Mother of invention births Fly Babee

Fly Babee
Published: 
28 January 2016

Necessity is the mother of all inventions, and so it was with Emma Lovell and the birth of Fly Babee. This is a dual purpose travel canopy that packs flat into a 500 g case but pops out into a dome made from black-out material that can be used on planes or prams. The material blocks 97 per cent of light, is 100 per cent breathable, and when used as a stroller cover, has sun protection of plus 50 per cent.

As a new mum back in 2010, travelling between the UK and Australia up to four times a year for family reasons, Emma was frustrated by the long haul flight distractions that kept her baby awake.

She found airlines placed their travel bassinets in the most stimulating environments; under overhead lighting, beside television sets and alongside toilet and aisle traffic. Forced to take matters into her own hands, Emma boarded flights armed with sheets and masking tape and set about constructing makeshift canopies to shield her young daughter from the noise and harsh lighting in order to enhance her sleep conditions.

She was soon doling out tape and sheets to other bleary-eyed parents who recognised the canopy’s effects. That’s where the seed for the idea for a travel canopy that also doubles as a stroller and pram cover, germinated. With the support of her builder husband Phil, Emma began developing her idea.

Her foray to secure Intellectual Property (IP) began early, albeit almost accidentally, in the design process.

By trade, Emma is a high school teacher but she’d also had experience in marketing and working for other start-up businesses. She felt comfortable experimenting creatively with product logos and moved to trade mark these as early as June 2012.

She knew she wanted her brand to include images of a plane, a baby and the phrase Travel Made Easy. She put out a précis outlining her vision on design crowdfunding site 99designs.com.au and collaborated with designers to hone her logos.

Emma made the decision to protect these images with a trade mark even before she had a prototype ready. Currently, almost four years after the spark of her idea ignited, Emma has applied to patent Fly Babee and has also submitted a design registration.

Strategically, Emma decided against a Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) application. She deemed it too expensive for their business at an early stage. Instead, she wanted to handpick the markets to export Fly Babee. This meant ensuring the product met the varying licencing and safety standards of different markers. Currently, Fly Babee is being product tested in Hong Kong for potential sale in the United States, as well as being safety tested in England for European standards.

It was perhaps a fortuitous strategy for Emma to approach her IP in this order, as the road to getting a Fly Babee sample retail ready, proved long and rocky.

Building a prototype

Emma tells how she began her blueprint by asking Phil to build her a frame. She then used plumbing tubing and double-sided tape to secure material purchased from Spotlight to construct her own first, ‘dodgy’ prototype.

She quickly realised she needed external advice and sought out a company in Sydney to help. That firm quoted $65,000 to produce a Fly Babee prototype. Emma had set her initial, benchmark investment spend at $50,000 to include an initial first order and ruled out the Sydney company as being too expensive at that stage, even though she believed it probably could have fast tracked her invention to market by 12 months.

Tenaciously, Emma then scouted for another start-up specialist.

She found a second firm that put her in contact with a manufacturer in China. This company got the Fly Babee prototype 85 per cent developed, but fell at the wayside when it came to implementing some of the final design ‘tweaks’ Emma required. The back-and-forth negotiations with this firm took 18 months, and communication with the Chinese firm became laboured.

Frustrated, Emma then contacted a friend living in China. Together they secured another manufacturer. This group managed to produce a completed prototype. In Emma’s words, there was much high-fiving.

The fame

In the meantime, Emma’s doggedness and belief in her product had secured her a coveted position on the Australian version of Shark Tank - a television show in which a panel of imminent venture capitalists judge the business potential of a product or idea.

Her episode was taped in November 2013. By all accounts it was a nerve racking experience. Emma’s first shipment of Fly Babees had arrived in Sydney, from China, that day.

She drove to Sydney airport to pick up the samples. She opened the first box to find that all of the external packaging was badly damaged and the product was not up to the standard expected. Out of  10 samples, she sat in her car with Phil and rifled through till she found the three undamaged samples, fit to show on air.

During taping, Emma found herself in a tough but amicable negotiation with Boost Juice owner Janine Allis. Allis initially sought a 50 per cent stake in the business. Emma stood her ground after discussing the potential deal with Phil.

During the episode, Emma offered Allis a 35 per cent stake in return for an $80,000 cash injection and the cache of having one of Australia’s most successful business women as a partner. Allis counter-offered 38 per cent with conditions attached. After that on-air agreement, the deal had to pass through due diligence and the pair negotiated Allis coming on board at 35 per cent.

Shipping, packing, and pulping

A week after the taping of the show, Emma discovered that 80 per cent of her bulk Fly Babee shipment from China – 1000 units - was faulty and could not be sold.

There was no recourse but to pulp the bulk of the order. Most people might have given up at this stage but on Allis’ advice, Emma re-ordered product and upped the volume from 1000 units to 5000 units; this time with independent quality control in place.

Initially Emma stored and sold Fly Babee out of her garage. It’s now shipped from Shipwire; a ‘pick and pack centre in Sydney and a global company that charges by the cubic metre to send product anywhere in the world. Emma also sells online through a Shopify-enabled website at FlyBabee.com.au

At the time of interview:

  • Fly Babee was available through 15 retail outlets in Australia including Baby Kingdom.

  • Emma had sold 2500 units and was getting reorders.

  • Emma was preparing to take Fly Babee to the Kind + Jugend Trade Fair in Germany later in the yea

  • Emma was planning to travel to Las Vegas for the ABC Kids Show.

  • Emma has other new baby products in the pipeline.