The Freeloader before Shark Tank
As a father, I have not personally had this problem, but I have had to carry people before – carrying people sucks. Carrying people is extremely awkward and stresses your body horribly, no matter if it’s a 4 year old girl or a 21 year old man you’re carrying. Fortunately, two firefighters sought to resolve this problem with a new invention, called The Freeloader, which looks strikingly similar to a backpack, but works in a very different way…
The Freeloader on Shark Tank
Nathan Jones and Erick Jansen are two firefighters who are responsible for the creation of The Freeloader. To demonstrate the use of The Freeloader, Nathan has brought his son, River, along. They are seeking $200,000 for a 15% equity stake in their business.
To start with, Erick begins to tell a story about how he and his kids love to go hiking, but sooner or later, they hit a wall of energy and get tired. Five years ago, Erick went to Paris with his wife and daughter, knowing full well her limitations. As such, they had to plan the trip and sightseeing around his daughter’s limitations to avoid the dreaded meltdown. As any parent knows, when your kid is tired, you’ll probably end up having to carry them whether you like it or not. Erick says that your arms get tired, you start to get tired and walking gets harder and you get sweaty… Erick returned to the states and talked with Nathan, and the two of them agreed that there had to be a better way to transport your child than what was currently available on the market. They seeked to create something that was lighter weight and more comfortable; something that was like it wasn’t even there.
Nathan then pulls a demonstration model of The Freeloader out, which appears to be just a normal backpack. With a small nudge, a small seat extends out, allowing for a small person or child to sit on the backpack.
The Freeloader is an ultra-slim child carrier that has an integrated frame and a foldout seat that is capable of holding up to 80 pounds. It has a five-point safety harness for the passenger, and it uses similar technology to hockey pads to evenly distribute the weight across the carrier’s shoulders and hips for extended outings.
Robert takes an immediate interest, asking to try it out and see exactly how heavy the entire package is. As he suits up, Lori asks if it is something that a woman could carry and hold. Nathan says that so far, his wife has been able to use it and is actually a big proponent in The Freeloader since he has a 3 and 5 year old. Once Robert is suited up and River is seated into The Freeloader and buckled up, Robert himself continually remarks “wow” as he is able to maneuver around the studio with extreme ease – walking around, he really does not appear to be overly burdened with the pack or his cargo. Lori asks how comfortable Robert is, and Robert says he could maybe do it for a couple hours, but definitely could not do it all day. He says that there is some pressure in your back but, as a dad himself who has had to carry his kids, this is much better than the other option of letting your kid sit on your shoulders. Even Mark agrees.
Robert says he is immediately convinced that this is a great idea, and asks if they have started selling The Freeloader as of the date they appeared on Shark Tank. Erick says that they started a crowdfunding campaign back in February of 2013, which ended in March and met its goal and raised a total of more than $40,000. Barbara asks to know how the two got involved in such a project, asking if they were school teachers. Erick says that they are both firefighters out of Boston, Texas, and they both know a lot about carrying people. Kevin asks to know more about the product itself, saying that it seems heavy. Lori says that she does not think neither her nor Barbara would be able to carry the pack, saying that the two dads are used to wearing heavy tanks on their back, but if they were to invest into an injection mould, the mould could cause The Freeloader to become much, much lighter. Erick says that the possibilities are endless; for example, they considered titanium, but then costs will go outrageously high. Robert suggests carbon fiber. Erick then compares the 7.5 pound child carrier to the 4.5 pound Freeloader. Robert asks what the two intend to do with the money they are seeking. Nathan says that $110,000 would go towards making 2,000 units, and $90,000 would go towards operating expenses such as shipping out samples and going to trade shows. Lori asks if the two have done their homework for all the rules and regulations on child safety transportation, and the two reply that they have; Lori asks if they have been doing testing, to which Erick and Nathan reassure her that they have. Robert interrupts and says that they are firemen, of course they have been testing the product.
Mark says that the first thing he thinks of when he sees The Freeloader is that he has a four year old named Jake, and Jake has finally learned from his carseat how to undo the clips that bind the harnesses together. He says that Jake will punch or kick him, reach down to unbuckle the harness, and end up falling over. Nathan says that so far, he has not had an issue with his son being able to unbuckle the straps specifically, but Mark insists that the buckles are the same as the car seat buckles and says that with the $200,000 they are seeking, they should not invest the $110,000 into 2,000 units and instead use that for testing. The worst possible scenario would be for the two to invest all this money and time, ship out the inventory, and then realize that they have a huge problem – which in this case, is children falling from a height of 5 or 6 feet. If this scenario were to occur, the two would have to take every single unit back, effectively voiding the Shark Tank investment. Even Robert agrees with Mark, saying that he is shocked even he is agreeing. Robert says with the money, he thinks that the two should continue to test the market and refine their product to be even safer and asks how open would they be, to which Nathan and Erick reply that they are very open to any ideas from the Shark Tank as the sharks have expertise in this sort of matter.
Mark says that so far, The Freeloader is not a product, but is more of a proof-of-concept. For that reason, he does not find The Freeloader worthy of an investment, and exits the deal.
Barbara offers her input, saying that something like The Freeloader would have to be demonstrated in order to properly sell. If she were to see it on a store counter, she would think that there is no way it would work and finds it similar to every other black thing out there that you would strap onto your body. Her concern is to how The Freeloader would sell without having the capabilities of it demonstrated, and thinks that the window for parents having a reason to own The Freeloader would be too small, and also exits the deal.
Nathan and Erick then say that they attended a popular outing in Boston, Texas, and were absolutely mobbed by parents who wanted to know more about the product. Within 24 hours of handing out the cards, they sold more than $3,000 worth of units. Mark says that the two would be smart to stand outside of fairs and sell The Freeloaders instead of looking to retail them.
Lori says that she would love to help the two, since she loves firemen; they risk their lives every day to save people. However, the thing she is worried about is the safety issues with The Freeloader. The idea is very clever, but there is a lot of liability in passing the safety testing and even in the customers themselves proving detrimental to the effects of The Freeloader, and is out of the investment as well.
Kevin comes up next, saying that he has moved past all the manufacturing issues with The Freeloader and makes the assumption within the next year that the two will optimize the weight and design. If the product were perfect even today, Kevin has no idea what it would cost to scale the production since he does not know how much the cost of acquiring a customer is. Kevin then says with his experience in manufacturing products aimed towards 0 to 3 year olds and directed towards the mother, selling a product is an extremely hard road to cross and he does not want to tie up resources. He is out as well.
Robert is the last shark remaining, and says that he has made a lot of money by trusting his gut instinct. His first sense, when he saw Nathan’s son get on it, was “that is a great product.” As he heard the other sharks raise their objections, he became less and less excited about the product. Robert’s best friend, Rod, is a fireman, and says that the two rules of a fireman are to 1. Stay calm and 2. Assess the situation. Robert says he does not think that the two have assessed the situation enough, and says that the design and weight need to be a little bit better. He says that he does not think The Freeloader is a company today, but a journey, and says that he wants to go down that journey. He does not see himself as investor, but more of a partner, and offers $200,000 for a 33% stake, a ⅓ stake which would place him as an equal owner. The two ask to take a minute and discuss it amongst themselves, but then change their mind and say that they accept the deal and would love to work with Robert. The Freeloader successfully found its funding of $200,000 at the cost of bringing a new partner into the business.
The Freeloader Now After Shark Tank – 2018 Update
The Freeloader absolutely took off, appearing all over the internet and some television marketing channels. With Robert’s investment, The Freeloader was able to properly launch itself across a number of stores (ones I was able to find include Kohl’s and some JCPenney’s, both of which are larger outlet stores in the United States but primarily sell clothing). The Freeloader is expected to continue evolve, and I honestly feel that The Freeloader might be the design of the future. Some of the new designs on the newer models of the Freeloader include stirrups, handles, and additional pockets.
I hope that when I’m a father, The Freeloader has become the standard for adventures.