Founders of Williamston, S.C.-based manufacturing startup tForm plan to bootstrap their way to success and hire up to 50 people over the next three years with a combined $500,000 in funding to kick of 2016.
The company manufactures custom plastic items for the medical, automotive and electronic component industries using a method called thermoforming. The team plans to disrupt the long-opaque industry – pegged between $7 billion and $10 billion – by delivering orders in just a third of the time and offering standardized, instant-quote pricing.
Bootstrapping instead of raising outside funds means more independence, but can also mean fewer safety nets. The trade-off is worth it, for now, said co-founder Ben Moore, a previous design and engineering contractor for around 60 manufacturing firms in the Upstate. “There’s a thousand different factors that could cause this to fall flat on its face,” he said.
According to Moore, most small- to medium-sized thermoform runs take three months of tedious back-and-forth exchanges to get through the design of the packaging, price quoting, the actual manufacturing and delivery of the order. Moore’s self-run market research showed it took 11 days to get a quote back, the same quote Moore claims to do in a fraction of the time using design partners and customer-facing instant quoting software.
For small or medium runs, “packaging can kind of come at the end … and they might not want to wait three months for packaging,” said Harv Rettberg, a tForm co-founder alongside Moore and Mark St. Denis, all past coworkers at Champion Aerospace in Pickens County. “It’s phenomenally transparent. … We’ve touched many local customers that are interested in this kind of packaging, and they have given us a very favorable idea that they would do business with us.”
Moore said the company already has several customer project orders on the books, and hopes to be fully up and running by the end of January. He plans to hire around 15 employees during 2016, and up to 50 employees across everything from management to engineering over the next three years. Moore also expects to soon fill up and outgrow the company’s current 6,000-square-foot building in Williamston.
Moore graduated from Greenville’s Founder Institute Program in 2015, which was co-directed by Upstate Business Journal Publisher Ryan Johnston. Program graduates, directors and mentors participate in a Shared Liquidity Pool of equity formed from each cohort’s graduating companies.
“This is an opportunity to see a company grow from the ground up,” said Rettberg, a previous director of both sales and engineering. “If you fall, there is no net. It’s thrilling.”