Online Campaign Gives Life to Shelved Idea - Tire Review Magazine

Online Campaign Gives Life to Shelved Idea

RightPSI makes use of Kickstarter to raise money for its tire pressure device.

The RightPSI product easily screws onto the valve stem, and a change in color lets drivers know tire pressure at a glance. It turns fully orange when a tire is 20% underinflated.

Dr. Philip J. Milanovich took many road trips with his family in the 1940s and 1950s. One of the things he remembers most about these trips is repairing tire blowouts while on the road. With the tires of the day, his family would constantly have to patch or change tires. Naturally, tire pressure mattered a lot to Philip.

All the tire blowouts gave Philip an idea: Why not create a tire cap that indicates when the tire pressure is getting low or is too high? The invention stayed in the back of Philip’s mind for several decades until he finally patented his idea in 1994 and called it RightPSI.

In 2009, Philip’s son, John, visited family in his home­town of Bozeman, Mont. Philip, now in his 70s, decided to share his patented ideas with John.

“He basically said, ‘I have to get you on the safety deposit box in case something happens,’” John says. “I knew he had some things patented from discussions about it when I was in high school, but I had no idea he had that many of them.”

John immediately clicked with his dad’s RightPSI concept; he thought it was a good invention to run with. He took his father’s concept, created and patented a unique design for it and began to market the product.

While it’s taken five years, John has managed to turn his father’s valve cap inflation pressure indicator idea that was collecting dust in a safety deposit box into a marketable reality. The RightPSI has gained much attention and hype online, especially on Kickstarter, one of the most popular crowd-funding websites. That site helped John to raise thousands of dollars and increase interest so it could be manufactured and ready for tire dealers and consumers in summer 2014.

Power of a Cap

The RightPSI is simple: It’s a mechanical cap that screws onto the tire valve. RightPSI units come in a variety of pre-set inflation pressures. There is a spring inside it that measures the tire’s pressure.

The RightPSI cap top begins to turn orange when a tire is one to two psi lower than required. A tiny orange strip on the device signifies the tire needs to be checked. The Right­PSI unit will turn completely orange when a tire is 20% underinflated. Zampolin explains that if a tire were supposed to be inflated to 32 psi, the RightPSI would be completely orange when it loses 6.4 psi.

It’s not a full-fledged TPMS, but it is significantly more accurate and robust than other cap sensors, John says.

Jack Zampolin, vice president of business development with Right­PSI, says the product is stress-tested to last at least three years, has an anti-theft hex on the back so it’s not easy to take off or steal and the team that worked on it made sure it would not leak any air out.

“It’s extremely robust with high-quality plastic, so it’s non-corrosive,” he says. “These things aren’t going to break down because of salt in the winter, either.”

When the product is available, Zampolin says the RightPSI team should have it offered at all different pressure levels. Currently, they can go up to 120 psi for truck tire applications; certainly the caps would be far more accurate than tire thumpers, John says.

Zampolin says there isn’t much competition for the RightPSI.

“There are products similar to RightPSI and they do make caps that show you the tire pressure, but the thing that differentiates RightPSI from all the other tire caps out there is you can pump directly through our cap. That lets you use the gauge while you’re filling it,” Zampolin notes. “It makes for a seamless experience when filling your tires.”

Once the product is available, Zampolin says it will sell for $14 for two or $24 for four units.

The RightPSI garnered much attention on Kickstarter. Milanovich attributes this success to strong public relations and marketing efforts throughout the campaign.

Right Niche, Right Time

Crowd-funding was popularized around 2012 among artists, musicians and small businesses and entrepreneurs who wanted a quick way to get backing for a project, product or an entire business concept.

What’s the idea behind these crowd-funding websites like Kickstarter? Imagine a high school band camp fundraiser scaled to a global basis. People from around the world can donate various amounts of money to provide to help ‘kickstart’ projects, products or businesses they think deserve to succeed. In return, the founders of those projects give back to their “backers” set “rewards,” which are often samples of what is being produced.

Zampolin notes that RightPSI had a great response to the product prototypes at several SEMA Shows and from different tire dealers and distributors. He says the only thing missing was the funding to get the product manufactured. He and John Milanovich launched a project page for the RightPSI on Kickstarter so consumers and businesses could donate toward its production.

Zampolin says, “If you’re going to crowdfund, Kickstarter has the strongest eco-system behind it. We thought it would be a fun way to get engagement with our future customers and get some buzz about the product as we get closer to launch.”

There aren’t many car-related projects on Kickstarter; aspiring artists, musicians and authors create the bulk of the projects on the site. Milanovich and Zam­polin posted the RightPSI on the technology section of the site, but Milanovich says this section is a “tough market” compared to other areas on the site, with success rates at around 30%.

Milanovich and Zampolin failed with their first Kickstarter launch around the holiday season in 2013. While they had some donations, the effort did not meet the project goal of $30,000. Zam­polin says it likely failed because they didn’t have enough marketing or PR on the product, and the holiday season is the worst time to try to crowd-fund.

The pair decided to try again with the crowd-funding site on Feb. 15, re-launching the project, setting their goal at $20,000 from potential investors within 45 days. Within a matter of two days, John says they had raised $12,000 on the site, even more than they had raised overall in their previous project.

By March, the RightPSI surpassed its original goal of $20,000, hitting upwards of $70,000 by April 1 to fund its production.

“As of mid-March, we’re at 275% of what we thought we’d get initially,” Milanovich says.

The keys to RightPSI’s success: Timing, pricing and strategic marketing.

“You need to price the product the way it will be in retail or at a slight discount,” Milanovich explains. “When we gave it a shot the first time, we didn’t do that at all. Lowering the price was a huge help for us. Secondly, timing. Spring is one of the best times to launch; it’s after people’s tax returns come back. January is the worst time, which is around when we launched before. You can make that time of year work, but it’s harder.”

Milanovich comments that ramping the product up via public relations and marketing helps a lot when trying to assure a Kickstarter campaign is successful.

Value to Dealers?

Tire dealers can easily see the benefits of RightPSI, and add extra sales while helping customers save their tires and some money.

“It’s an easy upsell,” Zampolin notes. “If you’re selling a set of tires, you can say, ‘Here, this will help protect your investment.’”

Zampolin says to remind customers that the product will pay for itself in a matter of five to six months, as it will save gas mileage and tire life. To commercial tire dealers that work with large fleets, remind them that tires with RightPSI caps improve tire life and make it easier to manage tire maintenance.

Milanovich notes that if used on enough vehicles, the device could help improve the environment. Americans waste four million gallons of gas a day on low tire pressure, he says, and add to that the millions of drivers in other countries riding on underinflated tires. He suggests if more drivers use something like the RightPSI to track their tire pressure, the world might be a less damaged place.

And to think, in the course of a couple of decades, this little device traveled from one man’s mind to an attic to an online fundraising system and finally to market.

This article appeared in the April 2014 edition of Tire Review. You can read the entire issue on your phone or tablet by downloading the Tire Review app.

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