Like many new parents, Matthew Hearsch and his wife Natalie worried about the safety of their children as they slept.
“We would often get up through the night and check our son by feeling his skin for an indication of his temperature,” says Hearsch. “We chose sleeping bags to provide the best possible sleeping experience but the information we were missing was the internal sleeping bag temperature. It became obvious, from then on, that traditional infant sleeping bags were outdated.”
How SleepSnugg helps monitor your baby while they sleep
Hearsch’s ground-breaking solution to the problem was to integrate innovative monitoring devices that could provide parents with valuable, unique information on their child’s sleeping environment, habits and patterns.
It was an idea that germinated after the birth of his first son but, it took the arrival of his second son sixteen months later to motivate him to take the action required to develop what is now known as the SmartSnuggSmartSleeper.
The first step to product development was to arrange a meeting with a commercialisation officer at Deakin University, Geelong – the coastal Victorian city where Hearsch has spent most of his working life in many different positions within the construction and manufacturing sector on large commercial sites.
“They loved it and were enthusiastic about putting together a specialist team for the project, as soon as our patent searches had come back clear,” Hearsch says. “We then spent two months designing the system architecture prototype concepts. By month five, we had filled our patents and developed our first prototype of the SmartSnugg SmartSleeper.”
As a former London barrister, SmartSnugg co-founder, Simon French – a father-of-six – was working as a Geelong-based solicitor and met Hearsch when he connected with a local business angel group, hoping to find support for his own baby product he was keen to develop.
“I was giving Matt some pro bono legal advice about legal structures and shareholder agreements, that quickly morphed into business strategy advice,” says Mr French. “It became clear that we worked fairly well together and had different skill sets. After a few discussions, Matt and I came to an agreement to move forward together as co-founders for SmartSnuggand I shelved my other project.”
As the product has developed and matured over several iterations, Mr French says that the pair have identified opportunities for specific innovations but tried to keep the focus squarely on solving that initial problem that Hearsch and his wife first identified.
“Keeping control of a huge process, involving dozens of different people working in tandem within different organisations in Australia and overseas has meant engaging with industrial designers, electronics engineers, product testers, app developers, website developers, soft goods manufacturing, electronics manufacturing, product certification standards, patent protection, industry partnerships, research partnerships, business grants, business accelerators, investors and more,” French says.
“It has been hard to keep focused on the end goal and not get too bogged down in the detail of individual problems or too discouraged when things are taking much longer and costing much more than we thought or we’re told.”
The men are driven, though, by the knowledge they are helping future generations of infants and toddlers (and their parents) sleep more soundly, with a product that can also play a very important part in minimising the fatal risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
Their ground-breaking design of an intelligent sleeping bag for infants and toddlers records sleeping bag temperature, baby sleeping positions and movement in real-time and issues alerts and notifications to a mobile phone – innovation that is being hailed as a world-first.
Using a specially-designed monitor that it calls a SmartPebble, the patented SmartSnugg SmartSleeper system detects a wide range of positions and movements that it conveys to parents via another device, a SmartBridge, to an app.
The lightweight SmartPebble, which also houses Bluetooth and a battery, sits in a secure pocket inside the waterproof, washable SmartSleeper bag.
“The SmartPebble is designed to be purchased, inserted in the bag and then left in the bag for up to nine months,” Mr Hearsch says.
The company has developed its own range of sleeping bags, or SmartSleepers, and attachable blankets as part of its suite of products. SmartSnugg are also developing the inclusion of video and audio-monitoring and aim to release these new features and products in early 2021.
“Whilst the product addresses parental concerns about safety, we also see SmartSnugg as delivering much more and will help parents to better understand their child’s sleep preferences,” says French. “If we can help children sleep more comfortably, parents will also sleep better and we are proud to create a product that makes parenting more enjoyable.”
For Hearsch, the idea that the product he devised can become a voice for infants, who are unable to clearly communicate their temperature-based comfort to their parent, feels good. “I feel like we are contributing something useful to the world,” he says.
The uncompromising rigours of bringing a new product through development and to production have been challenging, but Hearsch says that, although there were times, he doubted himself, he never thought of giving up and stepping away. “I’m looking forward to expanding the team, so Simon and I don’t have too much to carry,” he says.
Success to this point, says French, has come “because we have found, from the beginning, that we can have fully robust conversations and disagreements without actually falling out”.
“These can be stressful at the time but we have found that, in the end, these discussions help us to get the result we need and stop us going down the wrong path,” he adds.
While French describes his own role as having a business and technical focus, he adds that “Matt is more about aesthetics” and applies unwavering attention to detail, driven by his perceptions of what parents want in the product.
By having different interests in the SmartSnugg brand, both men admit that the delegation of tasks becomes easier – something they says makes for an ideal professional partnership.
Part of their five-year plan is to integrate the SmartSnuggsystem with the smart homes of new parents, to enable the SmartSleeper technology to talk to a home’s central heating and raise or lower the temperature in a child’s room, without the parents being alerted and making physical changes to the infant’s clothing or bedding.
“I can see the SmartSnuggsystem being used in childcare centres across the country within the next two-three years,” says Hearsch.
To help put their business growth plans in action, the pair of inventive fathers are currently preparing their product for launch in the US and UK markets in mid-2021, with a crowdfunding campaign aimed at turning their dream to help infants sleep more safely into a global success story reality.
For would-be product innovators who are keen to bring their own ideas to the development table, both French and Hearsch have some helpful advice.
“Test your idea thoroughly before you start. Assume it is a really bad idea before you invest too much time and money because it is hard to be objective once you’re well down the road,” says French. “Make sure that you have fully understood all of the weaknesses of your competitors, read customer reviews of your competitors and work out how your product or service is not just better than their but an actual step change. If possible, look for ways to you can solve multiple complaints that your future customers have about your competitors.”
From Hearsch’s perspective, being honest about your own weaknesses is critical. “If you can see that you have areas where you need help, try and find a co-founder or two who can complement your skillset,” he says.
With hopes that the crowdfunding launch will help propel SmartSnugg into a larger international market, for now, Mr Hearsch says he has local success at the forefront of his business ambitions.
“I can see SmartSnugg becoming the fastest growing sleeping bag company in Australia in the next 24 months,” he says.
You can preorder a SmartSnugg at www.smartsnugg.com.au.
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