Lindsey Maxwell '14 launched van-conversion company Featherbuilt in 2020 and hasn't looked back since. She hopes to inspire others to take the leap into entrepreneurship and experience new adventures.
The rise of COVID-19 in early 2020 brought many things – masks, social distancing and hours upon hours of binge-watching television, but one that had the potential to stick around longer than others was quarantine projects.
Many people started them, very few finished and even fewer have continued to keep up the good work. Lindsey Maxwell ’14 falls into that final category after turning her quarantine project into a fully-fledged business.
Maxwell and her partner launched Featherbuilt in their driveway in Denver, Colorado, in 2020. The two-person team specializes in enhancing the travel experience for adventurers across America, refurbishing vans into custom living spaces and providing customers with products to do it themselves. In a time when road travel was exploding, Maxwell jumped at the chance to grow in an industry she already felt at home in.
Following her 2014 graduation, Maxwell moved to Charlotte to teach preschool, a role very different from what she is doing now. A year and a half later, Maxwell left her life in the U.S. behind and moved to Italy to be an au pair, an opportunity that she could not pass up. It was during this stage of her life that she really fell in love with traveling, and the passion that would soon fuel Featherbuilt started to grow.
“While I was living and working in Italy, my job was about 75% travel and I completely fell in love with incorporating travel into a regular part of my life,” said Maxwell. “In 2018 as I was finishing up my time in Italy, I stumbled across a blog from a woman who had converted a van into a tiny home and was traveling around the country and living out of it. I knew this was something I needed to do.”
Upon her return to the U.S., Maxwell purchased a Sprinter van and started her conversion career with the help of her dad. Little did she know that that van would change her life forever as she met her partner and co-owner of Featherbuilt after a couple of months on the road in her new home on wheels. In the early stages of starting his own van conversion business, it was a match made in heaven just in time for COVID-19 to hit and quarantine projects to take over. For Maxwell and her partner, their quarantine project was on a larger scale than most as she bought a second van and they joined forces to make it a home.
“There was absolutely no hesitation starting this business because there was pretty much no other choice at that time,” explained Maxwell. “My partner, Patrick, had quit his job officially back in 2019 to get Featherbuilt going, and I had been working seasonally while traveling in the van so we had nothing to lose. Jumpstarting Featherbuilt was perfect during COVID because we could still work together in isolation and try to make money while staying safe.”
Since that first project together, Featherbuilt has taken many shapes and forms, from remodeling for an Instagram-famous wolfdog, Loki, to customizing more of their own vans, to developing a conversion system that can be sold as a “Do-It-Yourself” kit. But no matter which stage Featherbuilt has been in, there has been one thing that has always been important to them: sustainability.
“Once you experience a sunrise in Rocky Mountain National Park or the changing of the seasons in Yosemite, you want to protect it at all costs,” explained Maxwell. “Being a part of the manufacturing business, we see firsthand how much packaging junk goes out in the world (and eventually our landfills) every day and we strive to reduce that.”
Although very proud of their commitment to building sustainably, Maxwell is most proud of how she has made something out of nothing. With no business or construction background, she has developed into a very successful entrepreneur who is a power tool pro. Despite learning most of these skills post-graduation, she attributes much of her life success to her Elon experience.
“People complain about the “Elon bubble” but I actually think that was a very important factor for preparing me for life after graduation,” Maxwell said. “I felt a stronger sense of community than many of my friends that attended other universities and I have sought to continue establishing strong connections in my post-grad communities. I feel that has led to a lot of my success and happiness.”
Maxwell also credits Elon’s study abroad programs for igniting her love of travel and showing her the many different ways she could live. As a loyal member of Sweet Signatures, she learned how to run events, giving her both the experience and courage needed to become an entrepreneur. She encourages all Elon students to take advantage of the time they have while at Elon and make the most of it.
“Take advantage of the things Elon has to offer you,” said Maxwell. “I thought I was too busy in college to pursue other hobbies or more meaningful relationships and that was the least busy I’ve been in my life ever since. These years are a gift – don’t blow it.”
Elon was a place of community and peer interaction for Maxwell, and she truly feels that that culture is what has inspired so many alums, herself included, to follow their passion and succeed.
The future of Featherbuilt, and the adventure vehicle world, looks bright as they continue to develop their van build system so more people can do it themselves. Maxwell hopes to provide women with the resources and confidence to try new things with her entrepreneurial story. Find out more about Featherbuilt at https://featherbuilt.com/ or find them on Instagram @Feather_built.