Raden CEO Josh Udashkin says he filmed travellers struggling at the airport while researching what “smart” features people would want in a suitcase.
He noticed a few pain points that kept coming up, he tells Business Insider.
The first was how awful trying to get a suitcase under the weight limit can be. Someone is frantically switching items between suitcases, putting their shoes around their neck, or in some cases, simply giving up.
The second thing Udashkin noticed was that a lack of outlets often forced people to huddle around central charging stations, as if they were oases in the desert. And some people were shut out.
With Raden’s line of smart bags, Udashkin has introduced features to fix these problems, all wrapped up in a slick form factor. Raden suitcases have handles that weigh themselves, via a smartphone app, and a built-in battery that lets you charge your phone if an outlet isn’t available. And they come in colours ranging from black to pastels.
In its first four months of operation, Raden sold over $2 million worth of bags from its website and 6,000-square-foot Soho showroom.
When you walk into the Soho showroom, which Raden gets rent-free from a friend of Udashkin’s, there is one thing that is clear from the start: Raden wants to be cool.
The display of bags looks like an art installation, and psychedelic lighting floods the sparse room. Udashkin, an erstwhile lawyer and former director of international development for shoe giant Aldo, doesn’t want to build a utility, he wants to build a brand — and he thinks there’s an opening in the market.
“Younger people don’t have an affinity to a [particular luggage] brand,” he explains.
There are heavyweights in the industry, but people don’t have the passion for these companies that they have for Apple, let’s say, which leaves them vulnerable to an upstart like Raden.
Udashkin also cites a recent history of consumer products being challenged by venture-backed newcomers: glasses, mattress, razors, and so on. Raden, in that vein, has raised $3.5 million from First Round Capital, Lerer Hippeau Ventures, and private investors.
Even though Raden is funded by tech investors, Udashkin says his focus has never been to cram as many tech features into the bag as possible.
The two marquee features are the 7,800 mAH battery and the self-weighing handle. There is also a locator feature, but it uses Bluetooth, which would only let you know if your bag is coming down the carousel. It lacks GPS, so it wouldn’t help you if your bag is lost, or in a different airport.
Still, the other two features it’s touting — the battery pack, and the self-weighing handle — are well-chosen, and Udashkin says they speak to Raden’s design philosophy, which is to be “smart” only when you need it. An example of this is the manual locks Raden bags have. Raden could have used electric locks, Udashkin explains, but they are more error prone and don’t provide that much added utility. So they didn’t implement them. The same is true of adding GPS, which would have necessitated some kind of expensive subscription plan, he says.
And Udashkin laughs when the topic of futuristic suitcases that follow you are around is brought up. That’s a firm “no.”
As the initial rush of Raden’s late March launch winds down, Udashkin is examining which retailers the company wants to partner with.
“When we launched, 250 retailers reached out,” he says. But Udashkin doesn’t want there to be any promotions or markdowns on Raden products, so he’s taking his time.
The bags cost $295 for a carry-on, $395 for the “check-in” version, and $595 for the pair. This isn’t outrageous for high-quality luggage, and slightly cheaper than some “smart” competitors like Bluesmart.
But the ultimate success of Raden won’t likely hinge on small price differentials over competitors, but on whether Udashkin can make the brand something that people love. And Udashkin, who got his job at Aldo by pitching the CEO during a chance meeting at an airport, is a good pitchman for it.
He certainly has a vision, and funded Raden himself for over a year — after quitting his job and before taking any VC funding. Udashkin says it feels good to have that vision at least partially validated in Raden’s $2 million in early sales.
“Any founder who tells you they know [before launch] that anyone will buy [their product] is a total liar,” he says.
Here are more pictures of Raden’s Soho showroom: