Eric Osman isn't a parent yet, but he knows quite a lot about the trials and tribulations involved in shopping for baby gear.
When his sister was pregnant, Osman was by her side during the shopping process. "We went to a store... and it was awful," Osman says. It's not that the popular baby store was doing anything massively wrong, but that the whole shopping experience felt so outdated. In particular, Osman and his sister both felt the marketing preyed on the anxieties of expectant parents and all but guilted them into buying the most expensive option.
Since those unpleasant shopping excursions, Osman has spoken with dozens upon dozens of parents with similar frustrations. And he's spent the last year and a half coming up with a solution.
On Tuesday morning, Osman and his team launched Mockingbird, a direct-to-consumer parenting products company with a decidedly modern twist. The team seeks to offer up high-quality baby gear at affordable prices, offered by a brand that is more relatable and accessible than most baby brands currently on the market. Here's a peak underneath the stroller visor.
The Trouble with Conventional Baby Brands
As Osman sees it, one of the biggest issues with conventional baby brands is their margins were built for retail, not for an online-driven buying experience where sales costs are much less.
This leads to the conventional in-store experience, which Osman describes as "like a car dealership." Walk down the aisle, and you'll be presented with rows and rows of products featuring major price discrepancies and no real explanation for the differences in cost or functionality.
What's more, Osman says there's hardly any middle ground when it comes to the pricing for parenting products. "You're either choosing between really expensive or really cheap, and there's not great options in the middle," he says.
All told, Osman says too many brands fail to have a real relationship with their customers. And in the process, they fail to solve for the pain points that are actually plaguing so many of today's parents.
"Something is broken here," he says. "If you talk to any parent about the experience, it is just universal--[they find the process of shopping for baby products] expensive, confusing, and overwhelming."
The more he talked to parents, the more Osman was convinced that the parenting industry needed a modern brand that was devoted to alleviating these pain points. "It was too frequent, too consistent to let die," he says. "I just got kind of obsessed with it."
And thus the idea for Mockingbird was born.
Crafting a New Vision for the Parenting Industry
From the outsider's perspective, Mockingbird's startup process has been remarkably fluid. Osman had several people in his network who already worked within the parenting industry, from marketers to baby gear designers. They helped him craft his ideas, while the company's $1.6 million seed round connected Osman and his lean team with venture capital partners who have provided extensive guidance.
Also working in Osman's favor? When he first conceptualized Mockingbird, he was working for the direct-to-consumer shaving products company Harry's.
"At the time, there were no direct-to-consumer [DTC] brands in the baby category," Osman says. He thought that launching a DTC company would afford modern parents several benefits. "Direct-to-consumer doesn't just mean we'll cut out the middleman--though that's a huge part; it lets you offer a better product for a better price. It also bakes in the idea of a more modern, more relatable, more friendly brand." (For examples, look to companies such as Harry's or the perpetually burgeoning direct-to-consumer mattress market).
Osman and his team aren't focused on wooing big box stores in the hopes that they'll stock their goods. Instead, they're committed to building relationships directly with their customers and embracing a modernized concept of how families operate and the shapes they may take. "I think a brand today should... make sure people of all types [and] parents of all types feel represented in the brands that they buy from," Osman says.
The team is also focused on providing stellar products at more affordable prices than are typically offered by conventional baby products brands.
"The main hero product is the stroller," Osman says. (The company is also launching nine accessory products at the same time as the stroller's launch.) The modular stroller offers four wheels, a removable and reversible seat that can be adapted to car seats, and a ton of other features including one-handed folding, a basket for ample storage, and spill- and stain-resistant materials. All that for the price of $350, where products with similar features might typically cost $600-$1200.
"We tried to think feature by feature and part by part--just being really thoughtful about the design and how... the average parent [is] going to be using [the stroller] and what their pain points are that we can solve," Osman says. "We have a real solution here. We really can take away that anxiety and that fear... [because our products are] reasonably priced and safer than a lot of products on the market, [and we're] a relatable, friendly, modern brand."
While Osman thinks Mockingbird's products are some of the best in the business, he remains refreshingly realistic about what a product like this might mean to frazzled new parents. (You won't find any of the "sunshine and rainbows" marketing that Osman lamented earlier in Mockingbird's content.) "It's a stroller; we're not just gonna all of a sudden make parenting not overwhelming," Osman says. "It's overwhelming. But our mission is to make at least a piece of it a little bit easier."
Letting Customer Relationships Drive Growth
By choosing a DTC business model, Mockingbird is doing something unusual in the parenting space. And Osman is frank about the fact that this means the company will need to spend time building trust with parents.
"It's a huge ask for parents to use our products that haven't been tested in the court of public opinion," he says. To help ease this fear, the company is offering parents a 30-day trial period. "Our return policy is far from 'unopened and unused,'" Osman says. "I kind of think if we get a product back unopened and unused, that's a bad thing. I want people to take it out [and] get that real feel for what it will be like to use this product... I really do believe that once people try it, they're gonna love it."
That's certainly been the case for Mockingbird's beta testers, which include a large network of friends and family who tested a bunch of prototypes before the company settled on its final stroller design. "It's been cool... to see how their feedback has now been incorporated into the final product," Osman says.
Feedback from real parents will continue to be essential as the company develops new products. "I'll trust no one as much as our customers when we try to figure out where we should grow," Osman says. "It goes back to having a direct relationship with our customers."
Listening to parents has also been essential to Osman as he steps into his role as the (currently) childless founder of a parenting products company. "It's something I was really concerned about," he says. "There were certainly moments really early on where I doubted whether I was the right person for this. What got me comfortable with it... is the amount of parents that I talked to in getting the idea together--understanding what their pain points were, testing products with parents and hearing their feedback--I've lost count of the amount of feedback... I've gathered from those conversations and the research I've done in this space. Plus parents just got so excited about the idea and premise behind Mockingbird, and the need for it to come to fruition."
That approach is fundamental to the ideas that inspired Mockingbird in the first place. "The whole seedling for this idea came from seeing that the whole process for expectant parents is pretty broken," Osman says. "[Our grand vision is to identify] all of the different ways that we can help solve for that."