Flowfold, a local startup that produces wallets and other rugged, minimally designed products from high-end fabrics, has hired James Morin away from Putney.
Morin was Putney’s manager of commercial operations. The Portland-based pet pharmaceutical company was acquired earlier this year for $200 million by Dechra Pharmaceuticals. He joins Flowfold as its chief operating officer, a role he officially assumed July 18.
In an entrepreneurial ecosystem, the movement of employees between employers — what’s called the “churn” — is a sign of health. Morin’s decision to leave Putney to lend his skills to a local startup is an example of the positive churn an exit can create.
Charley Friedman and Devin McNeill founded Flowfold six years ago on Peaks Island. The company started with wallets, but now is ramping up to more than 20 product lines. It currently produces about 40,000 units a year and is averaging 100% year-over-year growth.
Last year it raised $200,000 in equity financing to help it expand. It recently reached a deal with L.L.Bean that will help fuel that expansion. Beginning this month, L.L.Bean will carry Flowfold gear in all its stores across the country, the result of a successful four-store trial last winter, according to Morin.
“It’s hard to not want to be part of their story,” Morin said. “What started with Charley making his own wallet out of reclaimed sailcloth in 2005 has turned into a brand that has sold in every state in the country and every continent in the world (yes, even Antarctica). What was once one product from one sewing machine is now 20+ products with 5 full-time and 2 part-time employees.”
Morin’s job will be to drive sales growth, develop its wholesale channel, and increase its operation efficiency so the company can continue to scale.
In a sense, Flowfold is the beneficiary of Putney’s acquisition, which was not cast in the best light after Dechra made layoffs.
Morin worked at Putney for three and a half years, coming onboard as employee #40, and stayed with the company after the acquisition to help with the transition. But he soon began looking for a new opportunity, preferably at a startup where he could have the biggest impact.
“After the Putney acquisition I made a commitment to myself that whatever was next would make my heart beat faster. Something that would make me excited on Monday mornings,” he said. “I originally met with Flowfold to talk about consulting, but the more I talked with Charley and Devin, the more I bought into their brand and what they were trying to do. I wanted to be part of something special, and that’s exactly what they’ve built.”
And, with Morin’s proceeds from Putney’s $200 million sale (all employee stock options immediately vested as a result of the exit) and the $14,000 that Putney founder Jean Hoffman gifted to each employee, Morin had the flexibility to join a startup without worrying about the immediate needs of a salary.
“The Putney acquisition gave me the opportunity to do work for a brand and team I believe in for much less money than I’d get otherwise,” said Morin, adding that he received several job offers, mostly in the pharma space, from as far away as southern California.
“Flowfold is still very much a startup. We’ll have to be lean. But I didn’t come here for the money. I came here for the team,” he said.
When asked if he was working for equity rather than salary, Morin wouldn’t go into detail about the terms of his employee contract, but said: “I can’t be successful here unless the company is successful.”
Morin is not a neophyte when it comes to Flowfold. He attended UMaine with Flowfold’s co-founders, Charley Friedman and Devin McNeill. Friedman actually gifted Morin a wallet seven years ago while the pair were still in college, before the company was officially a thing. That wallet is now framed on the wall of Morin’s new office.
“Not sure why I kept it,” he reflected. “I always hoped Flowfold would become a big brand in Maine.”
Now it’s Morin’s job to make sure that happens.