Two industrial designers who helped create and launch the first Amazon Go cashierless convenience store have a new baby, as some founders like to refer to their startups. Newly launched Juno is in fact in its infancy and it really is all about babies.
The Seattle-based company’s first product is a sustainable, portable, pop-up bassinet for newborns that sells for $148. And it’s made out of cardboard.
But before you picture a lightbulb going off over the heads of two ex-Amazon designers who were surrounded by too many delivery boxes, there’s more to it than that.
Co-founder Herman Chan, a longtime designer who spent almost four years at Amazon, was the father of a baby boy six years ago when he and his wife started losing sleep over where their baby should sleep. They didn’t want to spend hundreds of dollars on something that might be destined for a landfill in a few months.
“When we had Otis we really wanted the healthiest, safest option for him. We just wanted natural, organic products,” Chan said. “We were really disappointed when it came to the bassinet. Everything we found was synthetic and plastics. We couldn’t find what we were looking for at the price that we could afford, which is really what drove us to say, ‘We need to invent this.’”
Chan worked for several years at Teague, a design consultancy that put him to work on such things as aircraft interiors. At Amazon he teamed with Thomas Duester, another longtime designer who counts Philips’ first consumer LED light bulb among his successes. On the Amazon Go team, they developed customer touch points such as store entry gates as well as other physical components with embedded tech.
Chan and Duester started their own invention studio called formfuture in 2018 and Juno was born this month.
“As designers, both Thomas and I have a very strong track record of launching real products and real experiences,” Chan said. “Finding a way to balance the different business needs, that’s where Amazon really taught us and gave us the toolkit to have the confidence to go for this.”
The Juno bassinet looks like the type of minimalist design idea that might show up in a modern home on the pages of Dwell magazine. It’s natural to look at it and think, “That’s a box” and “I could make that.” But it isn’t, and you should have.
Chan says Juno differentiates itself from other products in the space because it’s not trying to be everything. There’s no auto rocking mechanism or plastic construction that promises a lifetime of use. The bassinet unfolds and sets up in no time, with an included, all-natural, breathable sleeping pad made by a company in New York. And it breaks down and goes back into a cardboard transport box faster than a new mom or dad could say, “How the hell does this pack-n-play fold up?!”
The paperboard is durable, premium grade, sustainably sourced and constructed in Renton, Wash. There’s a perforated sleeping surface to allow for better airflow and the bassinet is protected with a water-based bio-degradable coating that resists the type of moisture that comes out of new humans.
Chan and Duester were exposed to a lot of materials and the opportunities within those materials while innovating for a company like Amazon. But they didn’t set out to build a cardboard bassinet. They started with the problem — designing a healthy environment for a baby to sleep that is also a great experience for parents and better for the planet.
“If people look at the paperboard [they say] ‘cardboard box,’ but it’s so much more,” Chan said. “The paperboard is custom made. We spent three years figuring out what is the strongest paperboard we could make combining two different currugates that has the thickest paper in it, that’s sustainably certified.”
The startup, with five employees, is in crawl, walk, run mode right now, waiting to see if there are enough believers. Sales for now are through Juno’s website. Future products will address the mission of making stuff that is designed for the lifetime it’s used for, out of materials that make the most sense.
“What we aren’t is a company that is just about paperboard,” Chan said.
The bassinet is reminiscent of baby boxes in Finland, where every expectant mother has been receiving a box of baby essentials — including the box for baby to sleep in — since the 1930s. The country has one of the lowest infant mortality rates in the world.
Chan said Finland’s approach made the Juno creators realize paperboard was a great option. The challenge will be convincing families in North America, where the concept is not a familiar one.
But he cites recyclability and keeping more junk out of landfills as great motivators. And with so much plastic in our oceans, Chan said change has to start somewhere.
“For us this is a way forward,” he said. “To re-look at what was created in the past and question what is important today.”
Chan may not be able to cram his adult body into one of his bassinets, but perhaps he will sleep better knowing Juno is seeking solutions to problems no child should have to grow up with.