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Today’s fire’s burn five times hotter five times faster and produce smoke 400 times more deadly than ever before. Firefighters have less time to save lives and property, uh, that we’re tasked with on an everyday basis. In addition to that, while doing that job incident commanders don’t have the ability in real time to know who other personnel is in and out of a structure, which is paramount for safety.
Jay Clouse: 00:00:29
The startup investment landscape is changing and world class companies are being built outside of Silicon Valley. We find them talk with them and discuss the upside of investing in them.
Jay Clouse: 00:00:41
Welcome to upside.
Jay Clouse: 00:00:56
Hello. Hello. Hello and welcome to the upside podcast, the first podcast dedicated to startups outside of Silicon Valley. I’m Jay Clouse. I’m joined by my co-host, Mr. Swedish fish himself, Eric Hornung. How are you doing Eric?
Eric Hornung: 00:01:11
I am gorging on Swedish fish. That’s how I’m doing and it is fantastic. I’ll say that Swedish fish are in my top three candies of all time and we’re sitting here. We’re recording, I’m about to run to lunch. I haven’t eaten all day. It’s 2:30 in the afternoon and Jay goes, hey, I’m early let’s, let’s hop on the podcast. So I haven’t eaten. I’ve eaten well. I haven’t eaten any real food. I’ve only eaten about 500 Swedish fish. That’s where I’m at today, Jay.
Jay Clouse: 00:01:42
Yeah, but look at what we get to do instead. You know who needs sustenance when we provide such substance to our listeners here. I also, when I said how you doing and you said I am gorr, I thought you were gonna say gorgeous, and I was I was I was ready to dispute that.
Eric Hornung: 00:01:59
That’s how you looking, that’s a different question. You got to start with how you lookin’. You have a favorite candy? That’s a real question. I don’t I don’t think I’ve ever seen you eat candy.
Jay Clouse: 00:02:09
That’s surprising because I have one of the sweetest of tooth teeth. Tooth is not the plural of teeth of tooth. One of the sweetest teeth that you’ll ever come across. I Love Candy. I think there are two camps when it comes to candy. You have the chocolate camp and you have the gummy camp and I am all in on the gummy camp, so
Eric Hornung: 00:02:29
I’m on gummy camp too.
Jay Clouse: 00:02:29
I’m with you on the Swedish fish. I’m a big peach rings advocate. Big lifesavers gummies advocate.
Eric Hornung: 00:02:36
You know how when you were a kid there was summer camp and I’m the one camp on one side of the lake and one camp on the other. I just imagine as you said, chocolate camping gummy camp. Those are just two warring factions across a lake and like pre-pubescent childhood. That’s where my brain went.
Jay Clouse: 00:02:52
It was actually the only recently I never did summer camp as a kid. I did a one week camp that was just a couple of hours a day called camp in choir and it was kind of like, students who did really well academically they got to go to this special, like continued learning camp. It was only recently that I realized that summer camp was created because adults don’t have summer. My parents were high school teacher so it had summer and it really wasn’t until recently that I understood why summer camp was a thing.
Eric Hornung: 00:03:20
Because there is no summer and because some parents just don’t want to deal with their children.
Jay Clouse: 00:03:24
Yeah, no, I get it now. I get it. Alright, well off of the candy train and into while we’re all here at upside. We have another conversation for you guys. Another interview with the founder outside of Silicon Valley. Today we’re talking with Michael Maher. He is the founder and CEO of three firefighters. He is a, a firefighter himself. You said 17 years of public service as a career firefighter and paramedic. So thank you to Michael first of all for his service. That’s fantastic. Three firefighters develops tools and equipment that helps make firefighting safer and more effective by augmenting your manpower. Their premier product is called the Door Boss and it’s something that fixes to the door frame as the firefighters are entering a home and it allows to control the flow of air into the burning home because air going into a burning home is what feeds the flames and makes the house go up in flames faster. This is the way to fight that,
Eric Hornung: 00:04:24
So I want to give the listeners a little background. As the podcast has grown, we’ve had to go from personal recommendations to great founders, which is still how we bring on most of our guests. But we also have been getting inbound submissions, which is incredible because it’s. Yeah, it’s It’s so awesome because we get these companies coming to us, which is really, really cool. This is the first company that has come to us that we haven’t either found on Twiitter or found through a connection or found in our research that came to us and went through, I guess a screening call and just blew us away. So Jay has not had the chance to speak with Michael one-on-one, but I did have the chance to learn a little bit about their story beforehand.
Jay Clouse: 00:05:15
Three firefighters is based in Zanesville, Ohio, which is just outside of Columbus here. And actually after you’d had your conversation, I realized that I had seen Michael Pitch once before here in Columbus during Columbus Startup Week at a pitch competition and his bitch blew me away. I thought, I thought it was a really, really well formed itch and very informative. So I’ve seen the product in action actually on a small model door and it’s really interesting. It’s an industry. I mean, Eric, I don’t think either one of us would claim to know much about firefighting or the struggles of that, but Michael is a career firefighter and I’m interested. I think this will be a very unique conversation we’re about to have.
Eric Hornung: 00:05:55
Yeah. One of the things I like about this is targeted at Michael, but it also kind of expands to the startups we talked to is when people that are insiders come up with a product or solution that meets a problem that everyone in the industry knows exists and no one outside of it knows it exists. And I think that this is one of those kind of ideas.
Jay Clouse: 00:06:18
Totally. It’s the complete antidote to what Andrew Goldner told us in our conversation recently, which is 42 percent of companies that fail fail because there’s no market need. When something is built by an insider to solve a need they’re facing as a practitioner. That’s awesome. The biggest question at that point is, okay, how big is the market size and how do you go to market? And part of what part of what made Michael’s hitched to us compelling to bring them onto the show. In his initial email, he gave us a lot of statistics and information. He said, this could save up to 3000 lives and 14.3 billion dollars in property loss annually. If those numbers are true and we can substantiate that, that’s pretty significant. That’s a big market size and that’s a lot of actual lives that can be impacted positively by this technology.
Eric Hornung: 00:07:05
Do you have any shadows heading into the conversation before we jump in?
Jay Clouse: 00:07:08
My biggest shadow in question here is understanding how the actual procurement process would work because a lot of fire stations are related to the city governments. City governments have a procurement process which is often not easy and budgeting and getting into city budgets is difficult. They have to carve that money out from somewhere and they usually have to go through an RFP process to actually engage a vendor once the vendor is in their system. As a vendor. That could be someone that sells the city, so you know, in my short time as entrepreneur resident with Smart Columbus, I learned a little bit about that process. And I’m interested to hear Michael’s approach because I’m sure from just the pure firehouse and firefighters side of things, they love to have this tool. How do you get it to them? One from making them aware and then two actually get it in their hands and get paid for it.
Eric Hornung: 00:07:58
Absolutely. The political side of things is my biggest shadow as well. So hopefully we get to manage that in the conversation with Michael. You’re ready to jump in?
Jay Clouse: 00:08:06
Yep. Absolutely. And before we jump in and talk to Michael, I wanna remind you guys, if you are somebody who thinks you could be a good guest for our show, certainly email us the way that Michael did. firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also connect with us on twitter. We’d love to hear from you whether about this specific episode or about our show in general. You can tweet at us @upsideFM. We’d love to make this a conversation and learn what you’re thinking and what you’re hearing from our guests like Michael. All right, let’s do it.
Jay Clouse: 00:08:31
Michael, welcome to the show.
Michael Maher: 00:08:36
Appreciate the opportunity. This is a big fan of the, uh, upside podcast and big honor to be here.
Eric Hornung: 00:08:43
We appreciate those kind words, man. We like to start off our podcast with a kind of question about the founder, kind of taking you back to your roots to get an understanding of who you are. So can you tell us about the history of Michael?
Michael Maher: 00:08:55
Sure. So I’m a career firefighter and paramedic with 20 years of public service experience. Being a public servant and firefighter medic is all I ever wanted to do. I think if you ever speak to one of us, we can reflect back to when a parent, grandfather, or grandmother took us to our first firehouse and just fell in love with it. I can honestly say I’ve never wanted to do anything else but serve the public in my capacity. It’s all been a big honor over the last two decades. Can’t believe it’s gone this fast. We do a lot of good things for the public, obviously, and great recognition. Loved my career.
Eric Hornung: 00:09:31
When did you go to your first firehouse?
Michael Maher: 00:09:34
Went to my first firehouse when I was about five years old. It was at station 17 right there in the hilltop of Columbus where I grew up with my parents and one of the firefighters was of course kind enough to invite me and put me in the front seat of the engine and at that point it was just, It was on from there.
Eric Hornung: 00:09:50
Did they have a pool that you got to slide down?
Michael Maher: 00:09:52
I don’t. I don’t recollect that. I’m sure that would have been fine. I would’ve liked that.
Jay Clouse: 00:09:57
Second question on the cliche firehouse questions front. Was there a Dalmatian?
Michael Maher: 00:10:03
There was. There was. I do remember that and early in my career we actually had a Dalmatian at our department Blaze, rest his soul. He was a great for a pr with kids and pr and general. He retired probably about five or six years ago. Went home with one of the senior firefighters and no finished out his life and comfort and very happy about that.
Jay Clouse: 00:10:26
Blaze is a great name for a firehouse dog?
Michael Maher: 00:10:29
It was. He was a good good, good boy. Did the stop drop and roll and you take them out to the PR as kids obviously loved them and we miss him.
Jay Clouse: 00:10:37
What is it about Dalmatians that make them firehouse dogs? Is there something that’s that their breed is predisposed to?
Michael Maher: 00:10:43
I don’t know. It definitely is a symbol of a of the fire department. Blaze was good for us so I could testify to his public service.
Jay Clouse: 00:10:51
You mentioned that a lot of people who get into public service have a family member that started there and that’s where the interest came from. Who in your family was the one that either ignited that interest for you or took you to the firehouse the first time?
Michael Maher: 00:11:03
I remember my mom told me at a very young age. I have a two and a four year old now, so I’m experiencing all those delights of being a parent of a toddler and what their interests are. Of course, you know, my four year old frequently talks about coming to the firehouse, which he does and set up some small pieces of equipment and put on his outfit and you know, we have a lot of fun together as good memories that, you know, we will have together forever, but I think it was my, my dad, you know, I think, you know, growing up in the hill top of Columbus, you know, we passed a firehouse obviously. Begged him to take me in. I’m sure he relented one day and did it. That’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. I mean, I’m fascinated with firetrucks as a small kid and just fell in love with it and never looked back really.
Eric Hornung: 00:11:45
Besides the public service side of it. What about being a fireman was something that really drew you in?
Michael Maher: 00:11:53
Outside of the public service? I’m not sure if there was anything really more than that. Just, you know, extending a hand to know your community, to be there at a time of need. That’s always been a big deal to me. It sounds cliche, but you know, it’s in your heart. You know, you do this job for two decades like I have and is in many others. It has to be that.
Jay Clouse: 00:12:15
You mentioned that you also serve as a paramedic or with the military. I know that’s kind of a path that you can go within when you enlist. How does that work in the world of firefighting and what was training like for you?
Michael Maher: 00:12:28
Sure, so EMS or Emergency Medical Service, paramedics, EMT are rather synonymous. That is the bulk of what we do in regard to number of responses out of the firehouse. I’m cross trained as both a paramedic and a firefighter at my municipality that’s mandated so you can fulfill all of those roles on an as needed basis. Some department systems throughout the United States in the world, you know, they’re focused on, you know, just fire or just EMS. So that’s the way that’s structured. With regards to my path as a, as a medic after high school age 18 went to Columbus state community college, pursued an associate degree in medical technology there. At the time in which I went through, there were three levels of EMT, basic, intermediate, and paramedic. I achieved all those certifications along with the associate program, was very fortunate at the age of 19 to get a job full time in Delaware county. As you can recollect back in the late 90’s, early 2000’s. Delaware County, Southern Delaware County due to urban sprawl out of Franklin county jobs were just a bond it for me, so I took one with Delaware county ems, worked there for 11 years before moving onto the fire service. It’s been a great career.
Eric Hornung: 00:13:47
All right. One last question on firefighting specifically, are there any misconceptions that people tend to have about firefighting? So many kids grow up and they say, you know, I want to grow up and be a firefighter and we have this almost like deification of the role. Is there anything that you see that people believe about firefighters or the active fighting fire that is different than what they expect?
Michael Maher: 00:14:10
I’ll tell you what I’ve learned most recently. It was, I’ll be turning 40 in December was very much a young man’s game. Let me tell you. It’s a very physical you’re up, you know, we worked 20, I personally worked 24 hour shifts from all 48. The bulk of those 24 hours you’re up serving the public and all hours, you know, based on the response requested. We do a lot of public service at my fire department with regard to extending a hand in the middle of the night with malfunctioning
Eric Hornung: 00:14:50
I have a question on that. So you do 24 hours, how many, how often are you going out on like an emergency run? Is it like once a shift, is it like once, two, three times.
Michael Maher: 00:14:58
Like what’s like an average, let’s say an average, you know, you’re, you’re going to be responding to an emergency on one of the three trucks? No, per my fire department, we have a fire engine, we have a ladder company, a ladder truck, and of course we have the paramedic ambulance unit. It’s all day. You know, one of those three trucks is, is moving rather at all times to some emergency or some call of need from the public.
Eric Hornung: 00:15:25
Jumping back into the idea of it being a young man’s game, have you ever been on a calendar?
Michael Maher: 00:15:30
No. You don’t want this young man on a new calendar. I’ll tell ya.
Eric Hornung: 00:15:34
Was just been awesome. If we could have put that in the show notes and
Michael Maher: 00:15:39
Oh no. Not me, not me.
Jay Clouse: 00:15:40
So Michael, obviously you’re on the show because you have a business now that you’ve started. Was entrepreneurship in your family at all or what was your first foray into the world of entrepreneurship?
Michael Maher: 00:15:52
Entrepreneurship is deeply rooted in my family, but not for the last generation before me. When my family immigrated from county, Carlow, Ireland, it was three brothers that established a haberdashery in upstate New York in Utica. In fact, very proud of that. Let me just think about the guts that it would take to leave a nation and your family to come to the United States and just make it. And now that’s why it makes America beautiful today, it’s where a nation of immigrants that someone in our family 100 years ago or less, had the guts to come over and make a better life for themselves. I have a really cool story. My wife and I vacation in 2012 to to Ireland and because of my uncle is an awesome at Genealogy, he’s educated me a lot about my ancestry there, so of course we went to County Carlow. Just by happen stance, we went by a firehouse. I met the fire captain there who was very welcoming and just had a really good day of it and really didn’t take much more of it until I founded the company in
Eric Hornung: 00:17:40
That’s cool. My family’s from county Claire. So right down the road.
Michael Maher: 00:17:40
Yeah. Beautiful. Beautiful place. So how I got into entrepreneurship with my company, Three Firefighters LLC is there was a problem, two problems in fact in the fire service that I believe wholeheartedly that I have solved. And I knew I could do it from the beginning and it’s been an arduous road, but I’m proud of that because that’s what it takes.
Jay Clouse: 00:17:40
So what are those two problems that you’re solving?
Michael Maher: 00:17:40
So the modern fire environment, which is composed of a couple of variables only. Let me just tell you this. Today’s fires burn five times hotter five times faster and produce smoke 400 times more deadly than ever before. Firefighters have less time to save lives and property that we’re tasked with on an everyday basis. In addition to that, while doing that job, incident commanders don’t have the ability in real time to know who other personnel is in and out of a structure which is paramount for safety. So my first product that your boss is anchored at the threshold of the entry and exit point at which firefighters use to go in and fight fire because of where it’s placed. We can easily track firefighters as they enter and exit the structure in real time for use by incident command in post incident for critique, documentation and training.
Eric Hornung: 00:19:03
How does the tracking aspect of that work?
Michael Maher: 00:19:05
It’s very simple, so we have a piece of technology that is sewn or placed into the firefighters garment. Jacket, pants as he or she enters the structure. The tool detects one’s presence as they enter and exit. It can count them in and out in real time.
Jay Clouse: 00:19:23
Was that one of the original aspects of the door boss or was that something that you kinda came to later after you already had the technology to prop the door open?
Michael Maher: 00:19:34
It was ah, I knew I wanted to so solve both of those problems at the same time. But I had to have an anchor. I had to have a tool to seat said technology on first, so that was my first objective is to build out the tool, the door boss that holds the door and mostly closed position, restricting fire growth by limiting the amount of oxygen that can feed fire. Again because of where it’s placed there on the threshold of the door. You can count firefighters in and out in real time,
Eric Hornung: 00:20:01
so why do fires burn so much hotter and much more deadly in the smoke and all the facts you just gave. Why has that changed so much that seeing those seem like some big big junks?
Michael Maher: 00:20:11
Yeah, absolutely. So approximately 30 years ago, manufacturers of goods, the curtains, the carpet, the upholstery or clothing, etc. Again, manufacturing their wires with the use of synthetic materials. These Are all built out of unburned fuel. Essentially it’s petroleum based product, so when you light it on fire, it burns that much hotter, that much faster, and the smoke that these substances produce are so carcinogenic there 400 times more deadly and just decades ago.
Jay Clouse: 00:20:44
I want to say this back to you, make I’m sure tracking on this correctly and make sure our listeners are picturing this correctly. So the door boss is a most like a reinforced rod right? And it fixes to the doorframe and the outside of the door. So the door is at a constant level of opening, some constant distance of open that’s not too open so that less oxygen gets into the door frame.
Michael Maher: 00:20:44
So the door boss. This is a simple tool based by a first arriving firefighter that clamps on to the doorframe. There’s an extension arm off of that clamp that holds the end of the door holding it in a mostly closed position and in specific about an 18 inch gap. That distance was thoroughly investigated at underwriters laboratories and the national institute of standards and technologies to be the most appropriate distance to both allow firehose to deploy into a structure for means of extinguishment. I’ll also limiting the amount of oxygen that can feed fire.
Eric Hornung: 00:21:46
And how was this? How is this done before your boss? So take me back 10 years ago before door vos existed, before anything like this existed, how would you track people in and out? how would you make sure that the door was open? The right amount?
Michael Maher: 00:21:59
So we’ll start about fire control. The flow path control, that’s the science of the key words that are researchable to control fire by limiting the amount of oxygen that can feed it. So, you know, you said 10 years ago in the United States it wasn’t being done a lot and that’s why fire became so much more devastating in the last number of decades to allow underwriters laboratories, the National Institute of Standards and Technologies and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, to investigate the point when available. A set of hands, manual door control was being used. This is actually what was used at the aforementioned studies at ULNS. The problem is manual door control is not practical at 94 percent of fire departments in the United States due to lack of manpower. This makes the door boss a must have at 94 percent of fire departments when the UL science came out. In addition to using a set of hands when available firefighters have been using wooden and plastic wedges. However, if you place the wedge on the outside aspect of the door, the friction from the host simply knocks the door off of the wedge. You place the wedge on the other side you can actually create a trap for a firefighter in an untenable environment, which you never want that. A common hand tools that we use in the fire service have been attempted to be used, but again, they’re easily knocked out of the way. As you can imagine, as we pull that fire hose through the threshold of that door, that door is against swinging wide open allowing that entire channel of air to feed the fire. Now you’ve asked about personal accountability, what has been used and what’s currently being used or what we call personal accountability tags. Let me just walk you through it very quickly. At the beginning of every shift, I have a name tag on the of my helmet that I place on a three by five clacker place on the dashboard of the respect of firetruck that I’m in on that day. Upon arrival to the emergency, the driver of that truck walks that three by five placard, what we call passport over to the incident commander who based on assignment shuffles these placards around a larger board to account for firefighters in real time. The problem is, see you can recognize all of the gaps that can occur. I cannot place my name on the three by five, the three by five, they not make it to incident command for a number of minutes because let’s face it, we’re in an emergency here. A building is literally on fire, people need help, drivers of a firetruck are the most busy of the individuals there for if not the entire scene, but certainly the first couple of minutes. Obviously day fire is more dangerous in the first couple of minutes upon arrival. Incident commanders do not know currently in real time who’s in and who’s out definitively and I have solved that problem.
Jay Clouse: 00:24:46
This is going to maybe be a little in the weeds, but I kind of want to go there so you almost give me like a play by play of what happens once you’re called to a building from like the team level view and how much time is passing during that experience?
Eric Hornung: 00:25:02
Yeah, I just felt I just felt chaos in that last answer. Like I would be scared.
Michael Maher: 00:25:07
No, it’s not chaotic because we’re all trained professionals that are assigned to a seat on each respective truck. That seat has a number of assignments upon arrival with. It’s actually very seamless when we arrived, so you asked me to walk you through. We’re a full full time fire department. You’ve got personnel in the weight to take an emergency upon dispatch. Upon dispatch will assemble at the firetruck very quickly, will dawn our fire gear obviously get on the truck safely, drive to the scene. Upon arrival, each respect of personnel member begins doing their job. I’ll start. I’ll try to be as focused as I can because my department, a fire engine will arrive with three individuals. The driver of the truck and officer in the front and a what we call a third seat man in the back. So the driver obviously arrives after arriving safely, that’s paramount. You know they’re going to establish a water supply and assist the third seat guy getting the hose ready and the front of the structure so it can be effectively deployed into the structure at that time upon arrival, the officers are doing what we call a 360 around the structure. Think of walking around the building to find out what you can see. Maybe there’s someone on the back in the back of the building in a window that needs help immediately. Obviously that becomes priority where you can see where the fire is in the back of the house and say, you know what, instead of going through what may be the front of the structure, it may be more effective to come around the rear and just hit the fire in the kitchen, etc. So after that 360, that officer meets the third seat guy at the front door and begins to deploy what we call an attack line. That first firehose that go into the structure to effectively extinguish the fire and rescue any victims that are insight.
Jay Clouse: 00:27:00
By the time you get to the you get past the 360 to the front of the house to meet the third seat guy. How much time do you think has passed?
Michael Maher: 00:27:07
Well, obviously the biggest variable there is what was the distance to the structure from the firehouse? We assemble to the truck and less than a minute. I think most capacities that have paid departments can get to the structure within six minutes or less. I can testify to that at my department. So we’ll think we’ll take a seven minutes.
Eric Hornung: 00:27:28
Okay, so you’re at the front door and this is the time where your boss comes in? Correct
Michael Maher: 00:27:31
Eric Hornung: 00:27:32
Okay. Talk me through that.
Michael Maher: 00:27:33
So when I built out the door boss, I knew that there are a couple must haves because the A type personalities that firefighters are the A type personality that I am. If you change how I do my job, we’re going to have a really big problem. So I knew that the door boss would have to be and it is compatible with a standard set of tools that firefighters brain to the front of the structure in any way. It can be deployed onto the doorframe using the very same body position, body mechanics that we use to breach a door to crack that door open and in order to go in. So after the 360’s as complete by the officer after he or she meets the a third seat firefighter at the front door, the intel from the 360 is going to be shared. A quick three second plan of how are we going to go in and do this? Even though we’re trained to do it anyway. We’ll touch base, we’ll breach entry in to the structure if necessary. Usually doors are locked, no one’s there to agree to say, hey, come on in, so we’ll get that door open. Within two seconds, we’ll place a door boss on the doorframe will effectively move the hose line in. The last person in line there which would, which would be the officer will simply reach back, place the arm of the door boss and the edge of the door, creating that effective 18 inch gap to restrict the oxygen, able to feed the fire and simply go in and do our job. That we’re trained very well to do, which is extinguished the fire and save lives and property.
Eric Hornung: 00:28:59
So how much testing went into the creation of the door? Can you walk me through like the product development. It sounds like you have a great understanding of how it needs to be used, but what was like version one and what version are we on now?
Michael Maher: 00:29:14
So when the door boss was a napkin sketch, I just knew I didn’t have some sort of clamp and an arm to create that, 18 inch gap that was cited by ULNS. After protecting my intellectual property with a provisional application, I sought out Rev one in Columbus and was admitted into their concept academy. Had a great experience there over two weeks before my due diligence and was referred out to Muskegon county business incubator MTBI at the time, and then moved on to tech growth Ohio where I successfully asked for two rounds of seed funding to fund multiple SOW’s or statements of work to build out the door boss. So you recognize the, uh, idea foundry presence today via the tee shirt. But, um, that’s where I started. You know, I’m proud of, of Columbus, Ohio. I’m proud of the State of Ohio, what we’re doing for entrepreneurship here. And began working with one of the resident companies and groups of engineers to build out the first gen, which was very basic. It was a clamp and an arm and began moving on to three additional revisions. And I’m on a gen 4 right now.
Eric Hornung: 00:30:32
What’s the biggest change between V1 and V4?
Michael Maher: 00:30:37
I think it was the ability to clamp the door boss on the door frame. I had to have something that was ergonomic and quick to deploy, which I’ve successfully done
Jay Clouse: 00:30:49
One more product question. What’s the mechanism for when I’m exiting the building now that it’s been clamped, how do I get out of there without having the same sort of trap that you described with the wedges?
Michael Maher: 00:30:59
Yeah, absolutely. Thanks for asking that question because that’s a question that I’m asked most frequently by firefighters when I demonstrate. The door boss will never trap a firefighter in an untenable environment. A firefighter entering from the outside simply walks through the arm. And that cup on the edge of the door will come off very quickly. If firefighter from the inside, there’s a slap handle on the edge of the the arm of the door boss that on any body position can simply with one swipe of the arm, move that cup at the edge of the door off within less than a second.
Eric Hornung: 00:31:34
When was the first version created? What year?
Michael Maher: 00:31:38
The first gen was created just before the beginning of 2016, I believe it was like December 3rd. It comes out to me because I was just doing a slide deck. Most recently about that December 3rd of 2015.
Eric Hornung: 00:31:53
And when was the first time it was used in the field?
Michael Maher: 00:31:57
So the door boss is currently isn’t being used in the field. However, I have performed multiple tests in a live fire environment, a highly respected training facilities in the United States, uh, sharing the door boss and it’s user ability with decision makers of tools and equipment, uh, multiple large municipalities with great efficacy. All of that started in April of 2017 when I had a model that was very confident and that I could test them in a live fire environment.
Eric Hornung: 00:32:28
And what’s the biggest hindrance to getting it actually out into the field today?
Michael Maher: 00:32:34
I haven’t encountered any hindrance per say, but you know, firefighters are our tool people were very hands on. So if there’s any obstacle that I’ve been able to meet is to get out there and get the tool in the hands of my users, those decision makers of tools and equipment that I cited just a moment ago. You have to be present, you have to get to the academies to to share this, but what is really good for my ability to market the door boss is that we do a lot of online training, a lot of social media channels. firefighters have to train on new tactics, tools and equipment and the fire service and I’m going to be using that with great diligence moving forward.
Eric Hornung: 00:33:17
One of the things that Jay and I like about founders is when they kind of have an inside scoop into the industry that they’re going into. One thing that comes with that is the ability to understand who the real decision makers are. And you alluded to decision makers earlier. I’m curious who are the people at the firehouse or outside of the firehouse who have to be convinced to adapt this into standard operating procedure?
Michael Maher: 00:33:40
So in my tenure as a firefighter, I’ve attend trainings, you know, offsite from the fire department, uh, many, many, many times where I’ve been introduced to new tools and equipment. We get our hands on it, you know, performing the tactics during training and you know, you’d like this tool a little bit better for some reason. You get really excited about it. You know, we’re cool guys, you know, we liked, we’d like to do that and experiment and you come back to the firehouse and you remove the trucks from the truck bay. Your crew assembles out there and you, you know, you share your new piece of knowledge and like guys trained on it and get excited about it. That’s usually how it goes. And you know enough guys get excited about it. They target the decision maker at the fire department, which is maybe a senior firefighter or lieutenant, a captain, you know, maybe the chief and sell them on your ability to do the job better, protect the property and lives of the community better with the use of this piece and hopefully it’s purchased.
Eric Hornung: 00:34:36
So what needs to happen in your mind to get this into the field with the first department.
Michael Maher: 00:34:42
You have going out as I have to training academies and you know, targeting those decision makers that, you know, are our, our drafting literature in the common periodicals and uh, you know, the have the social media channels to get them to get their hands on it and you know, advocate for it. But I’ll tell you, the ability to track personnel and real time is, it’s going to be a game changer. I mean, think of the safety that that will offer and most, especially the post incident critique, you know, why did things go well? Why did things not go well? If you can timestamp your actions and find out what we did right and what we did wrong and real, you know, real time. That’s amazing. I can’t wait to add that to my public service.
Eric Hornung: 00:35:26
So talk to me about these experiences that you’ve had going out to firehouses. Have you just been going out around Ohio? Have you been going around the country? Are there conventions? How do you spread the good word?
Michael Maher: 00:35:38
When I formed three firefighters and began developing the door boss and the accountability technology, I knew that the biggest champion in my space would be underwriters laboratories. So I called them directly and I asked to be placed in contact with the lead investigator of the program that they spent millions of dollars, you know, funding, you know. Why is the modern fire environment so, so devastating? So after his keynote speech at the world’s largest firefighting trade show in April of 2016. I sat down with the lead investigator at underwrite ul’s fire investigation body and share with him what I believe to be the proper solution to ethically he couldn’t. Does not endorse the door boss because it’s a publicly funded entity and program. But I think you’re onto something here, let me introduce you to a number of individuals that may be of assistance going forward and of course utilize those contacts to go to premier fire academies throughout the United States. Targeting those decision makers with tools and equipment. Just went from there. Just a relentless pursuit of getting this in front of individuals that are highly respected in my space. And that would provide the feedback necessary to develop a good product that I have.
Eric Hornung: 00:36:56
So Michael, you’re, you’re working at a firehouse in Zanesville, right?
Michael Maher: 00:37:00
No, no. I work at a firehouse in Delaware county. Southern Delaware county.
Eric Hornung: 00:37:05
So you’re working on this firehouse in Delaware county. You know these guys. These guys trust you, you trust them, you go, you can go into high intensity environments all the time. If you’re looking at these guys and you’re saying, hey, this is going to help save the lives of the people that were helping and you know us. What’s the barrier to doing it first with your firehouse and using that as a case study,
Michael Maher: 00:37:26
There’s no barrier. So that’s my intent. You know, moving forward, I’m raising an angel round right now, leading into a series a to develop the technology that I’ve referenced. I need to fund the first round of production to manufacture the tools and actually get them out there. Right now I have five on hand that I’ve paid for out of pocket to share and I need to get that first run to, to get to get that out there. What I wanted to answer your question about, you know, you referenced tradeshows earlier, I’m really excited about this. So my company was awarded an Ohio image grant in the spring of 20, 2018. So they paid for 50 percent of all initiatives to market your product internationally. So I’ve gone to Germany, returned with LOI’s from two large municipalities there. Also have an LOI in hand with a conglomerate of 16 distributors in the nation of Germany. I’ll be going to the United Kingdom later this month on September 19th to 20th to Europe’s largest firefighting trade show where I have a booth there that all demo, both the door boss accountability technology. What’s really exciting thereafter is I fly from London to Frankfurt to reengage with the president of that conglomerate of distributors there to finalize a relationship. So very, very, very excited about that and I should add that why I’m really excited about entering the European space is that European firefighters have performed door control, limiting the amount of opening up the door for decades and they have the same difficulty with personnel, with the use of tags and bell coach strips. And things too, so they’re very excited about it and look for into fulfilling additional interest formally.
Eric Hornung: 00:39:29
So would you say that you have more interest from Europe than you do America at this point?
Michael Maher: 00:39:29
I’ve used the tools that I have in the bag, so to speak. I had funding to, you know, go over to Europe and get that piece of my market excited. I should add that when I met with the investigator lead investigator of the UL studies, he said, listen, when you have the ability and the funding to get over to Europe, you need to get over there because these guys really get this. And my closest competitor, which is essentially fireproof blanket and hanging rod hung high in the doorway that was invented over in Germany, 80 percent of the population there cohabitates and multiunit dwellings with one common staircase. So that product was used to seal the fire floor off from smoke, allowing those phone other floors to evacuate without loss of life.
Jay Clouse: 00:39:29
So I think if I’m reading between the lines here, you’re saying that the airflow control is a more standard practice in Europe right now the version of the tool you have doesn’t have the technology finished for the tracking aspect, which is something that domestically people seem to be more interested in than the airflow control component?
Michael Maher: 00:39:29
I think they’re interested in, in both, but I’ll tell you, you know, ears really perk up when you talk about the personnel accountability. Underwriters laboratories in this had done a great job educating the United States and the world about airflow control and limiting fire growth. The, uh, the opening at the door that we use when we deploy our hose lines into the structure.
Eric Hornung: 00:41:00
Let’s transition and get into some numbers. I know that you said you’ve only, you only have kind of five right now and you’re looking into production. What are the unit economics on one of these things look like?
Michael Maher: 00:41:11
So on a price point.
Eric Hornung: 00:41:12
You can talk price point, we can talk cost if you want to talk like a buildup approach and we can look at car price after that.
Michael Maher: 00:41:18
What will sell on price point? We want to go to market with a door boss for $1,500 per unit. When I have an MVP, demonstratable MVPfor the technology as we speak, I’m gonna go to obtain market traction with the door boss alone, limiting the amount of variable enter the structure. However, when the technology’s developed, I’m going to sell the door boss in technology as a kit for a set price, so a municipality will receive two door boss units, technology, hardware, software, and a dashboard software to be used by incident commanders in real time during a fire. I’m also going to license that software out to the fire departments on a fee basis per firefighter for ongoing revenue for the company on a monthly basis.
Eric Hornung: 00:42:07
What’s the price of the kid that you would sell to the municipality if they’re receiving those two units and the hardware, the software, the dashboard software,
Michael Maher: 00:42:14
5k for the initial cost for two door boss units and the technology and then licensed per firefighter on a monthly basis thereafter.
Eric Hornung: 00:42:25
What are the costs of some of the other kinds of equipment around a firehouse like how much does a helmet cost? How much does. I know that those aren’t directly related to your product? I’m just curious in terms of magnitude.
Michael Maher: 00:42:37
Sure. As you just stated, all the little small and large pieces of equipment that we have in the firehouse, that spectrum of price point is very large, but through my diligent research, I found that a price point under $2,000 allows most municipalities to not be required to research for bid, which would obviously help.
Jay Clouse: 00:43:00
I was going to ask a little bit about that with with my role with the Smart Columbus team that I had for a short period of time. That was my first foray into understanding how procurement works at a city level, so I’d love for you to just to kind of expand on what you’ve learned in terms of procurement and avoiding going out for bid and if that differs municipality by municipality.
Michael Maher: 00:43:22
Sure. Well each municipality is certainly going to have its own quirks and red tape for sure, but I would say the bulk of fire departments in the United States are three or less fire stations will
Eric Hornung: 00:43:53
so it’s the fire chief that would make that decision. Curious how it goes into the municipalities budget.
Michael Maher: 00:44:00
Ultimately a fire chief makes all decisions, you know, at the firehouse necessarily when it comes to budget. My research has shown that department have a built in number within their budget to purchase tools and equipment at a smaller price point such as mine. Obviously timing, you know, going forward to place the ability to purchase door boss units and said technology. I believe that will be necessary as I scale.
Eric Hornung: 00:44:26
Let’s hit the cost side of things real quick and then I have some questions around just actually let’s do costs. So we talked a little bit out on the price side. What are you projecting when you get to scale? These are going to cost or you can talk margins cost however you want to look at it.
Michael Maher: 00:44:42
Sure. As a, as I get to scale, you know, obviously my costs will go down. I’m really looking forward to get into manufacturing of of 10,000 units that would allow me to mold a number of my parts and the tooling would be the best decision I could I could make at that point in which I would do. I’m happy to tell you that currently as will be the case, even in the future, 50 percent of my tool is off the shelf parts that I can source without having a tool. So if I can tool those other 50 percent when I get to 10,000, that’s going to be great for my company.
Eric Hornung: 00:45:17
And are you planning on manufacturing in America? Are you going to. What’s the supply chain going to look like?
Michael Maher: 00:45:23
Not only will I but must I manufactured in the United States, my market would demand that and I’m very proud to tell you my plan is to manufacture right here in Ohio with the contacts I’ve made through my funding the
Eric Hornung: 00:45:37
So you raised a little over I think $100,000 to this point if I’m correct and I’m just kinda curious where that has gone since. You’re on a raise now is I’m going to project a little bit and you can tell me if I’m wrong. I would assume a good amount went to r and d, a good amount went to marketing and travel and going to these trade shows. Do you have employees? Like how’s the, how’s the rest of that broken out?
Michael Maher: 00:46:01
So, um, I have no employees where the 100 k has gone has been a research and development and ip protection. So after two successful ass with the heart third frontier program, I completed all of my non provisional protecting both domestically and internationally. Again, I’m on my fourth revision of the door boss. It’s where all the, all the money is gone.
Eric Hornung: 00:46:25
You mentioned earlier that you traveled out of pocket. Does that mean you’re kind of extending above and beyond that 100,000 as well?
Michael Maher: 00:46:32
Yeah, I believe I have about $23,000 out of my own pocket into this no funding, you know, ancillary expenses along the way after founding the company and traveling internationally to do that.
Jay Clouse: 00:46:45
So you mentioned that 94 percent of municipalities don’t have the manual manpower to do manual flow control. How many door bosses would each municipality responsibly need? You’re selling them in two packs and I think you mentioned that you have three trucks. What’s, what’s the number that’s common?
Michael Maher: 00:47:03
There are 58,000 fire stations in the United States, each one of which house? Three to five fire trucks. Each one of those have the ability to respond first to a structure fire. So each truck should have a door boss on it as it would need to be placed upon arrival and moving that first fire hose line in for means of extinguishment. Those that know their district, you know very well which all do with know what structures exist within their district and may want to equip their truck with more than one door boss such as a multiunit dwelling large structure.
Eric Hornung: 00:47:41
So building that up into market size, how do you get to your total addressable market?
Michael Maher: 00:47:47
How do I get to my total adjustable market other than, you know, getting to the training academies and in demoing the door boss and getting them excited about it.
Eric Hornung: 00:47:56
How do you categorize your total adjustable market? Like how big is this opportunity?
Michael Maher: 00:48:00
Sure, so again, there was 58,000 fire stations in the United States. Each one of those house, three to five fire trucks, those 139,000 internationally with the same number in each one of those stations. Each one of those would require to stock a door boss on their truck for use. So that’s the total adjustable market there.
Jay Clouse: 00:48:22
Is there any type of legislation or policy that can be crafted or that is crafted around like the state of the art equipment that needs to be used? And do you have any opportunity to help craft that? T
Michael Maher: 00:48:36
Yeah the FPA or national fire protection agency? They mandate certain equipment on a firetruck, you know, per protocol or per suggestion. I’m going to work diligently to share the door boss with an FPA and those decision makers to, of course, try to get the door boss on their per suggestion from such a large body certainly on my radar.
Eric Hornung: 00:49:00
Yeah, I mean through through this interview, you live and breathe this stuff. You’re in it, you. You’ve built this out of a pure need, you’ve done it in a live fire environment and you’ve seen the efficacy. So my biggest, you know, outstanding question after all of this is just what’s stopping you? Why? Why isn’t this employed yet? What needs to happen for this to break for you and become the recommended on each truck tool for airflow control.
Michael Maher: 00:49:26
What I need to do is I need to get funding for the company. I need to successfully earn this next angel round from my company to have that front of production which would allow me to get the door boss in the hands of these decision makers at the academy’s training facilities and fire departments. By doing that, I’m going to create a lot of excitement and you get this in front of those that publish into large periodicals. to get to large masses when a train with this via social media, which is a great channel for marketing within my market and just keep pressing forward. I’ll tell you, everyone that I get the door boss and my technology for accountability in front of is thoroughly impressed and I should add that I’ve only had the latest version of the door boss that I will take to market for the last three months and I’ve been waiting for this grand opportunity in the UK. Again, it’s Europe’s largest firefighting trade show and just keep earning, you know, these opportunities that’ll be attained through my next funding round and I hope to get that as three firefighters has most recently been named by venture Ohio as one of the top 50 startup companies in 2018. At this event will have the ability to demonstrate the door boss and technology in front of multiple investors. I’m also going to fund the conference in Chicago and a third week of October where I hope to earn the ability to get in front of investors there. That is my next step. It’s absolutely necessary to fund first round of production to get these units out there and trained with.
Eric Hornung: 00:49:26
So you’ve mentioned this need for fundraising a few times throughout the interview. How much are you looking to raise and argue raising currently or is this like a we’re going to kick off in a month kind of thing or how’s that looking?
Michael Maher: 00:51:16
The reason why I’m going to the trade show in the UK is I have through my investigation and my market research, rather I found that my consumer would be willing to wait six to eight weeks after order for this new technology where with those purchase orders in hand I could share those with the investors, which will be very exciting or if necessarily necessary rather fun, first round of production through a personal bank loan with those purchase orders in hand and dropship to those first initial clients of mine and move forward.
Jay Clouse: 00:51:49
Why is the company called Three Firefighters?
Michael Maher: 00:51:51
So as I alluded to earlier and my department, it’s a group of three firefighters at first arrived to a fire via the the engine. So it made sense to me and I liked the name and it always spawns a question, well, we know that it’s you right now. Why three? And it kicks off a good conversation.
Jay Clouse: 00:52:10
How long do you think it’ll be? Just you versus what does a team look like under three firefighters? How could that be helpful to you, or is it not necessary?
Michael Maher: 00:52:17
It’s certainly necessary. I’m building out my team right now. I’m going to add two additional members by the end of this quarter that are going to help with sales and training to highly respected guys that I know that I served with on a daily basis and I’m going to integrate into the company. I have a third party sow out there right now for the technology. Again, I have a demonstrated will MVP in hand right now upon taking an investment in the company, I’m going to have a full time CTO on my staff, certainly.
Jay Clouse: 00:52:50
Great. Is there anything, Michael, that we haven’t asked that we should be asking about this?
Michael Maher: 00:52:55
Sure. I was really hoping to delve into, in addition to the ability to save lives and property. No. Why would a fire department want this? Why is it necessary other than the fact that to facilitate the thorough and supported science, 94 percent of fire departments can’t facilitate due to lack of manpower. I need to add that there’s a 67 percent increase in firefighter death or traumatic injuries over the last 30 years, and there’s billions of dollars in direct and indirect costs due to these injuries incurred by municipalities and departments, you know, due to these injuries. If we can decrease the loss of property that occurs, the United States, which by the way is 14.3 billion and decrease losses indirectly indirectly from firefighter injuries annually by billions. There’s multiple reasons why fire department would want the door boss and countability technology.
Eric Hornung: 00:53:47
So when you say 14 point 3 billion in losses, are you referring to like insurance claim? Like what is, what is that?
Michael Maher: 00:53:55
Sure. So on an annual basis, 14.3 billion dollars of property loss occurs. The United States due to fire damage. So if you can decrease fire growth by limiting the amount of air that supplies fire, you can buy firefighters more time to save lives and property. And if you could put the fire out faster, you can save more of the structure. So think of your proverbial $200,000 suburban home, if you can save half of it from burning, you just saved the insurance company $100,000. And the cost and more importantly to me on an intrinsic level, think about that other side of the house that you protect that property for someone. It allows them to call home home, you know, and allow them to return to a normal life that much quicker.
Eric Hornung: 00:54:40
Have you had discussions with insurance companies?
Michael Maher: 00:54:42
I’ve had initial conversations with my insurance so I have a general liability policy of course, you know, from my company, I shared this information with him and uh, we want to continue to target insurance providers with these facts and hopefully, you know, get this kind of a standard and firetrucks and decrease the liability of homeowners, which would directly affect insurance companies.
Jay Clouse: 00:55:07
Michael, thanks again for coming on the show and thank you for your public service. As someone who lives in this area, I very much appreciate the amount of time and sacrifice you’ve made personally to do what you do. After the show if people want to learn more about three firefighters where can they go?
Michael Maher: 00:55:22
Absolutely so you ca go to threefirefighters all spelled out.com. I hope to see a lot of a lot of your audience at the venture Ohio on September 13th. I’ll be at fun conference on October 25th and Chicago, Illinois and reach out to me on twitter @3firefighters and uh, the
Jay Clouse: 00:55:53
Great! Thanks again,
Jay Clouse: 00:55:58
Eric. We just spoke with Michael Maher of three firefighters. Let’s get into the deal memo. Let’s talk about this opportunity is. Talk about the door boss. Let’s talk about the company.
Eric Hornung: 00:56:06
Let’s talk about a phrase we use too much on this podcast, which is starting on second base. Am I right?
Jay Clouse: 00:56:12
Yeah. Too much. I like this phrase, I feel like we use it in appropriate and tasteful amount.
Eric Hornung: 00:56:12
Well, teach their own I guess. I think we need to find a new phrase for it so we can jump around between phrases and it won’t, like we’re just making so many baseball references. We got inside baseball. We got started on second base. I’m sure we have more.
Jay Clouse: 00:56:30
Got to be a home run reference in there somewhere.
Eric Hornung: 00:56:30
Oh yeah. We’ve definitely said that. This is a home run at some point, but looking at Michael, you definitely is starting on second base. There you go. I started it. There it is. Love it.
Jay Clouse: 00:56:42
Yeah. No, I liked that and I liked that about him as a founder of three firefighters obviously, and this is also where my biggest shadow comes in, which we’ll get to a little bit later. There’s my foreshadow on the shadow.
Eric Hornung: 00:56:54
Wow. Uh, foreshadowed shadow. You don’t see that everyday.
Jay Clouse: 00:56:56
Yeah. Wordplay having fun here. I agree. Having him be a lifelong public servant in the fire industry, having those connections is probably the only way to bring this product to market to be honest. So it’s, it’s a good spot for him to be in. Here’s the shadow. All through this interview, we hear lots of versions of the problem that are very clear to me and compelling, right? You have the amount of property damage. $14.3,000,000,000 in property damage. 66% percent increase in injuries over the last 30 years. We have that fires burn five times hotter, faster and produce smoke 400 percent more deadly than ever before. 94 percent of houses don’t have, or 94 percent of fire stations don’t have the manpower to do manual airflow control. These are all really compelling problems. And if they are real problems, I got to know why this isn’t in market, right? And to me the question is, okay, you’re working at this firehouse, what’s the shortest distance to get that firehouse that you’ve been working in for years to put this into the field and use that as your first case study and go out and sell this thing. Because if I’m a fire chief on another station, that’s gonna be my biggest question too. If you’re trying to sell me this product, is your station using it and if not, why not?
Eric Hornung: 00:58:11
I completely agree. That is my biggest shadow as well. I’m wondering if there’s something to do with liability there where it’s an untested product so it just makes getting that first sale so much harder. But you’re right, he’s an insider, so you would expect that he would be able to go to his own fire chief and say, look, I developed this product working on this job, hearing about your problems. Let’s try it out. Or if not in a live fire, it may be in a demo fire. I know that those exist. There are practice runs and all kinds of things, so why not do it with your own fire department in one of those trainings
Jay Clouse: 00:58:45
And he’s talked about, I think you might’ve said that they did a live fire environment here locally. He definitely did it when he traveled back to the homeland. So he’s he’s used this in live fire environment and I’ve seen a demo of it in person at that startup week pitch that I was telling you, so I’ve seen it. It looks like it works. You used the word liability and I think that may be what’s at play here. Something that Michael told us off air that he said we could share here was that the general liability insurance is expensive and that’s partially why he needs the funding is to help cover expenses like that as well as manufacturing the units to go show to different stations. But I think you’re right it might be just the first thing here with liability because to me, if I’m looking at this as an investor, what pushes me over the edge is a fire chief that tells me, I understand this. This is a huge problem. Here’s how much we pay for it, and in fact we’ve been using it for six months and this is how much we love it. If I have that in my back pocket, that’s what pushes me over the edge to to to put it on this.
Eric Hornung: 00:59:58
I completely agree. One thing that I thought was interesting and we haven’t covered much on the podcast is a difference between the United States and Europe. We’ve talked a lot about Asia and the United States and kind of that interplay, but I thought it was fascinating that this product has so much more of a understanding in europe than it does in America and I was wondering if you had any general takeaways about that.
Jay Clouse: 01:00:12
I don’t know. I’m not I’m not super internationally minded. I don’t have a lot of experience traveling internationally as you do so I’m not sure. I’m not sure if it comes from them having a longer history and they just have more history and experience with fires. I don’t know if there’s a way they construct their cities so that fires are more prevalent or more dangerous. I’m not really sure.
Eric Hornung: 01:00:33
Yeah, so I was actually just in europe for the last two weeks, which Jay likes to give me a little bit of a hard time about, but
Jay Clouse: 01:00:41
I’m just jealous
Eric Hornung: 01:00:44
But I, I definitely, I was thinking about the door boss when I was over there actually because it is something that their cities are structured differently. They aren’t linear, they aren’t grids. You see fire, fire trucks go down the streets and you’re like, wow, there’s not a lot of room in that street to get through. There’s definitely more of a less standardized approach to dealing with or what appears to be less standardized. From my perspective of dealing with fires. There’s not okay, you pull up your at a suburban house, there’s a front yard backyard, you know how to go walk around at everything like that. It’s the buildings are literally smashed together. It’s much more akin to being downtown in a lot of American cities. So I think that I could see why fire has been such a interesting space in Europe and I think that it makes sense for the door boss to be initially introduced and have a lot of traction in Europe.
Jay Clouse: 01:01:39
Yeah. And it’s funny you talked about the, the approach part of one of my favorite parts of this interview is just hearing the, the process from call to being in the building. I think that’s, that’s some information. And uh, I just, I’ve never heard that before and I don’t know where else you get that except here on the upside podcast.
Eric Hornung: 01:01:55
One thing that I wanted to kind of touch on in because last week we had wicked sheets on and they seem to be our oldest podcast this week. We have Three Firefighters on and they are youngest podcasts. So I thought it’d be nice to spend maybe a minute or two just kind of playing with some juxtaposition. The things that are different, the style of the interview that’s different. What were some things that we saw that said, okay, this is a younger company, okay, this is an older company.
Jay Clouse: 01:02:23
Well, something that I mentioned in our deal memo with Alli last week on wicked sheets, a lot of her intention and focus right now is around their, their marketing and their channels in lowering their customer acquisition costs, understanding where they’re putting marketing spend because they’re already doing it. They’re already seeing results in sales through all of them and they’re in a position where they can try to optimize. Michael here on the other side, he has his newest prototype that’s been available for three years. He’s essentially at the stage that Alli was when she was cutting up sheets in her living room, but he’s got this now and his biggest priority is getting this in the hands of people to show them that this can work for them and fundraising to the point where he can manufacture these to get them in market. So I mean pretty pretty stark contrast there if that’s what you’re looking for.
Eric Hornung: 01:03:10
Yeah, it is. There’s this idea in the venture capital space of product market fit and finding it. You could say that both companies have found product market fit at this point, but that’s just a hurdle and it’s a word which means much because
Jay Clouse: 01:03:25
I would disagree a little bit. I think product market is fun. I think product market fit comes from when the market has validated they’re willing to pay a certain price that you’re willing to offer the product for, so you know, Michael believes that he’s going to sell these for $1,500 a unit or $5,000 for a kit, which is probably based on some really good research and some conversations, but until he is actually doing that, I don’t think you can technically say product market fit has been found
Eric Hornung: 01:03:25
So you’d say Michael has not found product market fit yet, whereas Allie has?
Jay Clouse: 01:03:58
There’s no indication to show that he won’t find it. It’s just that technically that milestone has not been achieved yet.
Eric Hornung: 01:04:06
Okay. That’s good feedback. I like that. Let’s, let’s transition to how big this opportunity is. Michael mentioned there’s hundreds of thousands of fire departments. I feel like when the number gets that big, it’s like, okay, there’s a lot of fire departments. I get it. Every city, every town in Europe and America. I’m sure that Asia is blossoming with fire departments right now. There’s a lot of potential here. I’ve got some big enough. Oh, you got some numbers.
Jay Clouse: 01:04:31
We’ve got numbers. We’ve got a numbers
Eric Hornung: 01:04:33
Yeah, look at that. Jay. The numbers guy.
Jay Clouse: 01:04:35
Today, this week, this week only on the upside podcast. Jay does the math. So Michael mentioned that. Then, so I’m taking these numbers on face value. I’m taking these as truths.
Jay Clouse: 01:04:47
58,000 fire stations in the United States. That house, three to five fire trucks. Let’s start there. That means that there are 174,000 to 290,000 trucks. If you sold each truck a unit for $1,500, that would be a market size of $261 million to $435 million. If he went the opposite direction and said, I’m going to sell each fire station a kit, that would be a $290,000,000 market. So somewhere between $261,000,000 and $430,000,000 is the market opportunity for the door boss in the United States. Internationally, he said 139,000 stations, which would bring that market close to $700 million.
Eric Hornung: 01:05:47
So we’re looking at between the United States and Europe simple numbers, roughly a billion dollars in terms of market size. Assuming you sold this to our boss to every one of those fire stations and it was ubiquitous, right? I think that’s a pretty solid size market for such a niche market. Would you agree?
Jay Clouse: 01:05:48
I mean this is the type of opportunity that I think is pretty boom or bust because you, you get into one of these municipalities and they just take cues from other cities that are having some success and if this becomes something that has research behind it and it’s proven that it’s best practice for your fire station to have this tool because you don’t have the manpower to practice flow control, it becomes almost like an accepted nearly protected monopoly right?
Eric Hornung: 01:06:16
Do you think that every, and this is speculation, do you think that every fire department in the United States has the same acts?
Jay Clouse: 01:06:24
I have no idea, but I had thoughts of Gimley from lord of the rings right when you said that and my acts, I have no idea. Potentially they all look the same and photos, same question, right?
Eric Hornung: 01:06:34
They all look the same in photos, but your. Your thesis is that once something becomes brand standard for a fire department, it is universal. Well, sorry national. So if that is the case, if every fire department has the same access and the same helmets and you’re right, all of their fire gear usually looks exactly the same. Then it stands to reason that once you get into a critical mass, you’re going to get into 100 percent.
Jay Clouse: 01:06:59
Right? I’m sure there’s some, whether it’s a publication or convention where these fire chiefs are apprised of like the best, best in class products and also you know, the best practices that have been learned and polished over time and if your boss becomes something on that circuit and that’s great and that’s the reason I’m saying. This is something where you talked to a few fire chiefs. If you’re an investor looking at this opportunity, I really think you can learn a lot about it by talking to some fire chiefs and if I’m Michael, I’m getting this into the hands of these fire chiefs. Getting them to use it in a live fire environment and be doing everything in their power to get to the point where they can have it on their trucks and have those chiefs talk to the investors because I think that insight and someone that has so much on the line, if someone that has as much on the line as firefighters have say, this product is going to help us save lives. I think that’s pretty compelling.
Eric Hornung: 01:07:50
Awesome. So Jay, the question we usually finish up with is what are you expecting or wanting to see from the company in the next 6to 18 months? I Think based on this conversation, we have the same answer. We want to see sales, we want to see a couple of sales, whether they’re beta sales, if that’s how you want to classify them. They can be
Jay Clouse: 01:08:13
I want to specify I don’t even care about sales. I want to say that this is being used in the field.
Eric Hornung: 01:08:19
Right, that is what I meant when I said sales. That’s a good clarification.
Jay Clouse: 01:08:39
So given that we both are looking for the same thing here, we want to see this being used in the field and to Michael, it seems that he’s predicating that on being able to get some secure, some funding to help cover liability insurance and also create enough actual units that he can put them in the hands of these chiefs around the country. What do we think is the the threat here or what could be a threat to achieving that?
Eric Hornung: 01:08:56
What could be a threat to his achieving funding? Is that the question?
Jay Clouse: 01:08:56
Yeah. what would hold you back here? Part of it is risk tolerance, right? It’s whether or not I believe he can get this in the hands of, of these stations. These stations will procure it. Part of it, you know, the, the $1,500 versus $5,000 price point, I think you’ll find that price point. If there’s a line item in the municipality’s budget that says this much is operated by the fire chief and he can buy what he needs to buy. Here are the thresholds that he doesn’t have to go out to bed. He can just procure things. I think we’ll find that number and that will be fine. Yeah. I’m just looking. I’m looking for some validation from the sheets themselves.
Eric Hornung: 01:09:23
One thing that’s interesting to me is, and it’s gonna sound weird, but how good is this product in terms of like quality durability, because if this thing is going to last for 50 years and you sell to 100 percent of fire stations, there’s no recurring revenue outside of the SAS model, so then this becomes a software play and it’s a whole different thesis. Then if it’s a continuous, okay, the product’s going to get a little bit better, the product’s going to get a little bit better, the product’s going to get a little bit better. You’re gonna have to buy new ones every five to seven years. That kind of thing is something that as a potential investor, I would just want to understand a little bit more and I don’t understand it sitting here right now.
Jay Clouse: 01:09:23
That’s a good point and I guess I should also note that I focus this entire conversation on the door boss the hardware and not talked about the accountability, the personnel on accountability software component of this which expands the market a little bit in terms of pricing. I think depending on how the model actually works out, if it’s units versus kits, if some stations want the software but don’t necessarily want the hardware, there’s probably some work around for that. I don’t know, but yeah, that’s. That’s, that’s a good point. I would want understand moving forward, you know, what Is this like a 30 year product? Is this something that will last forever? Is this something that I have to replace every year? Is there going to be budget for that every year? Is it something I replaced every three years? That’s a good point. Those are things that we didn’t ask.
Eric Hornung: 01:10:49
Yeah. The idea of what am I actually investing? Am I at, am I investing in a repeatable product or am I investing in product with upside and the terms of software or my best, a repeatable product with uptight upside in terms of software. I feel like that is something that I think I would need more clarity on it as an investor
Eric Hornung: 01:11:09
two things I forgot to mention that I also think are good signs from Michael The founder, he has filed for a lot of ip protection around the hardware. I think that’s good news, and second he estimates that he spent $23,000 out of his own pocket, which I think is just a good sign for any founder you’re considering investing in that they have a lot of their own skin in the game before they go asking others to put some in. I completely agree with both those points. I really enjoyed our conversation with Michael. Jay if people want to find out more about upside or interact with us, how do they do that?
Jay Clouse: 01:11:09
You can find us on twitter @upsidefm tweeted us. We’d love to hear from you. We’d love to hear what you think about this episode. you can also comment on Breaker our preferred podcasting platform and if you want to open up a larger discussion you can email us. Hello@upside.fm. Alright Eric, talk to you next week later.
Jay Clouse: 01:11:58
That’s all for this week. Thanks for listening. We’d love to hear your thoughts on today’s guest, so shoot us an email@example.com, or find us on twitter @upsidefm. We’ll be back here next week at the same time talking to another founder and our quest to find upside outside of silicon valley. If you or someone you know would make a good guest for our show, please email us or find us on twitter and let us know and if you love our show, please leave us a review on iTunes. That goes a long way in helping us spread the word and continue to help bring high quality guests to the show. Eric and I decided there were a couple of things we wanted to share with you at the end of the podcast, and so here we go. Eric Hornung and Jay Clouse are the founding partners of the upside podcast. At the time of this recording, we do not own equity or other financial interests in the companies which appear on this show. All opinions expressed by podcasts. Participants are solely their own opinions and do not reflect the opinions of duff and Phelps LLC. And its affiliates on your collective LLC and its affiliates or any entity which employ us. This podcast is for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a basis for investment decisions. We have not considered your specific financial situation nor provided any investment advice on the show. Thanks for listening and we’ll talk to you next week.
Three Firefighters develops tools and equipment that helps make firefighting safer and more effective by augmenting manpower. The DoorBoss affixes to the door frame of the primary door used by firefighters. This controls airflow and allows the hardware to also account for personnel entering and exiting a structure for use in real time.
Three Firefighters is based in Zanesville, OH.