Q&A: Meet the Philly Dad Whose Startup Is Shaking Up the Stroller Industry
Colugo has been dubbed “the Warby Parker of strollers” for its direct-to-consumer brand that makes strollers accessible, affordable, and fun.
Ted Iobst, founder of the new stroller startup Colugo, describes becoming a parent in stark terms: “One day you aren’t, the next you are.” You suddenly become responsible for another human or, in his case, two.
During his first year as an MBA candidate at Wharton, Iobst and his wife found out that they were having twins. He remembers just how excited they were, not only for the experience of having children, but also for all of the things that came with it, especially shopping for baby products. As early adopters of direct-to-consumer brands, like Warby Parker and Everlane, the Philly couple just assumed that there would be one for customers with newborns.
Instead, they found themselves in giant retail stores staring at products of all shapes, sizes, and colors, most of which Iobst thought were overpriced and unnecessarily complicated, strollers in particular. “It should be clear how to fold it,” Iobst told Philly Mag. “It should be clear how to recline it. It should be clear how to put the brake on. You shouldn’t need to be a rocket scientist to operate these things.”
Iobst knew there had to be a better solution, and eventually developed a business model during his second year at Wharton to address the problem. Enter Colugo, the direct-to-consumer stroller brand he launched in October 2018 that offers lower prices, a 100-day trial period, and free shipping, all while championing “innovation through simplification.”
With various colors and seasonal kits that offer anything from an attachable warm cover for the winter to a breathable net for the buggy summer, Colugo is focused on making its strollers the most accessible and practical on the market. I talked to Iobst to find out more about the startup and the product that’s becoming a staple in the parenting community:
BizPhilly: A colugo is a gliding mammal found in Southeast Asia. Why does your company take the same name?
Iobst: What we really wanted to put forward in our name are two concepts. One is a sense of community and building community, so that’s represented by “co.” We also really wanted to empower parents and families to get out and explore the world around them as a family, so very literally “go,” a sense of motion. And a colugo actually makes a baby carrier out of its wings for its young for the first six months of the baby’s life. We thought it was the perfect representation of both our values and a unique animal that happens to also make a baby product out of itself.
Did you always imagine starting your own business someday or was founding the startup a spur-of-the-moment decision?
I did not anticipate launching a company out of Wharton, but I was just so passionate. The more research I did, the more I realized that the pain points I was experiencing, all parents were experiencing. Once I realized that we could lower the price, improve the product and improve experience, we just had to do it because [there’s] the opportunity to make parents’ lives easier. That’s huge, and so that’s why I’m doing what I’m doing today.
What separates Colugo from the rest of the brands in the stroller market?
I really think it’s this sense of community that we’ve been able to develop. We don’t spend a lot of money on advertising or marketing. It’s really driven by word of mouth, whether it’s social media or events that we sponsor in the community. We’re trying to do more than just sell strollers. We’re trying to empower parents to get out and take on the adventure of parenthood. You can’t just do that through product alone.
Since you’ve started working on Colugo, what has been the hardest part of maintaining the business?
The thing that’s top of mind for me always is just inventory. That’s the most immediate challenge right now that we’ve got to [face], and with a small but mighty team, continue to develop new products as well. So that’s also, I won’t say the biggest challenge—it’s actually one of the most fun things we get to do—but there is a lot of research you have to do to develop certainty around even what product to launch next, let alone what features and all the other details that go into it.
Wharton has bred several successful direct-to-consumer brands, like Warby Parker, Harry’s, and Dagne Dover. What is advantageous about a direct-to-consumer brand, and how does Colugo embody that label?
I mean there’s obviously the price to quality ratio, right? Like we can offer super high quality for a fraction of the price, just by eliminating the markup that comes from a retailer. But I think the thing that excites me the most is we can really delight our customers and offer an amazing customer experience, because we have that direct relationship with them. Parents are busy. You can text us, you can call us, you can email us, you can hit us on social media—we are there for you.