"We're proudly a Kiwi-owned and registered business, but we spend the majority of the year running the business on the road" (Photo: Instagram/Minaal courtesy of @adrihanirashid)

The Kiwi duo championing high-end carry-on luggage

Every week on The Primer we ask a local business or product to introduce themselves in eight simple takes. This week we talk to Jimmy Hayes, co-founder of premium bags company Minaal, which has raised more than $700,000 USD in crowdfunding.

ONE: How did Minaal start and what was the inspiration behind it?

My co-founder Doug Barber and I were terrible employees, continually harming our career prospects by making snap decisions to grab cheap flights and head out on the road. Eventually, we realised if we could make a living while on the road, all our “problems” would be solved. Thanks to an unfortunate moment on the Shanghai subway (Doug) and a 17-hour stopover with a 90+30L bag in Singapore (me) we were “inspired” – by emotional pain – to build a better carry-on bag.

The mission for Minaal gear is to help people be faster, happier and more efficient in their travel, work, and daily transitions.

TWO: Did you have any interest/experience in business or entrepreneurship prior to starting Minaal?

Doug is a born entrepreneur (read: he’s unemployable). Meanwhile, I was never the kid hustling lemonade on the street. But my dad was a small business owner so I always had an appreciation of the hard work, sacrifice, and self-determination that goes into starting your own thing.

In terms of experience – or what one might call trial and error – before we got to Minaal, there was a TV pilot, travel shirts, and a stint driving an ice cream truck (long story).

Minaal founders Doug Barber (left) and Jimmy Hayes (right) (Photo: Euvie Ivanova/embryonicwings.com)

THREE: What sort of thought goes into designing a Minaal bag? (utilities, essential features, durability, size etc etc.)

It begins with every member of the design team staring at people in airports and public places like absolute creeps. Please ignore us: we’re not checking you out, we’re looking at your bag. How do you swing it off your shoulder? How do you access stuff on the move? Do you make a face when you put it down?

From there, we launch into more active, less voyeuristic user research by getting our beta testers to thrash product samples and discuss their feedback in a built-for-purpose private forum.

The final step is to add our design ‘opinion’ to everything we’ve learned and turn information into a product. This is the part where we have five-hour calls about zips (joking! It was six hours).

A more indirect way we ensure a thoughtful product is by intentionally restricting our range. People intuitively understand when you make two models, instead of 100 new ones each season, you’ve taken a lot more time to consider each design and how people will actually use it.

FOUR: What are the differences between products like the Carry-on and Daily? How much stuff can each bag fit?

There are a ton of feature-level differences, all of which are driven by use case. Generally, the Carry-on is built for long-haul trips while the Daily is for more day-to-day usage – although there’s a lot of variation based on individual needs. Some things stay consistent between the bags: a patent-pending suspension system for protecting your electronics, for example, and a blend of top-end outdoor components and minimalist aesthetic. We also worked hard to ensure the accessory range works equally well with both bags.

Regarding capacity, there’s an interesting (says the bag nerd) tension between communicating litre capacity and real-world capacity. There’s no measurement standardisation across the industry, so one bag’s 45L can be another bag’s 30L. We’re nominally at 35L for the Carry-on and 21L for the Daily, but people are generally surprised how much they can fit, given how minimal the design silhouette is.

If readers want some more insight on packing and fit, we’ve put some resources together here.

The Minaal Carry-on 2.0 (top) and the Minaal Daily (bottom) (Supplied)

FIVE: I understand you run Minaal from overseas. What’s the reasoning behind that and what are the challenges/benefits of doing so?

We’re proudly Kiwi-owned, but we spend the majority of the year running the business on the road. We decided early on that we’d employ a strategy of ‘getting close to the fire’ which means building relationships and solving problems in person wherever we’re most needed, whether that’s in Hong Kong, Houston or Helsinki. The benefits of the strategy are both numerous and obvious – we honestly would’ve failed if we’d sat in New Zealand sending emails trying to launch this business.

The challenges of running a global operation with a distributed team centre around communication, whether that’s trying to brainstorm creatively with people in different time zones and levels of connectivity, or just getting on calls at 3am wherever you might be (hot tip: jet lag helps). Thankfully, having built the organisation around a distributed team model from day 1, we’ve found a lot of ways to mitigate the downsides of our setup – and simulate the upsides of other models.

SIX: I also understand you’ve run a Kickstarter campaign or two to help Minaal get off the ground. In what ways has that helped the business?

We wouldn’t be here without Kickstarter, but that doesn’t mean it’s for everyone. I always tell people there are five main benefits to crowdfunding:

  1.  Reversing the cashflow cycle – having cash in hand before you make the product is a game-changer for small businesses.
  2. Reaching new audiences – Kickstarter has a really robust internal discovery ecosystem, and before we launched we didn’t realise that some people actually hang out on the platform looking for new things to support.
  3. Product development feedback – you have a chance to get real-world feedback at scale then make tweaks before committing to production.
  4. Product viability – it’s a lower-risk way of testing whether a product will be successful.
  5. Social Proof – the campaign pages exist forever, and people still come across ours and discover a business that publicly beat their deadlines and made their users happy. That level of trust is super hard to generate.

Tramping along the Routeburn Track. Fiordland National Park, New Zealand (Photo: Instagram/Minaal courtesy of @leaschtscherbazkaja)

My other advice to people is: don’t underestimate the ridiculous amount of work that goes into a successful crowdfunding campaign. We worked on our first one for about a year solid before launching, which included multiple trips through Asia and the US. It’s great, but it’s not something you slap together.

SEVEN: Do you any other plans to scale/grow further and if so, what are they?

Our goal is just to work on interesting things with great people, and so far that’s led to strong growth. Because we have varied interests, and we like to keep our range minimal, you’ll likely see different types of products/businesses which serve the same principles and lifestyles as the bags.

EIGHT: Lastly, tell us about a start-up or business that you really admire right now.

Kirsti and Lance at Populate have an inspiring strategy and a laser-focused product.

Arjun of Quick Brown Fox and Harpoon Cold Brew is also on a beautiful trajectory. I’ve seen the whole journey unfold and it’s incredible how many times he’s levelled up.


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