In my life I have been both blessed and cursed with the "idea bug". Almost everyday I can be working on something with great focus, and suddenly the bug bites and my mind has to switch gears and begin daydreaming about a "new" way to do something, or a "new" idea. And when I say new... I mean new to my brain. Some are paper worthy, some are quickly forgotten when it's realized it won't work or it's already been done.
One such idea was born when I was a service technician in Northern California. I responded to a call involving frozen food reach-in cases where all the product had been lost. Picture the scenario. The store was equipped with a sophisticated refrigeration control system with wired temperature sensors installed in every single case. Remote monitoring was provided 24/7 by the largest provider of energy management controls in the US. It was, at that time, the most protected a supermarket store could be. But, on the ground, not a single person at the store had any clue that all of the low temperature equipment was off, and had been off for hours. I was standing in front of the frozen food cases with the store manager while about $30,000 of food was being thrown in the trash. The manager asked me a great question - how could this kind of mistake happen? How indeed?
The idea came in an instant. Why don't the thermometers, which are on every single refrigerated case as mandated by law, indicate when there is a problem? I asked the manager a question, "what if you could have a thermometer that flashed a light when there was a problem, would that have prevented this from happening"? His response is etched in my mind. "Absolutely, how soon can you install them"?
I left that day with the understanding that I would find him the solution. It seemed obvious that there must be a thermometer that did that. I had been doing service in supermarkets for a half dozen years or so and I hadn't seen any, but I worked with guys that had decades of experience. In all seriousness I worked with the greatest of the greatest. Not a single person had seen or heard of a thermometer that did what I had proposed. My customer was interested in a product that didn't yet exist.
There is a moment when an idea matures to a point where a decision needs to be made. I call it the "love it or leave it moment". I reached the "love it" moment with this idea. It was time to create a thermometer that not only displayed temperature, but could translate that into a simple to understand visual indicator. I talked it over with my wife. I remember telling her, I have no idea if this will make money but I know that it's a product that provides value. She basically said well, I can tell that you are passionate about it, and if it doesn't make money then so be it, but you will always regret it if you don't try. With the full support of family, friends and equally as important, my employer, Refrigeration Innovation was founded. I sold my house, my young family moved into my moms house, and raised additional funding from close friends and family to obtain the funds needed for prototype development.
Making it Happen
First order of business, I needed an electrical engineer. Funny, how different things were back in 2003 compared to today. Today, it would be a google search. Back then the best way to find one was to look them up in the yellow pages. I called two and only one responded. Lucky for me he was as good as they get. I recall our first meeting, we sat down at the kitchen table in my moms house and he pulled out examples of his work. Robotic flying devices to inspect under bridges after an earthquake, and he did most of the control work on the first flying car. I looked at him and said "dude, all I need is a smarter thermometer, your hired"! After we established a plan from concept to initial production I applied for a provisional patent and within months Thermo-Simple was "alive"!
We assembled and tested the first products on the back patio of my moms house. It's really hard to describe how special the feeling is from taking your idea from concept to creation. Looking at those first 12 literally home made devices, I was beyond elated to say the least.
Don't get me wrong - product development and go-to-market efforts are far from a smooth road. I'll write some more about the twists and turns in a future news post. Meanwhile, the team here have put together an ebook that distills some of the ideas about reducing waste and loss that have driven the company and its products over the last few years. I hope that it proves helpful!