Ted Iobst had just started his MBA at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School when he got the good news: He and his wife were expecting twins. It was immediately clear to him that his business school experience wouldn’t revolve around the typical networking mixers and jet-setting to visit overseas companies. Nope. Most of his time would be spent changing diapers and cleaning spit-up.
By the time year two of the program rolled around, Iobst became the primary caregiver for his two babies, Fritz and Larkin, as his wife went back to her job as a lawyer. While his classmates were at cocktail parties, hobnobbing with captains of industry, Iobst found himself at the playground. While the children toddled around, parents compared strollers, remarking on features they liked or found annoying. They scratched their heads, trying to figure out why some strollers cost $30 while others cost $3,000. Iobst left those conversations feeling that the stroller industry was broken. “It takes forever to research strollers,” Iobst says. “And even then, you don’t know whether you’re getting good value.”
Iobst began to wonder if perhaps he had inadvertently stumbled on a great business idea. Maybe he could create a baby brand in the same vein as Warby Parker and Everlane, one that was digitally native, millennial-focused, and offered better value for money. That brand, Colugo, launches today with two products: a $285 stroller and a $125 baby carrier. (Colugo is named for an animal native to Southeast Asia whose mothers carry their young in a pouch for their first six weeks of life, much like Iobst himself toted his little ones around in a baby carrier.)
Iobst has a notable list of angel investors including Henry McNamara who invested in Away and Allbirds, David Tisch who invested in Warby Parker and Vine, Brian Spaly cofounder of Bonobos and Trunk Club, and Wharton professor Pete Fader. He’s also worked with Red Antler, the design company behind Allbirds, Brandless, Casper, and Birchbox, on Colugo’s brand aesthetic.
Wharton is arguably ground zero of the direct-to-consumer revolution. This is the school where the four founders of Warby Parker began tinkering with the idea of a company that sold eyewear for $95 by selling it to the customer through a website, rather than through a third-party optical shop that would mark up the price. (The eight-year-old company is now valued at $1.75 billion.) Warby’s founders sought the advice of their marketing professor, David Bell, as they were writing their business plan, and Bell has gone on to advise many other entrepreneurs who have launched successful direct-to-consumer e-commerce businesses, including underwear brand MeUndies, home brand Snowe, shaving brand Harry’s, handbag brand Dagne Dover, and sofa brand Burrow.
It was in this context that Iobst started thinking to himself: What would the Warby Parker of strollers look like? “I immediately got in touch with David,” Iobst said, referring to Professor Bell. “And to my surprise–the guy is really busy–he was willing to work with me on my idea.”
As Iobst began to explore the stroller market, he discovered some problems. First, the industry had evolved in the age of the big box store, so brands were used to selling products through retailers like Buy Buy Baby and Target (and increasingly Amazon), which inevitably meant that customers were paying middleman markups of about 40%. And many stroller brands offer many models, all with slightly different features and price points, which added a layer of complexity to an already unpleasant shopping experience. One stroller might have more shock-absorbing wheels, while another might have a bigger basket underneath. “Expecting parents are already trying to process so much new information,” says Iobst. “Now they have to compare tiny features in a product that is entirely new to them.”
As Iobst began work on Colugo, his first challenge was to design a simple, affordable stroller. He’s hired Rob Spalding, a former designer for children’s clothing brands Crewcuts and Rockets of Awesome, to help design these new products. There are many categories of strollers on the market: heavy full-size strollers, jogging strollers, compact strollers, and travel systems that include strollers and car seats. Iobst didn’t want to overwhelm his customer with too many details. Instead, he and Spalding sought to create a functional stroller that would work for the vast majority of parents and encourage families to spend time outside.
As a mom of a toddler, I have seen a lot of strollers over the past four years. And Colugo’s stroller comes with what I believe are some truly innovative features. For instance, this stroller is designed to be portable, making it perfect for urban parents who might live in a walk-up or take the subway. (The compactness and lightness are useful, even if you’re getting in and out of cars to get to the park.)
When I first met Iobst to see the products in person, I thought he had forgotten to bring the stroller altogether. The device weighs 15 pounds. That’s on the lower end of the weight spectrum, though some strollers in the lightweight category are closer to 10 pounds, including the Uppababy G-light, which weighs 10.7 pounds, and the Summer Infant 3D lite that weights 12 pounds. Colugo’s stroller can be opened and closed with one hand and collapses into a plastic backpack, which comes standard with each stroller. You can carry it on your back or, if you’re traveling, like Iobst was, the bag slides easily into your roller suitcase, so you can wheel it around. The stroller also comes with a shoulder strap–a fixture with most lightweight strollers–so you can tote it around hands-free, which is particularly useful when you’re walking up stairs while carrying your baby.
The other key innovation is the rain cover, which comes in a little pouch that attaches to the handlebars. You can leave it on your stroller if it looks like it might rain. When I tested the stroller with my daughter, we happened to get caught in a rainstorm. I quickly opened the bag and pulled the cover over the entire stroller in a matter of seconds. Then, when the sun came out again, I didn’t have to figure out where to put the soaking rain cover. (Putting it in my diaper bag or in the stroller’s basket would have been very messy.) So I just put it back in the pouch and opened it up to dry when I got home.
The rain cover also comes standard with the stroller. This is unusual: Most stroller brands sell the rain cover as an additional accessory. This was one of Iobst’s pet peeves. “I just don’t get it,” says Iobst. “What are you supposed to do without a rain cover? Not go outside? Let your kid get wet?”
The stroller can also be customized. The frame comes in black or silver, and the seat and matching sun canopy comes in many colors, including lavender, and a floral and camo pattern. The seats are removable and machine washable. Colugo will release new colors every season, and at $30, they are inexpensive enough for parents to buy a second set, so they can easily wash one when their child inevitably throws up, pees, or drips melted ice cream all over their stroller. At $285, Colugo’s stroller is less expensive than other lightweight strollers on the market, including the $530 Baby Jogger, and the $350 Peg Perego booklet (though you can get a collapsable stroller made of cheaper, less durable materials for $100 or less).
In keeping with Colugo’s mission of getting parents outside, the brand’s second product, the baby carrier, is lightweight and collapsable. It also has a few simple features designed to make parents’ lives way easier. It comes with a phone pocket that is easily accessible in the front, as well as a little pocket for your keys and money. All of these features are important because it’s hard to get things out of pockets or handbag when you’ve got a 20-pound baby attached to you. At $125, the carrier is cheaper than a comparable Baby Bjorn, which costs $190, and the Ergobaby 360, which costs $180. Colugo mades sure that the stroller and baby carrier met all the government-regulated safety standards for baby products in both the U.S. and Europe.
Iobst also wanted to rethink the customer experience of buying baby gear. Everything is sold through Colugo’s website that does not overwhelm buyers with too much information. Customers can test out products at home for 100 days, risk-free. While there will be an instruction booklet that comes with each product, Colugo will also text the customer instructional videos two days before their package arrives.
Iosbt set out to create the products he wished he had when his twins were born. But he says Colugo is more than just about these two products: He wants to create a brand that offers parents everything they could possibly need for their child’s first few years. And just as importantly, he wants to create a community around the brand that speaks to millennials and supports them through the early stages of parenthood. “There are so many baby brands on the market, but I just didn’t feel like any were really speaking to me,” says Iobst. “I want to create a brand that makes it easier for parents to go out into the world with their kids. That’s where the adventures are.”