In today’s start-up world there seems to be pressure on founders to fundraise, fundraise, and once you’ve done that, fundraise some more. Which is great for some companies, but doesn’t have to be the case with all. AirPatrol is a unique story of a small start-up from Tallinn, Estonia which built itself up to a multi-million dollar company without any VC/Angel funding. It is also special because unlike most start-ups, which pound the pavement searching for news stories, publications, and huge PR campaigns to spread their brand, AirPatrol has been quietly dominating the Nordic and European markets while staying relatively unknown and out of the spotlight. So how did they do it?
Let’s hear it first hand from the CEO and co-founder Daniel Dockett.
So Daniel, where did you come up with the concept for AirPatrol?
I was very familiar with the Heat Pump and AC business while involved with some marketing campaigns in the industry back in 2010-2011, and after speaking to many end-users, and service providers, there was a clear need for a product which allowed the end-users to remotely control their Heat Pumps while they were not home. This was most common for people who owned remote homes, or cabins and needed some control over the climate when they were not actively there. The problem was it was too risky and costly for the services providers to devise their own solution, so after researching the topic a bit more I decided to kick off the project and start development on our first prototype.
How did the name AirPatrol come about?
Our main criteria when coming up with the name was we wanted a name that has 7-10 letters, contains an R(for power) and could tell our product by the name, without being overly obvious. We got stuck on the word Patrol, and combined it with air, as with our product we are controlling devices through the air (SMS Network/WiFi). So basically the name comes down to what our product does and how it does it.
How did you get market validation?
We got out there and spoke to our customers (resellers and distributors) and found out what they need, what could they sell, what do their customers need? In our case, they didn’t tell us a solution, but described a problem. It was up to us, and our development team to figure out the best way to solve this problem. As with most businesses, we had to pick up the phone, write emails, get feedback, and repeat until we had a viable solution that could be sold on the market.
At the end of the day, we had to find the best solution for the best value for both our company and for our customers.
What was your initial go to market strategy? How did you get your first customers?
We targeted heat pump/AC distributors in our target market specifically. We analyzed the channel, and did our own push marketing in our target markets to increase brand awareness. We aimed to find the lowest cost and lowest risk, by targeting big distributors who had the furthest reach with the end customers. Our end customer base in the Nordics are very specific group, and we had to target them specifically. The easiest we found is to sell it through the distributor, with our own targeted advertising, for example in Sweden we used government product testing website, and Finland there is a tech testing magazine which had the same effect. Our target was to enter through resellers, and ultimately create a B2B2C channel. At the end of the day, we were able to make an exciting and stable product in a traditionally boring market, and make the HVAC industry fun.
When was your we made it moment?
We haven’t had time for a “we made it moment”. From the beginning we were busy pushing and selling, and each milestone has brought on its own issues and hurdles to clear. Our first thousand units was tough, and we had to really push it hard, sometimes even shooting in the dark. Then from 1000-5000 there were different issues, tough to prove concept with the same customers(resellers), managing our relationships, and continuing to innovate and provide value across the chain. Our situation was one that went from crawling to running extremely fast. After our first season was successful, it became a sprint to keep up. Made an exciting and stable product in a boring market. Making HVAC fun.
Have you felt pressure to take external funding, or do any fundraising?
Yes and No, our goal was to live our own and make our own developments. Wanted to have a valid track record, and to grow organically. Didn’t want to take risk to sell a dream that we couldn’t reach. Wanted to do what we were able to do, and from there continue our growth and traction. What happens in a lot of cases, is that CEO’s and founders get so caught up in fundraising, that they lose track of their company, and the day to day operations that need constant attention. With our strategy we were able to keep full hands on deck at all times, and this has helped keep our path clear and straight and led us to where we are today.
What advice do you have for any young entrepreneur just getting started, or looking to get started on their own project?
If you can prove the concept, and chase the customers, investor will come by themself. The biggest issue initially is creating your market validation. Be honest with yourself, your employees, and your company. Be creative and explore all possible options and channels. Be a hustler, and by that I mean do whatever is necessary to push your company forward. Not a hustler company but a hustler Boss. Solve a pain in the market, no matter how big or small, and make sure to always listen to your customers.