Chris Landano is a fighter in more ways than one. 10 years into his career as an emergency responder, NYC firefighter Chris suddenly had a revelation after a near-death experience on a dangerous rescue. His vision was a product that would help people who, like him, needed to keep their tools on hand but safely out of the way. Chris’s product, the TrakBelt360, a 360° rotating toolbelt, has garnered support from buyers in a variety of industries from film production to outdoor sporting. But, it hasn’t been an easy path; Chris’s success was hard-won. Through dire circumstances, he had to fight hard to keep his company from those who would try to ruin it.
How did you come up with the idea for your business? Were there any personal experiences, passions, skills, hobbies etc. that influenced you?
A real life-threatening situation inspired me. I invented my product while working as a forensic photographer for the fire department. I responded to a building collapse with reports of people trapped. The rescue firefighters crawled into the collapsed area on their hands and knees, and I followed them photographing the entire search. Once I got some amazing photos, I needed to get out of that dangerous area because it was still very unsafe. As I was making my exit, debris suddenly trapped myself from exiting. After about 30 seconds of trying to free myself, it was clear it wasn’t going to happen unless I started removing some of my gear. Luckily, I was able to get free but also recognized that if I was able to rotate my tool belt, that would have freed me from being trapped. The idea for Trakbelt360 was born.
What would you do the same or differently if you could start all over again?
Differently, I would be a lot more cautious and careful with my personal capital that I had contributed to the business earlier. I would have found a founder with a similar product to be a mentor or advisor sooner. I’d locate the free government funded business and entrepreneurial programs such as Small Business Administration and Small Business Development Centers sooner as well; their free classes alone would have saved me thousands of dollars. I would search for a local inventors club immediately. I would create a cliff in any partnership agreements along with performance-based equity, not up-front equity before lifting a finger. I would find and hire a recommended business attorney in the beginning.
I’d go with my gut feeling and not against it. I’d not allow my Kickstarter campaign to be successful. I’d not be so quick in giving up equity in the beginning.
Same, I would fight through the tough obstacles and challenges every entrepreneur encounters. I would do lots of networking at local, regional and nation-wide trade shows. I would read business books and stay subscribed to entrepreneur and business magazines.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to build a company like yours?
The advice I would give founders is to make sure they are active in their industry by attending industry events, trade shows, etcetera.
Become an authority in your industry.
Never go cheap on a business or patent attorney, or think you can save money by not using one or the other. Cutting corners in the beginning is cheap and easy, but catches up to be costly and possibly put you in a position to lose your company and/or product(s). Don’t rush any part of the production process, because mistakes can cause thousands of dollars. You must read books about successful founders and game changers. Books about personal development and leadership. You must be a great leader to run a company. You need to have traits like tenacity, grit and resilience. You must be prepared to fail a lot, but fail forward. Find a good co-founder or partner with proven experience for your specific industry.
Is there anything you’d like to ask the Alice community?
My “ask” is that I need advice on everything that has to do with launching a new consumer product successfully. I have no business experience or background. I don’t know everything that is necessary with launching a product, how to build the right team, or when to start marketing. I guess my ask is a pretty big one, but that’s the truth.
Chris’s story serves as a reminder to us all to always keep fighting for our ideas and our dreams. Tough times are no match for resilience, grit, and tenacity, and, as a firefighter, Chris has got all of them in spades. The story of the TrakBelt360 proves that an entrepreneur can come from any background once you set your mind and stay focused on something.