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Using technology that sounds like it comes straight out of Predator, Miku is a new baby monitor that watches and senses your baby’s vitals in real time. The system not only broadcasts a secure feed of your baby’s sleep time but it also analyzes the heart rate and breathing without wearables.

The system uses military technology to sense the baby’s vitals and it will store video even if the Wi-Fi goes out.

The Miku Baby Monitor uses patent-pending AI and machine learning technology called SensorFusion, which combines optical and wireless sensing to build a full and accurate picture of the baby’s critical health metrics with no wires or wearables. Beyond breathing and sleeping patterns, these sensors track temperature and humidity levels to ensure the baby’s environment is stable. Miku’s technology and corresponding app work with smartphones from anywhere in the world and sends instant alerts when it matters most, giving parents a tranquil peace of mind.

The app also records data over time, giving the parents a better understanding of sleep patterns and the like. Developed by CEO and new parent Eric White, the Miku builds on White’s experience building gear and software for the Department of Defense, ITT, L3 and Picatinny.

The team believes the monitor will also work with elder care as well, allowing worried children to keep an eye on their parents.

“The Miku Baby Monitor is only the beginning for us,” said White. “As a new father, I know there is a huge need for this level of technology and sophistication in a product people entrust to help care for their loved ones. The applications for Miku’s technology are limitless.”

The Miku is available for order now and costs $399.

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The 2019 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) features more than 4,400 companies showing off their gadgets. It’s a huge event filled with robots, massive televisions, virtual reality rigs, and lots of cutting edge tech straight out of science fiction. There’s a lot to gawk at. This year was particularly big for parenting-focused tech. There was an 88 percent increase in applicants for the show’s baby tech award from last year, proving that parenting tech is a growing — and lucrative sector. From baby monitors to fertility trackers, these are the gadgets we think parents should know about.

Nanit Breathing Wear

Nanit, makers of a connected, overhead baby monitor, released two new garments, a Breathing Band and Swaddle. Both are adorned with special patterns of squares that allow the monitors to track a baby’s breathing rate and, most importantly, alert you when no breathing motion is detected. They’ll be available in single- and three-packs priced from $25, with a monitor, band, and swaddle bundle on sale for $379. They won’t hit the market until March, but you can sign up for the waitlist now on the company’s website.

Nurture by Imalac

A single day was all this breast massage system needed to hit its Kickstarter goal. It’s designed to mimic the hand expression technique commonly used to facilitate breastfeeding. The kit comes with a bra with special pockets for massaging cups that can be inserted before pumping. Moms can use the included controller or the Nurture by Imalac app to control the pressure, speed, and hold time of the massage. The company claims that its product can help women pump more milk more quickly and alleviate breast pain associated with pumping. It will be available in June for $299, but you can reserve one now with a free additional bra and a surprise item on Kickstarter for just $224.

Owlet Cam

Previously known for its smart sock, a wearable baby monitor that sends heart rate, oxygen levels, skin temperature, and sleep quality/position data to your phone, Owlet is back with a video baby monitor. It streams 1080p video, shot through a wide angle lens, and adds room temperature sensing and background audio to the Owlet app. The Cam ships on January 22 and will be available on its own for $149 and as part of a bundle with the Smart Sock for $399.

Coolpad Dyno

The blue and pink bands and whimsical UI on this smartwatch are designed to appeal to kids, but it’s been built with parents in mind. The watch’s integrated 4G-LTE connection works throughout the U.S. and Canada and enables parents to send and receive text and voice messages and create a list of other approved contacts who can do the same through the Dyno Companion app. There’s also a dedicated SOS button that’ll connect kids to an approved contact as well as GPS capabilities that lets parents see where their kids are and alert them when they leave customizable “safety zones.” The Dyno will be available for $149 on January 28.


Pinna is a digital library of ad-free content designed for kids 12 and under. It’s a mixture of licensed material and original content. Examples include “The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel,” a serial mystery story performed by kids for kids 8 and older and “Molly and the Sugar Monster,” a paean to healthy food aimed at a younger crowd. Unlimited access to Pinna’s content library through iOS devices will run you $8 a month or $80 a year.


Similar to the Nanit, this baby monitor is a contactless way to stream video to your kids and measure their vitals (breathing rate, temperature, sleep quality). It also logs sound and movement throughout the night and there’s also a clever feature that lets you choose music or white noise for specified lengths of time. All this is packed into a svelte, bare white unit that sits above your baby’s crib. It’s available now for the sizable sum of $399.


The first sonogram at the OBGYN’s office is a big moment in any pregnancy. With the Baby-Scan, you can perform ultrasounds at home. The remote control-sized device feeds live 3D scans to the companion app using WiFi and places them on a timeline so you can scroll through your baby’s in utero development. It’s not the most necessary item in the world, but being able to safely take your own ultrasounds whenever you want is undeniably cool. Unfortunately, the Baby-Scan has yet to hit the market and the only details of its availability are “after CES 2019.”


There were a good deal of fertility tracking devices released CES 2019. Among them was Tempdrop, an armband meant for women to wear at night that makes it less inconvenient way of knowing one’s stats. After two to three months, Tempdrop will have enough data to generate clear charts of a woman’s cycle to help trying parents make sure they’re maximizing your chances of getting pregnant. The Tempdrop will ship this month at a price of $149. This is bold: For an extra $40, buyers get a 12-month full refund guarantee if they don’t get pregnant in a year.

Ava Fertility Tracker 2.0

A new and improved version of Ava’s fertility tracking bracelet, the Ava tracker 2.0 is updated with a sleeker strap, better sensor performance, and a vibrating alarm. The company claims that, because it uses resting pulse rate, skin temperature, breathing rate, and other parameters instead of the traditional basal temperature method, it can let your wife know when she’s going to ovulate instead of when she just ovulated. The basic Ava is available now for $299, as is the plus version with online content and a one-year pregnancy guarantee, and a premium version that adds a consultation with a fertility coach for $699.



“I’ll be totally honest; I didn’t think it would be as hard as it was. Being an entrepreneur is the hardest job. It’s 24/7 grunt work,” says Sarah Michelle Gellar of the journey she’s taken beyond the big screen and into the business world. Having built a successful career portraying some of the biggest cultural icons of the 90s, the Emmy award winner and Golden Globe nominee made her foray into the startup arena in 2015 as co-founder of the baking kit and mix company, Foodstirs. While her celebrity status opened doors and helped put the brand on the map in its early days, carving out a successful second act came with big challenges for the A-list actress, despite her fame.

Often dismissed by potential investors and industry insiders who questioned her credibility, the former Buffy the Vampire Slayer star needed to first convince skeptics that she brought more than a bold-faced name to the venture. “I probably got meetings with big VCs that other people wouldn’t get right off the bat. But it was a novelty. It was, ‘Let’s see what Buffy has to say.’ But there was no real interest, and it was really about us having to sell once in that meeting,” she says. Gellar credits the hard-won lessons learned in building a successful Hollywood career as her greatest entrepreneurial advantage in rising above rejection and proving those critics wrong. “ You’re always going to get the ‘no’s, no matter what job you’re in. That was the one thing that the entertainment industry prepared me for,” she says.

Gellar’s entrepreneurial ambitions were inspired by a desire to channel her creativity and leverage her platform outside of Tinseltown. “I’ve always wanted to do something else, but I didn’t know what that space was. I didn’t know where my talents were, because I had only ever worked in one industry,” she says. Seeing a mass-market void in baking brands dedicated to modern, health-minded consumers, she teamed up with fellow co-founders Galit Laibow and Greg Fleishman to transform the traditional grocery store aisle. Foodstirs was their organic, non-GMO solve that offered a reimagined baking process and a family-friendly kitchen experience that motherhood had made her crave.

As Foodstirs continues to expand its retail footprint and build a loyal following, Gellar has navigated a steep learning curve in cultivating her entrepreneurial know-how and business savvy. Her most powerful lesson to date? “Surround yourself with people that are smarter than you. For every person that doesn’t want to help you out, there are so many people that just want to offer advice and who have been through it ,” Gellar counsels. “Make sure you have people around you that can talk you off the ledge and who can also pick you back up.”

I recently sat down with Gellar to discuss her journey from Buffy to businesswoman, the challenges presented by fame, and her best advice to aspiring founders. Edited highlights below.

On Second Acts

“If you would have told me five years ago this is where I’d be sitting, I would’ve said, ‘I highly doubt that.’ I don’t say never, but the beauty of having the success of a show like Buffy so early is that you achieve more than you ever think possible.”

“I have two young children, and I love the lesson that they’ve seen, that Mommy had a great career, Mommy could’ve been doing that forever, but Mommy had an idea, Mommy wanted to try something new, and Mommy wanted to challenge herself.”

On Proving Herself

“I would have loved to have been taken more seriously as an entrepreneur. But I also hadn’t earned that right yet. Now I hope that the headlines aren’t necessarily that, because I feel like we’ve proven ourselves, and I’ve proven myself, and we have proof of concept. But in the beginning, you know, whatever gets them to notice, right?”

On The Challenges Of Fundraising

“I was extremely shocked at how tough it was being female out there, raising capital. I would say I definitely had a false bravado, and I think I was quite shocked at the difficulty that the road ahead entailed.”

“The biggest disappointments were the female funds. I think that it’s so hard to be a female fund and they’ve worked so hard to get there, that they’re still a little standoffish. And we actually wound up having more success with the traditional route.”

On The Power Of Personal Connections When Pitching

“What are the ways that they [investors] can connect to this product, that makes it something that they see the value in, as opposed to just, is it a money making opportunity? Especially with male investors, do they have kids? Do they have grandkids? Is there a wedding band on? Is there a dog on their desk? Because at the end of the day, when you’re investing money, especially when you’re investing someone else’s money, you need that personal connection. It can’t just be about the history of the founders, or the concept. You need all of the different facets to get you all the way to the top.”

On Her Best Advice To Aspiring Entrepreneurs

“Make sure you have those people around you that can talk you off the ledge, and can also pick you back up.”

On The Value of “Smart Money”

“At the end of the day, you want smart money. I think that’s something that we were all very well aware of in the beginning, which is you don’t take the first check that comes around. Because what do they have to offer in the long run? Is it someone you can work with? Is it someone whose experience is an asset to what you’re doing? And is it someone that will support you when you need it, but also be hands off? You want to really look for not just money, but smart money.”

On Her Juggling Act

“I’m a mom, I’m an actor, I’m an entrepreneur, and I’m a juggler. That’s what I do, I juggle. I can actually juggle, and I juggle careers, and life, and family, and kids, and different jobs.”

On The Power Of Feedback

“My husband and I always say, if you’re going to believe all the good reviews, then you have to give the negative reviews the same equal amount of attention and authenticity.”

On Her Acting Legacy

“If you, as an actor, have a role that’s indelible in people’s minds, that’s an honor, and that’s what you hope for.”


They may not all succeed, but a new class of merchants deserves an “A” for at least one notable accomplishment: They tore up the old retail guide books and rewrote what the industry should be.

These feisty young startups emerged in the wake of thousands of store closures in 2018, taking advantage of operational oversights and outdated merchandising concepts. They put underused resources to work, broke down basic human needs into emotional concepts and eliminated many of the more tedious aspects of shopping.

And the products they sell, for the most part, aren’t the least bit new. They, like emerging merchants before them, just fine-tuned what has been fine-tuned. Here’s to retail’s class of 2019.


Allbirds shoes. This sneaker brand has been getting notice for classic yet contemporary-looking styles that eschew labels and glitz in favor of earth-friendly materials and practical designs. Rather than synthetics, these sneakers are made from bountiful wool — but that’s just the start. Other materials include recycled bottles, castor bean oil, tree fibers (Including eucalyptus pulp) and sugar cane. The price points are pretty sweet too, at $95 for most styles.

Aurate jewelry. Jewelry buying can often be intimidating for the buyer, so most merchants focus on the event from the vantage point of problem-solving — sparkly things mean love, heart-shaped things mean commitment, etc. Aurate — which operates four stores as well as online — stands apart by treating all jewelry buyers as educated and responsible shoppers. It lets the designs speak for themselves, while it speaks to sustainability and resourcing. Aurate tracks all the diamonds it sells, for example, and its 14k gold is sourced from conflict-free suppliers.

Away luggage. Away describes its luggage as “thoughtful,” but it’s also mindful of its commercial role. The pieces are lightweight, highly maneuverable and with optional built-in batteries that can be ejected before checking the bag for flight. That’s great for the traveler, but Away also wants to leave an imprint as it travels the world. So it has partnered with Peace Direct, a nonprofit organization building peace in areas of conflict around the world.


Burrow couches. When you live in an apartment in the city, moving furniture up sharp-angled stairways can be so prohibitively arduous that some renters pass on major furniture pieces, such as couches. Casper mattress recognized this issue with its pop-up beds, and Burrow followed in 2017 with its ready-to-assemble couches. No tools are needed to put together these handsomely designed pieces, which come in varying sizes and arrive in easy-to-transport boxes.

Batch lifestyle products. Batch is like a retail lab for up-and-coming designers of home décor and lifestyle items, with the result being an entire room in a box. Online, one can purchase a fully appointed room or even an apartment at a reduced-package price. A kitchen/dining area with table, chairs, tabletop items, cutlery and even cookbooks carries a package price of $4,000, while individually the items would sell for $5,423. At its San Francisco shop, Batch immerses the shopper in carefully appointed living spaces where every item, down to the shoes in the closets, is for sale.

Glossier beauty products. Created by a group of beauty editors, the online-only Glossier sells cosmetics that are formulated in-house and designed for practical, “pared-down” use. The focus is on the product users, not on marketing, so the website, the messaging and the packaging is minimized (why pay for a box and throw-away applicator?). All of this helps keep costs low and accessible to Glossier shoppers.

Helix mattresses. The boxed mattress concept so astutely recognized a consumer need that it is now a successful retail segment, which means the players need to stand apart from each other. Helix does so by customizing its mattresses based on the buyer’s sleeping style and preferences. It starts with an online “sleep quiz” that gauges the number of sleepers per bed, their sizes, how they sleep (back, side, toss-and-turn) and the degree of back pain with which they wake. Helix then suggests mattresses (at varying price points) to meet those needs.

Ministry of Supply apparel. It’s not stretch pants, but Ministry of Supply is aiming for the stretch-pants feel with its dress clothing, engineered to move like we do, even in the office. The maker of men’s and women’s apparel aims for what it calls “performance professional” with clothing that duplicates the capabilities of workout apparel. Its scientifically designed pants, shirts and suits are wrinkle-free, breathable, unrestrictive and (in some cases) even heated. It’s the answer to yoga pants at work, with taste.

Privé Revaux sunglasses. Celebrity-allure is a characteristic of sunglasses, but the founder of Privé Revaux wanted to make the correlation direct. He seeks the input of influential celebrities and David Schottenstein, Dave Osokow, Jamie Foxx, Ashley Benson, and Hailee Steinfeld are all co-founders. Yet the glasses, of which there are more than 100 styles, can be purchased by pretty much everyone, at a flat price of $29.95 a pair.

Photo courtesy of Prive RevauxPHOTO: PRIVE REVAUX

Yumble meal kits for kids. The meal kit industry struggled in 2018 as it tried to find a big enough market of consumers willing to spend a little more money for pre-prepped food they’d still have to cook themselves. Yumble differs in that it identified a very specific, and painfully relevant, need: feeding fussy kids ages 1 to 12. The best part for busy parents: Meals, such as chicken pops (think healthy nuggets) and Holy Moly Ravioli (served plain), arrive fully cooked.


These startups prove that in retail, raising one’s hand for attention is not enough — you’ve got to stand on the desk and shout out your answers. It’ll get noisy, and some may not be standing as tall by the end of 2019, but each brand in this class of merchants is worth recognizing and even shopping.



Seventy feet from Nat King Cole’s piano, with Frank Sinatra’s microphones nearby, in Capitol Records’ historic Hollywood recording studios, a lanky guy with spiky aqua hair plays the world’s most popular video game alongside a string of musicians.

It’s a decided change from the usual reasons people load thousands of dollars worth of expensive gear into Studio A, where countless musical stars have recorded hit records for decades. This Sunday night, it’s about Capitol, a division of Universal Music Group, trying to remake itself for a tech-driven future, and about the world’s best-known gamer getting himself a new side gig as a musical tastemaker.

Just outside the building, teams of code writers are presenting projects they built over the previous 36 hours as part of a hackathon at Capitol’s Hollywood offices. The hackathon – run in concert with Spotify, Amazon-owned streaming site Twitch, Red Bull Esports and Verizon – is part of Capitol’s efforts to make sure it doesn’t get blindsided by another tech revolution like the one that has savaged the music business the last 20 years.


Inside, the gamer Ninja, real name Tyler Blevins, is a 27-year-old savant of both video games and of talking about video games while playing online before tens of thousands of fans on Twitch. A former esports athlete, Blevins crossed over to broader pop culture last spring when he played Fortnite with music superstar Drake, and more than 600,000 people watched simultaneously, a Twitch record.

Blevins is also huge on YouTube, where he has 20.1 million subscribers, and Instagram, where he has 11.7 million more. YouTube’s release this week of the site’s most popular 2018 videos gave the top two slots for gaming to Ninja: 32 Kill Solo Squads!! Fortnite Battle Royale Gameplay (37.7 million views) and Fortnite with Ninja | Overtime 3 |Dude Perfect (34.5 million views). Suffice it to say, he’s an online power.

Blevins came to Studio A to help launch Ninjawerks Vol. 1, an album released on Capitol’s Astralwerks label that features 13 tracks of electronic dance music curated by Ninja. Several tracks have already been released, but the full album hits Dec. 14. The songs are all electronic music or EDM, and help boost Blevins when he’s gaming. But he insists music is much more than gaming atmosphere. It’s really a set of soundtracks to parts of his life.

“When I travel and do amazing events, I usually pick bands and just listen to that album,” Blevins said. “I can listen to an album and it takes me back to that time.  That’s the power of music.”

The project started in June, a product of a college friendship between an Astralwerks employee and one of Blevins’ management team at Loaded. Those conversations quickly turned into a Blevins wishlist of electronic and EDM artists, then the label thinned that list to a group of interested musicians willing to join the project.

“When they came back with the list of musicians that I wanted and who wanted to be on the record, I couldn’t believe it,” said Blevins, who actually contributed to one of the first tracks released, 3LAU’s Game Time.

Tycho, whose Jetty contribution to the album is one of his typically glistening, upbeat instrumentals,  is among the day’s attendees. Like many of the album’s musicians, Tycho is a long-time gamer and a Ninja fan, though recently, he said he’s been playing on a virtual-reality rig instead of a PC or console. But getting the chance to be on the Ninjawerks album was something Tycho said he couldn’t resist.

“It was a huge honor to be asked to take part, this idea of having music cross over into gaming,” Tycho said. “Games were the backdrop to my childhood really. Then they became an escape when I was working really hard (on a song). They were really kind of a cure of relaxation.”

Another game-playing musician at Blevins’ side for the day is rapper Lil Yachty, who also popped up at last summer’s giant E3 games conference, playing Fortnite with notables such as Los Angeles Lakers guard Josh Hart at the booth for Subnation, a company that connects brands to the music, street art, fashion, sneakers and other subcultures around gaming.
The relationship between music and games is long and sometimes close. One early PlayStation game, N2O: Nitrous Oxide, featured an album’s worth of music (the disc was even playable as a CD) by electronic duo The Crystal Method. Tommy Tallarico has made a career composing orchestral soundtracks for notable titles such as Mortal Kombat and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, then playing those themes live on tour. There’s even an entire genre of electronic music called 8-bit, inspired by the blip-and-bloop sounds of early games.

In this iteration of music and games, Astralwerks and Loaded had to quickly hammer out a number of important deal points, then the label set to assembling the  compilation and building a global marketing plan. The label even commissioned an artist to create characters inspired by Ninja and the 13 musicians, said Astralwerks General Manager Toby Andrews. Those images will be turned into collectable items, another way to drive engagement and fan anticipation as some tracks dribble out ahead of the full release.

The result has been a formidable project that occupied not just the Astralwerks staff but Universal Music sales and marketing teams around the globe, said Andrews. And when it’s come to marketing, Blevins and his team have worked closely with the label to get the word out. 

“To my knowledge, we’ve never seen anything as in-depth as this,” said Andrews. “I’ve seen people involved in the theme tune to a game. There are some games that have a music component. But I’ve never seen anyone of Tyler’s status and popularity who’s ever been up to create such an all-immersive musical experience.”
The crossover project was Andrews’ first big venture after becoming head of Astralwerks in May. More importantly, it represents a chance to connect musicians to new audiences in ways that labels really haven’t done in the past.
“Obviously, the main opportunity is to expose a new group of artists and a new group of music to audiences,” Andrews said. “We’re working them through radio, we’re working them through channels as we normally would. But we’re also able to throw one-off activations that feel unique. With Tyler’s involvement, we can do a lot of things first.”
The album is more than a vanity project. One pragmatic payoff: Blevins alone will be licensed to use the 13 tracks as backdrop for his YouTube videos, simplifying the huge headache of music licensing that dogs many online creators.
“That was something that was really important to Tyler from the beginning,” said Andrews. “He wanted to make sure the project could help backdrop the things he does every day.”
The project is already a hit online. The first three tracks – from Tycho, Alesso and 3LAU – generated 3 million streams combined, including 2 million YouTube views, and 2,000 posts on social media, within just a few days of release, according to Astralwerks. Blevins flexed his own social-media muscle, playing Fortnite on Twitch with all three musicians the night the first tracks were released. The webcast drew a steady audience of about 50,000 fans. He also helped drive 5,500 follows of a Spotify playlist in the first 24 hours, an extremely high number, the label said.
“It’s very interesting stuff but not surprising at all,” said Michelle Merino of Trending All Day, an influencer-marketing consultancy and news site. “It was only a matter of time before the music business would want to connect with these social-media icons. We see more and more cross-promotional and cross-platform ventures that leverage an influencer’s online popularity and connected fan base.”
Merino said the deal was reminiscent of efforts by film and TV studios to use YouTube stars to entice younger audiences to watch their movies and TV shows. The difference here is that younger audiences still listen to lots of music, including the electronic and EDM artists on Ninjawerks. Another area of opportunity will be podcasts, such as the Ear Biscuits show from YouTube stalwarts Rhett & Link.
“As the platforms change and audiences grow, the partnership opportunities to work with creators are endless,” Merino said.


A Series of Profiles of Innovators at the Forefront of Consumer Behavior and Business Transformation: Rob Royer, Founding CEO, Interior Define.

The digital direct-to-consumer model is transforming just about every category of the consumer retail industry. What Warby Parker, Bonobos, Dollar Shave Club, Harry’s, Casper and other high-profile examples have popularized, Rob Royer and his team hope to emulate to redefine the unique category of custom furniture. Royer is the founder and CEO of Interior Define, a business changing the way consumers buy furniture.

So, why furniture? And more specifically, why sofas?

Furniture is a sizable, evolving market. According to Statista, furniture and furnishing sales reached over $110 billion in 2016 and sofas comprise one of the largest segments of that market. More importantly, it’s something Royer knows well and deeply cares about. “I grew up in a design-oriented family,” said Royer. “My mother and grandmother were interior designers and my father and grandfather were both architects.”

Perhaps as important, Royer was an early team member at men’s apparel startup Bonobos, the DTC innovator acquired by Walmart for $310 million in 2017.

“Reflecting back on it now, I think we share a common perspective; they were really a pioneering digitally native brand focused on solving what they found was a problem in men gaining access to well-fitting apparel,” recalls Royer. “As such, Interior Define was created to address the consumer pain-points in selecting and purchasing a sofa, which is an significant investment for any home.”


Royer was employed at Bonobos during its infancy in 2007. In that time, he witnessed the power of the customer community they were building around a singular category and they were tackling it from a customer experience perspective. It was around that time he reflects on sofa shopping for his first home in Chicago with his wife.

“I found that I actually really enjoyed furniture shopping,” he recalls fondly. “I appreciated the furniture consumer; which I think is unusual, but I enjoyed spending time in retail locations and I think I shopped nearly every option. Furniture is a significantly fragmented category and I began to recognize a common set of consumer pain points in the space,” says Royer.

He remembers being surprised that no other manufacturer was focused on building a singular, purpose-filled brand for the sofa consumer in the middle of the market. “It felt like a massive opportunity, but I frankly didn’t know how I was going to crack it at the time,” he recalls. Regardless of early uncertainty, he still procured the brand URL,, in 2008.

After his Bonobos tenure, Royer went to graduate school in Chicago and then on to an ad agency after that. During that time, he continued to recognize the potential and opportunity to disrupt this space. He began doing some further research into the market and connected with others familiar with how the supply chain worked in China. He then traveled there to gain a firsthand familiarity with the manufacturing landscape.

It became clear to him that the problem with consumer drawback centered on major brands focusing on everything for the home yet ignoring what he believed to be the most important category – sofas. These brands were hedging bets on what they believed consumers would buy. From there, they then prebuilt the product, warehoused it and showcased in a stale, retail-heavy environment, making the entire buying process unenjoyable and inefficient.

It took two years to create a supply chain and find the right partners when Royer finally launched the brand officially in January of 2014. “The plan from our perspective was to create a user experience online first that would enable shoppers to easily customize a piece,” said Royer.

Interior Define was not an instant success. They had very limited marketing dollars and had very little early web activity. This changed, however, when that web activity was nurtured through local brand recognition with a physical location in Chicago. Customers who learned about the brand online first, would then find their way to the store.

“It was initially difficult to find the right location. Our first store sat right underneath the ‘L’ [train] tracks in Wicker Park. It was then when we started evaluating a huge amount of valuable customer feedback,” recalled Royer. “We learned that our custom offering was greatly resonating with the right consumer, but we hadn’t merchandised the retail location in a way that really matched our web experience.”

Interior Define eventually upgraded to a different location in Chicago; the opportunistic Lincoln Park neighborhood. This popular community is also home to other large digitally native brands and proved to be a much more suitable site to nurture visibility. With that transition, Royer completely rethought how to merchandise the product in the new space. They evolved and used a fresher merchandising approach – they upgraded the visibility of the customization options by adding them to the walls; this way shoppers could engage and truly understand what the products and business were all about.

Today, the business in growing. Interior Define has opened several new guide shop locations around the country including the SoHo neighborhood of New York last year, followed by Los Angeles and Austin with San Francisco and Boston being added in the last half of 2018.

“We have essentially tripled the business every year for three years in a row,” said Royer. “We now have six physical retail locations and our team has grown to 85 employees today.” The business has attracted venture capital backing as well, securing a total of $27 million from Pritzker Ventures, Listen Ventures, Breakout Capital, Fifth Wall and Peterson Ventures.

“We are really excited about the foundation that we’ve created and the brand awareness that we’ve built,” he concludes. “We consider ourselves the most innovative custom sofa retailer in the country and we are using this success to expand and redefine other categories in the home as well. We intend to be known as the pioneer in the digitally native home furnishing space.”



(CNN Business)The rigid policies of many workplaces can be hard on families — especially those with young children. But an organic baby food company aims to change that.

Once Upon a Farm, which makes organic cold-pressed baby food, apple sauces and smoothies, offers its employees at least 12 weeks of paid family leave, unlimited vacation days and flexible telecommuting schedules.

The company was started in 2015 by entrepreneurs Cassandra Curtis and Ari Raz. Last year, John Foraker, the former CEO of organic food company Annie’s Homegrown joined as CEO, and actress Jennifer Garner joined as chief brand officer.
Foraker was at Annie’s for almost two decades, and is taking the lessons he learned along the way with him to Once Upon a Farm.

One of his biggest regrets at Annie’s, for example, was not offering a paid family leave plan.
“We had at Annie’s these amazing moms that worked for us and built this brand,” Foraker told CNN’s Poppy Harlow in an interview for Boss Files. “And then I think of the challenges that they had when they had their kid and they had to deal with all the issues of figuring how to gap coverage and all that.”

Creating a paid family leave policy was a top priority for the founders at Once Upon a Farm. New parents get 12 weeks of paid leave, and new mothers get an additional six weeks for recovery.

“All of the women who are coming into their power are also coming into motherhood at the same time,” Garner told Harlow. “It’s part of what makes it so incredibly hard to make these decisions to keep moving up.”

The company also supports the FAMILY Act. That proposed legislation would create a nationwide insurance program that offers up to 12 weeks of leave for family and medical purposes with partial pay.
“We want to lead there and be out on the front edge of that. We think there should be legislation around that, and we think there’s a lot of bipartisan support for it. We want to be a company that stands for that,” said Foraker.

Foraker knew early on that Once Upon a Farm needed a clear corporate mission.
“At Annie’s … I didn’t define our mission and values early enough,” he said. Despite joining the company in 1998, it wasn’t until the mid-2000s when he created a clear mission.

“Then our business [at Annie’s] took off because it helped us really define who we would hire and how we would act with each other,” he said.
Not willing to repeat this mistake with Once Upon a Farm, Foraker and Garner sat down and hashed out their mission: “To nurture our children, each other and the earth in order to pass along a healthier and happier world for the next generation.”

In addition, they also laid out the company’s core values: honesty, integrity, transparency and respect.
“We have a really strong set of core values and we hire people that we know will represent those values,” Foraker said.
The company itself is still in its infancy with 38 full-time employees — around 80% of them female.

“We all are utility players,” said Garner. “We all wear a ton of hats. I love being in at the beginning so that I am emboldened and kind of forced to jump into the fray … in a world that maybe in the beginning, I wasn’t as comfortable with.”

Giving workers flexibility with their schedules and time off has also helped the company create a better sense of work-life balance for its employees.

“In order to be a successful working woman and have any semblance of balance, you need to have a certain amount of flexibility and a huge amount of trust,” said Garner.

The company also has an unlimited vacation policy and flexible telecommuting schedules.
“We’re just a performance culture. We say: ‘Here’s what we want to do. We want to do it together. I trust you as a person to make decisions about how you use your time,'” Foraker said.

The company’s products are sold in more 8,500 locations, including Target, Walmart, Whole Foods and Kroger stores.
While making fresh and nutritious food accessible to everyone is part of the mission, the pouches can sell for around $3 each. The company said it’s working to create a line of specific products with a lower price point that would be eligible for some government-assisted food programs.

“We do care about these women and these moms and these kids and we believe that their kids have just as much of a right for this fresh, healthy start as our kids do,” said Garner.


The global travel industry is flying high. In 2015, there were 1.2 billion international travelers, and this number is expected to increase to 1.8 billionby 2030, according to a United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) report.

The travel market is not only massive, but also rife with opportunities for innovation and disruption. As such, it’s no wonder that investors have been pumping money into travel-related startups. A 2017 study by market intelligence firm Phocuswright showed that US$29 billion of funding was raised for travel startups from 2016 to 2017, while only US$33 billion was raised in the decade between 2005 and 2015.

Matt James, Amadeus senior manager of corporate strategy and business development. Image credit: Amadeus

“Ten years ago, corporations were focused on having their development teams fix business problems internally. Now, it’s more about entrepreneurship and collaboration,” explains Matt James, the senior manager of corporate strategy and business development at Amadeus. Businesses are increasingly relying on startups to solve specific problems, resulting in the surge.

Among the countless emerging travel startups out there, here are five worth following.

1. Timeshifter

Screenshots of Timeshifter app. Image credit: Timeshifter

The brainchild of Danish entrepreneurs Mickey Beyer-Clausen, Tony Hanna, and Jacob Ravn, Timeshifter is an app that promises to cure jet lag. Ideal for frequent travelers, it advises you to take certain actions at specific times to adjust your body clock as you cross different time zones. For instance, it may encourage you to stay awake at times when you would normally sleep, or avoid coffee when you would typically reach for a cup.

Timeshifter comes with three settings that cater to business travelers, athletes, and casual vacationers. It also offers a “practicality” filter so each task is realistic and doable. Needless to say, the app – available on iOS and Android – works offline and is perfectly functional on flights.

2. AirBuy

AirBuy caters to airlines, online travel agents, and airports, providing a solution that optimizes duty-free purchases and revenues.

Launched in 2017, the Massachusetts-based startup solves these issues by using the passenger’s data and connecting data between the travel agent, airline, and airport to create a personalized shopping experience based on the traveler’s itinerary and profile.

Travelers then receive curated product recommendations at home/hotel or in-flight, conveniently pre-order and pay digitally, and seamlessly collect their products at the airport during pre-departure, connection, or upon arrival. This effectively enlarges the duty-free retail outreach to travelers though digital intervention, allowing for more focused marketing to interested travelers.

3. HeyCars

HeyCars is a global ride-booking app that focuses on airport transfers. It was launched in 2016 by Yuexing Travel Group, a Guangzhou-based travel service firm that operates in over 50 countries and has partnered with ticketing apps, travel management companies, and Fortune Global 500 companies.

How does it work? First, users put in their pickup, drop-off and passenger details, then select a car they’d like to ride. Different cars come with different price tags, but each booking comes with a driver that will greet them at the airport, 24/7 customer service, and free cancelation up to two days before the scheduled pickup. For customized routes, riders can request a quote and wait for the customer service team to get back to them with the price.

4. MyCash Online

MyCash Founders - Mehedi Hasan Sumon (L), Nurol Haq Shamrat (R) copy

MyCash co-founders Mehedi Hasan Sumon (L) and Nurol Haq Shamrat. Image credit: PitchIn

This Malaysian startup serves the marginalized community of migrants and foreign workers in Malaysia, Singapore, and Australia – sizable markets with millions of potential customers.

Founded in 2016 by Bangladeshi migrants Mehedi Hasan Sumon and AKM Nurol Haq, MyCash Online offers online financial services to those who have no access to banking.

The product is a closed loop e-wallet that allows migrants to top up prepaid phones, pay bills, and buy and send gift vouchers back home. The web and mobile application also allows for the purchase of bus tickets to and from Malaysia, as well as discounted flight tickets from 17 airlines. Quick, easy and secure, MyCash Online eliminates the need for a bank account or a credit or debit card.

In June 2017, the startup raised US$300,000 in an equity crowdfunding campaign within 24 hours. The main contributors were Malaysian government-backed fund Cradle and JC Management, which jointly contributed about US$280,470.

5. Qiantech

Qiantech, an emerging travel startup based in China, specializes in the use of augmented reality (AR) for tour navigation services. Partnering with a host of tourist attractions, smart cities and travel firms, it aims to provide interactive and immersive experiences for travelers when they visit a place or a city.

One example is the AR calendar created for the Beijing Palace Museum. When scanned with a smartphone, it allows users to view and experience the museum’s masterpieces on a whole new level. Such AR-enabled souvenirs complement the main activity – the AR-guided tours.

Looking forward in the travel industry

Just as the world comes to grips with advancements like AI, blockchain, augmented and virtual reality, and internet of things, James expects to see an increasing application of these technologies in the travel industry.

However, sustainability is a factor that James expects the industry will have to deal with in the near future.

“As recently reported in The Straits Times, the tourism industry accounts for 8 percent of carbon emissions. And if you think air travel is going to double in the next 20 years, it’s certainly a problem that’s worth focusing on,” says James. “We are [already] seeing governments or bodies like the UNWTO pass new standards and mandates, and corporations and businesses are adopting these to improve their carbon footprint.”

So while travel startups of today might look at solving specific problems, future entrants ought to be looking at the bigger picture.

Amadeus Next fostering the travel tech startup community in China in collaboration with Startup Grind and Innoway.

Amadeus Next builds and fosters the travel tech startup community in Asia Pacific by connecting them to Next’s ecosystem of like-minded partners and organisations. Startups will receive mentorships and partnerships to nurture and scale into full-fledged companies. Next leverages Amadeus’ technology, expertise, reach, and funding to empower entrepreneurs to challenge the status quo.



Social travel network Mapify has raised $1.3 million in seed funding.

Investment for the Berlin-based startup comes from a number of funds and angel investors including Switzerland-based Ennea VC and Los Angeles-based LayJax Ventures.

Mapify was launched in late 2017 to improve the travel experience through a social platform. The startup helps users discover and plan trips.


The funds will go towards a US launch and building out a team in L.A. 

Chief executive Patrick Haede says Mapify is the fastest growing social travel platform in Europe and is now offering global content.

It also just updated the service with nine additional languages and redesigned its mobile application experience.

Many a social travel startup has come and gone (or pivoted) all promising to improve the experience via a community of travelers. 

Social media giants such as Facebook, with more than 2.23 billion monthly active users, have often proved to be the thorn in their sides.



Once Upon a Farm, a US-based start-up producing cold pressed baby foods, has received US$20m in financing from a group of investors led by private-equity fund CAVU Venture Partners.

As part of the transaction, CAVU co-founder and managing partner Brett Thomas and the private-equity firm’s senior associate Jared Jacobs will Once Upon a Farm’s board. The other participating investors in the B-series round of funding were S2G Ventures and Beechwood Capital, along with unnamed series A investors, according to a statement. The A financing in 2017 was led by Cambridge SPG. 

Berkeley, California-based Once Upon a Farm was co-founded by John Foraker, its chief executive, and Jennifer Garner. The company, which is B-corp certified, offers baby foods, apple sauce and smoothies.

Garner said: “This latest round of funding allows us to continue to help busy parents give their children the most nutritious foods possible and make life a little bit easier for families across the country.”

Once Upon a Farm said it has expanded from 300 retail outlets to more than 8,500 and now counts Target, Whole Foods, Kroger, Publix and Walmart among its stockists. 

Thomas at CAVU added: “The baby food category has lacked real product innovation for quite some time. We’re thrilled to partner with John, Jen and the rest of the Once Upon a Farm team to disrupt and lead in this space.”