Behind Monos’ journey from small Vancouver business to multimillion-dollar travel brand

Co-founder Victor Tam says the brand hit a million dollars within six months of launching

Monos’ co-founder and CEO Victor Tam has a dollar-to-employee ratio for success: hire one person for every $1.5-2 million that the company makes. “That,” he says, “is where I think the sweet spot is.” 

Monos was completely bootstrapped when it launched as a travel brand in 2019. The company makes everything related to travel: luggage, duffels, backpacks, packing cubes and more—including apparel. Its co-founders had only hired two people by the time COVID hit in 2020, and, until last year, had no one else on the marketing team other than Tam. 

Granted, by the time Tam launched the company with his high school friends Hubert Chan and Daniel Shin, the trio already had ample knowledge to draw from. Tam and Shin had experience building brands and e-commerce sites for many years by then, and they had even worked on some lifestyle projects together in their 20s doing things like drop-shipping herbal supplements. Chan, on the other hand, completed his bachelor’s in graphic design at Emily Carr and worked as a senior graphic designer at a boutique agency before joining forces with his friends in 2019. 

“In the first six months,” says Tam, “we did a million dollars, which was amazing for a company that just started. We saw a great product-market fit already, we were getting customer feedback, it was very exciting. In 2020, we forecasted $5 million for the year. However, in March the world shut down and we actually didn’t think we would make it, as a new company selling luggage into the world that had no imminent travel at that time.” 

So the co-founders quickly pivoted: they designed and built the Monos clean pod, a portable sanitization wand that could disinfect small items like keys, wallets, phones and even the little desk trays on planes. They launched the product during lockdown, within six weeks of the onset of COVID, and earned $2 million from that product alone in 2020.  

“We used that momentum,” says Tam, “to continue to market luggage and push our brand out there during a time where no competitors were doing anything. We actually finished off 2020 with $8 million in revenue.” 

And it doesn’t end there: Monos stayed aggressive in its push for growth and closed 2021 with $25 million in revenue, then 2022 with over $100 million in revenue. It opened its first brick-and-mortar store in Vancouver’s Kitsilano neighbourhood this July, when it felt ready to do so. It also didn’t have a knee-jerk reaction to the pandemic and subsequent downturn, says Tam—meaning it didn’t start offering discounts like many other brands did. “That will actually hurt them medium-to-long term because it’s hard for them to reposition themselves as a brand,” he notes, adding that if a company is feeling the pain during the downturn, there are areas in the business that need optimization. 

“As with any cycle, there’s a period that will be a good cycle, and it’s really how you get to the good cycle without killing the company or the brand and what it stands for that’s actually important. For us, we use this time to improve our infrastructure as a company…whether it’s internal learning and development for our team, whether it’s our onboarding process, a lot of things that get overlooked during growth, we’re trying to refine during this time. These are things that will translate to the longevity of the company.”