Startup #nofilter had the pleasure to sit down with Yonatan Aldouby, Founder of Koala-Gear, the makers of an incredibly comfortable and utilitarian backpack. Yonatan talks about his Kickstarter and Indiegogo success, why this product took off, and the curious naming origins of both the Koala as well as Joey, the backpack.
1. First of all, wow. From the video on the Koala Gear website, it looks like you’ve created the knapsack. What’s the story behind it? Inspiration? Did your knapsack fall apart during a rainstorm and you set about to fix that?
Well, I was into backpacks from a pretty young age, and so during high school I started selling them. So, creating my own backpack was just the natural next step. I felt I could create a good product because I’m very familiar with the world of backpacks – I was in a special unit in the army, carrying heavy loads in specialised backpacks. Also, I travel a lot and am constantly thinking what would make my pack better.
I like creating, and I worked on many design projects in the past. They all demanded a great amount of time and energy, but working on backpacks just feels more natural and familiar. Although initially I lacked the tools to start professionally, I brought a team together and made it happen. Our initial idea was different from the Joey we’re selling today. It was a design for a full-size, 60L trekking pack, but soon enough we realised that the time and money required to develop it was beyond our means. We didn’t want to compromise on quality so we set off creating a smaller pack which eventually became Joey.
2. What’s with the Koala name? Koala bears are known for making funny faces, and for secreting scent glands through their chests.
That’s right, good question. The driving concept behind our products is two-sided: on the one hand we need suspension systems that are soft and comfortable but also ergonomic and healthy for the wearers back. On the other hand we need our packs to be tough, rugged and highly durable so you can also take them out to the mountains and do some hard-core trekking. We feel the Koala Bear represents this concept best: sure, it’s a funny and cute animal, but it’s also a survivor. It’s very powerful and could even be dangerous. That is why our logo shows the Koala’s claw marks rather than its fluffy face.
Similarly, you can check out another one of our products on Kickstarter called the koala hoodie, which is designed to be extra tough. With our products we aim to be like the Koala – a combination between rugged wilderness that withstands the harshest elements and a fluffy softness that protects and comforts. You don’t want a camel on your back, you want a koala.
3. Why Joey? Don’t tell me this is a Friends reference.
A joey is a young marsupial, like a Koala or Kangaroo cub that sits in its mothers pouch. Since our first backpack is a relatively small daypack, we thought the name was fitting. Of course, there is also a marketing aspect to the name – by giving a product a name you instantly give it a personality as well.
4. Your Kickstarter campaign was a smashing success, raising over 10 times what you set out for, with over $200,000. Be honest – what number did you expect?
We never imagined such a success. While most Kickstarter companies have big budgets for branding and advertising, we had an extremely low budget and no investors. Also, we didn’t spend a lot on marketing even though we were told by many to spend money on marketing and Facebook ads. Our success was very surprising on the one hand, but on the other hand we do have a good product here and people are obviously realising that on their own.
5. I’m kind of bummed out, because I missed out on the Kickstarter campaign, but I would love to buy a knapsack. How can I buy one?
We’re actually still selling it! The Kickstarter campaign has now moved to Indiegogo as is, so you can buy Joey through there.
6. I recently mentioned this product in my office, but referred to it as a knapsack. 2 co-workers immediately berated me and said ‘backpack’ is the correct word. Which is it?
Good question. It can be both. The whole idea was to integrate cutting-edge backpack technologies in the suspension system, straps and design, but in a way that can fit everyday needs.
7. Did you file any patents for your backpack? If so, what were they?
Joey has many design points that are completely unique, because we really did re-invent a backpack from scratch to be completely different from anything else on the market. So much so, actually, that most factories we approached couldn’t produce it for a good price even if they tried – they just didn’t have good enough equipment for the development. We discussed the process with a patent lawyer, but unfortunately we just didn’t have the budget for patenting. We will be filing patents in the future though. That being said, if someone did try to copy us, it would be a great compliment, but they would quite probably fail, because Joey requires a tailor-made production line for it to be produced properly. I’m in China right now overseeing the process.
8. Assuming your initial product run goes well, are you open to being acquired by a bigger backpack company?
We’re not really thinking about it at this stage. Big companies buy existing brands that are proven on the market, so we have some ways to go before a huge conglomerate will buy us out.
9. For fun: What website do you go to when your internet isn’t working?
Kickstarter. Okay, Google.
10. Any advice for Startup #nofilter?
I do have a piece of advice for anyone thinking of launching a product on Kickstarter. Although most people who consider themselves “Kickstarter experts” will tell you it’s all about the marketing, the most important factor by far is that you have an excellent product. Marketing does help to raise money, but if you don’t have a good product that fills a real need, people will not buy it over time. For me personally, it wasn’t about money, it was about creating a great product.