Josh Udashkin is taking on an ambitious challenge: he wants to make luggage sexy.
The 33-year-old is the founder of Raden, a high-tech luggage brand whose sleek, pastel-colored cases come with a built-in battery that can charge your phone, and a built-in scale that communicates how much the suitcase weighs via an app (so you can avoid overweight fees at the airport). Cases cost between $295 and $395, depending on the size.
When he started working on the company three years ago, Udashkin was confident he had a winner on his hands. But not everyone agreed. To many investors, the idea that a luggage business could be a tech company seemed like a crazy concept.
“Fundraising is tough, especially when you’re selling luggage,” Udashkin says.
So he turned to his friends for funding. Lucky for Udashkin, those friends happened to be disrupting another traditional industry: the mattress space. The founders of mattress-in-a-box company Casper put “a small amount” into Raden and introduced Udashkin to other investors.
“They were in their second or third month of business,” Udashkin says. “They said, ‘We’ve been through this before. We’ve convinced people that a mattress in a box can sell.’”
Raden raised $3.5 million in venture capital from First Round Capital and Lerer Hippeau Ventures, one of Casper's early backers. The company launched in March 2016, and caught a lucky break when it was featured on Oprah's Favorite Things list that summer. In its first four months of business, it did $2 million in sales. This year, it expects to take in $12 million in revenue.
Despite Raden's success, the entrepreneurial life hasn’t always been glamorous for Udashkin. In the early days, unable to pay rent for an office space, he worked out of a hotel lobby with a free Wi-Fi connection.
“You have to stay very humble, and you have to stay very lean as long as possible,” he says. “Raising a lot of money is wasteful. It doesn’t build muscle; it builds fat.”
Watch the video above to hear more about Udashkin's entrepreneurial path.