"You could put 10 MIT engineers in a room, give them a year, and they wouldn't beat this," says Alan Kaufman, an entrepreneur based in Newton, Massachusetts.
The "this" he's talking about is his hands-free, wind-resistant umbrella, the Nubrella, with which he has been trying to make a splash in the marketplace for 14 years. Fans of the television show "Shark Tank" will recall Kaufman promoted the Nubrella in the first season of the show, back in 2010.
After tweaking the design year after year, Kaufman is now marketing the latest iteration as the best yet. It weighs three pounds, it's made of high-grade ultraviolet reflective material, and it retails for $68. You wear it like an everyday backpack and it functions like a hood--so if it stops raining, you can flip it down your back, as Kaufman demonstrates in this video:
Since debuting the new design in November, Kaufman says he has sold more than 700 units.
Including earlier versions, Kaufman has sold more than 17,000 Nubrellas around the world, thanks to the marketing he's received through the years on shows like "Shark Tank," "Good Morning America, "Fox & Friends," and "The Ellen DeGeneres Show." Kaufman adds that his site receives 4,000 new visitors each month, half of whom come from organic web searches. The most popular search terms are "hands free umbrella," he says, followed by "wind resistant umbrella."
The latest Nubrella features some significant design changes. In the past, customers complained that the umbrella portion hung too far down on their face, making them feel enclosed in a bubble. Rain beaded on the plastic, impeding vision. And communicating became onerous, what with the umbrella covering the upper face. "We had to open up the front," says Kaufman. Much of the feedback came from customers using the Nubrella in professional settings--such as photographers, football coaches, and construction workers--who need to move, see, and speak in the rain.
What's the upside of a consumer product like this? Kaufman foresees selling millions, once his success can convince the right investors and retailers to help him scale. For instance, a partnership with PetSmart could help him reach dog owners, many of whom walk their dogs in inclement weather. Or a partnership with a sports retailer (think: The Sports Authority) could help him reach cyclists, who commute or exercise in downpours. Then there are the countless professionals who have to work in the rain: Police, surveyors, meter collectors, crossing guards.
Kaufman adds that he has had very early-stage discussions with Creative Artists Agency, about the possibility of licensing Nubrellas with NFL team logos. The staffs of football teams could potentially benefit from hands-free umbrellas, when standing on the sidelines during rainy games. Likewise, football fans--either while tailgating or enduring rainy games in the seats--could benefit. Teams make serious profits on concessions, Kaufman says, and they lose money when fans are unwilling to hold their beers and hot dogs in the rain.
All this is just the beginning, as far as Kaufman sees it. "I'm convinced within five years it'll be a household item in most homes, like a raincoat, snow shovel, or snow boots," he says. "It does things that your current gear doesn't do."
Kaufman is hoping to raise $2-$4 million from investors in the near future. He is willing to step aside as CEO if those investors wish to put a credentialed leadership team in place. "I know my strengths and weaknesses. And if that's needed, fine," he says. "There is little doubt a hands-free umbrella is needed around the world. One hundred million people might by it."