A Blog by Jonathan Low

 

Apr 9, 2016

Your Suitcase Is Texting

Innovation can take many forms. The question, beyond their ability to fill us with wonder - and sometimes even joy - is, in an increasingly crowded world of devices, all owned by companies trying to figure out how to generate more revenue out of them - which ones are simply cute and which ones we really need. Because it is unlikely that consumers in this techno-financial environment are going to want or be able to afford all of them. JL

Matthew Schneier reports in the New York Times:

The company bags are smart — in the Silicon Valley sense of the word. The included battery, which is approved by the Transportation Security Administration, can charge phones or USB-connected devices and sync to a app that  geo-locate(s) your bag (it can send you a push notification when it reaches the baggage carousel) or weigh it, using a handle sensor. Tell the app your flight details, and it will find what overage fees apply if you’ve overstuffed it.
On a recent evening in SoHo, under a flag recently unfurled, the doors of Raden opened, provided you had the right name to drop to the forbidding doorman stationed before them.
Inside, a circular display stretched nearly to the ceiling, catching the light of a gradient illumination that changed colors like the rising and setting sun. It was an installation conceived and built by Noah Sherburn, an architect and designer who has spent the last few years realizing stage sets for the likes of Kanye West, Jay Z and Future.
It was more pomp and circumstance than usual — or at least more than usual for the opening of a suitcase showroom.
“It’s a good challenge,” Mr. Sherburn said. “How do we make that sexy?”
Throughout the 6,000-square-foot store (the former site of C. Wonder, on a busy stretch of Spring Street), attendees of Raden’s launch party were spinning suitcases on their wheels, checking out their USB ports and toggling through iPad stations to learn more. Outside, curious onlookers goggled through the windows at rows of candy-colored Radens lining the walls. Now, the showroom is open for all to explore, and while it does not actually sell Radens on site, bags can be ordered there for delivery. (They can also be ordered at Raden.com.)

Josh Udashkin, the founder and chief executive of Raden. Credit Stefania Curto for The New York Times
The Raden difference is tech. The company aspires to make more than mere suitcases. Their bags are smart — in the Silicon Valley sense of the word. The included battery, which is approved by the Transportation Security Administration, can charge phones or USB-connected devices and sync to a Raden app that allows you to geo-locate your bag (it can send you a push notification when it reaches the baggage carousel) or weigh it, using a handle sensor. Tell the app your flight details, and it will find what overage fees apply if you’ve overstuffed it.
The goal is “giving humanity to an appliance,” said Josh Udashkin, Raden’s founder and chief executive, citing, with entrepreneurial dreaminess, models like Apple’s iPhones and Dyson’s vacuum cleaners. At 32, Mr. Udashkin, who practiced law and worked for the shoe company Aldo negotiating real estate deals and working on wholesale development, has a practiced way with business-school jargon and a marketing guru’s reverence for the limitless potential of branding. He’s also got a taste for showmanship. Besides the store, he is commissioning a “Richard Serra-style crater dug in the Hudson Valley” to stage a “luggage toss” of Raden converts’ old bags.
So far, his zeal has convinced a cadre of investors — First Round Capital (which also invested in Warby Parker and Birchbox), Lerer Hippeau Ventures (also in Glossier and Everlane), and private individuals including Silas Chou, formerly of Michael Kors, and Rachel Zoe — to the tune of $3.5 million in seed funding.
“You’ve got to make that one perfect thing,” Mr. Udashkin said. “I’m trying to make one perfect polycarbonate suitcase.”
Raden’s suitcases come in two sizes ($295 for a smaller carry-on size and $395 for a larger check-in size, or $595 for the pair) and seven colors (the expected black and white, as well as navy, hunter green, baby blue, lavender and light pink). It includes a battery that zips out of the bag for any necessary troubleshooting or repairs, and help is as near as the app, where you can chat with customer service representatives.
In its march toward tech-enabled luggage, Raden is not the first, and it is not alone. Fellow direct-to-consumer start-ups like Away and Bluesmart are working similar angles. But Raden’s approach is singularly bombastic.
Many of its competitors have been slower to adopt tech-enabled bags. Samsonite is not currently promoting its earlier foray into smart tech, a line called GeoTrakR that included removable LugLoc tracking devices. Tumi (which said in March that it would be acquired by Samsonite in a deal expected to close this year) recently announced a wireless tracking device, the Tumi Global Locator, to be released in the second half of 2016, though it is an accessory rather than a bag. This month, Rimowa introduced a series of bags with a new Rimowa Electronic Tag that allows travelers to check their bags via a smartphone. But it lacks Raden’s other features and is limited to Lufthansa for its European launch. (The Electronic Tag bags will come to the United States this summer.)
Back in the showroom, the sun rose and fell — virtually, at least — on 365 Raden in sculptural form as Champagne and canapés circulated. The hope is clear enough: that the sun never sets on Raden’s empire building. The image was a deliberate one, said Mr. Udashkin, in shades and a gold Saint Laurent jacket printed with a tropical sunset and customized with two Raden “Rs.” The Raden Instagram account features picture after picture of sunrises and sunsets as a nod to the possibilities of travel.
And, of course, as one more bit of canny branding.
“I thought the sunrise and the sunset were something we could own,” he said.

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