LOVE — AND NECK PILLOWS — LEAD TO A BUSINESS IDEA
Sanghavi’s move to the U.S. was also beneficial for personal reasons: His college sweetheart, Yoganshi Shah, had already migrated to America several years prior. The two shared a five-year long-distance relationship during which she completed her graduate studies in computer science at Columbia University, then started a career in Silicon Valley. In December 2013, the two married.
“I then moved to the U.S. in January of 2014. Basically, I moved to the U.S., took a vacation of six months to spend time with my wife, then in fall 2014, I started school at Kellogg,” Sanghavi says.
The couple’s long-distance romance would have to continue, Sanghavi living in Chicago and Shah in Silicon Valley. The need to see each other led indirectly to the idea that would become the BauBax jacket. “Every other weekend, I would take a flight to see her,” Sanghavi says. “I would always make sure I got sleep on the flight to San Francisco and back. I’d end up buying a neck pillow at the airport, then forget it when I left her house. So basically, by the end of the first quarter at Kellogg I’d accumulated a dozen neck pillows — six in San Francisco and six in my Kellogg dorm room. ‘You can’t just keep buying neck pillows,’ my wife told me.”
These simple words were the launching point for BauBax. “My first thought was creating an app to remind me. My wife, being a computer science engineer, was also a UX designer, so she suggested a jacket instead of an app. ‘You’re in Chicago seven to eight months out of the year,’ she said. ‘You wouldn’t step outside without a jacket, so how about a neck pillow built inside of the hood of a jacket?’ I thought, ‘This is money! This is awesome!’”
KICKSTARTER CAMPAIGN RAISES $50,000 ON FIRST DAY
Shah, who currently serves as BauBax’s founder and chief operating officer, was chief designer as Sanghavi worked to build on the idea, soliciting feedback and doing short surveys of Kellogg friends asking whether they’d appreciate a jacket with a built-in neck pillow. After prototyping and vetting the idea, it made its way to Kickstarter — and that’s when things took off. “We launched this campaign on Kickstarter and it blew up right away,” Sanghavi says. “On day one, we raised $50,000. Then on the second day another $50,000. In the first four days, we raised $50,000 every single day.” He points out that the fundraising success was without any marketing or advertising. “That gave us confidence. We knew we were solving some real travel problems here.”
In 90 days, the travel jacket raised $9 million on Kickstarter, becoming the sixth-most funded Kickstarter campaign ever and the highest-performing campaign for an apparel product.
“I’d like to add, the help that I got during the prototype phase shooting a video for it came from Kellogg. I was director, a classmate at Kellogg was the videographer. For the Kickstarter video campaign, out of 16 actors, five of them are Kellogg classmates,” Sanghavi says. He also credits famed marketing professor Derek Rucker. “He was the professor for our Advertising Strategy class and the one who reviewed and gave critical feedback on our video before it went live. So the resources at Kellogg have contributed to our success in a strong way. The campaign, video branding, etc. was so very, very refined thanks to input from professors and classmates. They made it easy to raise so much money.”
With the success of the business happening so rapidly, Sanghavi made the decision to take a leave from Kellogg to further cultivate BauBax.
A LEAVE OF ABSENCE FROM KELLOGG & NO STUDENT VISA
“During the summer of 2015 when all my classmates were doing internships, I was running this Kickstarter campaign,” Sanghavi says. “After that, I didn’t go back for my second year because of this startup. Since then I’ve been a student on leave. They allow up to five years and I’ve already exhausted three.”
As immigration laws have it, Sanghavi’s decision to take a leave from Kellogg meant he could no longer be in the country on a student visa. He needed to join his wife’s H-1B if he wanted to remain in the country while he grew the business. But that’s now up for renewal in a few months and, given the current political climate, could very well be denied.
“If the visa gets approved, then it’s great, we continue as we’ve been doing,” he says. “The problem is that going forward, we’ll have to apply for renewal every year. Given that the Trump administration is acting very strongly against immigrants, especially against H-1B visas because a lot of companies abuse it, we don’t know what may happen. For a genuine case like ours — my wife has a legitimate job, went to an Ivy League school, she’s been working here 10 years — it shouldn’t affect us, but unfortunately it is.”
Sanghavi says their only other option is something called an EB5. “It’s an investor’s visa where a person could invest $1 million into a venture that he/she feels will help create jobs. If at least 10 jobs are created in two or three years, the investor is granted a green card and can stay. Worst case scenario we’ll have to consider that option, but it’s not easy for a person to pull out $1 million for personal use, especially in a startup. I can do it, it’s not going to be very easy, but yes I can afford that as my backup option.”
But still, it’s a huge risk saturated with uncertainty. “God forbid the investment doesn’t do well in the next few years, by end of two or three years my provisional residency could be revoked and I’d still have to go back to India,” Sanghavi says.
‘U.S. IS ALREADY GREAT. I DON’T UNDERSTAND “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN”‘
As Sanghavi and his wife explore various options, they are preparing to apply for HB1 visa renewal with hopes that it will be enough to ensure their status at least for the time being. As he still intends to finish out his MBA at Kellogg, another alternative is to return to student visa status — but that would limit his ability to further grow his business, as immigration laws prohibits doing both at the same time.
“I still have two more years to go back and finish my second year,” Sanghavi says. “I don’t want to drop out. Getting access to great minds in terms of classmates and professors has helped me so much. Also, the core courses — I can’t wait to go back and take the advanced courses which will be more relevant to my business. I’m also excited to be a part of the Kellogg alumni network.” But as BauBax continues to soar — the company recently wrapped up another multimillion-dollar Kickstarter campaign for version 2.0 of the multifunctional jacket — Sanghavi says it’s not the right time to go back to school. “Not this year. I have my hands full,” he says.
In the interim, Sanghavi has no ill feelings toward the U.S. or the current administration. “In a business sense, I love that the Trump administration has reduced corporate taxes to encourage businesses to invest heavily in the U.S. It’s something great they’re doing and it also helps me as a business owner,” he says. “They’re encouraging me to invest more and create more jobs here instead of outsourcing to other countries so that’s a good thing. From the immigration point of view, it’s definitely scary. Not that they’ve done anything bad to me yet, but the crackdown on the H1B visas and the displeasure they’re showing against it is scary. But it has not affected us so far.”
About the idea of “making America great again,” Sanghavi adds, “The U.S. as a whole is already great. I don’t understand this phrase, ‘make it great again.’ If it weren’t great, I wouldn’t have had this journey over the last few years. I’m living my American dream. I can confidently say very few people in the U.S. realize that this is such an awesome country. They should travel to others and they’ll appreciate it much more.”