My Big Idea: Camping Gear Made for Kids, and Their Parents
Timothy Butcher (Questrom’07) started his company, Mounts, after a disastrous camping trip with his baby
In our My Big Idea series, we bring you interviews with BU alums and other members of the University community who have launched a business, built a new product, or solved problems big and small. We ask them about their inspiration, what were their biggest stumbling blocks, and what’s next for their big idea.
When Timothy Butcher and his wife decided to take their 16-month-old daughter on her first camping trip, they did what all first-time parents do: they majorly overpacked. They brought a family-sized tent, a travel crib, fleece PJs, three sleep sacks, and lots of other stuff. And while they thought they’d planned for all scenarios, the trip was still a disaster.
“The tent was too hot during the daytime, and then during the night, she got cold because the travel cot had no insulation and was on the ground,” says Butcher (Questrom’07). “She woke up throughout the night. We didn’t sleep at all.”
As soon as he got home, Butcher, who works in finance, began researching better gear. He enjoys hiking, camping, and skiing, but learned that although there is a tool for practically everything adults need to enjoy the outdoors, kids’ gear was definitely lacking.
In 2021, Butcher launched Mounts, a company that makes camping gear for toddlers and babies. Through its website, Mounts sells pint-sized sleep sacks, thermal pajamas, hats, and diaper bags. “Our tagline is, ‘Empowering people to get back outdoors sooner, faster, and with more ease,’” says Butcher, who lives in London with his wife and two young children.
Bostonia interviewed Butcher about how he launched the business knowing nothing about clothing or gear design, why he chose to be an online-only business, and what kind of feedback he has received from parents.
With Timothy Butcher
Bostonia: How did you take your first step in launching Mounts?
Butcher: I started reaching out to manufacturers and wholesalers in the summer of 2020, and I had no idea about anything. I just knew I needed quality material. I started emailing the salespeople at Primaloft. I didn’t even have a corporate email account. And at one point, through badgering them, they cracked and gave me the name of their primary producer in China.
I emailed the Chinese manufacturer and told them my idea. They sent me samples, and we went through four or five iterations. I finally had the sleeping [sack], and then it was kind of “do or die” from there. The original idea was a sleeping [sack], thermals, and pajamas.
I also had to learn sizing, how to use Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop [for website design], and get an import license.
I was just doing it all from my living room in Kensington and off my laptop. I was going to playgrounds with my two-year-old and writing emails to suppliers from there.
Bostonia: How did your skills in the finance world and your business degree help?
Butcher: I definitely feel like what we’ve done is a copy of my [Questrom] core classes—the financing, the product design, learning how to sell, doing everything from scratch.
There are scarce resources in finance, so you must be fully aware of what you can get for less. And I knew I needed to make it self-sustainable from an operational point of view so that when I eventually went back to work [in finance], it wouldn’t interrupt my ability to [do my day job]. It was a lot of work getting it to that place.
We [my wife and I] had the idea to open the company in both the United States and the United Kingdom and fully utilize the online model, using fulfillment centers. And that’s what we did.
I also discovered third-party marketplaces on big retail chain websites. An order will go through a website—we’re at all the major sports outlets in the UK, like Decathlon and Little Trekkers—into my infrastructure and Shopify, and then straight to my warehouse. And because it’s a website, [I am charged] only a 13 to 15 percent commission, versus an in-store sale, which is around 60 percent. I’ve gotten onto five fairly well-trafficked websites in the UK, and my sales took off from there and have kept going. In the US, I just haven’t been able to crack the code.
Bostonia: How hard was it to secure funding when you started?
Butcher: Well, it all comes from my own pocket. So, if you know some people, let me know [laughs].
Bostonia: How are sales?
Butcher: The first year was very slow; I think I made one sale in America, but we sold quite well in the UK. We’ve had 450 sales, and the average sale is two pieces. I sold a bunch of thermals just because it was winter, and it turns out there is a niche for baby thermals because companies don’t really sell those. And then in the summer, I started seeing sleeping [sacks] taking off.
Bostonia: What’s next?
Butcher: We designed a chair, a tent, socks, and a sleeping/camping mat. We haven’t brought them to market yet.
Bostonia: What are your most important tips for people trying to start their own business?
Butcher: The most important thing to know is the online ecosystem. It’s very addictive because it looks so cheap, and it is cheap—it’s like $10 a month for Shopify and $10 for a Google account that gives you email, calendars, and Excel. But then you need a lawyer and an accountant, and those are not cheap in any domain. And no fudging your tax return or your books.
And so it seems really cheap [at first] because you can make a business model. But then all of your money will go to accountants and lawyers, and to just stay alive. It’s all those costs that you don’t account for.
Bostonia: What’s the feedback from customers?
Butcher: Great. It’s actually the reason I keep going. Parents who use my products constantly message me, saying, “Oh my God, I never thought I would be back outdoors that fast.”
It’s a nice thing, particularly being a banker by day and having [Mounts] in my life. It’s much more tangible. And it’s a good thing for the community. Sometimes you feel trapped as a parent, and you don’t want to forget your old self. We wanted to give you the tools to get back out there.
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