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Stimulating interviews with industry power players
On a camping trip in Utah’s desert in 2007, a pair of young engineering students–David Toledo and Paul Slusser—became frustrated when their portable speaker’s battery died and they could no longer play their beloved Celtic death metal while toasting marshmallows over the fire. The lightbulb went off and they embarked on a plan to harness the power of heat (thermoelectrics) to charge electronics. Four years later, the PowerPot was born to solve the basic problem of keeping stuff charged when there’s no wall plug nearby. In 2013, Matt Ford left his job at Experticity, which connects influencers (primarily retail shop employees) with brands. Ford’s first order of business: raise money and target influential retailers to build traction for this intriguing product that generates power while it cooks your dinner.
SNEWS:True or false? Power Practical would not be alive and well if not for Kickstarter.
MF: True. When you have nothing but an innovative idea and a handful of working prototypes, but no money to build inventory, crowdfunding is your ticket to building a real business. Putting your product out to the crowd to see if they will vote for it with their wallets has proven to be an amazing tool for us. A successful campaign shows you have a marketable product, then it funds the development, creates a marketing engine, and can create on-going sales opportunities. Crowd funding fills the gap between a good idea and something to sell. Traditionally, if you have a good idea you need money to build samples, find buyers and build inventory. Usually your only option is to empty your bank account or ask your friends and family for money. Because it’s pretty hard to get a bank or investors to give you money for a good idea without any proof of concept. Crowdfunding is the ultimate way to achieve proof of concept, and to date we have since launched five campaigns that have raised over $1 million.
SNEWS: Tech products are exploding in the outdoors, so being in the business of making and storing power seems a good place to be. Being innovative is key to staying relevant, though. What will be the next big thing for outdoor tech?
MF: The need to have power at the ready is not going away and is getting more complex. Devices we all use are getting bigger and the power requirements are changing, making current systems for generating and storing power too slow and inefficient. I believe we have a solid vision for a portable power ecosystem – how generators, batteries and accessories need to work together.
I don’t think that anyone has truly cracked the code yet. Portable devices like solar panels and thermoelectric generators (TEG) take a long time even in ideal conditions to create enough juice to charge your devices. And, most batteries don’t charge devices as fast as they can be charged. Being tethered to panel or TEG for ~6 hours is just not efficient. We are working on ways to solve that problem – so in 1 hour or less you can fill up your battery and have meaningful power to keep your stuff running. Our Pronto batteries are a perfect example. We developed circuitry and a power source paired with high end cells to charge a 13,500 mAp battery in 1 hour. Typically, batteries of this size take 6 to 10 hours to wall charge, so this was a huge breakthough for busy people on the run.
SNEWS: We gotta talk Shark Tank. How did being in the tank and getting all that exposure help the company? Now that Mark Cuban is part of the company, how have things changed? Any regrets?
MF: Shark Tank has been a great experience – definitely no regrets. It’s amazing how many people watch that program and how many people associate our company with Shark Tank. The exposure has definitely created opportunities like with larger retailers looking to create merchandising around the Shark Tank brand.
Mark Cuban in particular has been extremely valuable – mostly through the infra-structure resources he makes available to us, like accounting, product development, credit, legal. But he also works to bring us opportunities with retailers and distributors. But it’s not a handout. You definitely have to stand on your own two feet.
SNEWS: You often hear that venture capitalists come in and want to make changes that don’t always jive with the heart of the brand. Has this ever been a problem with Cuban?
MF: The short answer is no – he is not about telling us how to run our business, but when we ask for advice he is quick to give it. Cuban asks for regular updates on the business – every couple of weeks. It’s a simple format outlining what’s good, bad, sales, product development and general updates. He usually responds pretty quick with feedback and its short and sweet and to the point. He is a super smart guy and breaks things down very quickly. He expects that you will grow your own business, and he will support your growth and remove barriers when he can. But he’s not a soft-glove mentor. He’s brash, bold, and tells it like he sees it. That sort of tough love has worked really well for us.
If there’s a C-level industry personality you’d like to hear from, or if you inhabit the corner office yourself and have some stories to tell, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.