Jimmy Hayes: Co-founder, Minaal

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My Native Admission Statement: Jimmy is the co-founder of Minaal, an independent product design company building high-quality, minimalist gear for today’s increasingly mobile lifestyles. Minaal’s goal is to help people move faster and enable seamless transitions between home, work, play, travel and everything in between.

How did you get into the industry?)

It was 2006, and my eventual co-founder Doug and I were circumnavigating North America in a powder-blue ’92 Plymouth Grand Voyager with three other ‘Kiwis’. The bags we were using were uniformly terrible – mine was a truck-sized red duffel that gave you back spasms just from looking at it. We thought: there must be a better way to carry stuff, and we just haven’t found it yet. But we did some research and realized that the kind of bag we had in mind didn’t exist. After a few years of talking about it, we started Minaal.

Any emerging industry trends?

The market’s become more crowded in the past few years. Suddenly, high-quality travel gear is an expectation rather than a rarity, and there’s a ton of new bags to choose from, meaning it’s increasingly important to give amazing service.

We’ve also noticed that more and more people are downsizing their checked bags for backpacks that can fit inside an airline cabin.

The bag “movement” has also spread beyond travellers: people are realizing that having the right bag can also make a huge difference to your workweek.

Any industry opportunities or challenges?

The crowded market is definitely a challenge – but it’s the good kind. It forces us to stay on our toes and keep improving the gear we make. It means that we constantly have to look for new ways to make people’s lives easier, or their travels smoother. The rise of VC investment in the industry means there are a lot of bag makers who need to grow at all costs, and eventually exit, to be considered a success in the eyes of their investors. We’re proud to be independent and focused on making the best possible gear for our users.

Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the Business?

The North Star has always been: make stuff we want to use ourselves. That’s the litmus test whenever we’re in the concept phase, and it means that our original impulse to make genuinely useful gear is still very much guiding what we do. It’ll stay that way.

What's next for the Business in the near future?

Definitely some new products. But they’ll be announced via our newsletter

Your key initiatives for the success of the Business?

Kickstarter campaigns were how we started, and our first couple of campaigns helped us reach a whole group of people that might have been hard to reach on our own. We still know the names of people who backed us early on.

Our next major initiative is developing offers that only our users can access. Most companies treat you better before you buy, which is a pretty crazy state of affairs, when you think about it. We want to offer our users more than we offer passers-by on the internet.

Your most difficult moment at the Business? (and what did you learn?)

Rather than a single moment, it’s more of an ongoing underlying challenge: the fact that our team is 100% remote. That’s obviously a huge advantage in some ways, but it also means we have to be extra creative on ways to collaborate across wildly different time zones.

Ideal experience for a customer/client?

I like to think that we provide a series of pleasant surprises. Let’s say you see our bag, you think it looks nice, you order it. That’s the beginning, not the end. If you have shipping issues, a real human will help you iron them out. If you reach out in a year’s time with questions about travel visas, we’ll chat about it with you. And in five years’ time, you’ll still be getting a level of access to our new gear that the wider public doesn’t have.

How do you motivate others?

I begin each group call with an acapella rendition of everyone’s latest achievements. As such, there have been several motions of no confidence in the leadership, motions which I have vetoed every time.

Career advice to those in your industry?

Ramen and dog food are edible, but cat food is not (enjoy that multi-year grind.)

Make sure you’re passionate about what you do, because if you’re successful, it will take up more of your life than a full-time job (at least initially).

What makes me the best version of myself?

Everyone who let me ask super dumb questions over the course of many years.

What are my aspirations?

Business: help more people live a life without barriers.

Personal: attain a nirvana-like balance between work and everything else.

My Biggest Success?

Whenever anyone tells us about a trip that changed their life, that tugs on the heartstrings.

My Most Challenging Moment?

To go full time on the business a long time before we actually launched. I was a decent and reasonably happy employee, so there was a lot of stability to give up.

My Motto?

“Keep on rolling, baby.” – Fred Durst

My Favorite People/Role Models?

Bourdain (RIP). The guy had such passion for his craft and was equally at home in Michelin-star restaurants and street food stalls.

My Favorite Places/Destinations?

Saigon, Tokyo, Lisbon, and (almost) anywhere in New Zealand.

My Favorite Products/Objects?

Roost Laptop Stand. That’s it. I’d be a physical wreck without it.

My Current Passions?

Relentlessly tracking down strange cafes in Tokyo.

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