May 19, 2024

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Navigating Travel Tales

How This Couple Quit Their Jobs And Cofounded A Family Travel Brand With A Cult Following

8 min read

Co-founders of family travel diaper-bag startup No Reception Club Gemma and Daniel Ng left their day jobs to bootstrap a now cult-followed brand. Tapping their personal areas of expertise, networks and leaning into a personal, not polished approach to social has led them to sell out their newest product launch within 72 hours on Kickstarter. With no outside investment, and two small children, here is how Gemma and Daniel built a design-forward, sustainably produced line of travel bags that easily fit and organize everything busy, travel-loving families need to pack.

Tell us about your recent, sold-out adventure-travel friendly Hideaway Duffel launch? How did you get from the first product launch to this sold-out release?

Similar to our first products, the Getaway Bag and Sidekick, we always planned to launch the Hideaway Duffel on Kickstarter. As a small business, Kickstarter is a great way to test a new product/concept and to gauge consumer interest before production. This process worked for us with our first two products, so we wanted to mirror this again with our third. To support this Kickstarter launch, we leveraged our incredible Clubhouse Community on Facebook of 5000+ parents who love family travel as much as we do. We asked them for product feedback all along the way, previewed features with them, and even created a small Early Product Testers program with 20 different families to solicit feedback and enable our Clubhouse community to experience the Hideaway through these 20 families. There was a lot of opportunity for the community to ask questions, and learn more about the design choices we made. By the time we launched, the community was super excited and convinced that the Hideaway would be a perfect addition to the suite of products.

While we were hopeful that the Hideaway Duffel Kickstarter campaign would be a little better than our Getaway Bag and Sidekick campaign two years ago, we never anticipated the response would be quite as significant as it ended up being. Within two minutes of launching, we had a fully funded campaign, and within 72 hours we sold through the inventory we had allocated for the full 30-day campaign. We exceeded our goal by over 450%.

What were your careers before? How did you decide to leave your day jobs to launch a startup together?

Gemma: I previously spent a decade working in the fashion industry as a merchandiser and buyer, focusing on developing products for brands including Ralph Lauren, Theory, Banana Republic, and Amour Vert.

Daniel: My professional background spans across e-commerce, technology, and finance at companies including One Kings Lane, Yelp, and Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Our decision to leave our day jobs was a longtime coming, as we had dreamed of starting our own small business together for over a decade that would leverage our complementary skill sets and shared passion for thoughtfully designed bags.

Gemma: It wasn’t until we became parents and traveled with our first son for several months, that we realized there was a huge gap in the market for a brand focused on making traveling with kids easier. Suddenly, the idea we had been waiting for hit us — and it just so happened that it came to us right as the Covid-19 pandemic entered our consciousness and travel had come to a complete stop. We always believed family travel would come back though, and in March 2020, I quit my day job to focus on No Reception Club full-time and started developing our first two products, while Daniel continued to work on the startup on evenings and weekends.

Daniel: Two years later, after we had successfully launched the Getaway Bag and the Sidekick, and sold out for the first of many times, I decided it was time to quit my job too as nights and weekends were frankly just not enough time to meet the demands of our rapidly growing business

How did you decide to bootstrap?

Having lived in San Francisco for seven years, we saw first-hand how alluring it can be to raise a lot of capital from venture capital groups and outside investors. To decide whether to go the fundraising route or not, we thought a lot about what success looked like. For us, success wasn’t defined as growth at all costs with the hope of a massive exit via an IPO or selling to a strategic. Success for us is the opposite – it’s being able to continue doing this for the next 10 years because we’re just so passionate about helping parents travel. We love that we get to wake up every day helping parents feel confident about traveling with their little ones, whether it’s through the products we develop, the content that we create on social media or our blog, or the community of 5k+ like-minded parents that we’ve fostered.

By bootstrapping, we think it gives us the freedom to do a lot of things that might not necessarily be “profit-maximizing”, but are what we believe in. It allows us to develop and launch high quality products without cutting corners. It enables us to focus on our sustainability initiatives like using recycled materials and our philanthropic initiatives such as being part of 1% for the Planet. It gives us the ability to over deliver on the customer experience by providing high-touch service and our lifetime warranty without any questions asked.

Since this was something we knew from day one, we focused on profitability right away and we’re happy to have been profitable within our first year of launching our website. In the end, we didn’t want to be constrained by trying to hit aggressive growth targets that outside investors would require to get an acceptable return on investment. For us, if we’re able to earn enough to provide for our lives and kids, we’re happy to remain completely independent and build No Reception Club with a long-term perspective rather than focusing on short-term profit maximizing objectives.

How did you learn to develop a new category of travel product, and do it sustainably? How did you work out your sales channel and decide to go DTC?

Gemma: My background in developing products for other fashion companies, particularly the four years overseeing merchandising and buying for the sustainable fashion company Amour Vert, is what equipped me with such an invaluable framework and knowledge base for developing our own products sustainably. Daniel and I knew from day one that we wanted our products to be made with sustainable materials, even though we were well aware that there was an added cost to this. This is why all our bags are made from recycled fabrications, and all our packaging is either recyclable, made of recycled materials, or biodegradable.

Daniel: Our decision to exclusively go DTC with our products came from our desire from the very beginning to have direct relationships with our customers — without any wholesalers or retailers between us. We had always wanted No Reception Club to be more than just a supplier of exceptional parent-focused travel products — we wanted it to also become a community of travel-loving parents who help and inspire each other to go on more adventures. This is what we have been able to accomplish as a DTC company where we literally answer every communication with our customers personally, moderate our Clubhouse Facebook community of 5000+ parents, and provide family travel advice through our Instagram account. We spend hours everyday in conversation with our customers through these various channels, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

What were the decisions that led to the biggest changes, drivers in growth? Do you see this changing at all as you continue to grow?

The first decision was tapping into the power of community. We got our start in 2021 via our very first Kickstarter campaign, and it’s thanks to that wonderful community who believed in us (even though we had no track record at that point) that we were able to launch the Getaway Bag and the Sidekick.

Since then, our community has grown to over 5k members in our No Reception Clubhouse group on Facebook. In this group, we communicate directly to our members whether it’s new company updates, upcoming product launches, hosting private events, showing behind the scenes content, or even just sharing our own experiences with traveling with little ones. We’ve even had members in the group test our newest product, the Hideaway Duffel, before we launched to the general public. We think it’s rare to have this level of intimacy with the founders, and in many ways it’s a very vulnerable dynamic. By being super transparent though, we think we’ve created a unique level of trust that has translated into a loyal following. We owe a lot to this community for the strong word of mouth traffic that we get today. The power of this community was immediately evident during our Kickstarter last week where we were funded in two minutes, and sold out in just three days.

Another big decision was pivoting our social media strategy where the content became a lot more personal rather than a polished, corporate look. At the very beginning, we initially thought we wouldn’t be public figures and that we’d be behind the scenes. But as we experimented with different types of content, we realized that our personal experiences really resonated with our followers. They find it helpful to hear about how we approach packing, long-haul flights, our top recommendations, etc. A lot of times our content doesn’t even mention our products, and that’s helped to create a lot of natural engagement with our posts.

After seeing the incredible response from our Clubhouse community for the Hideaway Duffel, we hope to double down on the Clubhouse. It’s a super insightful group of well-traveled parents. We think there’s an opportunity to expand on how we involve our community when developing new products, and we’re excited to bring them on even earlier in our product-development cycle as we explore new products. Also related to our community is perhaps including more user-generated content in our social channels as we think there’s not just one way to travel, and spotlighting various families can help highlight all the different ways to travel out there with your little ones!

With the Hideaway Duffel sold-out before it even ships, how do people get their hands on one? When?

The Hideaway Duffel will be available on November 2 on our website www.noreceptionclub.com to ship in time for holiday travel.

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