Our blog posts are generally focused on Austin startups, but one of the top runners-up from our recent Smart Cities Startup Challenge caught our eye for its innovative approach to address a public health challenge that specifically supports public servants. We sat down with Chris Memmott, CEO of VaultRMS, to discuss the tracking system they’ve developed to support firefighters, a group more highly susceptible to certain types of cancer, to substantiate complex insurance claims.
SA: How long have you been at this project and how did you pick it?
VaultRMS: We started about four years ago. I was building out a different offering, a training management software and training management tracking capability for law enforcement agencies, when I met Clive Savacool, who was a chief officer for a large fire department in SF Bay area. I interviewed him since I wanted to see if the capability could be employed by fire departments as well.
I got to know him, and learned, over time, that he was getting retired out due to damage to his respiratory tract after two decades in the fire service. When he got retired out, he approached me with an offer to invest in us and then work for additional equity. He wanted the company to focus on exposure tracking instead of training management, since he was obviously passionate about the subject and also understood that a lot of the technical capabilities we had developed could be ported over to solving this different problem.
In general, I had long realized that there was lots of business opportunity in providing data and software solutions to public agencies. Right after college, I was one of the first employees of PublicEngines (since then acquired by Motorola), which aggregated CAD [Computer-Aided Dispatch] and RMS [Record Management Systems] data for overlay on Google Maps and share with the public so that they would know more about crimes that took place in their neighborhood.
But Clive’s interest and passion took my focus within the public services space in a new direction.
SA: So, the problem you’re solving is to help firefighters document complex insurance claims. We seen that you have ambitious plans to automatically integrate environmental data through body-worn sensors but I understand that that hasn’t quite happened yet. Tell us about what you’re doing, and what you hope to do.
VaultRMS: The system essentially aggregates the number of fires someone has been to, and allows firefighters to add additional detail about time of exposure, roles they performed on the call, the gear they wore, and post-event decontamination. It only takes them about five minutes and we’re even able to automate most of the process by integrating with their 911-dispatch. We’ve built a system that can support sensors, from a database and analytics perspective but still are solving the hardware problem: We need to hit the right price point for fire departments but the sensors, themselves, but we also need to be sure that the sensors can stand up in 110 degree-plus heat.
SA: Tell us about your customer traction and what you’re learning about the market.
VaultRMS: We’ve signed up twenty-four departments with about 2,000 total subscribers. The two biggest predictors of high interest and purchase are if a command staff member was a cancer survivor or if the department has lost someone to cancer.
We’ve also found that smaller departments tend to move faster. We noticed that a little while back, after we participated in the Department of Homeland Security’s EMERGE accelerator program: The program brought us about 50-100 contacts that helped really get our business going. There were some really innovative large departments there, but we found that they took a while to get their stakeholders engaged, sometimes a year or so. It can be much, much quicker with smaller organizations.
SA: Tell us a bit more about your team and your investment history.
VaultRMS: There are five of us. One full-time programmer; a part-time marketer; a full-time sales person; plus Clive, who leads business development and is our resident firefighter; and me. We’re all based in San Diego.
We raised $300K in an angel round between 2013 and the middle of 2014. We used about half of that on injury tracking and then moved to exposure tracking. Then, we got a few paying customers, raised some convertible debt, and then had an equity round. That all added up to about $1mm.
SA: What are some of your top current business and/or technical challenges?
VaultRMS: One of our greatest challenges is getting the appropriate focus from IT shops for implementation. New solutions are not always ‘top of stack’ in the workflow. The way we’re dealing with that is through a big focus on doing partnerships with CAD companies and record companies so that any department that uses their system can easily integrate with us. In fact, I just got off a call with a company we are looking to partner with in Colorado. They have hundreds of departments on their system and, once we integrate with them, we can roll out in a new site within an hour.
SA: What’s your business presence like in Texas? More generally, what are your impressions of the Texas and Austin startup scene and ‘smart cities’ scene?
VaultRMS: We’ve closed one small deal in Texas, in Cisco, and are looking for others! The Smart Cities Connect Conference in Austin, which we recently attended, gave us an audience far beyond the usual firefighter command staff members we’re used to meeting at fire conferences. We were able to discuss the next product we’re in the process of building out with several city managers from large metros across the US & Canada. We were also able to connect one of our partner companies with a large US city who is moving forward with a pilot of their new system to help manage frequent flyers on the city’s 911-system. Our team is glad we made it out and have every intention of joining next year.