(EDITOR’S NOTE: FunLPro is one of the companies pitching at next week’s “Start-up Day Knoxville” event. If you have not registered, it is not too late. Click here.)
By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.
The tagline for this Knoxville-based start-up says it all – “Pop, Pull, Pour.”
The company is FunLPro, and its inaugural offering is a patented product that allows users to safely, accurately and easily dispense fluids into difficult areas, thanks to a novel funnel that is built into the container.
Like many new companies, FunLPro came about as the result of a challenge that Bryan Crosby and his father, Gary, faced with an older car hauler they were using in one of the latter’s businesses.
“Dad and I ran back and forth to car auctions,” the younger Crosby said. They were buying vehicles for a used car lot the father ran in Maryville. The car hauler regularly needed oil and other fluids, a frequently messy process, even if you can find a clean funnel at the time it is needed.
“We never had the funnel when we needed it, or it was contaminated with another fluid and needed to be cleaned before use.” He explained. “We thought there had to be a better way.”
Bryan Crosby described the idea at the time as a “pipedream.” Now, roughly four years after deciding to pursue the goal, FunLPro is entering the market with a white label product offering. Its first customer is the local 43-store KenJo Markets chain of convenience stores that is launching KenJo Lubricants, using the FunLPro container.
The younger Crosby was a baseball player who was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers right out of high school. After three years in the club’s minor league system, he left baseball and enrolled at Middle Tennessee State University in 2009. Two years later, he started actively pursuing the former “pipedream.”
As far as his father, Bryan says simply, “He’s the reason I want to be an entrepreneur.” The older Crosby is a life-long entrepreneur who owned restaurants and gas stations and was the individual who came-up with the FunLPro idea for a totally different application, specifically removing the hassle of drinking from a soft drink bottle.
For the latest application, the team found an individual in Birmingham who did their first 3D CAD design. Later, at a Nashville Chamber event in 2012, they met an injection molder who introduced them to a Chinese manufacturer. By March 2013, FunLPro had filed a non-provisional patent application that issued in April 2015. The company subsequently filed a second non-provisional earlier this year.
“Between 2013 and August of 2014, we did things as best we could,” Crosby said. Ultimately, FunLPro found the right “go to market” combination – the Chinese manufacturer of the FunLPro container and Hicks Oils, a St. Louis area company that would provide the private label product in the FunLPro container.
Crosby is an individual who cites a number of individuals for helping FunLPro get to where the company is today. It starts with two Hicks employees – Vice President Mark McLaughlin and Account Executive Mike Armstrong – for believing in their product and being willing to help in an industry not known for innovation.
The journey was enhanced earlier this year, thanks to Wes Carruthers, KenJo Markets President, whose company is, in essence, the launch customer for the FunLPro product.
“Wes has been great and so supportive,” Crosby says, noting that KenJo’s belief in the product has greatly enhanced FunLPro’s long-term commercial prospects.
In addition to Carruthers, he also credits the team at the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center and Jonathan Patrick and Myra Hamilton from the UT Federal Credit Union (UTFCU) for being so supportive. Thanks to the latter’s “Line 12 Micro Fund” described in a 2014 teknovation.biz post, FunLPro secured a line of credit that will be used for marketing and new molds and tooling.
“UTFCU has created an avenue where entrepreneurs can get funding they need to create sustainable businesses,” Crosby says.
Today, the baseball player turned entrepreneur is in the last semester of the University of Tennessee’s full-time MBA program, and he also serves as President and Chief Executive Officer of FunLPro Technology, LLC.
Crosby has big plans for the company. While it started with a focus on fluids like oil, he sees opportunities in many markets ranging from other mechanical fluids to consumer household products.
“Our goal is to get our product all over the world,” Crosby says. “We are looking for a big-time global partner.”