Technology on Wheels
Alumnus’ invention earns nearly $1.4 million on Kickstarter
Gaston Blanchet, ’09 | Co-founder, Trunkster
By Angie Lewis, ’03
Frequent flyers know the importance of a good suitcase. It needs to hold all of your stuff, roll smoothly along a variety of surfaces and fit into the coveted overhead bin space onboard.
But, no matter which ones he tried, avid traveler Gaston Blanchet, ’09, realized the perfect suitcase for his needs just didn’t exist — so he invented it.
Inspired by the roll-top doors for meal storage on airplanes, the Trunkster was born. It’s the world’s first and only zipperless, roll-top luggage that introduces a revolutionary industrial design. A durable and waterproof sliding door allows for quick access to belongings, even in the most constricted spaces. The bag also includes a removable power bank, built-in digital scale, and can be enabled with GPS.
Blanchet, who earned his UCF bachelor’s degree in business management, and his business partner Jesse Potash, used Facebook and Twitter to help build awareness of their product, and targeted travel and tech bloggers, as well as business travelers. The buzz created a network that led to thousands of pledges and preorders on Trunkster’s Kickstarter page. The support and demand was so great, in fact, their $50,000 goal soon multiplied more than 27 times in 59 days, with 3,566 backers pledging $1,395,370 by the Jan. 16 deadline.
“You can never take luck or good timing out of the equation,” Blanchet says. “I think we were fortunate to launch at a time when both smart products and crowdfunding became two of the year’s biggest trends. This, coupled with having a unique product in a stagnant industry, and months of media planning, let us claim the spot as the world’s most-crowdfunded travel campaign.”
While the guys have another idea they’d also like to take to crowdfunding, for now, they’re focused on manufacturing and delivering more than 5,000 Trunksters to anxious travelers.
Pack it Up Q&A
Q. How were you involved as a student?
A. I think some UCF staff thought I was probably over involved! When I begged my way into the Honors College and LEAD Scholars, I assumed that would largely be the extent of my involvement at UCF, but then I had the strange fortune of entering and winning the Mr. UCF scholarship competition my freshman year, which opened the doors to a pretty unique UCF experience! I had some of my best memories as a member of the President’s Leadership Council, where I was able to intimately partake in some unforgettable UCF moments, including the groundbreaking of the new arena, stadium and College of Medicine.
Q. Favorite UCF memory?
A. It was at Lake Nona while working on the President’s Leadership Council at the groundbreaking of College of Medicine — when the scheduled singer didn’t show up to sing the National Anthem for the opening ceremony, our PLC directors, Nancy Marshall and Ana Petkov, looked over at me and said, “Oh, Gaston sings! He can do it.” Well, it was about 6 a.m., and I never can remember the lyrics to that particular song. Ha! To everyone there that day, including President Hitt, I apologize to your ears.
Q. How has your UCF degree helped you in your career?
A. I’m grateful to be working in the field I studied. The business classes were instrumental in giving me a well-rounded toolkit to tackle all of the unique challenges that come up when running your own business. The classes that most helped me while at UCF were accounting, finance and business law, which exposed me early to everyday issues I deal with now.
Q. In what ways have you stayed connected to your alma mater since graduating?
A. I’m lucky my parents still live nearby and are involved with the Honors College as donors. And, of course, it’s been an amazing set of years as a UCF football fan. I’ve really cherished watching the team grow under Coach O’Leary and produce stars like Bortles. My fondest memory by far was watching my Knights win the Fiesta Bowl in the middle of the night while in Asia!
Q. What advice would you give to current UCF business students/aspiring entrepreneurs?
A. I’m not sure if all entrepreneurs say this, but I firmly believe there’s no better moment for aspiring entrepreneurs to take advantage of the incredible new tools available to our generation. To be specific, we’re entering a golden age of products. Crowdfunding lets you find the funds and create the community for your idea, while a fully globalized world has made component and manufacturing costs come way down. Furthermore, the Internet lets you easily find customers all over the world for your products and services. So, there’s really no deterrent but your will. The tools are out there. I encourage you to make the most of them, and take the steps to go through with the ideas you come up with. You’ll fail at a couple until the timing is right, then one of your ideas will take off.
Q. What are three things you never travel without?
A. Bose in-ear, noise-cancelling headphones; Canon C100 documentary camera; and Kindle
Q. Last vacation?
A. Vietnam — motorcycling the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
Q. Dream vacation destination/itinerary?
A. Exploring mountain temples of Bhutan.
Q. Favorite way to pass the time while traveling?
A. Filming local stories for our interactive travel documentary series, “Humanity,” for iPad.
Q. What do you do for fun?
A. I’m a total adrenaline and adventure junkie. I love to sail, kitesurf, scuba, skydive, snowboard, any fun local excursions I can find …
Q. Pet peeve?
A. Delayed flights!
Q. Most embarrassing moment?
A. I left my $4,000 camera on top of a rental car and drove a mile before realizing. It miraculously stayed on!
Q. Hidden talent?
A. I can juggle.
Q. If you could learn to do anything, what would it be?
A. Hold my breath for five minutes.
Q. Best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
A. There’s no good time to launch a bad product, and there’s no bad time to launch a good product.
See the Trunkster in action.
(Save 10 percent with code “UCF” at checkout.)