Women Who Own It
Judith McGinley Spelbrink
Owner of Flightline Travel
What inspired you to start your business?
The idea for the tote was based simply on my experiences flying on long-haul flights. I always had the window seat which almost always led to my forgetting something important in the overhead bin. I would have to wait for the seatbelt sign to turn off, then ask two strangers to get up just so I could retrieve whatever small item I forgot in the overhead bin. I thought, “Wouldn’t it be great to have something that could hold everything you need for a long flight right in front of you in the seatback pocket?” I looked everywhere for something and came up empty. So… I created my own prototype with duct tape and an old iPad case. My ugly prototype solved my problem and garnered the interest of other travelers – and soon thereafter I launched the business.
What challenges have you faced as a woman entrepreneur and how did you overcome them?
I launched the company with the desire to sell only Made in the USA products, but after a year of very slow sales but incredibly positive feedback on the product – with everyone telling me that the product was great but the price was too high and facing no option to lower my domestic manufacturing costs – I found quality manufacturers in China and India and now offer the totes in both the Made in the USA as well as the lower price point imported versions. I spend my time working to get the word out about our products – we’re still a very small business in terms of sales – but we’ve had amazing positive feedback and are rapidly growing. Launching and running a business can be exhilarating and I’m so proud of building something from nothing, although it has definitely come with many unexpected expenses and challenges!
What three traits define you?
The trait that defines me the most and sets me apart from others is my drive. I always thought that everyone wakes up each day and gives the day their all – their energy, their creativity, etc. but found out, of course, that many people are lacking such a drive and determination to reach their goals. My other two traits are my creativity and my gratitude.
What are the biggest obstacles you see for young female entrepreneurs?
I was never aware that being a female had any downsides and was brought up in my family and in my school system to know that there were no disadvantages to being female. So, it was somewhat a shock to see how I would be ignored at meetings and otherwise be treated with less respect than my male colleagues. Part of opening my business was to be in control of something without having to speak louder or more quickly just to be heard – it means that I can make the decisions, I don’t have to fight for attention, I won’t be ignored. Also, I hope to be successful and be an example to other young business owners – to show them that, although it can be scary and close to overwhelming at times, they too can take a big chance and start and run their own small businesses.
What do you love about being a business owner?
For small business, my greatest influence has been Whole Foods. I used to shop at the first Whole Foods in Austin in the early 1990s when I was in college and I saw how a great idea and a small company could grow and prosper while always staying close to its fundamentals. I have taken their lesson and tried to apply it to Flightline Travel – and I love waking up each day knowing that I have created something from nothing and also knowing that the decisions I make today, in the early years of the business, can have tremendous impact for the life of the business.
How do you define success?
Success to me is making a salary that I can live on from the business – enough to provide food, clothing, and shelter for my family. We are not there yet as we are still a very small business with very small profits and income. To build a company from the ground and either sell it to another company in many years or to have it provide for my family – while providing quality products to our customers – is my idea of success for the business.
If you didn’t have to sleep, what would you do with the extra time?
I have wished on many occasions that I would not have to sleep! I have a full list of things to do in the extra time - the list includes: finishing craft projects that I am working on for my niece and nephews, writing in my journal, reading and praying more and, of course, being inspired to write new blog posts for my business and come up with new ideas, and most importantly, plans to implement those ideas, to continue to grow our small company.
What are you reading or listening to right now?
I am reading the recent biography of Elon Musk: “Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future.” It is an inspiring story of how to build a highly successful company with just an idea and drive (and, in Elon’s case, a lot of investor’s money). I find it highly interesting and take both the good and bad lessons from it. The good lessons of how to stick to your dream as well as the bad lessons, for example, how not to treat your employees or run your personal life.
Fill in the blank:
When I face a challenge, I... feel inspired to find a solution.
If I could go back in time, I would tell myself ... not to worry that it will all work out fine.
The one thing I couldn’t live without is… my husband (and my cell phone!).
By this time next year, I will be…a mother for the first time (I’m due in December)
The best thing that happened to me last week was…my mother visited us for the first time all year.
To get my creative juices flowing, I…need a quiet space and time to think – and my idea journal nearby to reference it.
The Flightline Travel Tote holds essentials (eye shield, lip balm, etc) in the seatback pocket -- eliminating the need to access under-seat or overhead storage in-flight.