Founder Friday: Seyed Nourbakhsh, Formarum

There are over 10 million residential swimming pools in the U.S. In the heat of summer, the last thing you want is to have an unusable pool because it’s dirty or contaminated with algae.

2016 Winner Formarum developed a unique saltwater sanitization system that operates through a self-powered device and integrates with existing recirculation systems. Homeowners can easily set up the device themselves, saving time and money on installation. Maintenance is also hassle-free, with continuous monitoring of sanitization levels – and if there are any changes, you’ll be in-the-know with notifications sent to a wireless device.

Formarum is currently beta-testing this Dive Smart Sanitizer in residential swimming pools across Western New York, and they’ve received rave reviews so far. Testers are claiming it’s the “easiest summer they’ve ever had” when it comes to pool maintenance. No doubt this is exactly the type of feedback Formarum was hoping for.

Learn more about the founder of Formarum, Seyed Nourbakhsh, and how Dive went from a prototype in his college apartment to receiving a purchase commitment for 1,500 units (while he’s still in the testing phase).

How did your startup, well, start up?

During my second year of undergrad studies at Ryerson University in Toronto, I was hired as an engineering intern in the Research and Development department of a small swimming pool equipment manufacturing company for 4 months. The 4-month internship turned into a 2-year contract while I was finishing my degree. During those 2 years, I spoke first-hand with a lot of consumers of our products and the number one challenge was teaching them how to install and operate the equipment we were manufacturing. But it also showed me a lot of people were willing to take on the challenge of installing their own pool equipment that I wasn’t aware of before.

After finishing my work and going back to school for my final year, I kept thinking about the idea that since people are willing to try installing pool equipment themselves, if I could make it simpler and more user-friendly for these devices to be installed, I could change the adaption and conversion rates to this equipment. So I started buying small parts and prototyping in my apartment to come up with a solution.

A few days before graduation, Ryerson University launched an award program for entrepreneurial ideas in engineering called the Norman Esch Engineering Awards. I submitted an application and in a span of about 5 months, won 3 stages ($38,000 CAD) in awards. I used that seed money to hire my sister and one of my classmates, and Formarum was officially founded in September of 2013.

What do you do? Your startup?

We have designed a self-powered smart device for residential swimming pools called Dive Smart Sanitizer. Dive makes it really simple for pool owners to convert their manually chlorinated pools into salt pools (which is a significantly more convenient and comfortable pool sanitization system) with a fraction of the costs and hassles of existing solutions. It also includes an algae control technology and a smart wireless platform that keeps pool owners notified of changes in pool conditions and allows them to control different aspects of their pool sanitization.

When was the ‘aha’ moment for your startup when you realized this could actually work?

About a year and a half after starting work on the technology, I got a message on our Facebook page by a person working for one of Canada’s largest pool product distributors telling me to go to their offices and present the idea. That day, I walked out of their offices with a letter of intent to purchase 1,500 units of our products when it is ready. The reaction of their management team and that letter of intent told me that we were on track and we were creating something of value. That letter of intent later evolved into our first confirmed order.

What tools can you not live without and why?

Formarum would not exist without relatively affordable 3D printing technologies/services. Our core technology, the miniature turbine system that powers our devices, was developed and refined over a period of 3 years of trial and error using rapid prototyping with hundreds of 3D printed parts.

What was some important advice you received when starting up and who told it to you?

About a year after starting Formarum, I met Marzio Pozzuoli, Founder of RuggedCom Inc. He told me the key to success is perseverance against adversity. It sounds very simple and cliché, but remembering that very simple sentence has gotten me through hard times where I thought we were close to going out of business.

What is the best part/worst part of your day as a founder?

Nowadays, the best parts of my day are talking to our beta users who are using our devices in their pools. There is something extremely exciting about working on an engineering project for 4 years in the lab and then taking it to the field and seeing its real impact in people’s homes – the sparkling clean pool water and them telling you this has been their easiest summer when it comes to pool maintenance.

The worst, or I should say the most demanding, part of my day would be contemplating about the things that could potentially go wrong as we try to launch and grow the business. I believe it is a part of a founder/CEO’s job to try to predict things that can go wrong and prevent them, and by definition that means spending a portion of your time purposefully exploring negative scenarios. That can be very mentally demanding but is necessary.

Goals for the next year? Three years?

Our goal for next year is delivering our first commercial order and opening U.S. distribution channels for our product. I want to see our products around the U.S. and Canada in 3 years, potentially expand to other markets in Europe, and invest in R&D to create other great products that we have in mind.

Why Buffalo?

The U.S. is the largest swimming pool market in the world. It is also the supplier of the majority of our components in our products. Being a Canadian company from Toronto, Buffalo is a great location for basing our manufacturing and sales/marketing operations, with easy access to U.S. consumers and supplies. The inexpensive real estate and availability of manufacturing infrastructure and workforce is also a big plus.

How do you do it? What drives you?

The desire to influence and impact things around me rather than being a spectator.