in 2008 and directed sales for 4,5 years, this time on a European level. But the biggest opportunity of my career came in 2013 when I was promoted to EMEA General Manager of Electric Europe, a company then part of the Kering group.

Anthony Cazottes Career Path from Quiksilver to French Albion

What was your motivation to start your own business?

I realised over the years that no matter how good you are at your job and how much you represent the brand you work for at the time, you always leave with a hand shake and you never take a piece of the company with you other than memories. In my late 30s I felt a strong need to create something of my own, something I was passionate about and that I would be able develop with my life philosophy in mind, not following someone else’s strategy. In 2015 I lost my job and although it was a bit of a shock to the system it was a relief at the same time, I was free to create, to innovate, to think out of the box… That is what motivated me to create my own business: freedom to think.

How did you move from an idea to business success?

In my case things came naturally, first I was consulting for companies who wanted to come to Europe and through that process I realised there was a need to propose a solution that was different from the classic models of distribution. Once I had the model figured out we managed to attract brands that we chose carefully in the Outdoor & Lifestyle market through my connections in the US & Canada. The first clients are always the hardest to get but once you have a proven track record companies reach out to you for business regularly.

What, in your opinion, makes a successful entrepreneur?

It’s a combination of different things of course but in my opinion motivation, commitment and rationalism are the key ingredients. An entrepreneur also needs to be able to mitigate passion with reality and try not to get too carried away by things he likes doing vs things that need to be done.

How do you think is it different to start an entrepreneurship 40+ than in your twenties?

If you have a brilliant idea in your twenties but you don’t have the experience to bring it to life then you would probably have to rely on other people who can help you make it a reality. Less expertise means the idea needs to be even stronger and innovative to be successful. Starting a business in your 40s is definitely different, you are mainly relying on yourself and the baggage you have cumulated throughout your career. Your contacts, knowledge of the industry and experience are the fuel to your idea.

For a lot of people, the fear of failure is the reason not to start their own business. What would you say to someone to convince them to go through with it anyway?

The risk depends on the business idea and the means to bring that idea to life. If the idea is weak but the means are strong it’s likely that the success will be minimal, if the idea is strong but the means are weak success will come by finding investment which is always easier than finding a good idea. Rather than speak about fear I would prefer to call it doubts, I think all entrepreneurs have doubts, doubts fuel the mind to be better at finding solutions and are therefore good companions to entrepreneurs. Don't be afraid of doubts, if you are convinced about your business idea and you are fully committed then you will be successful. However, my advice would be to ask friends, family and a consortium of industry experts for their opinion before you dive in. Also don’t give up everything you have before you see traction in your new venture. Last but not least, don’t force yourself into an entrepreneurial career out of desperation, becoming an entrepreneur should be a natural path you follow.

How is your daily life as an entrepreneur?

It’s fascinating, the world is your oyster, the opportunities are huge and anything is possible. Of course the reality hangs over your head and acts as a hand brake to funnel your enthusiasm but the balance of the two is what I find the fun part. Being free to decide, working with people I love, no politics, is how my company is run everyday. My daily life as an entrepreneur resembles a lot to my daily life as a person.

What’s the biggest reward of having your own business?

Thinking of an idea, putting it together and launching it successfully is very rewarding in itself but being able to employ people and giving them long term projects is probably what I take most pride in having achieved so far. Also, when brands you look up to contact you through your web page to start a partnership is a great reward.


Interested in meeting other entrepreneurs over 40 from the sports business? We are publishing new interviews regularly in our series Entrepreneurship 40+!

Entrepreneurship 40+ in the sports business: Meet Alban Le Pellec

Sport Business Entrepreneurship 40+: Meet Alban Le Pellec

The sports sector is entrepreneurship to its core. As a quick evolving industry, it is marked by innovation and change, an ideal breeding ground for new business ideas.

Even though the sports sector is known as quite a young industry, with a lot of entrepreneurs being in their twenties, there's actually a significant number which is older than 40. To give you two well-known examples: Dietrich Mateschitz founded RedBull with 40. Bill Bowerman was 53 when he co-founded Blue Ribbon - which became Nike when he was 60.

While we associate young minds with freshness, innovation and braveness, all key factors for creating something new, middle-aged people tend to bring qualities that younger ones lack. Because experience counts. Entrepreneurs who have worked in the same field as their start-up were found to be 125% more successful than those without a background in their chosen sector. Not only do they have the skills and the network, they have the vision and experience on how to lead a company in the right direction, how to obviate classical pitfalls and how to make a tough decision when it is needed. 

We feel that it's time to introduce you to more entrepreneurs 40+ in the sports industry which is why we started an interview series with different business founders on their career and their views on entrepreneurship.

In part one, we would like you to meet Alban Le Pellec.

Introduction

Your Job / Company Name: 

All-Seasons. I’m the founder and General Manager.

Your Field of Profession: 

I have 20 years of experience in Marketing, Sales, Management and Top Management.

Your Business (Idea) in 2-3 Sentences:

All-Seasons offers expertise in Consulting, Distribution and Services for sport brands willing to develop their European business. We’ve got internal and external experts to establish and expand your brand awareness and sales. 

Careerwise, what have you been doing before you got self-employed?

I started my career in sports marketing before changing to Sales. Then I took my first step in the outdoor industry where I gained a lot of experience thanks to eight years at Millet, and after that evolved in the American group, Wolverine Worldwide and its sports division represented by Saucony and Merrell. For more than 9 years, I held several positions as Key Account Manager, Sales Manager France, Country Manager, and at the end, European Strategic Director.

During the last period, I served as President of the Outdoor Commission of L’Union Sports et Cycles, the French Sport Industry representation.

When I got the opportunity to work as CEO for an eye-wear company, I made the transition from sports to fashion. A position I held for two years. During this time, the desire to return to the sports and outdoor world got so overwhelming that I took part as a Mentor in the world’s first innovation hub Le Tremplin (Paris&Co). Then very spontaneously, in January 2020, I decided to set up All-Seasons.

What was your motivation to start your own business?

All-Seasons was born out of a need to support sports brands which have the wish to develop in the French and European sports market in a very pragmatic way. Concretely, All-Seasons takes its roots in years of exchange with Mick Midali, my partner in this adventure. There were needs and missing solutions in the market and we have decided to respond by combining our skills.

With cash being the key, it is important to combine the strategic vision with a rapid but sustainable implementation. And it is on these axes that we position ourselves. Nowadays companies must operate with agility and All-Seasons is there to help them succeed. We are guiding companies in their development of Sales, mostly in France and Europe, but also in North America thanks to our partnerships with Global Sales Guys. At the same time, we guarantee to respect and maintain its brand values while aiming for a higher profitability.

How do you move from an idea to a successful business?

With more than 20 years in the sports industry in different job positions, I know this market quite well, so the idea was evolving for years. To move from this idea to the launch of an actual business, that’s a question of developing a concrete business plan which helps transforming the idea to reality.

Now it’s up to us to convert this into success, even though the recent crisis [Covid-19] might jeopardise our agency's growth. But we think that the economical change happening due to Covid-19 can also be an advantage for us, showing brands that they have to rethink their current business model, their structure, their offers. And our expertise can help on this new journey.

What, in your opinion, makes a successful entrepreneur?

I don’t think I can explain what makes a successful entrepreneur, because I am only at the beginning of my story. But in my humble opinion, I am sure that expertise helps a lot. Commitment. Vision. Also, a clear positioning. Those are key elements.

How do you think is it different to start an entrepreneurship 40+ than in your twenties?

It’s clearly a different situation. At 20, your start-up is based mostly on ideas. And you can start it carefree, because normally, there's no real financial risk. 

At 40, with a family to take care of, you take bigger risks, but you have one strong advantage which is experience. And the success percentage is often higher for experienced people which researchs confirm.

For a lot of people, the fear of failure is the reason not to start their own business. What would you say to someone to convince them to go through with it anyway? Which impact did fear have on you?

Fear is an unpleasant emotion that emerges when you are worried or threatened by something dangerous. That’s why when you start your project, a solid business plan is mandatory. If your plan is well prepared and financial forecast not too optimistic, more realistic, you know where you’re going. The danger becomes smaller and fear vanishes.

However, the fear is always present, it’s a motivation for an entrepreneur. You convert it into motivation.

For sure, you feel it stronger some days, and it’s not pleasant, but it magnifies your happiness once you succeed. Working hard for something we don’t care about is called stress. Working hard for something we love is called passion.

How is your daily life as an entrepreneur?

An entrepreneur doesn’t really have regular office hours. There is so many things to fix, so many projects to follow, so many issues to resolve. We think, we live, we dream with our business in mind all the time. Our days are all different, so organisation is important and finding the time to step back to take in the overall situation is essential. An entrepreneur has to switch from one topic to a totally different one all the time.

Personally my office is at home, so I’ve dedicated a room to work away from my kids, and spend hours on visio-conferences. The days I am not sitting in front of my laptop at home, I am traveling to visit my teams, partners, fairs or retailers.

What’s the biggest reward(s) of having your own business?

The reward, the recognition, is something personal. Each person has different goals in their life. For an entrepreneur every single success of the company feels like your own. It’s the advantage of this position.

For myself, I set up my agency to have the liberty to choose the brands I want to work with, I want to share the same values with my partners, and have more freedom in my day to day job. My biggest reward would be to work with great sustainable brands and make them successful. It would also help a bit to protect our planet.