Clifton Hargrove of CastVent Talks about His Startup
Where are you from originally?
I grew up in Central Florida. My parents still live there in Ocala. I went to school in Orlando, FL and worked over at Kennedy Space Center for 7 years before coming to Texas.
What university did you go to?
I originally went to the University of Central Florida. Received a Bachelors in Electronics and a Masters in Computer Systems. Then in 2005 I went to St. Edwards and received my MBA in August 2007.
What brought you to Austin?
Originally I was in the space program. Back in the late 80’s, early 90’s there was a lot of contract consolidation and it was obvious that was not a good long term career move. I was offered a job here in Austin in the semiconductor business. Then I figured out that the semiconductor business only has two modes, one is they cannot hire fast enough, the second is they cannot lay off people fast enough! So then I joined a VC funded software company here in Austin. I rode that through two major acquisitions and then decided to start Cast Vent, LLC.
What is the idea behind your startup?
I had a motorcycle wreck and broke my left wrist pretty bad. I ended up having surgery on it and wore a cast for weeks. The itch was driving me nuts. I ended up going to the store and buying a dremel tool and drilled holes in the cast so I could attach an air pump and blow warm air inside of it to make it stop itching. It worked beautifully. After about a week of using an air mattress air pump I started experimenting with different pumps, then it occurred to me that this would make a terrific product. No one ever offered me anything to address cast itch. I searched the internet, still could not find anything. So I designed cast vents and pumps.
What need does it fulfill?
It makes your cast stop itching. Ask anybody that has ever had a cast. They itch. Cast vents allow you to do something about cast itch.
What exactly does your product do?
The construction of a cast is actually quite simple. First you cover the area to be cast with a stocking, then you wrap cotton padding around it and finally you wrap it with fiberglass tape. Cast vents allow you to construct a cast and leave a circular or cylindrical hole through the fiberglass and cotton. Once you are done and have worn the cast for a few days (and have muscle atrophy), you can then attach a mating air pump (called a cast vent pump) and blow warm air inside the cast. This drys it out and makes it stop itching.
Who is it for?
Anbody that has a cast. There is one doctor doing testing with specialized applications like diabetics in casts, but cast vents are really aimed at anybody that has a cast. There are two groups of people that are no brainers, anybody that has ever had a cast before because they know how bad they itch. The second group is parents because they want to make their kids more comfortable.
What was the most challenging aspect of starting up a business?
Getting in to see doctors and the fact that doctors, as a group, are extremely conservative. Cast vents have to be built in to the cast itself so it has to be sold through a hospital or doctors office. I have been giving vents and pumps away for free to get them to use them. Once they hear from the patients that it works and how much they like it, then they start offering it. However, it is slow because it takes 4-6 weeks from the time they first put it in before they get feedback. Another aspect that is challenging is the fact that it isn’t covered by insurance. The patient has to pay for it themselves. In today’s economy people don’t want to spend money.
What is the next step for you and your startup?
I am looking for angel funding to hire some sales people. One thing I have learned is that the medical profession is all about personal relationships. It takes time to establish them so I am looking to hire some professional sales people with established relationships with orthopedic doctors. Once I can hire some professional sales people, then I expect things to really ramp pretty quickly. I also need to develop better marketing materials and start marketing it on a broader scale. Right now I am just focused on the major metropolitan areas in Texas.
What advice do you have for entrepreneurs?
One thing I have heard while trying to raise money is the acronym “PRO”, pessimistic, realistic and optimistic. Plan based on pessimistic. If things turn out better or faster than your pessimistic plan, that is great, but don’t plan on the optimistic side of things.
Another thought is to talk to people. You will be amazed at how many people know somebody that can help. I was talking to a lady buying some stuff from me off of craig’s list. Turns out she knew quite a bit about the medical field and I got some really good advice about how to approach hospitals and group purchasing organizations. Another example is I was talking to neighbor about his jeep and it turns out he works at one of the largest orthopedic practices in Texas. Plus you can go to lunch or dinner with friends and tell them about it. You simply cannot network enough.
One other thought is do not assume you know THE way forward. You may know of A way forward, but stay open. I have been very surprised at how many ways you can sell cast vents and pumps. Even today, if things changed I would be open to changing the strategy.
What Austin-based resource have you found to be the most helpful and why?
Networkinaustin.com has been very helpful.