Rocket Science: Maptote’s Rachel and Michael Berick
On maps, macramé, and startup advice.
Rachel and Michael Berick are a) married with children, b) world-travelers and adventurers, and c) founders of Maptote, a line of products decorated with maps of locales both domestic and exotic.
What’s your favorite wall decoration in your home?
Rachel: My mom was an artist, so we have a few of her paintings in our house. She passed away when I was a kid, and I feel like her paintings are special to have in our daily lives. We also have this … how should we describe it … Michael’s dad was a dentist, and he made this macramé…
Michael: We have a nine-foot by four-foot giant macramé that is probably something you would buy for a lot of money from some high-end home store. He did it in the late ’60s, early ’70s, and he’s the last person you would think that would be really into macramé.
Rachel: It’s really funny and perfect.
Whose creative work do you really admire?
Rachel: I think there’s a lot of people that we could probably list off. We’re inspired by a lot of vintage things.
Michael: There’s a famous designer named Paula Scher, and though we don’t necessarily draw direct inspiration from her work, she’s really creative (and she incorporates maps).
Rachel: Bodega signs, laundromat signs, old logos … we look for inspiration from a lot of old city landmarks and businesses.
Michael: Even infographics or art exhibits. Op-art from Bridget Riley or pieces by the statistician and artist Edward Tufte.
Do you have any historic or personal maps up in the house?
Michael: Well, I’m a cartographer by trade, specifically digital cartography. That was my previous life before Maptote. I always liked all sorts of maps — historical maps, Thomas road guides, the Lonely Planet maps when you’re traveling around Europe — I loved all those things. So, a long time ago we got one of those pull-down maps.
Rachel: An old classroom map that your teacher would pull down on the wall.
Michael: Right, with all the old country names before they were switched over after World War II.
What was one of the best things about growing up in Florida and California, respectively?
Rachel: Probably just being outside. I’m very much a city person, but it was nice to grow up with fresh air and be on my bike and have that sort of suburban freedom. It’s a challenge to have the same thing in New York as a kid, probably.
However, it goes both ways. Our kids have experiences here that are special in their own ways, and we try to give them as much freedom as they can. They get to go on field trips to places like MoMA. That’s no big deal for them.
Michael: I miss California for many of the same reasons Rachel misses growing up in Florida. I spent a lot of time at the beach and skateboarding.
What have you been listening to?
Rachel: It could be like anything from alternative ’90s to French music or jazz music or yacht rock. That’s if we get to decide, of course. If it’s our kids – now they know how to take control of our phone and play music – it’s a lot of Kidz Bop and Disney.
We recently saw David Byrne’s American Utopia, which was great, so we’ve been listening to a lot of David Byrne lately.
What’s the best hotel or Airbnb you’ve stayed at recently?
Rachel: We stayed at a really nice hotel called the French Leave Resort. We were all very spoiled. The whole family went. It’s still a working vacation because you have your kids with you.
Michael: I’m from Southern California, and I always get seasonal affective disorder around this time of year, even though this winter in New York isn’t so bad. We try to go somewhere warm around this time in February so that we can just get some sun and a pool.
What advice would you give NYC-based startups?
Rachel: When we started, there weren’t a lot of people doing tote bags, reusable bags. Now there are a lot of people doing that. There weren’t a lot of people doing location-based stuff or cool location souvenir kind of stuff. Now, there’s a lot more competition.
We always give the same advice we took ourselves. Our business has grown organically over the last decade. We never took investors’ money. The money we made went back into the company, so Maptote grew on its own.
We’re very practical, logical decision-makers. We’re not crazy risk-takers. Because of that, I feel like we’ve built a solid business since it’s been around this long.
Your business model changed over that time?
Michael: The retail market has changed a lot, and is still changing. We work with a lot of retailers, and everyone’s affected by online sales and Amazon. We’re constantly recalibrating the balance between online store sales, brick-and-mortar sales, and shipping directly to consumers.
Every week, you hear about a very large company closing down, whether it’s Papyrus or one of those large chain stores we all grew up with. So I think people have to constantly reevaluate their business model, even if things are going fine at the moment.