For most people, time spent waiting in an airport is time wasted. For Michiel van Ogtrop, CEO and co-founder of smart luxury travel bag brand Travelteq, it's an opportunity for research and inspiration. "Whenever I'm at the airport, I sit down, watch what goes by and see how hideous most luggage is," he laughs. "There you really get ideas about how much can be done."
Set up in 2009 by van Ogtrop and his mentor, serial entrepreneur Maarten van Den Biggelaar, Travelteq has succeeded in making travel gear not just practical and equipped for the demands of modern business life, but also stylish. It all began with a briefcase. "Neither of us had any design experience, so we identified a general style and all the functionalities we thought a briefcase should have," says van Ogtrop, 35. "We wanted to elevate life on the move, smooth out travel through customs, make a traveller's passport, ticket and technology more handy - really re-thinking it all."
"So the function came first and then we merged it with real design," he adds. "At the time there were Dell's functional briefcases and there were London briefcases, nothing in between." Van Ogtrop had already accrued plenty of varied business experience as he searched for the perfect job: he had completed an entrepreneurial management masters at London's European Business School, worked at a venture capital firm, helped set up a recruitment company, worked for a solar energy enterprise and written numerous business plans. But when Biggelaar told him about his luggage idea, he knew instantly that he wanted to be involved, and threw himself into it.
"It was the most amazing experience because everything was new," he says with a smile. "We jumped into a niche of smart luxury briefcases and learnt everything from scratch, building a website, setting up distribution, we'd never done any of it before." One thing they did know was that they wanted to use top-notch leather. That meant only one place: Italy.
"Italy was at that time - and still is - the best quality you can get," says van Ogtrop. "We work with a family-run company in Tuscany with a fairly small factory where we can do small orders to test the waters." "There's even a real-life Geppetto working there," he adds with a laugh, referring to the elderly craftsman from Pinocchio.
This emphasis on understated elegance is something that van Ogtrop also applies to his own person style. "Navy is all I wear, it just works for some reason," he says. "It's all about subtly standing out - that's true of how I dress and how we [at Travelteq] design. I'm not a fan of big branded or flashy products. For me, it's all in the small details, in the quality of something."
It comes as no surprise that van Ogtrop is a frequent traveller. For work, he regularly pays visits to the factories in Italy, while for pleasure he’s really fond of weekend trips and aims to get out at least once every month. So what are his favourite Travelteq pieces? "Our iconic briefcase is the bag I use most frequently for work. It perfectly suits my needs and day-to-day travel on the bike from home to work. Then, for the short trips, I always travel with my all-leather Weekender. It’s perfect for me because you carry it on your shoulder, so you never have to check it in, which is great because I really can’t stand that part of flying."
It’s already been a big year for the brand. In combination with a successful online auction in collaboration with Dutch artist Merijn Kavelaars, Travelteq recently opened a flagship store in Amsterdam. Of pipeline plans, he speaks of looking further into product customisation, "More and more, people are wanting to make our product their own, so in the near future we may also offer the option of customising bags not just in terms of adding your initials, but also selecting the colour of the leather and lining."
Van Ogtrop’s enthusiasm is enviable and unwavering – a clear indication that business ahead looks bright. He ends by briefly revealing an intention to expand internationally, "60% of our sales online are already from abroad, so now we aim to open our next stores in Germany at the end of this year."