Halfway through a seven-hour redeye flight, squeezed into an impossibly tiny window seat next to someone eating kimchi, I escaped into my hoodie. A hidden eye mask pulled out of the hood; a neck pillow, also hidden in the hood, inflated almost instantly. I pulled hidden hand warmers out of the sleeves, and tucked a book into one of the hoodie's giant pockets.
The Baubax "Travel Jacket," which I was testing, is a classic product of crowdfunding: It raised $9.2 million on Kickstarter last year, followed by another $2.3 million on Indiegogo. It also shipped months later than promised. I planned to test it last November; instead, I got it in June.
The founders, who moved to the U.S. from India a little more than two years ago, initially hoped to raise $20,000. The jacket was a simple solution to a problem they faced: As a long-distance couple, living in Chicago and the Bay Area, they wanted to make one aspect of travel a little less inconvenient.
"Every time I would fly, I liked to catch up on some sleep," says cofounder Hiral Sanghavi. "I had this bad habit of forgetting neck pillows at home, and I ended up buying a new pillow every time at the airport. Eventually, we ended up accumulating a dozen pillows . . . My wife was like, 'This has to stop.'"
His wife, designer Yoganshi Shah, sketched a possible solution—a jacket with a built-in neck pillow. They kept adding features: a pocket for a passport, a waterproof pocket for a phone, another for an iPad, a combination pen and stylus that hooks onto a zipper, retractable hand warmers, a sleeping mask, and more pockets. One pocket even holds a drink if your tray table is full.
"At that time we had been following Kickstarter for two years," he says. "We had seen all sorts of ideas get funding—good, silly, bad. We thought this one would definitely solve a lot of problems, and we decided to give it a shot."
Sanghavi turned down a summer internship at Apple to work on the campaign; shortly after it launched, a couple of million dollars in, Shah quit her job to work on the jacket full time.
"Going the crowdfunding way is easier than starting your business the traditional route," says Sanghavi. "There you raise the capital, you design the product, not only design but also manufacture it, put in retail channels or online, and then you hope that people buy it. And if they don't you go bust . . . the risk of failure is less in crowdfunding."
But the product's success—as the fourth most-funded product ever on Kickstarter—also led to challenges. Sanghavi, who had launched three startups in India, had never imported goods into the U.S. They worked with 10 different factories in China, all with language barriers. They had to figure out how to ship to 120 different countries.
The Kickstarter campaign closed in September 2015, and they planned to start shipping in November, in time for holiday presents, but most orders weren't delivered until the spring. Tens of thousands of backers started to complain, especially as they struggled to get responses from the overwhelmed startup. Still, unlike some other multimillion dollar crowdfunding campaigns (such as Zano, a mini-drone that raised $3.5 million, but killed the project before making thousands of deliveries), Baubax did eventually ship the product.
The hoodie (the jacket also comes in windbreaker, bomber, and blazer variations) is fairly comfortable, if heavy; wearing a travel pillow in your hood is a little awkward. With the pockets stuffed full, it's not particularly attractive. But it's nice to have the contents of a carry-on bag always at hand. For some travelers—and even commuters with a long train ride—it's a useful tool.
The company is hoping to repeat the jacket's success with another jacket—this one, live on Kickstarter now, wirelessly charges a smartphone and Bluetooth earphones. It hasn't taken off yet.
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[All Images: via Baubax]