Interview With Hoang Nghiem
Describe your product or service:
“My product is a backpack from the father designed for kids. When one of my sons started primary school, I was once confused about choosing a suitable backpack for him. Most of the backpacks that I saw before were flashy and bulky, and industries failing to meet my expectations for a school backpack put my kid at risk of falling and being off-balance. Besides, bringing a too-heavy backpack could cause many back issues like back pain. Since collecting and working with backpacks has been my passion for such a long time, I desired to design an ultimate backpack for my little son as a gift.
After extensive research, I’ve noticed that in order to reduce back pain, the weight of backpacks should account for 5% to 7% of a kid’s body weight. However, a light backpack is not enough as younger ages keep them active while their bones have not been completed, and books that easily bump into the back when moving can lead to spinal problems.
Tinipak is a light ergonomic backpack for elementary students with modular accessories. I optimized the most necessary features for a children's backpack after research and development. I designed it from the bottom of my heart, a backpack for my son as a gift and would like to share it with kids worldwide.”
Describe your company values and mission:
“The original backpacks were born for the war as soldiers had to carry much luggage when marching. Later on, it was used more widely in life, but the special features required for particular purposes were not optimized. Many big guys acknowledge this and try to improve user experience (camera backpack with Peak Design, Travel backpack with Nomatic). However, there is no attention for school backpacks where students have to carry many accessories on little shoulders: books, notebooks, pens, erasers, rulers to school, and of course, they lose or miss their tools. Millions of children around the world haven't accessed a good backpack yet. I've also struggled to find a perfect backpack for my son when he started primary school, which I spent a year considering.
On the other hand, I come from Vietnam — the cradle of many of the world’s best backpack brands, but no Vietnamese brand could compete with them. This thing is a big question for me and motivates me to find the answer. I have thought for many years, how can I create the first Vietnamese brand?
Tinipak was born in a market that suffered fierce competition from many big guys weighted in financial potential and modern facilities. How can we be different?”
How are you funded? (e.g., venture capital, angel investors, etc.)
“I raise funds on Kickstarter, a crowdfunding platform for innovative creators from 25 countries around the world. In fact, it took me a huge effort to overcome the legal hurdles to be eligible on Kickstarter and receive their support as we're from Vietnam.”
How big is your team? Tell us a little about them (e.g., co-founders, freelancers, etc.)
“I had the idea for two years and always questioned where I should start. Fortunately, I joined a Facebook group about industrial styling and tried to look for a partner who knows 3D design and loves backpacks. After a few unsuccessful attempts, I found two members to group together, forming a team of three. In October 2018, after making sure that we will start up, we operated in a small room as an office called PAK DESIGN. And after saying goodbye to the online industry, where I had been working for more than ten years, I transitioned full time on to product design, hoping to solve the problems that users were suffering, including my son. This matter is always the motivation to boost me to go straight.”
Did you always want to start your own business? What made you want to become an entrepreneur?
“At first, I just wanted to create a backpack for my son with my passion and understanding of gears. And after receiving so much support for my first product, I would like to share with children worldwide to have access to a backpack that they deserve. At the same time, I always dream of bringing the first Vietnamese backpack brand to the world to compete with other countries.”
How did you come up with your startup idea? How did you decide to actually act on the idea? What gave you confidence that you were on the right track?
“I’m Hoang — a father of two children. When one of them started primary school, I was once confused trying to choose a suitable backpack for him. Most of the backpacks that I saw before were too big, too heavy, and unfit for my kid's body. Their functions and designs were flashy and cumbersome and failed to meet my expectations for a school backpack. Since collecting and working with backpacks has been my passion for such a long time, I had a desire to design a capable backpack for my little son. This was the powerful motivator for me to make my dream come true. Originally, I thought that it would not take too long with my experience, but it took me two years to develop my first version, called TiniBox. And thus, Tinipak was born.
I realized I may be on the right track when Tinipak's first version was launched in Vietnam in August 2020 and gained a huge number of compliments from the domestic residents and foreign followers. We appreciated the suggestions and feedback from the first followers and continually strove to perfect this version to launch on Kickstarter and bring this dream to the world.”
How did you come up with your company name? Did you have other names you considered?
“Tini — a stylization of Tiny — is used to express the smallness of kids. Pak — short for pack — means a backpack. Tinipak is a backpack brand for elementary school students. With the "Let's fly" slogan, we … design the lightest backpack for them to “fly” freely to school.”
What is the greatest challenge you faced in starting your business, and how did you overcome it?
“Kickstarter is tight as many virtual projects disappeared after receiving a lot of funding. You are only on Kickstarter if you are a resident or a business with at least a member who is a citizen of the 25 listed countries. We're from Vietnam, and of course, we weren't on the support list.
Fortunately, Tinipak received a lot of support from local and foreign followers, and as I am aspiring to have a Vietnamese backpack brand, I tried again. I can't remember how much content the team sent on the Kickstarter Facebook groups, emails to the Kickstarter team with no hope: ‘We are a Design company in Vietnam with products already having customers, if Kickstarter has any exception?’ We only got very general answers about their regulations.
Another challenge was finding out the procedure to the cost of setting up a business in Singapore, New Zealand, then the US. While emailing with Kickstarter ... a saint replied to us and revealed a ray of light at the end of the road, igniting hope that allowed the team to continue to persevere ... after three months since forming a US company and waiting for a tax code approved by the US bank … Tinipak has officially been allowed to join the global creative playground on Kickstarter. We have passed through a very narrow door.”
Who is your product or service made for? Who is your target market?
“My light ergonomic backpack is for elementary students to wear to school, and the target market is Asia, the US, EU, and anywhere around the world.”
What's your marketing strategy?
“From crowdfunding to the local brand name.”
How did you acquire your first 100 customers?
“I share my story and product philosophy with the community.”
What are the key customer metrics / unit economics / KPIs you pay attention to to monitor the health of your business?
“Client Retention Rate (CRR)”
What's your favorite entrepreneurial book and podcast?
Eric Ries’ “The Lean Startup”
What is the biggest lesson you learned during your journey?
“Be patient and keep learning”
Who is your support system?
How do you stay motivated?
“I think about the reason for my start.”
Did you have to develop any habits that helped lead you to success? If so, what are they?
“Yes, I consider myself as a disciplined person, always committed to the deadline. Try your best; success will come!”
What are you most proud of as an entrepreneur?
“Writing a dream about a Vietnamese brand.”
More on Tinipak
We were fortunate enough to hear some valuable insights during our interview with Hoang Nghiem, the founder of Tinipak, that will inspire, motivate, and teach aspiring and established entrepreneurs alike.