Michael Morneault in the arena with Odor Gladiator
It’s a family affair, pure and simple. As an entrepreneur you sometimes get to solve the problems that you have personally. Such an entrepreneur is Mike Morneault. He started searching for a solution to persistent problem that he had – one that wouldn’t go away no matter how hard he tried. Odor Gladiator was the result. Only a parent would understand: Odor Gladiator is a result of his four children and their smelly sports. The company currently is staffed by Mike’s family, selling a product that battles stench. The company’s tag line is “Bring the Battle to your Bag!” And it does – killing the smell of the smelliest sports bag.
Origin. It’s not surprising that Mike is an entrepreneur at heart. What is surprising is his success at solving a nasty, smelly, vile, dirty problem – the overwhelming odor that comes from sports bags full of kids’ sweaty shoes and clothes.
Mike and his wife, Colleen, tried everything. But with four kids toting four sports bags in two family cars… it wasn’t happening. From sneaker balls to dryer sheets to Febreze, nothing worked and the family drove their smelly cars and themselves crazy for years before Mike set out to solve the problem. What started out as a personal quest has evolved into a bustling business.
Odor Gladiator™ is a patented athlete-customized high-performance deodorizer that battles stench in the most inhospitable of environments – the dank, dark sports equipment bag.
It’s a simple device that comes in various colors. An added twist: customers can design their own gladiator. Another twist: the website features a “Wordless Wednesday” each week, with a super cool photo depicting a Gladiator(s) in an unusual pose. The product is super cool too. Isn’t it amazing how something so simple can actually be new?
Odor Gladiator status. The product debuted in August, 2011. Mike is tackling the consumer market through tournaments and other events where he can sell not just one or two Gladiators, but thousands.
Mike proudly recounts where they are today: “We’ve sold product in over two dozen states, Canada and Australia. Our biggest win to date is as a participant gift for the J.W. Kennedy Memorial Tournament in Providence, Rhode Island (2,400 Odor Gladiators sold). We’re closing on other tournaments, and initiating discussions with lacrosse camps in anticipation of the spring/summer season. And on the other end of the volume spectrum, we sell Odor Gladiators one at a time to athletes and their parents across the United States and Canada.”
What it took. It took 18 months and five figures to come up with a viable deodorizing solution. Mike tells me the story, “Initially, we explored activated carbon solutions with both Calgon Carbide and Siemens. [US Filter, a subsidiary of Siemens]. But activated carbon created its own set of challenges; in particular, it gave off charcoal dust in any useful form factor. That’s obviously unacceptable around uniforms and other equipment. Furthermore, while activated carbon (and absorbing odor) made for a great marketing message, an activated-carbon solution works best in a constrained filtering environment such as a smoke stack or a water dispenser. Hockey and lacrosse bags are hardly controlled environments. After six months of trying, we determined it was the wrong approach. So we did a product pivot and identified a nationally known manufacturer in the odor control industry as a partner. This company worked closely with us to design and develop an odor-eliminating disposable for our product.”
Developing the Odor Gladiator’s exterior also involved its own host of challenges. Mike found an outstanding manufacturing partner in Pittsburgh, PA-based Parker Plastics. Mike relates, “Parker’s commitment to our success has been an invaluable asset from conception to commercialization.”
These alliances afforded Mike the leverage to launch and scale the company without a large staff and to keep costs low.
About Mike: Mike is a lawyer turned entrepreneur. He worked in a couple of big law firms after law school as a business and finance attorney focused on the tech sector. One night while working on a public offering for a technology client, he decided to acquire the functional skills required to create and ramp his own company.
Mike got the chance to jump into a startup that was pretty far along: Automated Healthcare which had just been acquired by McKesson. He started out as corporate counsel but subsequently was able to transition into a business role in which he led the company’s strategy and inorganic growth (mergers, acquisitions and alliances). Over the seven years that Mike was with McKesson, the company became more corporate, and he eventually found himself reporting to someone in Atlanta with a dotted line to a guy in San Francisco and another one to Pittsburgh. Mike’s previous boss, Rich Lunak, had left to join Innovation Works, one of Pittsburgh’s economic development organizations. Looking for a more entrepreneurial environment and continued growth opportunity, Mike left McKesson to become IW’s Chief Investment Officer.
Most recently, Mike has served in a sales and sales management role for a San Francisco-based technology company. The skills learned in client-facing trenches, combined with the business skills acquired in in his prior roles, provided Mike a practical foundation upon which to build and launch Odor Gladiator.
Where they are heading. Mike is aware that Odor Gladiator is not a high-tech, high-growth business, but it is certainly far more than a life style business: “Our goal is to scale and capture our unfair share of the hockey and lacrosse market, and we think it will be a very interesting product company with ancillary follow-on products and markets.” Mike hopes to take the company to retail in the spring and to scale operations in 2012. There’s no reason that Odor Gladiator can’t be positioned for potential acquisition opportunities downstream if Mike and his team are successful in their execution.
Challenges: Mike is having a blast taking this from inception to the market. The challenges are the same as many startups:
- Keeping the faith (and not burning out);
- Building the team (and finding work-life balance); and
- Continuing to have fun.
As for the latter point? He is: “Every day offers the opportunity for new challenges and achievements!”