Airpocket wants to be more than a product; it aims to be a customisable technology play

- March 12, 2015 3 MIN READ

Airpocket is a new type of carry on bag that has been designed to fit in the back seat pocket on planes. It has multiple compartments that organise all your essential travel items in front of you such as your iPad, phone, passport, magazines, makeup case – everything you use while in transit.

The product, which launched on Kickstarter this week, was created by Canberra based Trish Smith after she observed a common occurrence waiting for a flight home from Brisbane to take off.

“I was sitting on a plane a few years ago coming home from Brisbane, I was sitting in my seat and there was this young woman with an enormous handbag standing in the aisle by her seat rifling around inside and pulling things out and throwing them on the seat,” said Smith.

“Behind her was a large queue of people forming because she was blocking the aisle with her carry on and everything, as I watched, she finished tossing everything onto the seat, put her back in the overhead locker and then moved everything from the seat to the pocket, [then] at the end of the flight she repeated the whole process in reverse”.

It was upon seeing this that Smith thought to herself it would be great to have something that would not only hold all those items passengers needed during a flight, but would then also fit neatly into the back pocket.

The Airpocket | Image Supplied

The Airpocket | Image Supplied

Smith, who works in the recruitment industry, set about trying to turn her vision of this product into a reality. She contacted a woman on Etsy that also happened to be in Canberra that had made custom bean bags for her daughter’s birthday and asked if she could help turn sketches she had drawn of the product into a physical product. At that point in time, the product material used was felt. The first few iterations were completed by this woman until her Beanbag business on Etsy began to take off and she could no longer dedicated time to the product that is now known as Airpocket.

To date, Smith has taken on various mentors to help her grow the idea into something that is commercially viable. Mentors like Mick Spencer who is the founder of Canberra based OnTheGo has helped out with introductions to source agents and others have put Smith in contact with industrial designers. This has allowed her to refine and tweak the product, and source a place for manufacturing in China.

Right now the material being used for the product in neoprene. What makes this interesting is, unlike felt which was originally used, neoprene is completely customisable. This means it will be easy to have the Airpocket product in multiple colours. There is also the ability for neoprene sublimation (custom printing) where if you wanted to have a picture of your cat on the product you could do so.

This is where the technology opportunity exists for Smith, and where she would like to see the company get to over the coming years.

“Customisation, where people can design their own Airpocket is exactly what I would love to be able to do,” says Smith. “It’s another of the reasons that I decided to go with neoprene because you can print anything on it”.

Customisation is most definitely on trend. Australian startups like Shoes of Prey, Style Rocks and Mon Purse are currently doing well in the market. It is worth noting that all of these startups have multiple SKUs, whereas Airpocket, at least for now, is just a singular product.

This does not mean however that it will struggle to reach scalability – in fact the opposite could be true. Melbourne based company Keep Cup is also a single product company and in addition to other avenues to market, it allow users to customise their product. In its first 18 months, Keep Cup had revenues of over $3 million.

In the same way that Keep Cup has gone to market using multiple strategies like online customisation, physical stockists and corporate partnerships, Smith believes that Airpocket also has the ability to do that, and is already having preliminary conversations about licensing.

However, the first phase of this is determining product-market fit, which is what the Kickstarter campaign has already proved. Only a few days in and Airpocket has more than doubled its fundraising goal and in the process has sold about 600 units – this has given Smith the confidence to move forward and begin having serious conversations with manufacturers and shipping companies about setting up infrastructure for the future.

In terms of challenges that may be waiting ahead for Smith, copycat product presents a very real threat. Although the company name and product as well as particular features of the product like the pocket layout have been trademarked, the product itself is not patentable. This means that building a brand name and following like the Keep Cups of the world is of paramount importance for Smith, so new customers proactively seek out the Airpocket brand when looking for a product of this nature.