Life & Business

Life & Business Profile: Maptote

by Sabrina Smelko

Life and BusinessL Maptote

Some of my favorite brands, products and businesses only offer a handful of things, focusing on quality rather than quantity and valuing simplicity over complication. And it’s these sentiments that Brooklyn couple Rachel Rheingold and Michael Berick brought to Maptote, a line of soft goods decorated, illustrated, and designed with — you guessed it — maps! Founded in 2006, Maptote has been featured in dozens of publications and Michael and Rachel have had the chance to work with some massive brands, from Martha Stewart to Urban Outfitters to the Hudson’s Bay Company, so I’m tickled pink to be sharing their thoughts on security, quitting their day jobs, the business side of creativity and the importance of having an authentic passion for what you do. — Sabrina

Why did you decide to start your own business?

We mainly started our business as we wanted a creative outlet outside of our day jobs. We loved the idea of working for ourselves, and thought that it would be fun to create something on our own. We didn’t start our business in a traditional way. It was more born out of doing something creative together.


When you first decided to start your own business, how did you define what your business would be?

We are total unintentional entrepreneurs. We started with thinking of something we would want to use or wear and wanted to find a way to combine our interests, professional backgrounds and skill sets. We wanted to make something fun and with a sense of humor and came up with Maptote!


What was the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting off?

We’ve received a lot of advice as we started out…and lots of unsolicited advice. We think what worked and resonated most with us was to keep day jobs. We both did other things before this (Michael was a cartographer at an engineering firm and Rachel was a freelance stylist). This relieved some pressure and allowed our business to grow organically. This gave us a little extra freedom to do what we wanted and see what resonated with our customers.

Biz Ladies Profile: Maptote

What was the most difficult part of starting your business?

Leaving our other jobs and making the jump to doing Maptote full time was a big deal. It was very scary to rely solely on a business we had started. But this was probably the best decision we ever made. We were able to focus 100% of our time on our company. It was a huge turning point in Maptote when we grew into a real business.

Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned in running a business?

The actual ”business” side. We’re both creative people, but just being “creative” is not sustainable. We’ve had a steep learning curve and now we actually enjoy the business side of Maptote. Whether it’s managing production, dealing with human resource issues or negotiating contracts, it’s all part of our business and now design is just one of many moving parts. We love watching shows like Shark Tank and The Profit and seeing how other small businesses are operated.

Can you name a moment of failure in your business experiences?

With having a business there are many successes and failures. We’ve worked on projects that didn’t come to fruition, which felt like failures at the time. We try to stay positive and remember that even going through the process of pitching or developing new designs or products is a learning experience. There is a takeaway to every experience.

Biz Ladies Profile: Maptote
What has been the biggest sacrifice you’ve made in starting your business?

Our free time! Owning a business with your husband, definitely makes you talk about it a lot in your “free time.” We really think of Maptote as our first child (we have two others at home) and something we are proud of, care about and want to help grow. Many nights and weekends are spent working. We even dream about it.

Can you name your greatest success in your business experiences?

Being able to live in NY, run our own business and be sustainable has been a huge success. We love the flexibility of our lives and being our own bosses. We’ve also been very fortunate to collaborate with many businesses that we look up to such as J. Crew, Martha Stewart and Bonton (France).

What business books/resources (if any) would you recommend to someone starting a creative business of their own?

There are a ton of business books out there and it’s hard to sift through all of them. The two books that stick out in our minds are Small Giants by Bo Burlingham and we constantly reference The Graphic Artist’s Guild Handbook: Pricing & Ethical Guidelines.

Also, we really rely on friends and their business/ creative/ job experience. We are so lucky to have friends with experience in all sorts of fields – from marketing to design to HR — that give us constant inspiration and insight.

Biz Ladies Profile: Maptote

In your opinion, what are the top three things someone should consider before starting their own business?

1. Start small and be willing to spend endless time and energy — nothing happens overnight, nothing is ever easy.

2. You should love your idea and what you do because you will be spending a lot of time thinking about and looking at it. It’s great to be creative, but you have to understand that if you want to create a business you need to be willing to deal with the not-so-sexy side of running your business.

3. Be open to advice from anyone and everyone. You don’t have to take it, but it’s always worth listening.

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  • Love this article! Very reassuring :) and I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who looks forward to “Shark Tank.”

  • Loved reading the post. I’m still on the other side. One day I want to start my own business as well. Thanks for introducing Maptote!

  • I saw one of Maptote’s bags in a magazine while in Singapore and searched high and low to find one! I was a little embarrassed to find out that they are made in the US! Ha.

  • So nice to see a married couple working on something together! I love maps (have been collecting since I was a kid) and totes (too many, I’m sure) so what a great idea — something useful with meaning produced ethically. Thanks for sharing their story!

  • Great interview! I can relate to working all the time especially when your business is with your spouse. To true that you have to love what you are creating/doing because it seeps into every part of your life. Thanks for the book suggestion as well, totally going to look that one up!

  • What a great post and a great couple! I liked the balance of being creative but also having to do the not-so-sexy part too. I am inspired!!