It's easy to say "we couldn't find the best travel gear – so we made it." See? We just said it. Easy!
But for truly great products, details matter.
In our case, the details include an 18,000+ mi (29,000+ km) road trip circumnavigating North America in a powder-blue Plymouth Grand Voyager, sleeping five in the van. They include a jolly Levi's smuggler and obsessive poet on the night train from Istanbul to Bucharest. Endless meetings at factories, endless potholed roads on uncomfortable seats.
Sure, the details get blurry – we shot a video in Santa Barbara, right? Was it Hoi An where you almost hit those chickens with your moto? Were the police more obliging in Argentina or Paraguay?
But even when they get blurry, they all add up to one very important thing: a deep understanding of what matters for people working and living life on the move.
It's easy to say "we couldn't find the best travel gear, so we made it." But the key question is: how far did you go?
Our answer: we went a very, very long way.
Our founders: Doug & Jimmy
We first hit the road together in 2006, and launched Minaal in 2013. We've been 100% community-funded since Day One.
We don't have investors to please – and that means we get to design gear we want to use ourselves.
We make tools to help you transition seamlessly through all environments – in the office, in transit, in the city, and out exploring the wilds.
We design for people who care about the details. We release new versions when they're ready, not every season. And we make stuff that lasts forever.
The Road Trip
"Accommodation will be cheaper if we just sleep in the van" – and so it was.
Two months, five sweaty Kiwis, and one chronically overheating family wagon: that's how we circled the North American continent.
It was a breeze. Except when we tried to save gas by turning off the AC in the Mexican desert (112F / 44C). Or when our prehistoric windscreen-mounted GPS could display every single Burger King across the US, but almost none of the freeway off-ramps.
This road trip taught us the foolishness of over-packing, the generosity of strangers, and the irresistibility of the $1 Junior Whopper.
The First Asia Trip
After living back home in New Zealand for a couple of years, we got itchy feet. Doug's parents had some expiring airmiles – so we booked a last-minute trip to Delhi (Q: why Delhi? A: "what's the furthest airport these miles can take us?")
Overnight train to Kolkata with 6 in the cabin; flight to Bangkok with a guy smoking in the lavatory; street food for every meal. Backpacking in its purest form.
This trip taught us the value of fine tailoring, and that there can be such a thing as a victimless scam.
The Big Decision
After a few years working on product ideas part-time while trying to hold down regular jobs (well, as "regular" as driving an ice cream truck can be), it was time to make a call – do we go all-in on Minaal?
Jimmy decided he needed to find the cheapest possible round-the-world flight ticket, to "have some good thinking time." Very convenient.
The combination of glorious and painful experiences on that trip – dreams fulfilled, laptops incinerated, local friends made, local bugs overcome, and bags that just didn't cut the mustard – taught us that launching Minaal in earnest was the only possible choice.
The Small Town
Tucked away in the misty hills of New Zealand's Marlborough Sounds is an unassuming town named Picton – population 4,310.
But humble Picton plays a central part of the Minaal backstory, as the geographical midpoint between the three different places where Doug, Jimmy and our designer were based at the time. So it was in Picton, of all places, that we met to plot the first Minaal backpack.
As you browse this website, you might notice the word "Picton" showing up in other places, too...
One thing we knew from the beginning: we didn't want to answer to anyone except our customers. That meant no external investors. But we still needed funds from somewhere to get off the ground.
Luckily, in 2013, crowdfunding was blowing up. 1,634 people chose to back our first crowdfunding campaign, bringing the original Minaal Carry-on to life.
Our favourite part? All these years later, we're still in touch with a ton of those original backers. They're as much a part of the company as Doug's hair, or Jimmy's penchant for sleeping in airports.
The Range Expands
By 2015, we were ready to branch out. One bag became two bags, zero accessories became... several accessories.
Where better to launch the new gear than Kickstarter, where it all began? This time, 2,402 people (over half the population of Picton!) jumped on board.
To us, this confirmed that our borderline obsessive focus on product – and our goal to treat people like humans instead of customers – was the right path to take.
It's fair to say that 2020 did not go according to plan. We were running a movement-focused business... with borders closed and people literally not leaving the house.
Not the worst situation to be in, for sure, but very far from the best.
So we turned to the same people who backed us in 2013 and 2015: the Minaal community.
In the depths of the pandemic, we ran a pre-order launch for our new 3.0 series of bags. And because people committed to those bags – despite having no idea when they'd be able to use them – we lived to tell the tale.
The Same, But Different
So – where are we now?
Well, just like Day One, we're still working 100% remotely. We're still focusing on making great gear, and sharing it with people who want it.
It's a new world, that's for sure. But more than ever, we all need tools we can rely on.
It's our job to make those tools, and stand behind them. No matter where you take them. No matter what adventures – or projects – you use them for.
If you have any questions about where we've been, or where we're headed, get in touch here.