She is Maxine Ang Bishko, a Singapore-based pet enthusiast and self-proclaimed “Chief Animal Slave” to all the fur-kids who have touched her life. The 32-year-old Singapore-based pet enthusiast is launching her Kickstarter campaign for the Modpod, a modular design furniture system for, obviously ‒ cats. The “furniture cats can finally use” would enable “humans and cats to cohabitate while allowing everyone from shoebox to big spaces to maintain a stylish décor in their homes”, is how she puts it.
While it functions as a coffee table, bed, or bookshelf, these boxes also function as a hideout and a nest for four-footed inhabitants of the house.
A Journey In Time
Her journey as a sassy entrepreneur and, inventor to this point started back in 2007. “My mother is a huge animal lover. She used to bring chickens from her kampung into our new home, as well as her pet dogs she had adopted as strays.” Maxine grew up in a veritable menagerie with guinea pigs, hamsters, rabbits, tortoises, fishes for pets. No cats though.
All that changed when “I found my first cat, a kitten in the school canteen when I was studying in Nanyang Polytechnic. He was abandoned little thing, sitting in a cardboard box together with two of his siblings. I took him home and named him Cadbury.” Over the years, the rest of her family promptly too got involved finding strays in drains, bushes, even construction sites. They all took on the task of fostering, neutering and re-homing many of them. “Many of them did not get adopted, so they stayed with us and are now part of our family.”
It’s obvious she had vested interest when she started a pet supply business around 2007. This was when online shopping was a relatively new concept, but she soon realised that – apart from filling a need amongst pet owners to have heavy and bulky pet supplies delivered to their doorstep, being in the business brought a huge benefit – helping her to feed her growing brood of strays.
The business grew and after eight years, she specialised in the distribution of all-natural food products from USA, Japan, Malaysia and Taiwan into Singapore. Being in the business also opened many pathways for Maxine and, she soon saw a nice little niche where she could entrench herself happily ‒ for a while at least.
She sought to design and manufacture furniture that cats and humans could use together. Maxine says: “Growing up in Singapore and becoming accustomed to living in small quarters, I wanted to change the way we all live with our pets.”
Over the course of time, Maxine found herself busy sketching and designing an all-inclusive modular furniture that would allow her family and her brood of cats to enjoy. Memories of how her household furniture was decimated by their eager claws propelled her in the development of the ultra-strong Modpod system.
Research & Development
By 2016, the first sketches for these modular and configurable pieces came to light. Then there were the many edits and versions – from colour, to minute details (including sleek joints) required to assemble the pieces. She notes that every 0.01mm change affected the product’s durability, safety and strength.
Multiple visits to factories in 2017 to discuss prototype manufacturing resulted in copious design changes. A year-and-a-half later, her design finally saw the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel ‒ the final design was on hand Maxine’s own pets to pounce on it.
Preparing for the Kickstarter launch produced another set of problems. The Modpods were being produced in Shenzhen, China, in a factory known for producing prototypes for other Kickstarter projects too. Shipping the models to customers around the world soon proved to be a bug-bear as her product weighed in at three kilos per cube. To keep costs down, the team wrestled with the problem and eventually managed to set up a sensible logistical infrastructure.
Finally, at the beginning of this year, the Modpod took off at a Kickstarter pledge of US$49 per cube. It was launched in mid-July this year to the general public on Kickstarter.
Closing The Gap
On her personal life, Maxine revealed that she got married in Oahu, Hawaii in the middle of last year. The Singapore-side-of-ceremonies were held in February this year, fortunately, before the advent of the country’s Covid19 Circuit Breaker.
“It was a long-distance romance spread over the past five years. We are currently seeking to close the gap… for me to move to Hawaii, where hubby Brian is based as a US Marine,” she says with a deceptively coy smile.
Of the future, Maxine says: “I hope that Modpods will be able to one day also provide a shelter for all the stray cats and little animals out there on the streets, no matter which part of the world they are from.”
Never one to turn her back on the less fortunate cats roaming the streets, Maxine has already made a pledge with her Kickstarter launch. She says: “Our Kickstarter launch allows backers to pledge Modpods to El Nido, Philippines, to help the El Nido Cat Sanctuary build their shelter. The Modpods will be sent directly to them. This is our first step toward changing the way strays live.”
Just as the journey for the design, building and production of the Modpods take on a life of its own, Maxine will embark on her next chapter of her life too.
While she is a born and bred Singaporean (“I have no intention to give up my Singapore citizenship”, Maxine quips), she is nonetheless looking forward to joining Brian, in Hawaii. She adds: “It is an exciting journey to be part of the huge military community, and to start a life in another part of the world.”