Lakes bring peace, comfort, and a sense of home to Mary Skerrett Koff, an environmentalist and solopreneur. That’s why the Idaho native went on an ambitious quest to find just the right map of her favorite lake in her hometown of Coeur d’Alene.
“The lake has always been home,” says Koff of Lake Coeur d’Alene. “I wanted a cool map of the lake to hang in my home in L.A. and couldn’t find one. All the maps were laminated boat maps—nothing artistic.”
Then one summer, she went back to Idaho and teamed up with a graphic designer friend to create a map of the lake with a decidedly vintage feel.
“And I thought, ‘I’ll print out a couple hundred and shop them around town to retailers,’” Koff says. “I had no idea what I was doing. I was selling to all the stores downtown, taking them to the main street. Retailers were really into it.”
After living in Los Angeles for 13 years, she moved to Portland and turned her side project into a full-time business, calling her startup Lakebound. The WeWork Custom House member got her first licensing agreement with a company in Montana that printed the maps on wooden boards and the ends of wine barrels.
Then the doors blew out last year when she opened an Etsy shop.
“Business is really good,” Koff says. “What’s exciting is having this gut feeling of ‘I know there’s something there. I know people are connected to places like I am.’”
From Chesapeake Bay to the Oregon Coast and the Hawaiian Islands, Koff’s favorite part about the maps isn’t the artwork—it’s the market she’s built around them. With 160 maps on her Etsy shop, she’s getting requests to do custom pieces left and right.
The maps look retro and classic, inspired by the “golden era of the ’50s,” Koff says. The water is turquoise, the land is sand color, and the lettering is dark brown.
Whenever Koff sees maps out there that look similar to hers, she adopts this mindset that it isn’t a bad thing, and “it doesn’t mean someone stole your business idea.”
“It just means you have a good idea,” Koff says. “For every Pepsi, there’s a Coke. And for every McDonald’s, there’s a Burger King. It means there’s a growing market.”
Her next step is hiring people to take Lakebound’s map designs to the next level.
“Why I started at WeWork is I want to be around people who are creating, and building, and have ideas and thoughts I would never think of,” Koff says. “It’s so valuable to have community. You can’t just fly solo forever—it limits your growth.”
Photos: Tom Bender