While studying architectural design at Vienna’s Technical University, Nin Prantner also learned the craft of metal welding. Launching her own design studio, she applied her skills to designing furnishings and furniture for offices and homes. Last year, she opened a new showroom studio behind the popular MuseumsQuartier on Vienna’s Breitegasse, which itself has undergone a renaissance as a designer-furniture quarter. inventures.eu talked to her in her loft-like, light-filled studio, which showcased many of her furniture designs from the last two decades of her professional career, as well as her #1 seller: the BAGTOR®.
Nin Prantner Photo: (c) BAGTOR
In 2011, Austrian designer Nin Prantner was sitting on the beach in Barcelona, lost in thought as she took in the scenery. When she looked down, she realised that her handbag was gone and, looking back up, she saw some men leaving with it. She remembers that as she ran after them, she “started screaming at them in Italian and apparently the Spaniards understood well enough, dropped the bag and ran off.” Luckily everything was still inside, including a lot of her money and jewellery.
From this experience came her idea for BAGTOR®. Much more than just a handbag theft-prevention device, BAGTOR is also a chic, multi-functional fashion accessory. It’s basically a long, leather strap on a metal ring that can be used to secure a handbag to the chair you’re sitting in or to yourself, thus preventing a sudden snatch-and-grab. While Nin produced, exhibited and sold the first BAGTOR, she incorporated the feedback that it could be more than an anti-theft device, but could also be worn as an elegant belt, necklace, or armband, to name just a few variations.
In November 2012, after first filing a patent application for the product in May, Nin first exhibited it at Vienna’s Museum of Applied Arts (MAK). The response was quite encouraging and she started selling wholesale to shops inAustria, Germany, Switzerland, Netherlands, Belgium, and Denmark, as well as retailing through her own studio and website.
Her first production run of 500 units quickly sold out and with the feedback she received, she continued to develop her communications and marketing strategies for the product. “Actually designing something takes almost no time at all, but most of the challenge and work is in communicating the piece I’ve designed. Putting together and constantly adapting the brochuresand informational material to show people how BAGTOR can be used is the most time-consuming part of the project,” she says. Since its launch in 2013, she has sold some 1200 units, which retail for 59 euros each.
Balancing vision and details
Nin started off as (and continues to be) an architectural designer. She was raised in the Lower Austrian countryside by her artist parents. She says that “unlike the rest of my family, who are all lawyers, my mother is a sculptress and my father a painter, so that’s how I learned about designing in three dimensions.” Because her father was also constantly building additions onto their family house, she and her siblings often had to move into different rooms. “I always had a nice room but without furnishings. I had to improvise my own furniture using leftover materials from the construction site. My father was very good at the big vision but hated the details.”
On the contrary, attention to detail at the expense of the big vision is a character trait that has stayed with her. Now, after participating in the Vienna Business Agency‘s Twin Entrepreneurs workshop series, she is developing her overall strategic vision for BAGTOR. “As a result of my participation in Twin Entrepreneurs, I will get one-on-one coaching by Selma Prodanovic,” an Austrian enterprise business consultant, business angel and one of the Twin Entrepreneurs trainers. “She is more of a sketcher of the big vision and I am a detailer,” Nin believes. “She is a very energetic person and is constantly pushing you, leaving you no time to complain—you just have to work, which is great for me.”
Nin honed her pitching skills while participating in the Twin Entrepreneurs programme, and got a chance to try them out when she was invited to appear on Zwei Minuten, Zwei Millionen, an Austrian reality-TV show where local entrepreneurs pitch to a panel of business angels. But the experience disappointed her: “It was like first learning there really is no Christkind,” Austria’s equivalent of Santa Claus. “I was expecting the show to be really serious and decisive about my future but it was more of an entertainment. However, I learned a lot about how investors work and it made me think more concretely about investment—I saw it as one way, but not the only way I’d like to proceed.”
Nin’s bag design Photo: (c) BAGTOR“Once I show BAGTOR at the upcoming trade fairs in Paris (Maison et Objet) and Frankfurt (Ambiente), I’ll approach some big companies – Hermes, DKNY, YSL – about selling them my patent rights.” She adds, “but if it doesn’t work out, there are other options. I can apply for patents in key countries myself, then license production to smaller companies, or even continue to do it myself.”
Although some two-thirds of her revenue comes from BAGTOR sales, ultimately Nin would like to cutdown on the time she spends on business development and get back to what she loves and does best – creating and patenting new designs – “different things, not just furniture,” she notes. Rather than seeking a financial investor for expanding her business (currently a sole proprietorship), she would like to have a strategic and managing partner who could independently take over the sales and distribution of her business.
Would it cramp her individualistic style to have such a partner? She remembers that when she first launched her design business, she hired a welder on salary. “It put so much pressure on me to earn the money to pay him. I had to take on any work that was offered to me, even if I didn’t know how to do it. I never would have done so many things and learned so much if I didn’t have to support an employee.”
Baby balancing act
She gave birth to her first child in 2007 and, as her husband worked abroad, she raised the baby more or less alone while trying to make the business run well.
Today, her husband is back in Austria, which has opened a new set of possibilities for Nin. “I can take more risks, as it’s now possible to split the parenting duties. I originally thought it wouldn’t be so difficult to raise a child alone, but now I’ve gained a deep respect for women who raise children on their own.”
This story has been brought to you in partnership with Twin Entrepreneurs.
Twin Entrepreneurs is a cross-border initiative aimed at providing practical assistance to startups from the area of Vienna and Bratislava that want to make the second step – sustain their business and expand abroad. The series is organised by the Vienna Business Agency, the European National Agency for Development of Small and Medium Enterprises and the Young Entrepreneurs Association of Slovakia.