How This Firefighter Invented A $3.6M Product That Prevents Kitchen Fires

$304,000
revenue/mo
2
Founders
7
Employees
product
FireAvert
from Utah
started June 2012
$304,000
revenue/mo
2
Founders
7
Employees
1.5M
alexa rank
224
followers
platform
reviews
social media
accounting
payments
analytics
design
stock images
fulfillment
crm

Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

My name is Peter Thorpe and I started FireAvert. We sell a few different products that prevent fires, but our main product is one that plugs into your oven and prevents the #1 cause of fires, unattended cooking.

FireAvert technology syncs to the sound of the smoke detector and will automatically cut power to the stove and range if the smoke alarm goes off.

We mostly sell to multi-family property owners and senior living properties. We do have an e-commerce presence, but the B2B side is where we do 95% of our business. We did over $2 million in revenue in 2018 and should double that in 2019.

how-this-firefighter-invented-a-3-6m-product-that-prevents-kitchen-fires

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

I’m a full-time firefighter in Provo, Utah, and that’s where I saw the need for FireAvert. I went on so many fire calls where someone simply forgot they were cooking, and I thought to myself, “There has to be a solution to this!”

Unattended cooking is the #1 cause of fires, and as a firefighter, I saw this first-hand. I decided that I could solve this problem and started on this adventure of creating something that would stop the needless destruction.

I didn’t always envision myself as an entrepreneur. When I was in high school I was a lifeguard and we had an incident where paramedics had to come to help someone who had been injured at the pool and I thought to myself, “I want to be like them.” So after graduating I went to paramedic school and got certified as a firefighter.

Unattended cooking is the #1 cause of fires, and as a firefighter, I saw this first-hand. I decided that I could solve this problem and started on this adventure of creating something that would stop the needless destruction.

It was a difficult decision because I have a young family, and my first responsibility is to them, and I knew it wouldn’t be easy to start a business. When I had the idea of starting this business I made sure to talk with my wife about it. Having her on board and fully supportive was critical, and she’s been a key part of our success.

Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.

When I decided to start FireAvert I partnered with some engineers to help with the design and prototypes. The engineer that I ended up partnering with I met at my church. When I first decided that I wanted to start this business I remembered that a member at my church was an engineer/entrepreneur so I talked with him. He loved the idea and decided to come on board.

We brainstormed different ways that the device could work and settled on using the smoke alarm as a signal. We have a current model that plugs in behind the stove and syncs to the sound of the smoke detector, but have plans to alter this slightly so we can get into some different markets.

The most important thing a new entrepreneur can do is to not think they have all the answers. You need to prototype quickly and get in front of customers as soon as you can. The customer will tell you what they need. You shouldn’t assume that you have all the answers.

We have not had much change in regards to product design since made our first model. The product is plugged into a 220 volt outlet so it has to be sufficiently large and sturdy to withstand the voltage, which means there is not a lot of flexibility is design. Where we have made the most changes is in the circuit board and how the program works. Our first version of FireAvert only recognized smoke alarms that had a three beep cadence. This limited us because it shrunk our potential market, but it gave us a good minimum viable product that we could build off. Once we had established that first version we went back and changed the program to recognize other smoke alarm sounds and that became our FireAvert 2.0.

We did a lot of business competitions to gain funding and publicity. At our first competitions, we didn’t even have a working prototype-we just bought some supplies from Home Depot and put together a little box that we could show people.

It was at those business competitions that we found more validation for the idea and started to gain some good partners and mentors. It was through the mentors and partners that we were able to find our manufacturer in China, and they have been great to work with.

how-this-firefighter-invented-a-3-6m-product-that-prevents-kitchen-fires

Describe the process of launching the business.

Originally, we thought that e-commerce was going to be how we sold this product, so we built out our website and started doing Google Adwords to try and drive business.

We also were privileged to present on Shark Tank, and that was a powerful event for us. Shark Tank is great because it instantly gives you more credibility, and we had over 11,000 visitors to our website the day the episode was initially aired, and every time there is a rerun we see a boost in traffic.

I’ve always said that being a firefighter is the best career for an entrepreneur. I work two days a week at the station, and then the rest of the week I can work on my business. There is also a lot of downtime when I’m working a shift so I can work on business things then as well.

It was an interesting experience being on Shark Tank. What the viewers see is just a small portion of the whole presentation and negotiations. I think I was with them for over an hour showing the product, discussing the business plan, and negotiating with the sharks.

Entrepreneurs go on the show to get funding and exposure, but it’s still a TV show and people want to be entertained, so they really only show the most exciting parts. I also think the sharks wear earpieces and the producers tell them to ask specific questions to tease out the emotive parts of that specific entrepreneur’s journey and build the pathos of the show.

The sharks were tough, but it has been worth it because of the credibility we get because consumers have a natural trust for products and services that were on Shark Tank.

how-this-firefighter-invented-a-3-6m-product-that-prevents-kitchen-fires

Despite our efforts to sell online, we did not see the success that we wanted. At around this same time we went to our first tradeshow and found that the multi-family industry was where we would really explode.

Property owners have a lot of fires every year and want to protect their investments so they have been a perfect market for us. We now go to 4-5 trade-shows a year that focus on multi-family and senior living property owners.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

The best thing we have done to attract customers is to attend trade-shows. We meet a lot of decision-makers at these shows and are able to build connections and relationships with them at the events and then follow up with them after the shows. Because FireAvert can be a large investment for them the sales cycle can be quite long, but this is where we have the most success.

To have success at trade-shows you first need to define what your goal is. For us, we want to gain more leads and strengthen relationships with the decision-makers we met at previous shows. Being proactive and engaging is key to success. We see so many other businesses with booths at the trade-shows that are passive at the shows. When we go to shows we make sure to have a booth that is on a corner so we get the most traffic and try and talk with everyone that passes by. While other booths are just sitting down waiting for people to ask them questions we are up and about initiating the conversations.

Retaining customers is a little different. The product lasts for 30+ years so the customer does not need to repurchase. Where we have seen the best retention is by ensuring the product is the very best we can make it.

When a multi-family property buys FireAverts to put in one of their buildings they are doing the first purchase as a test run. If everything goes smoothly for them they are more likely to purchase more and put them in the rest of their portfolio.

So the best way to retain customers and make repeat customers is to provide a high-quality product and excellent customer service.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

Our future looks very bright. We are on track to almost double our revenue this year because we recently launched a FireAvert for gas stoves, which enables us to reach more customers.

We are also in the process of developing a couple of new products that we are very excited about. One of them is a FireAvert that will be the actual outlet in the wall, instead of a large brick-like device that gets plugged in and placed in the void space behind the stove.

This new product will help us install FireAvert as a new apartment is being built. We also have plans to make FireAvert smart home enabled and start to work into the insurance market.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

I’ve always said that being a firefighter is the best career for an entrepreneur. I work two days a week at the station, and then the rest of the week I can work on my business. There is also a lot of downtime when I’m working a shift so I can work on business things then as well.

Another thing we have come to learn is that building good relationships with customers and always doing what you can to resolve any problems they may be facing is critical to having success.

We have had situations where we sent product to a customer that was not working as desired and the customer was upset because of the amount of money they invested into FireAvert. In almost every situation we have been able to save the relationship and provide the customer with what they need, and this is because we focus so much and being consumer-centric and providing them with the absolute best product.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

For our B2C side of the business, Shopify has been really great. Most of our business is on the B2B side, but Shopify has been really good for our ecommerce business. Shopify is really easy to use because you don’t need to have any web development knowledge.

For our B2B side of the business, we use Hubspot as our CRM. We started out using Pipedrive because it was cheaper, but found that we needed a more robust system. Hubspot allows our sales team to be more productive by using workflows and drip campaigns, and it also helps with other online marketing efforts such as emails, web forms, blogs, and so on.

Google Sheets has also been an invaluable resource. When funds are tight cheap is good. We’ve been able to use Google sheets for inventory and shipping management which has helped us use allocate capital elsewhere.

We’re starting to see that for us to scale significantly we will need to get a dedicated inventory management program, but for the early stages, the Google Suite has been fantastic.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

The most important thing a new entrepreneur can do is to not think they have all the answers. You need to prototype quickly and get in front of customers as soon as you can.

The customer will tell you what they need. You shouldn’t assume that you have all the answers. If you are customer focused you will be much more successful as an entrepreneur.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

We just hired a full-time in-house engineer to help with product development and do not have any immediate needs, but may be looking for a new member to join our sales team in the fall/winter.

Where can we go to learn more?

-  
Peter Thorpe,   Founder of FireAvert

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