Two young, aspiring entrepreneurs were recently offered $1 million for their business idea and a controlling stake in their company, FuelBox Inc. Tempted but not convinced, they turned it down.
“It was very intriguing because we could use $1 million,” said CEO Robert Herr, who’s currently living in a tent in the backyard of co-founder Dan Friedman’s shared house. “Right now, we’re not paying ourselves but we have to see the larger picture and keep our eye on the prize.”
The former Santa Barbara City College students, both 22, figured they had made the right choice when one of their advisers estimated the market value of their concept at $1.5 billion to $2 billion.
Former Santa Barbara City College students Robert Herr and Dan Friedman have built their startup project around a novel phone charger.
Next summer, Herr and Friedman are launching a product so simple that people are surprised it hasn’t been thought of until now. Their idea? A phone charger built into the walls of houses, hotels, coffee shops and fast-food chains to eliminate the frustration more than 60 million smartphone users in the United States face every day because of dying batteries.
The phrase ‘Do you have a phone charger?’ will be eliminated and become ‘Do you have a FuelBox?’ said Friedman, FuelBox Inc.’s Chief Marketing Officer.
The idea came about in the fall of 2011 when Herr’s and Friedman’s roommate, Erik Stucky, infamous among his friends for misplacing his belongings, had lost his phone charger yet again.
“He was looking around the whole house, going through all his stuff trying to find it, and he said, ‘Man, I wish there was just one built into the wall,’” Herr explained. “And I thought, ‘That’s a great idea.’”
Herr did some research and couldn’t find anything similar to the product he had in mind. He mentioned it to Friedman, who immediately felt an urge to develop the idea further. Soon after, FuelBox was created.
The company has now been up and running for 18 months. Its first launch stage will be through Indiegogo.com, a website where millions of members can donate funding for new products and companies.
“The first thing we’re launching is a redesigned (electrical) outlet, and that’s for your house, your office and hotel rooms,” Herr explained. “The second product is for public establishments, and that’s more of a ‘charging station’ that you’ll pay for.”
Herr and Friedman haven’t finalized the price for charging a phone in a public area, but expect it to be around $1. The FuelBox will have a specialized charging tip that makes it possible to charge a majority off cellphones on the market.
They have six interns helping them with everything from design and marketing to local, domestic and international connections.
Danny Francisco, 21, originally from Australia, has been part of FuelBox Inc. for a year. He’s in charge of creating international connections so the company can expand when the time comes.
Francisco offered multiple examples of when a FuelBox would come in handy.
“This is something that needs to be out there,” he said. “When people go out and only have 10 percent (battery) left they can stay calm and think, ‘There will be a Starbucks on my way to work, and there will be a FuelBox there.’”
Friedman pointed out that smartphones are used for so much more than just calling and texting these days, and that FuelBox Inc. itself is pretty much run through the devices.
“I’m working with them to get their message, their branding and their idea out into the field,” social media intern James Johnson said. “If your phone’s dead, it’s hard to stay in communication.”
During an open house event, Friedman and Herr were offered an office space at Synergy Business & Technology Center — a shared work environment for 28 local companies. Synergy’s director, architect Michael Holliday, who now serves as one of the pair’s mentors, was the one who welcomed them when all they had was an idea.
“I’ve seen them grow,” he said. “They’ve really stepped up and taken themselves and their business seriously.
“Obviously, I think they’re excited about the FuelBox adventure but, really, entrepreneurs are always moving on to the next best thing.”
Herr, who is from Montrose, Colo., and Friedman, from Westport, Conn., say they aren’t planning to hold on to FuelBox Inc. forever.
“We both have 20 other business ideas that we’d like to develop, but it’s obviously hard to do with no money,” Friedman said.
“This is our first baby,” Herr added as he leaned back in his chair, clasping his hands behind his head and smirking. “Then, the sky is the limit — we’ll have money in our pockets.”