A Fussy Baby and Sleepless Nights Transformed Nested Bean Founder Manasi Gangan Into “The Mother of Invention”
2015 FedEx Small Business Grant Contest Prize Winner
An infant swaddle that simulates human touch to help babies sleep
Manasi Gangan was a smart, successful IT engineering executive, leading a product development group for a multi-million-dollar corporation. When she found out that she and her husband were expecting their first child, she braced herself.
“I had heard the horror stories about babies not sleeping through the night, but our son never had that problem. He slept well,” explained Gangan, founder and president of Nested Bean.
So, you can imagine Gangan’s surprise when her second son came into the world with the sleep patterns of a caffeinated insomniac, waking up every five minutes. The only way to get him back to sleep was either holding him or putting her hand on his chest. The problem was, as soon as she took her hand away – as soon as there was no more physical contact -- he woke up.
The sleep deprivation that comes along with new motherhood can’t dull the inquisitive mind of an engineer. Gangan couldn’t stop wondering why babies woke up from sleep so quickly, and why something as simple as a touch could make such a big difference. So, she started doing some research.
“I learned about how touch has a psychophysiological impact on babies. You don’t have to rock them or even pick them up to have the effect – a simple touch is all it takes,” Gangan said. “I also learned that skin can’t tell the difference between a human touch and that of a thing. They already effectively simulate touch for babies in incubators to make up for what they’re missing from their mothers.”
Then, came the idea.
“If I could create a safe and effective swaddle that would simulate touch to provide supplemental care at night, I could solve a significant problem for infants and parents alike,” Gangan said.
Just like that, while Gangan was still on maternity leave, another baby was conceived – this one in the form of a new small business.
The Months From Conception to Delivery
Most new moms hope for a catnap in between feedings and diaper changes. Gangan used the time to create a prototype for what was to become her signature Zen Swaddle™.
“I sketched out a design and had a seamstress sew a rather ugly contraption that would serve as a proof-of-concept. It was a swaddle that simulated touch in three places,” Gangan said. “Think of a baby-sized sleeping bag with something like a bolster on each side to simulate the cradle of two forearms, and a leaf-shaped area that touched the baby’s chest, like a hand.”
She tested the product on babies who were having trouble sleeping through the night, including her own.
“It had such a positive impact on babies who couldn’t sleep well before that I had to take the next step and bring the Zen Swaddle to market,” Gangan said.
She contracted with a soft goods product engineer to handle the functional design, as well an apparel designer who could make the swaddle pretty. Many months and brainstorming sessions later, the Zen Swaddle was ready for testing in the safety lab.
“We wanted them to poke holes in the design and identify every potential safety hazard, so we knew what not to do,” Gangan said. “We finished our initial tests in June of 2011, went back and implemented design changes, and then sent the prototype back to the safety lab in 2011 – with outstanding results. We were ready for production.”
Throughout this process, Gangan had also been working on sourcing. When manufacturing in Boston proved cost prohibitive, she found a factory in Peru that could handle the job. Her first production run of the Zen Swaddle began just eight months after the product was conceived.
Taking the Zen Swaddle to Market
“We ended up launching at a show in Las Vegas, selling primarily to small, boutique baby stores. Because our product requires a little explanation, we didn’t target the big box stores,” Gangan said.
She also worked with The Grommet, an online launch platform for unique, undiscovered products. But, before a single Zen Swaddle was on a store shelf, Gangan started creating a buzz to generate interest in the product.
“We launched a good media campaign before we went to market,” Gangan said. “We used social media; we sent products to bloggers, and we hired a PR agency for a six-month media blitz. The agency was expensive, but it was definitely money well spent.”
Slowly but surely, her sales and distribution increased. By the end of 2014, she hired a team and started working with local schools to bring on interns or, as Gangan sees it, “building a pipeline of future employees.”
But, with all of this success, her biggest joy is hearing the impact her product is making – underscored by emails and posts and the comments she hears every day.
“I was at a trade show recently and a woman came up to me and said, ‘You should get a Nobel Peace Prize for helping our family regain our sanity,” Gangan said. “We get so much positive feedback like that from our customers. It’s really a wonderful thing.”
She’s also discovered that the Zen Swaddle helps babies going through narcotic withdrawal because they were exposed to drugs in vitro. Nested Bean has donated many swaddles to hospitals to help that cause.
Winning a FedEx Small Business Grant
To top off what is rapidly becoming a banner year, Gangan recently found out that she won one of the 2015 FedEx Small Business Grant Contest awards. She was thrilled to win the money, but happier that it came from a company of which she’s already a fan.
“I’ve been with FedEx since the beginning. The customer service is great, both online and at my FedEx hub; the people are so nice,” she said. “As an IT person, I also love the user interface at fedex.com--it’s very well designed.”
Gangan will divide the grant money between two critical projects: building a more robust website to increase the company’s B2C sales, and developing product specifications for her new product designs.
“We started out with one product zero-to-six-month-olds. Then, we started getting panicked emails from those customers. They love our product, but their babies were outgrowing the original Zen Swaddle,” Gangan said. “They wanted similar touch-simulating products that would work for different age groups.”
In addition to its flagship product, Nested Bean will soon launch designs that work for three-to-six- month olds, six-to-12-month olds and 18-to-24-month olds.
“We’re basically quadrupling our market,” Gangan said.
In a very short time, Nested Bean has gone from a gleam in its founder’s eye to a healthy, growing, small business. And to think, it all started with a fussy baby, an inquisitive mind and a solution to a problem that has kept parents up at night for ages.
It seems the old adage is true: necessity really is the mother of invention. And mothers everywhere are sleeping a little more soundly because of it.