Small to Big: That’s no baby chair. It’s a two-axis, co­or­di­nated-mo­tion ro­botic plat­form

Bloomberg Businessweek (Asia) - - CON­TENTS -

4 Moms makes high-tech baby gear for the kind of par­ents who use an iPhone app to keep track of their in­fant’s feed­ing sched­ule and buy Hug­gies on Di­a­pers.com. Its lineup in­cludes a stroller that folds at the touch of a but­ton ($850), an os­cil­lat­ing baby seat ($240), and a self-in­stalling car seat ($500). Rob Da­ley, who has a back­ground in ven­ture cap­i­tal, teamed up with Henry Thorne, a roboti­cist, to start the Pittsburgh-based com­pany in 2005. The two were con­vinced that the old-line mak­ers of baby gear would be slow to grasp t he op­por­tu­nity cre­ated by rapidly fall­ing prices f or sen­sors and other au­to­ma­tion equip­ment. The 160- em­ployee com­pany logged sales of $ 48 mil­lion in 2014, but like any small busi­ness, it’ s en­coun­tered glitches along t he way. Here, Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Da­ley re­calls one hair-rais­ing prod­uct launch. —— As told to Cristina Lind­blad Our first prod­uct took us about 18 months to bring to mar­ket. It was an in­fant bath­tub with a tem­per­a­ture reader. It costs us $20.84 to make, and we sold it for $18. We dis­con­tin­ued it af­ter the first year. Our next prod­uct was the mama Roo. That’s an in­fant seat that moves up and down and side to side to repli­cate the mo­tions that par­ents make to com­fort their ba­bies. We never talk about it this way to con­sumers, but it’s a two-axis, co­or­di­nated-mo­tion ro­botic plat­form. The mama Roo took us about four years to de­velop. We were al­ready des­per­ately late with the prod­uct. Then, when we moved from pro­to­type pro­duc­tion to first line pro­duc­tion, we ran into a prob­lem: When you turned those first mama Roos on, it sounded like there was a live cat trapped inside. We were des­per­ate to ship. But we have some words we live by over here: “Good enough isn’t; awe­some is.” So we signed on for an­other four months of devel­op­ment. It ac­tu­ally took six. We had a ven­ture cap­i­tal firm that was sup­posed to in­vest at the end of Jan­uary 2010, but they pulled out. So Henry and I had to cir­cle our wag­ons. He agreed to put an­other $200,000 into the com­pany, which would keep us in busi­ness for an­other 60 days, and I said I would find an­other in­vestor. We started ship­ping pro­to­type units to re­tail­ers. Be­fore the two months was up, we got Newell Rub­ber­maid to come in as a strate­gic in­vestor. If we had shipped the ver­sion that was just good enough, the prod­uct wouldn’t have got­ten any trac­tion. It’s a les­son that we’ve held on to re­ally tightly. Right now, re­tail­ers are scream­ing for our car seat. In­vestors are scream­ing, too. But we’re spend­ing mil­lions of dol­lars re­fin­ing it, ’cause we con­tinue to believe that short-term pain is longterm gain.

The ma­maRoo’s specs:Two mo­tors, four mo­tion sen­sors, one screen, com­pan­ion app Edited by Cristina Lind­blad and Dim­i­tra Kessenides Bloomberg.com

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