Meet the Austlen Entourage Stroller! A Q&A with creator Leslie Stiba
The brand-new Austlen Baby Entourage Stroller was one of our very favorite finds at the ABC Kids Expo in 2015: this extraordinary piece of baby-toting equipment is made to transform, grow, and travel with your family in ways that we’ve never seen before (and we’ve seen a LOT of strollers).
To introduce her Entourage, we’ve brought in Austlen Baby founder and inventor Leslie Stiba, a former global product manager and mom of two. She’s spent nearly a decade bringing this stroller from dream to reality, and has a lot to say! Because really, how do you summarize a stroller with over 30 configurations, and which is so beautifully thought-out and designed for ease of use? You can try, but it’s better to hear the whole story.
MB: Let’s have the elevator speech: describe the Austlen Entourage in one sentence.
Leslie: The Entourage stroller has the most versatility and storage capacity of any stroller on the market, and is designed with classic styling and luxury.
MB: I know you’re a mom of two and a former global product manager – tell me a bit about how these experiences led you to create the Entourage.
Leslie: When my children were born, I couldn’t find a stroller with enough storage and flexibility for my family’s active lifestyle. I have a sincere passion for new product development, and for building teams that can create something new and different. Based on research and observation of the stroller category, I knew there was a gap in the market and felt compelled to find a solution.
Like most entrepreneurs, once that passion and instinct is ignited, you just can’t let it go. I couldn’t wait to tackle the challenge of solving a common parenting dilemma with a product that marries high concept and elegant design.
MB: The Entourage stroller is such an amazing labor of love – I did a bit of research and saw that you’ve been working on this since 2007! The “story behind the product” is really important to our customers, so I’d love to hear a bit about what that journey was like, from idea to fruition.
Leslie: Timing is everything. When my girls were born, I took a break from full-time work. I used that time to create a rough concept for the Entourage and secure the initial patent. During this time, the sense of urgency that I initially felt when I first thought up the Entourage never waned. Once my children were a little older, I had to decide whether to go back to work or devote myself full-time to starting my own company.
It was a leap of faith, and it took having a supportive family to be able to commit to the many years it would take to launch Austlen Baby Co. and the Entourage. Once I made the decision, I began the process of developing the business case, securing funding and recruiting the right talent.
In early 2012, I connected with Patrick Laffan, who had recently left Newell Rubbermaid (maker of the Graco, Teutonia and Aprica lines). Patrick had the perfect blend of engineering experience and executive management, having managed so many teams and projects during his time at Newell. We formed a partnership, and have worked together to build Austlen. Since that time, we have achieved so many meaningful milestones and have built an incredible team of talented people who share our passion and vision.
I am so proud of the work that the Austlen team has done and thrilled at the incredible response from retailers and parents. We simply cannot wait to deliver the Entourage to our customers!
MB: The key feature that makes the Entourage so unique is the frame that expands forwards and backwards. What was your inspiration for the creation of this frame?
Leslie: I’m a huge proponent of developing products that work intuitively. Patrick (Austen co-founder and CTO) jokes that we want everything to be as easy as saying, “Voilà!” The way our frame expands, and does so easily within arm’s reach, was part of this intuitive product requirement. Now that some people have tried the Entourage themselves, it’s a wonderful affirmation to see them intuitively expand the stroller and brainstorm so many uses that this extra space allows.
MB: Tell me a bit about how the Entourage can morph to suit different stages of a child’s development and the growth of a family. Can you describe a few situations where the Entourage will make people’s lives easier in a way that few other strollers can (and in some cases, no other stroller)?
Leslie: The premise behind the Entourage and all the products Austlen will ultimately develop is “go and do.” Today’s families crave connections, whether it be with their friends, families or new adventures. We believe that baby gear should be a tool to help parents live their lives as they wish, when they wish, no matter the stage of their family’s growth.
From a design standpoint, the Entourage will appeal to families with a diverse array of lifestyles. For example, we have heard from urban parents that the Entourage could be their “primary vehicle” and help with key tasks such as laundry pick-up and grocery shopping. Suburban families are looking forward to a much easier way to get to their older kids’ activities with the younger ones and necessary gear in tow, or making those quick trips to the grocery store without having to park near the shopping cart kiosk or sanitize a cart. And, everyone can’t wait to make trips through the airport a breeze!
MB: I know parents will be worrying that the Entourage might be too big to fit in their car, but I’m sure your team has pulled it in and out of any number of car trunks, and I remember being surprised at how compact it can get. What are the folding options for the Entourage with various seats/accessories, and how small does this thing get?
Leslie: Compact fold and portability have been features on which we have insisted. We have optimized the Entourage’s design to have a similar sized fold regardless of the configuration, whether you fold the stroller in its primary form or with a second seat and platform rider attached. We have definitely tested our product in many different trunks and have designed it to work with most vehicles.
A common challenge after folding a stroller is lifting it. We also designed the Entourage so that it is easy and intuitive for a parent to pick up. Our fold takes away that cumbersome challenge and allows parents to get a good grip with both hands, using their natural arm span. We feel our design is a huge competitive advantage and have been thrilled to hear positive feedback from retailers, media and parents.
MB: The Entourage has such a luxurious feel – the fabrics, the handlebar, and especially the wheels are all so beautiful. Tell me a bit about how you decided on the look of this stroller.
Leslie: We pulled inspiration from classic American automobile design circa 1940s and 1950s. Our detailing, from fabrics to the handle and arm bar, stitching and even wheel trim, was selected to give parents that fusion of great engineering and artful design. We want parents to be drawn to the Entourage simply by its appearance and then awed at how easy it is to use, configure and fold. The look on peoples’ faces when they experience the Entourage is priceless!
MB: What accessories are available now? What else should we expect down the pike?
- Second seat
- Sit+Stand (combo with platform rider and jump seat)
- Platform rider
- Cargo bag
- Car seat adapters (Maxi-Cosi, Cybex, and Nuna)
- Seat liners
- Rain cover
- Cup holder
- Snack tray
- Mosquito cover
We also have many accessories in the works, including a travel bag, foot muff and additional car seat adapters, plus a few others I can’t mention right now, but that we think you’ll love.
MB: A lot of our favorite baby brands got their start with parent inventors, especially moms – off the top of my head, I can think of Ergobaby, UPPAbaby, ZoLi, and Beco Baby, and I know there are more. What advice do you have for other moms with a really cool idea for a product that could make parents’ lives easier?
Leslie: Great ideas are a fantastic start, but there is so much to do to ensure that the idea is something that can blossom into a sellable product. Market size and opportunity, the cost and complexity to make your product, the current competitive landscape, the required financing, and barriers to market entry are all things to consider.
It’s easy to fall blindly in love with your own idea, so it’s crucial to ensure that others share your sentiment. Do your homework and research, and get opinions from trusted individuals and industry experts. Once you are sure that you’re on to something great, commit yourself full-time, and embrace the many curves and pivots along the way. Know what success looks like to you and align yourself with a team who shares your vision. Lastly, expect challenging moments in the months and years ahead, and approach them optimistically and with a relentless desire to succeed.
MB: Silly question: where did the name “Austlen” come from?
Leslie: The name Austlen Baby Co. is inspired by our headquarters in Austin, Texas, where I have lived for 20 years. My family truly loves Austin and all the benefits of this great city, especially the amazing breakfast tacos! We wanted to pay homage to the entrepreneurial community of the region that has inspired and supported us throughout this journey.
MB: What’s next for you, and what’s next for Austlen Baby?
Leslie: This year is all about delivering the Entourage to our customers and further developing our relationships with retailers and parents. We are so excited to see the Entourage on city streets, in supermarkets, at playgrounds and in airports. Looking forward, we have other products in development that build upon the Austlen brand and expand our offering. Our goal is to continue creating purpose-driven, intuitive products that make parenting easier and give families more freedom to “go and do.”
We can’t wait to see them, Leslie! Thanks so much for sharing all of this info and enthusiasm. The Entourage is ready for pre-order at mbeans.com, and will be shipping early summer 2016, and I highly encourage everyone to come check it out when the floor models arrive in our stores – it’s so much fun to play with, even if you’re not a stroller geek like us!
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