When John Borofka was living in San Jose, Calif, and visiting his girlfriend in San Francisco on weekends, he dreaded the routine of remembering to move his bedside table, unplug his phone charger, wrap it up and toss it in his travel bag.
Forgetting to do that enough times sparked the 31-year-old entrepreneur to envision someday building a bag with the charger already in it.
Today, Borofka is in Seattle and he’s running a tiny company called Poros, which is out to solve a big problem for people who are wedded to their devices but don’t always have a power source at hand.
“If you think about how much of our world is really built around our mobile devices, it’s so much more than communicating,” Borofka said. “It’s ordering that Uber, helping you navigate when you’re out for a run, paying for things with Google Wallet and Apple Pay and all these things. These mobile devices are a huge part of our life.”
Poros’ goal is to be the next thing you can’t live without. It’s about about taking something many of use daily — a school backpack or work briefcase or travel duffel — and incorporating the technology that deals with the challenge of keeping a phone or tablet or laptop adequately charged no matter where you are.
Borofka, who studied mechanical engineering and material science at Duke University, had his aha moment while working in strategy and finance at Zero Motorcycles, makers of fully electric bikes out of Scotts Valley, Calif. In five years there, he watched the company grow from a niche product to a 130-person company doing $15 million in revenue off a full product portfolio.
“So much of what drove that was actually the advancement of the lithium ion battery,” Borofka said. “If you look at the way the energy density increased, the power density increased, the discharge rates, all these things were happening that made lithium ion batteries much more powerful and much more empowering to consumers to actually drive these motorcycles.”
Borofka started on his bag-building quest by tearing apart existing bags and putting his tech package inside of them to see if it was a product people wanted. When he determined that it was, he set out to design and build bags for that need.
Along the way there was an Indiegogo campaign that raised $12,000 and by December 2014 he was working full-time on Poros, bootstrapping it all the way.
A range of products have been in market for a year now, and Borofka and a small team currently work out of a space in Pioneer Square where they keep inventory, industrial sewing machines and even a 3D printer.
Borofka said the goal was always to make an attractive and useful bag first and build the technology into it without having it scream “tech!”
“You have to get people interested and excited on the look and the bag part, and the technology is the part that they appreciate later,” Borofka said.
Put it to the test
Getting my own hands on one and using it for the past couple months proves Poros has found success on both counts.
The backpack I’ve been testing as my daily work bag is both simple in its design while also coming across as pretty rugged. The heavy chrome zippers against the sturdy black fabric give the Tetra bag a clean, industrial look and feel.
My daily phone usage before the bag required a charger in a number of different locations — on my nightstand at home, on the kitchen counter, in the car and on my desk at work. The Poros bag hasn’t managed to replace any of those — I still use them all daily for my iPhone 6.
But the bag has saved me on multiple occasions where getting to a power source would have been inconvenient or impossible. I charged during a meeting I covered at Seattle City Hall; I charged on a hike over Fourth of July weekend; I charged throughout the GeekWire Sports Tech Summit at Safeco Field; I charged on a sailboat while on the water for 8 hours last week.
The bag weighs about 3 pounds, and 9 ounces of that is the technology. In the front tech pocket, the 10,000mAH cell is sewn right into the bag and feels to be about the size of two decks of cards side by side. There is a dedicated Apple lightning cable plus a USB cable so you can charge for a friend. There’s also a power cord to charge the bag itself.
Depending on your phone, the battery will get you four to six full charges, form zero to 100 percent, or two tablet charges, or one full MacBook charge. Over the life of the battery and bag — whichever wears out first — you’re looking at about 1,000 full charges on the cell, which would power your phone back up about 6,000 times.
If the cell gets to zero power, it’ll take about 7 hours to get it back to 100 percent. I haven’t managed to do that in the time I’ve been using the Tetra.
For a retail price of $149, the bag is spendier than a powerless pack, obviously. If I was to design in a couple extras, I might look to add an elastic-style pouch on one side that could hold a water bottle or coffee tumbler. And I’ve grown to like bags that have a sternum strap, so the bag stays put.
Right now the bags are available mostly online, although a few retailers are carrying them. In Seattle, you can have a look at Ian on 2nd Avenue in Belltown, Hammer and Awl in Madrona, and The Traveler on Bainbridge Island.
I’ve lived for as long as I’ve been married to my iPhones by getting through the day on existing power or finding a source when desperate. But that’s no reason to shun convenience when it comes along, and since I’m already using a bag daily to carry a laptop or lunch or whatever, why not carry one with a lithium ion battery inside of it?
For Borofka, the challenge for his small company is to get more people to see and learn about the bags and then decide that they need what he’s selling.
“We are starting to see some pick-up from people hearing about and seeing the products being used firsthand by others, which is a great sign for us,” Borofka said. “We are a relatively new company, but even during the last year and a half, there seems to be a bit of a sea change from ‘Oh, that’s a neat idea’ to ‘Yes, that’s a feature I want in my next bag.'”
As far as competitors are concerned, certainly there are plenty of ways to charge on the go with battery packs that aren’t integrated into bags. One company, named Ampl, was pushing “the world’s smartest backpack” on Indiegogo, where it raised $270,000, but appears to have run into some delays. Borofka points to a company called Tylt as a legitimate contender in the space, with a bag that sports the same size cell as the Poros line.
Poros, by the way, is the Greek god of expediency. Borofka thinks it fits the brand well.
“It’s this idea that we’re on the go, you don’t want to slow down to charge. That’s sort of the way that our lives are.”