PORTABLE POWER: A GOLDILOCKS STORY
Hey guys, today’s blog is an overview of how we as a company came to realize that current portable power solutions are simply not optimized for their advertised use and how our team built a product that fit our lifestyles, just right. You might recognize that purple brick battery pictured above and maybe you own a very similar product. I received mine as a Christmas gift in college, circa 2016. It seemed like a great gift with a lot of utility and at the time, I could really see myself getting a lot of use out of it. I loved the idea of getting more life out of my phone, without outlet hunting around my college campus or having to aggressively power-walk to claim the seat in my lecture hall by the outlets. And that solar panel on the front! How ingenious of them to harness the power of the sun to keep my devices going all day? Well it soon dawned on me that this miracle product was far more of a dud then a delight.
Issue number 1: the battery was just another thing I had to remember to charge. I had a shared dorm room at the time, with limited table space. It was hard enough for me to remember to plug in my phone, laptop, camera, and Bluetooth headphones; the brick just wasn’t going to happen on a consistent basis. Frequent charges were necessary when you consider issue #2: this battery was far too small to give me meaningful portable power. It has a listed capacity of 6,000 mah, a number I highly doubt with the industry knowledge I have today. Let’s assume that figure is correct, I should have been getting about 2 charges out of the Apple Iphone 7 Plus I had at the time (2900 mah capacity on the phone and ~90% efficiency is standard in the transfer of power through USB). The reality is that I got less than 1 full charge out of the battery, maybe 60%-70% at the max. Many companies that sell these batteries online, frequently on Amazon, fraudulently advertise higher battery capacities. Forget about charging your Bluetooth headphones, speaker, or anything else. You’re going to want to save it for your phone. Issue #3: the convenience just wasn’t there. If the battery is too small, you’re going to find yourself at the wall just as often as you would anyways because you’re going to need to recharge that brick now too after every phone charge. The lack of AC ports greatly limits what you can charge as well. Its not convenient to move while you charge it too, unless you like holding two phones (power brick is roughly the size of a smart phone) or having massive pockets with cords spilling out. This brings me to my final issue with the product, #4: dishonesty. So not only did the battery not have the listed 6,000 mah capacity, but that solar power panel on the front was pretty much useless. I discovered this on a day at the beach in Florida. I packed my JBL Bluetooth speaker (3,000 mah capacity) with me and thought my battery would be a great power option to back up the battery inside. I knew it didn’t hold very much power, but maybe that solar panel could give it an extra nudge and keep my speaker going all day. Not even close. The battery unsurprisingly charged the JBL about 25% (I had the speaker on while charging). After unplugging it, I thought “hey, let’s just see how long it takes the power brick to move up one battery level in direct sun exposure.” It was an oppressively sunny late-spring day in south Florida and after 3 hours in direct sunlight, the battery didn’t even charge enough to cause the first battery-level-indicator light to come on. After that debacle, I pitched the portable battery in my junk drawer, never to see the light of day again (pun intended), until now for the sake of this blog.
Throughout the years, I had been given more and more of these cheap portable batteries at various business meetings and events (Hilton Hotel 2200 mah battery and Heyday 2300 mah pictured above). I’d take them home graciously then thoughtlessly threw them in my junk drawer, since you can’t throw them in the trash due to environmental reasons, in spite my yearning to do just that. To be honest with you, the purple one above was likely the best one I had ever received, yet to me it was garbage and not worth my time. After founding Sapphire, my power needs increased once again. We were traveling the country selling our weight-sensing electric skateboards, while capturing photo and video content for ads and social media content. We just couldn’t seem to ever make it through a day without stopping somewhere to recharge. Whether it was the electric boards, the drone, the GoPro, the Camera, our laptops, or our phones, something was always dead or dying and we were wasting a tremendous amount of valuable time and money taking care of the issue daily. Since I already knew the small brick batteries weren’t going to cut it, we looked towards the high-end market to spend some money and satisfy our needs. Once again, the portable power market let me down. Our needs were AC ports, USB ports, and at least 30,000 mah of capacity. What met those needs were a plethora of car-battery style dinosaurs that weighed at least 10 pounds and sometimes as much as 25 pounds. But hey, at least some had carrying handles. Our bags were already packed full of the tech we needed, meaning there was no shot we could jam in one of those monsters, due to carrying constraints. After discussing this issue with our team for a few weeks, we noticed a constant: the bag. WE ALWAYS HAD OUR BAGS.
We realized that everyone on our team had carried a backpack with them daily since the start of grade school. As we acquired tech throughout our lives, it went in the bag. It only really comes out of the bag when its being used or charged. Our minds were blown at the infancy of the smart bag industry, most “smart bags” were just backpacks with a designated battery pocket and/or a USB cord running out of the bag to the exterior, without even including a battery. A couple of the more adventurous backpack companies had gone so far as to put one of the prior mentioned little useless brick batteries in the designated battery pocket and were charging consumers $300+ for the package. You’d think something coined as a “smart bag” might attempt to be a little more innovative. What we found was that for us, portable power needed to not be as big as a car battery weighing 20 pounds, but not so small and benign that it has very little real-world use. We needed portability and power. Well this is where my Goldilocks story wraps up, but unlike Goldilocks, we didn’t steal this concept from others and we sure as hell aren’t trying to deceive our consumers with marketing ploys. We built the bag that we wanted. Our bag isn’t too big, it isn’t too small, it’s just right. It’s got a huge battery(40,000 mah), but just small enough so you can fly with it; we included 4 USB ports, 2 AC ports, and a whole lot of power (200 watts), but it weighs about the same as a standard backpack at 4.2 pounds; we sacrificed nothing in terms of style, but made sure it had a water-resistant coating and water-resistant zippers because functionality matters. Companies have worked long and hard to make amazing tech products, it’s about time that someone made an amazing power solution.