This Philly dad and Wharton grad created the ‘Warby Parker of strollers’

Want to pay $300 instead of $1,500 for a top-market baby carriage? Colugo has your number.

Colugo Compact Stroller in Lavender – Front
Courtesy of Colugo

Retailing for just under $5,000, the Surf 2 Aston Martin SX2023.AM Silver Cross is a beautiful vehicle. Except it’s not a car. It’s a baby stroller.

Silver Cross prams are on the higher end of the market — they’re positioned as the Rolls-Royce of pushchairs — but even many of the more “affordable” offerings can feel like they require a second mortgage. The mod Mima Xari Stroller retails for $1,424 at Pottery Barn, for example, while the Bugaboo Fox Complete goes for $1,209.00 at Strolleria.

Philadelphia dad Ted Iobst got so frustrated when he couldn’t find a reasonable solution that he invented his own.

Last fall, his company Colugo introduced to market an easily foldable and transportable stroller and carrier. Both have similar construction and features and appearance to the expensive versions, but each costs less than $300.

A company that takes expensive modern style and makes it affordable, with great customer service? Iobst may have just created the Warby Parker of strollers.

A stroller is born

All it took for Iobst to get to this pinnacle of innovation was becoming the primary caretaker to twins while also juggling business school.

The Allentown native moved back to Philly from D.C. in 2015 with his wife, a lawyer. A little while later they were expecting, so they made the drive to the Cherry Hill to choose the stroller that would be taking their soon-to-be twins out and about. And were severely disappointed.

“The experience was abysmal,” Iobst said. “You go into this big box store with harsh fluorescent lighting displaying hundreds of brands that don’t resonate with you — like, they spell kids with a Z at the end or they advertise their brand with models pushing their stroller down a catwalk.”

He had the inkling of an idea that the industry could use some innovation, but he buried the urge to go full entrepreneur and took an internship at a consulting firm. Then his wife went back to work. He was left hitting the books and the playground by himself.

At the parks with his young ones, Iobst realized he was not alone in his frustration, and decided to do some research. “I followed parents around for over 200 hours with their strollers, trying to figure out how to build a better one,” he explained.

After graduating with his MBA, he decided to take a stab at creating a startup to solve the stroller conundrum.

The idea was a hit. Iobst closed his first seed round in early 2018 with a notable list of angel investors: Henry McNamara (investor in Away and Allbirds), David Tisch (Warby Parker and Vine), Brett Topche, co-founder of Philly-based Red & Blue Ventures, Brian Spaly, co-founder of Bonobos and Trunk Club, and Wharton professor Pete Fader.

Colugo launched that October and the response has been huge.

The new kid on the block

In November, Fatherly deemed the month-old Colugo Compact a favorite of 2018, and in the first month of 2019, Business Insider gave the brand a rave review, calling this “new kid on the block” one of the best compact strollers currently on the market.

Though not the cheapest at $285 — if you browse Amazon and eBay intently enough, you can find some in the hundred-dollar range — Colugo’s products offer a lot for their price:

  • A one-hand fold to a shape that can be stored easily in an included backpack
  • Built-in storage for phone, keys, diaper and wipes
  • Parents can try it for 100 days, risk-free (à la Warby Parker)
  • Machine-washable (and, if needed, replaceable) layers
  • Included rain cover and sunshade with UPF 50+ protection
  • Five colors and patterns: floral, black, lavender, navy and camouflage.
  • Discounts for bundles with other Colugo accessories

Iobst is most proud of a different aspect of Colugo: its customer service-oriented approach to sales.

Fader, the Wharton prof who was an early investor, knew Iobst’s idea was “an obviously good one” from the get-go. But what Fader was most impressed by was how lobst embedded a lot of “unconventional” ideas to the company, many of which align with Fader’s own work on customer centricity.

Built into Colugo is the mantra to focus “on deeper relationships with valuable customers, as opposed to the predominant transactional focus that characterizes virtually all firms in this space,” Fader said.

For example, stroller buyers are encouraged to text questions to customer service representatives, all of whom are real parents themselves. “We want to meet our parents where they are,” he said.

All Colugo products can be purchased online, and per Iobst, more accessories and colors are coming soon.

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