After launching a successful Kickstarter campaign, Lunchbox has been gearing up to make waves in the festival space. With a mission rooted in radical self-acceptance, Lunchbox aims to change the festival space as it stands today. Earlier this week I had the pleasure of talking to the founder and CEO of Lunchbox Tom Worcester about the company, the vision, and himself.
Festival Squad: I guess we can start with you telling me about yourself and how you ended up starting Lunchbox in the first place.
Tom: I guess we can start with 2013, as the Lunchbox story didn’t start until recently. My festival experience started back in 2013 when on a whim a buddy of mine said, “Hey let’s go to this crazy thing called a music festival!”
I was a senior in high school and I I really didn’t know what to expect. I so distinctly remember the first couple moments of walking into that venue and just being blown away by the grandeur and scale of it. I looked at my friend and said “Woah, where are we?”, and he was like “just let it happen.”
So over the weekend, we had the most incredible time. For me, I’m pretty profoundly deaf, as I lost 70% of my hearing in both ears as a child. So Ultra was so different because literally, it was all bass all the time. The way the hearing loss thing worked is that there is a high-frequency hearing loss like song lyrics, think an Ariana Grande song, and then there is obviously low-frequency sound which is bass. So I walked into this environment and I was like wow, this really feels like home.
Over the course of the next 4 years, I went to college at Wake Forest University. I studied finance of all things, but kept going to different festivals from Electric Zoo to Okeechobee to more Ultras and constantly used that as a way to come back to the things I really loved. After I had seen my fair share of festivals, and I had witnessed a lot of different problems, and it all came to a head at Ultra this past year. In one day we stood in hour-long water lines, two of my really good friends got pick-pocketed and at the gate my bag got nailed. I like to bring cameras to these things so I was holding my camera lenses juggling back and forth, and it kinda killed my experience a little bit. We ended up settling on the idea of, what bag would make that experience better? And that’s kind of what laid the inception for Lunchbox. It comes from this place of realizing that festivals are environments for radical self-acceptance. Which helped me develop in a very real and personal way. Lunchbox is a manifestation of us giving back to the community by us solving a lot of the most common festival problems. So people can actually have a better experience and ones that can radically change their lives; rather than having those experiences ruined by pickpockets, waiting in water lines during your favorite artist, getting your bag nailed at the gate, so on and so forth.
Festival Squad: It looks like you have a great team behind you working on Lunchbox, could you tell me about how you all got together?
Tom: Right now we have a team of 4 people. We have Elizabeth Cylkowski who is our Head of Communications and a student at Georgetown University. I actually took her to her first festival and she kind of fell into it in the same way I did. She was like, “Wow this is an amazing environment, I want to get closer to this, I want more of this!” It turns out that she is a razor-sharp marketing mind. So when I told her about lunchbox she was in.
She then pulled in one of her best friends named Meredith Lostaglio who is our Director of Market Strategy. She is very international. She’s seen not just music festivals, but different cultures all over the world, which is super useful to communicate our brand and our promise to different people. Finally, we have the Director of Operations, Chris Cooke, who I actually met at EDC Orlando. He had an amazing totem that he built himself which was an LED scepter that was responsive to sound. We actually walked around with it at Forbidden Kingdom last weekend. So he kind of came on as an R&D guy and he’s just been in the space for years. But what’s funny is that at no point have we ever actively hired people. People believe in the Lunchbox mission, they want to help, and that initiative ends up having them integrate deeper and deeper into the team.
Festival Squad: In terms of the Lunchbox product itself, you guys have a lot of different features that are not really offered with most festival bags. Were most of the specs created from input or just your own past experiences?
Tom: So a little bit in between actually. We don’t consider it as much as a festival bag as we consider it an experience bag. Think about what happens when you get pick-pocketed or when you stand in long water lines. The thing that is really taken from you is the experience. You enjoy the experience less. So what we ended up starting out with was wanting to build an anti-theft festival bag. That quickly went out the door because we realized what we really wanted to build was something that would give people better experiences. We didn’t want to improve one thing, we wanted to improve everything across the board so you can focus on the music, so you can go lose yourself in that same incredible environment. So we started out with hundreds of customer interviews. I wrote a script, which asked:
How do you experience festivals?
How much do you spend at festivals?
On a scale of 1-10, how much do you think about theft?
On a scale of 1-10, how much do you think about theft before the festival?
On a scale of 1-10, how much does bag design influence your purchase?
I really wanted to get in deep in the consumer psyche of a festival goer. When you take a step back, we are the experience generation. More than anything else we care about having the best possible experience. We don’t care about the Porsche, we don’t care about the Rolex, we don’t care about flashy materialism, but we do care about having the best experience possible because we, as a generation, value that. We started to discover that it was improving that experience that made the best product. So when we realized that water lines were a pain point after interviewing hundreds of people we basically said, “Let’s dig into that, why are water lines such a problem?”
Well the answer is that everybody has hydration packs, and in the existing form of hydration packs you have to take the bladder out of the bag to actually refill it. Not an easy process, ,especially at a music festival. So when you think about it, if you have every single person in a water line spending 2-3 minutes actually refilling their bag it creates a huge bottleneck with a 100, 200, 300 people behind them. By talking to hundreds of people we realized we could reduce the time to refill and address the pain point of waiting in line directly, which is one of the best features of our bag. When it came to pick-pocketing everybody had a story about how either they or their friends were pick-pocketed. The crazy thing is, pickpockets can be 1 in 7 at the worst festivals. Creamfields and Dreamstate both had really bad cases of this. They are amazing festivals with amazing people but there is a pickpocket culture there that needs to be addressed. EDC Orlando in Florida this past November was one of the highest pick-pocketing festivals on record. That’s insane and that’s preventable. So when it came to features we had to improve, it had to be anti-theft it had to be a faster refill. And then we realized we could build on top of that, so we added phone pockets for accessibility. Amanda Cosenza gets credit for that one. We created sunglasses pockets so you don’t have to dig through your bag just in case the sun pops out from behind a cloud. EL wires to express yourself, removable skins to feature community artists for the designs they make. But all these little things came from talking to hundreds and hundreds of people and then going back and saying hey here is what we built. The original Lunchbox actually had a solar panel in it. It wasn’t the best idea because people were using normal power banks not solar panels, so we adjusted. We never assumed that we knew everything. What we did believe is that the market and the people in this awesome community were right and knew what they wanted, so we built around that.
Festival Squad: You talked about the experience more than the bag specifically. Did you guys settle on the bag right away, or did you take all the data you had which eventually led to the bag?
Tom: That’s a great question. There’s something called ‘First Principles Thinking,’ which in the entrepreneurial space is very popular. It asks, ‘what is the root problem and how do you solve it?’ So when Henry Ford invented the Model T, the problem wasn’t to build a faster horse. The problem using first principles thinking is “how do you get from point A to B as fast as possible”. You know it’s funny – in the Henry Ford case the horses were producing 2.5 million pounds of manure every single day in NYC. It was what we call the “horseshit problem,” and by looking outside of that problem, and getting to the root of it, Henry Ford was able to take 2.5 million pounds of horseshit off the street everyday because he was looking at a different problem set.
So when we first were building this thing we didn’t know what the application was yet. We knew that water lines were an issue, so we thought about how to create a better water line. How can we create a better security experience? Can we create better accountability and on-site check-ins? We realized in order for all these things to happen we need to improve how the consumer behaves in relation to these segments. Thinking about how a consumer approaches the water line, how a consumer experiences theft in a crowd or not, and, my personal favorite, how a consumer finds the lost and found. When thinking about it we realized, it’s always a negative experience. So we ended up landing on a bag as a consumer-facing way we could address that with the intent of, once we have the base of Lunchbox out there, we then want to be able to partner with different festivals and organizers to promote how were were going to turn a water line into an experience. As we do that, we’re going to educate festival goers on how to speed it up. We are going to take over and transform the lost and found experience. At the security gate we are going to have ways to educate the guards so they don’t take bags that are okay to get in, like how I got nailed at Ultra. So there’s the micro-effect which is the bag itself, and there is the macro-effect which is how it makes the experience better. The experience gets better from a lot of different directions not just the product. We are starting with Lunchbox because we can immediately impact a lot of lives, and we can use that as leverage to change the entire experience.
Festival Squad: So your team has
Tom: Yes, as a starting point. When we talk about the debt that we owe to festivals, the personal development that I and my team have experienced, and the levels of happiness we’ve seen people reach, that needs to be protected and curated and given back to a wider community. We can do that if we actively make the experience better. Without that you can hit a plateau where there are always going to be some people who walk away missing out. Maybe that’s why 1 in 3 people have a bad experience. Meaning 1 in 3 people don’t get to have the incredible festival experience that the team and I have become so familiar with.
Festival Squad: What has been your best festival experience?
Tom: Probably Ultra this past year. Each year it gets better. The group that I was able to go with was incredible. I was bringing two people for the first time, so it’s always fun for me to introduce people to that world. I would go on these 4-6 hour rampages where I just met person after person. I love the fact that there are so many points of connectivity in such a short amount of time, but you are able to build in your own context. One of the core beliefs that I’ve kind of wrapped my head around is that I believe the more context you have, the better mental models you can build and have a better life worth living. If you see more you understand more. If you understand more, you can draw an association between more things. So the best festival experiences for me are where I’m exposed to a radical new idea, and it grows my perspective.
Festival Squad: What’s the biggest take away you have from all of your festival experiences
Tom: I was someone who grew up with hearing loss and that was difficult. There are a lot of mental and emotional barriers that I put up. When festivals adopted the idea of radical self-acceptance, I stopped focusing on all the things I’m not and started embracing the things I am. Through a lot of moments of radical self-acceptance, I was able to look in the mirror and think ‘I’m okay with who I am.’ At the core, festivals help you practice self-acceptance. Once you go through that process you are able to live the life that you want, be in flow, have better conversations, better relations, and have an actual impact. Self-acceptance unlocks that personal self in an incredible way. That’s the debt that we feel like we owe back to everybody else through improving the experience. This whole thing is very circular because that’s what we had and that’s what we hope to achieve through the long term impact of Lunchbox.
Festival Squad: You’ve talked about a lot of the features the bag has. How do you keep cost down while including all of the features you wanted in the bag?
Tom: We use premium materials. We use military grade nylon, the type of adventure-wear that you would see an ultramarathoner using. We custom printed our own bladders and made new technology that’s never existed. We could certainly charge $250 per bag, but that’s not the point. It’s less about the business and more about the mission. We have a great product at an affordable price for the community, due to the fact that we feel like we owe that debt. Comparable bags on the market that are this tech-savvy are only found in the international travel space, and those are $500 – $600 dollar bags. Our focus is impact-first, and we know that if we sold it at a high price we wouldn’t make as big of an impact. This would undermine our mission of helping people practice self acceptance. We have a lower price point that is more accessible, but we have our add on model where you can support us through community artists, or extra EL wire; however you want to be expressive. We think if you believe in us, you can continually support us. If not, at least you got a damn good bag as a result.