At a recent Inc. event we met Billy Gridley, CEO, and Steve Palladino, EVP of sales and business development, of Brightbox, a New York-based start-up. These entrepreneurs offer some valuable insights about turning an interesting idea into a legitimate business.
Brightbox developed a phone charging station that hangs on the wall at your local hospitality venues such as hotels, restaurants and bars, event spaces, gyms, and malls. There are six charging bays with three standard charging cords which together charge 95% of cell and smartphones. If you are out and about and your phone battery is running low, simply walk up to a Brightbox, swipe your credit card to authorize a small fee (typically $2-3) and a bay door pops open. Inside are adapters for Android, iPhone, Blackberry and other devices. Plug in your phone, close the bay door. You can make calls or check messages at any later point by re-swiping your credit card to open your bay, and for no extra cost you can put your phone back in to continue your charging session. Here is a video showing Brightbox in action.
This is a classic "why didn't I think of that?" idea. While smartphones have become exponentially more powerful, batteries have only seen modest improvements in the last decade. Because our smart devices have become integral to our professional and personal lives, we're acutely aware of our battery charge levels at all times.
We interviewed Billy and Steve, and our first questions were:
Behind every start-up there is an "aha!" moment, where an entrepreneur recognizes they can turn a challenge into an opportunity. Brightbox's moment came when Adam Johnson, a New York bartender, was asked if he could plug yet another customer's phone in the wall outlet behind the bar to charge. Adam saw that having five or more phones plugged into a wall outlet was a serious inconvenience and risk for both him and his customers:
Adam got together with three friends to design an alternative. They reasoned that customers might be willing to spend $2-3 for a secure, convenient charging solution which was aesthetically pleasing to venues. They built a prototype device they called "Brightbox."
In our experience, the "aha!" idea is only a small part of building a viable start-up. There are many questions to address and basic assumptions to test, such as:
The Brightbox founders, to their credit, recognized they did not have all the skills to test their business model and scale the business. They brought in Billy as CEO. Billy raised a first round of investor funding and has begun building the Brightbox leadership team, including hiring Steve as executive vice president of sales and business development. Billy has also begun signing the outsourcing partners the company needs to manufacture, install and service the product.
Together, some of the founders and, Billy and Steve have begun placement at various venues in the New York tri-state area, focusing on bars and restaurants. With more than 50 locations, they are learning:
In our view, this learning is critical. "Learn first, scale second" is the best way to ensure a start-up is using its limited resources wisely. Having started to build a knowledge base in bars and restaurants, the Brightbox team is also working to pilot in other locations (e.g., airports, malls, movie theaters). As they execute those pilots they will learn even more about the relative value of different venues and consumers.
In upcoming articles we will discuss the opportunities and challenges they face in scaling the business, and also Billy's and Steve's backgrounds as entrepreneurs.
How did you turn your idea into a start-up? Please let us know your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org.