The streets of San Francisco are known to be the breeding ground of American innovation, but for inventor Whit Gautreaux they are merely the incubator.
Gautreaux cut his teeth on the quiet streets of Libby, where he was born and raised, and the surrounding mountains and rivers he explored growing up.
After earning an engineering degree from Montana State University in Bozeman and working in the service industry for a while, Gautreaux moved to cloudy San Francisco to sate his desire to work for himself.
“As long as I can remember this is always the direction I wanted to take,” Gautreaux said. “Building my own path and working for myself and not having a boss.”
Now he’s the co-founder of a San Francisco start-up that takes advantage of both his love of the outdoors and his entrepreneurial flare. He and his partner Nic Barisone are manufacturing what they call the “firelight flask,” a 750-milliliter vacuum-insulated flask with two stainless steel cups that fasten to either end for high-class drinking in the backcountry, on the river or really anywhere you don’t want to carry a bunch of glassware.
“Traditional flasks have not evolved for years. They kind of came around in prohibition, the idea being they would hold a small amount and be discreet,” Gautreaux said. “That is all well and fine, but they are not really good to share and they don’t really have a good apparatus to share.”
The product is meant to get outdoorsmen and women who are looking for a high-quality product to enjoy spirits and wine in environments where glass bottles aren’t a viable option. The product is sturdy, won’t contaminate the flavor of whatever the user puts in it and is much larger than most flasks while still weighing in at only 19 ounces.
“Instead of a warm drink of that plastic-flavored whiskey at the top of the mountain, you are sipping that whiskey that you took the time to pick out and pack along,” Gautreaux said. “People are putting more care into what they drink and how they drink it, and we see this as a company that can bridge that craft market with the outdoors market.”
The company, High Camp, is in the midst of its first production run, which will number about 5,000 units. They’ve been using some cutting-edge funding techniques to get their business off the ground, such as collecting investments and essentially offering presales on Kickstarter, a crowd-funding campaign website.
Within about five days of beginning the campaign, Gautreaux said they had garnered about $15,000. He credits the initial success with the extensive marketing and social-media campaigns they have been instigating for months.
They had introductory rates that allowed people to receive a High Camp flask for a contribution of $89, but those were quickly snapped up. Now, it takes a contribution of $99 to get a flask mailed to you when they come out of production in April. The Kickstarter campaign can be found at http://bit.ly/FirelightFlask.
The company also will be selling a smaller, half-size version of the product. Since beginning the Kickstarter campaign, the amount of money they’ve received has risen to about $50,000, which has been helpful in trying to get their product off the ground and retain power over making it precisely the way they wanted. It’s allowed them to proceed without having to look for additional investors who might want to move too quickly to retain quality control, he said.
They are looking to build a loyal following of customers who are willing to pay for high-quality products and will remain loyal to brands they like. They have taken efforts to make sure the product they put out will be received well, and hope to follow it up with additional products meant for craft beer and other drinks.
“When we design, we try to keep it in the back of our heads that we all spend a fortune on outdoor gear that sits in a Rubber-maid for most of the year, and we want to make a product that has indoor aesthetics and you can still grab it and bring it outdoors and it is tough enough that it is going to make it down the river with you, or up the mountain with you,” Gautreaux said.
They even took a trip to China to see visit the manufacturer they were thinking of using after they met them at an outdoor gear trade fair in Salt Lake City. The company, Platform 88, is based in Shanghai.
Gautreaux said it’s unlikely anyone will see their product in a Wal-Mart anytime soon, and that out of the gate they are looking to sell directly to customers online and aim to get their product in smaller, specialty retailers. He said one day they would love to see it populating the shelves of REI.
Those interested can learn more about Whit’s company, product and team by visiting the website at www.highcampflasks.com.
Reporter Peregrine Frissell can be reached at 758-4438 or firstname.lastname@example.org.