When Emma Lovell flew with her five-month-old baby Aimee to introduce her to her grandmother five years ago, the bassinet seat she was allocated on the aircraft was below a TV screen and next to the toilets. The constant to-and-fro of passengers, lights and noise meant that neither mother nor baby had any sleep on the flight.
That trip, Emma’s mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer, so she was desperate to spend as much time as possible with her mum but also wanted Aimee to spend time with her dad, so they did the Sydney-London return trip four times. Aimee’s inability to sleep on board caused much angst. On one legs Emma tried to create a cocoon for Aimee by taping a bedsheet over the bassinet. However, the little girl kept pulling the tape off, so the sheet failed to keep out much of the distraction. But Emma saw potential in the idea, and after her mum died she determined to develop it further.
Emma drew up a design based on the average dimensions of an airline bassinet and approached a company about building a prototype. It quoted her $70,000, so Emma’s husband set to and produced the prototype himself using a box, tubing, black fabric and double-sided tape. Though IP Australia knocked back this prototype, Emma persevered and came up with a design she was able to send to a manufacturer in China.
It took two years and about a dozen prototypes, but eventually the company produced what Emma saw as the perfect answer for mothers travelling on aircraft with their babies. She placed an order for 1000 units, but the stock that arrived was nothing like the final prototype.
This taught Emma what she sees as the biggest lesson of her start-up journey: the importance of quality control. Today she espouses the value of pre-production, mid-production and post-production models when outsourcing the manufacture of your design. Emma also travels regularly to visit her supplier in China, not only for quality control but to ensure their working relationship is as strong as it can be.
After changing manufacturer, she managed after a couple of years to claw back about 80 per cent of the money she had invested with the original one.
In 2015, Emma receive the first commercial volume of bassinet covers, originally sold as Fly Babee directly to customers via her website. But despite having the finished product and great interest in it, Emma’s hurdles had not all been overcome. Initially the airlines themselves would not approve the product, and she found the industry a “closed shop”.
Some of her customers took the product on flights anyway, arguing with flight crew to be allowed to use the covers. This prompted Qantas to approach Emma. and she sat down with senior members of the airline’s health-and-safety team to talk them through the product. It was then approved for use on Qantas flights.
And while Emirates banned all child-comfort products, Emma persisted and managed to talk to the right people. Now her product is the only one of its type allowed on Emirates’ flights. At the time of this magazine going to print, Etihad and Virgin Australia have formally approved the product, with verbal agreements with Air New Zealand and British Airways, which are just going through the formal paperwork.
The rebrand from Fly Babee to CoziGo, in October last year, came about as a result of the wider benefits of the product to mothers. Emma did not want to pigeonhole it as something that can be used only in the air.
CoziGo’s air-permeable material blocks out light and has a UV protection factor of 50+ which makes it ideal as a stroller cover, particularly in summer. The one-size-fits-all design means the one product can be can be used on airline bassinets and strollers.
As well as direct customers through the website, the product is now available in boutique stores and a couple of retail chains. Emma already has a distributor in Sweden and is talking to distributors in the UK, the US and South Korea.
CoziGo’s progress resulted in Emma winning the Emerging Entrepreneur category of the 2016 AusMumpreneur Awards and the Wholesale Business category at the Optus MyBusiness Awards last year.
Tim Ladhams, Editor, Inside Small Business