Russ: Hi, I’m Russ Capper and this is The BusinessMakers Show. My guest today: Barry Stiles, Founder and CEO of TRUGRID. Barry, welcome to the show.
Barry: Thank you. Glad to be here.
Russ: You bet. Tell us about TRUEGRID.
Barry: Well, first of all, thank you for having me. You’ve had an amazing litany of folks and I’m really pleased to be part of this brotherhood of entrepreneurs.
Russ: Thank you.
Barry: TRUEGRID is an equal friendly paving alternative to concrete and asphalt. So, instead of all the hardscape we have, all the flooding issues we have, pollution, it’s a different way to think about paving. It’s made from 100% pose-consumer recycled plastic. You get to park on the surface and you detain underneath. So, all the flooding issues we have and the storm water issues that we’ve got, this is a good solution for it.
Russ: Ok, so I guess when you say concrete you’re also talking about concrete pavers, I guess, as well, right?
Barry: Concrete pavers, but more for commercialized, asphalt and concrete commercialized primarily; although, we do driveways and other of the like, but commercial and industrial large areas. This is a way that a developer doesn’t have to use part of his land, a quarter of his land for detention pond. And you can put detention in the rock base underneath the system.
Russ: Ok, so its porous.
Barry: It’s porous. 250 inches per hour, some of that 500-year rainfall we’ve had the last few years, well those rainfall events just poured right through and didn’t flood the surrounding areas.
Russ: So, if you replaced all the concrete all over the city with your product, we would solve a big part of the flooding problem.
Barry: I’m working on it, I’m working on it.
Russ: Alright so we’re looking at the main part of your product right here.
Russ: Ok, so describe what went in to the design.
Barry: Well, the first thing I wanted to do, there was some early concept I saw, quite honestly, in Europe is a similar concept but it wasn’t done very robust. I thought I could do it better and bring it back, and Americanize it. So, what I did was design something that is super strong, so it could not only go from walking path, but you can use it in a commercial industrial lot and drive a gravel full, truck full of 80,000 pounds of gravel on it. So, when I designed it I started with a cylindrical shape, a basic shape. A couple of the other concepts, the European concepts were square and rectangular, but the hoop strength of a cylinder gave us the best basic node or basic cell of our product. That’s what we’re talking about right here. Then, we all know what happens with concrete and asphalt; it cracks, right? When the earth moves, the earth continues to move. So, I put in these built-in flex joints so I can’t crush it like this, but I can do this with my fingers. So I can drive an 80,000 pound truck and I can’t crush it, but I can do this and it will flex. So, it moves with the earth, it doesn’t crack. Then I, it’s difficult to see here, but I put some anchors in here so you can fill the whole mat when it’s all connected with these male and female tabs that locks together like a one dimensional Lego system, if you will. And the weight of the aggregate, when you fill it with rock or you can grow grass through it and fill it with soil. The weight of the aggregate holds the whole mat in place so you don’t have to steak it.
Russ: Oh wow, wow. And so, obviously, you fill it with rock or even if you fill it with dirt it all goes through and that’s what you were talking about before (Barry: Yes.). Real impressive. So how old is the company?
Barry: We’re going on our fourth year. So, the initial test concepts I did about eight and a half years ago. So, we’ve had product in the ground, as testing and development as we were developing the concept, but the actual launch of the TRUEGRID brand, and the company, we started in earnest just under four years ago.
Russ: Ok, and how has business been?
Barry: It’s been great. You know, it’s all about changing the mindset. So, early on we met with some resistance in engineers; I am one. They tend to be cautious and resistant to new ideas, but we’ve had great acceptance since there is a definite need, and business is great. We’re more than double last year and so we’re starting to get acceptance and we’re starting to spread.
Russ: Wow, congratulations. So, I guess people looked over here and wondered, hey, why aren’t they talking about the obvious yellow spots and the blue, and the white and the red. So, what are these for?
Barry: Those are for striping a parking lot. So, instead of painting and repainting your strips every year this is a maintenance free way to do it. So you just pop these super spots in, they fit right into the unit. These are locked in, they lock in from below so you can do any type of striping or directional lines to those types of things; handicapped spots, whatever you want to do instead of painting your parking lot. You just put these super spots in and it marks your parking spots.
Russ: Ok, that sounds cool, and I guess they show up very well. So, but you’ve mentioned kind of what you fill them, I mean, you’re not in charge of filling them. You don’t sell rocks or soil, or do you?
Barry: No, we don’t, thank you for asking. We’re the manufacturer, so we’re not the paving contractor, but it’s really easy to install. So, if you’re doing basic things, any good paving contractor who knows how to do a base and soil preparation, and soil testing can build the system. Putting the grid together is the easiest part of the whole system. But, no, we do not do install but we work with preferred contractors. Or, if you have your own contractor we can walk them through the steps to do it, it’s pretty simple.
Russ: Ok. Well, geez, 20, 25 years ago I built a home and I was really intrigued with the paver system as opposed to the concrete in Houston, with our soil doing what it is. So, for pavers there was a lot of preparation before they, I assume that’s the case with your TRUEGRID also, right?
Barry: Yeah, just like any paving project, you have to prep it, you have to see what kind of soils you have, you grade the subgrade. Our system has detention in it, so that’s a different, so you build a rock base not only for the strength that you want, whether you’re driving an 18-wheeler or whether you’re driving your vehicle, your home car. So, you have to do the rock base. The city of Houston has a certain amount of detention and rock volume, because you have 40% of the void space in the rock below the system you get detention credits for. So, yes there is some preparation with the rock, but again, it’s not difficult.
Russ: If I recall correctly, back when I did this paver thing, I saw paver things being put down on concrete. Do they still do that? I guess that defeats the, because that drains some, too, doesn’t it?
Barry: Not really, not effectively (Russ: Ok, so it doesn’t really matter.). No, we do get that question occasionally; can you put it on top of concrete? Well, you kind of defeat the purpose of the system, really, if that’s the case.
Russ: Well, I’ll also let you know that you got on my radar when somebody was telling me about it, about this pop-up club here, Club Nomadic. That’s a customer of yours now, right?
Barry: Yeah, that was a fun project. They’re related to the super bowl and they had some big names over there. They had to put this 62,000-square foot nightclub up in 60 days, so we had a 58,000 square foot parking lot that went in in 10 days, including 27 inches of rock which is something wanted for detention so it didn’t flood. So, it went down like it was supposed to. I wouldn’t want to have that job because that’s a lot of sleepless nights and worrying.
Russ: Yeah, so I bet you’ve had a lot of celebrities call you and say, hey I saw your product out front.
Barry: Some reason I didn’t get invited to the party.
Russ: That’s too bad. Alright, so yeah, Club Nomadic, but give me an example. What are some other kind of companies or installations that you’ve done?
Barry: Well, you know it’s really, this need is nationwide. And so, on the east coast we’ve done things, NASCAR, believe it or not, NASCAR greens.
Russ: NASCAR, but not on the track?
Barry: Not on the track, yet, but we haven’t developed that product. On the Pocono Mountains they did the raceway, they did walkway and client parking. We’ve done AutoNation, we’ve done an automobile dealership here locally, and on the west coast we just did a product with Google in Mountain View, California. So, we’ve got some cool brands that are really taking notice, and they’re green minded so that is important to them.
Russ: How do you get on their radar?
Barry: Internet. You know something about that, I think.
Russ: I do. I’ve heard of that. Alright, so it’s a fascinating product, but I’m curious what triggered the idea in the very beginning to do this with plastic and to turn it into a real cool paving system?
Barry: Well, like I said, I saw similar concepts overseas, but I really came back and developed a better product. I knew I could design a better mousetrap. I knew the flooding issues we had here. I recognized the recycling needs we had here, it’s always been important to me, but the real ‘why’ moment is a little bit of a story if I could share with you.
Barry: Six years ago, I had my first child, later in life, and I had a four year old step-son at the time. Hudson was the light of our lives. We had a new baby, my wife and I were thrilled, his little brother. Ten weeks later, Hudson was diagnosed with cancer. So, this was a difficult time, obviously. It went from high-high, to low-low. I’ll end that story quickly, we are blessed and he’s a happy, healthy ten year old now, so not to keep everybody hanging on that. But, when I went through that you really do a lot of soul searching, so I developed the idea but it didn’t really come to me how important it was. I had been a plastics engineer, and I haven’t made consumables, but I was perhaps on a different side of the equation; plastics have done a lot of good things but also not such good things. So, I thought to myself, around Rice Stadium, I do my runs occasionally when we were outside of Texas Children’s and think about what I was doing with my life, and as an entrepreneur I think I’ve always found I’ve done better when I’m passionate and have a purpose. So, I thought what can I do? I’m not going to go back to school, I’m not going to become an oncologist to fight this horrible thing we have that has touched so many people. I said well, this is really a better way to make our environment healthier, and I can tell you a little bit about why, the technology behind it. But, that’s really the ah-ha moment that I had about that.
Russ: So, the whole idea of recycling and using what can be a harmful product in a good way was a huge motivator for you?
Barry: Yeah, absolutely and to see how we can make an impact. Because we all know that you turn the water off when you’re brushing your teeth, or eat less meat, all those fun things, but I was looking for a midstream that not only individuals but businesses could do. An impactful product that when they did a project they could actually make an impact and have an eco, we have something called a eco-scorecard that measures the eco-impact of your project. So, for instance, that Club Nomadic we spoke to, they had roughly 60,000 square foot of parking that was close to 80,000 tons of plastic, or 80,000 pounds of plastic that was recycled, I should say, a lot of CO2 emissions. So, that was kind of the ah-ha moment for me was what I was doing with my life and how I wanted to pour my passion into making a change.
Russ: So, it is really cool product. So, not only did you sort of solve this passion and make something that’s friendly to the environment, but you showed up with a history already in plastics in general, right?
Barry: Yeah, I went to school for a small, unique program when I went to school. Of course, it has gotten bigger since then, but at the time that I went to college in Massachusetts, it was the only accredited plastics engineering program in the world. And still, world renowned and very well-known small program.
Russ: And so what did you do with that between when you got the degree and this?
Barry: Well I started, when I first came to Houston a bunch of years ago, my second job out of college I worked for Igloo products. We all know about Igloo here in this town. You wonder where all those coolers go, but they continue to make them because they last a long time. I had a great experience there my first six or seven years out of school and I really learned a lot. And then I got the entrepreneurial bug to jumped out of corporate life.
Russ: An entrepreneurial bug. This was your first entrepreneurial endeavor or was there
Barry: No, I’ve had a few, some better than others. I started an engineering firm where I was doing engineering contracting, and I went from a department of 50 engineers and hundreds on the manufacturing floor to myself with a phone in my apartment and hoping I’d get the call.
Russ: That’s the makeup of our audience here, too.
Barry: I’m sure everybody can relate to that who has been through this. And then I hooked up with a couple partners, actually Igloo guys, and we started a brick toy company, which made giant Legos. So, back if you had kids in the late 80’s and 90’s you might have recognized them.
Russ: Did you make those in Houston? Was this a Houston company?
Barry: Everything I’ve done, pretty much, for the most part has been done in the USA, in Houston. So, we did manufacture in Houston, absolutely.
Russ: That was a toy company?
Barry: That was a toy company, and then it was a building company. We went from an idea, to FAO Schwarz and Walmart, and so it was a pretty exciting ride, and it was good.
Russ: Ok, and so after that you came here?
Barry: After that I invented, I created another toy line. I started a manufacturing company, I was involved in the .com a little bit with friends but decided that I wanted to do something tangible after that whole situation burst. And I started a manufacturing company here in Houston. Made in the USA is something that’s been important to me and so we did that. We started a manufacturing company that was successful even though we’re fighting China and a lot of other impacts; recession in 2008, and a lot of other things, but we made it through, we did well and I developed TRUEGRID while I was at that company.
Russ: Really good. Ok, really cool. So where would you like to be with TRUEGRID five years down the road from today?
Barry: That’s a good question. I think the innovation is where we’re at today. We’re innovating with new additional products on top of this. I’d like to see this be the standard instead of the secondary option for people who, for engineers and architects, and developers when they’re doing development. So, make it more ubiquitous, and make it more of a healthier environment for our kids.
Russ: Great. Barry, I really appreciate it and I wish you good luck.
Barry: Russ, thank you, sir.
Russ: You bet. And that wraps up my discussion with Barry Stiles, Founder and CEO of TRUEGRID. And this is The BusinessMakers Show.
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