Any parent will tell you that car seats are a travel nightmare, especially now that safety experts recommend keeping children strapped into booster seats until they’re 8 to 12 years old. Carrying or switching car seats can prove extremely difficult and time consuming, if not realistically impossible. Renting them from car rental agencies when traveling is expensive. What about car seats in taxis and Ubers? Most parents just give up and say, “Nope!”
In 2017, two jet-setting “dadrepreneurs” decided to tackle this problem. Andy Macaluso and Daniel Schlaepfer conceived their idea while rock climbing. They then spent two years developing and testing WhizRider, a breakthrough harness-style portable child restraint system that solves car seat woes. About the size of a coffee cup and weighing less than one pound, WhizRider is small and light enough to toss into a handbag, backpack, suitcase, or glovebox – so that parents can bring it with them everywhere they go.
WhizRider is developed based on the latest data from the biomechanics and accident research fields. Its innovative concept prevents children from sliding under the lap belt (or “submarining”), one of the most common safety issues for kids in vehicles today. WhizRider keeps children safe on trips and in a pinch when a car seat or booster isn’t a viable option. It exceeds U.S. federal safety requirements.
Macaluso and Schlaepfer had begun a new fundraising round to grow retail channels and brand awareness in the US back in January 2020. Then the Covid-19 pandemic hit, and WhizRider lost almost 90% off all commitments overnight. In parallel, WhizRider was defined as an emerging brand by Amazon USA and became a member of their Launchpad program. But then Amazon closed its warehouses for non-essential products. Furthermore, families stopped traveling and using taxis or ride sharing apps altogether.
“We were ready, but couldn’t sell product,” says Macaluso. “It was and is still an extremely difficult situation without real monthly revenue. However, as an entrepreneur, you need to be optimistic. We worked very hard and have been able to win some deals in retail stores in 2021.”
To survive, WhizRider’s cofounders did everything they could to cut costs. They terminated agreements with some partners and reduced services with others. And of course, Macaluso and Schlaepfer decreased their own salaries. They remain motivated thanks to the positive feedback they continue to receive from customers and the retail world in general.
These days, Macaluso and Schlaepfer feel optimistic leading WhizRider into 2021. “With all the positive news regarding vaccines, we are very hopeful that some sort of return to normalcy is around the corner. We strongly believe WhizRider will take off once ride sharing and travel become more prevalent again,” says Macaluso. “We are also extremely proud to be part of the Henry Ford Innovation Nation Season 7, which airs on CBS.”
An entrepreneur for nearly 20 years, Macaluso says that WhizRider is his favorite project so far. It both solves a real problem in his own life and allows him to work alongside Schlaepfer, a close friend. Schlaepfer’s parents run their own business, so he always felt he’d be an entrepreneur.
Originally from Switzerland, Macaluso moved to Hong Kong for work years ago, along with his wife and young daughter. Like most people who live there, they didn’t own cars but used taxis on a daily basis. Unable to find any viable solution to safely secure his daughter in vehicles, he headed out in search of a solution.
Schlaepfer, a mountain climber, knew that the product had to be easy to use, reliable, lightweight and secure. “Joining forces with Macaluso to create our own business and support child passenger safety makes me proud. We’re serving the community and making a living at the same time!” he says.
Macaluso and Schlaepfer are facing their share of pandemic challenges trying to support their families while working on a startup without drawing a salary. Also, it has been difficult to find the right investors. Nevertheless, the two fathers remain dedicated to their purpose and seeing WhizRider go mainstream.
“Most startups fail because of the wrong team,” says Macaluso to aspiring entrepreneurs. “Hire colleagues who can add to the mix by drawing upon their own experience, education, etc. You need to be a team member, trust your colleagues and listen to them as well as your suppliers and customers.”
Schlaepfer adds, “Don’t be afraid to make unconventional decisions. Sometimes, getting out of your comfort zone is the very best thing you can do as an entrepreneur!”