While working as a pilot for an emergency medical service, Pete Paulin became interested in cryogenic tempering—a process by which tools, knives and other metals can be made more durable and efficient through exposure to extremely cold temperatures. Internet research and consultations with friends in the industry convinced Pete that there was a vast untapped market for these services. Wanting to take the lead in an exciting new industry, Pete contacted his local SCORE chapter to get the marketing advice he needed to reach his target audience.
"Cryogenic treatment is nothing new," he explains, "but in the early '90s, existing firms had done little to market their capabilities. The more I learned about the potential applications, the bigger this opportunity became."
Pete solved one technical hurdle—precise temperature control—on his own through some experiments with a simple computer and his wife's hair dryer. But other challenges seemed beyond even his inventiveness. With only $400 and a credit card, how could he hope to finance equipment, identify potential customers, and develop a marketing plan, not to mention the myriad administrative details of business management? "My idea was just like constructing a house," Pete says. "I had a vision of a finished product, but I needed help getting it built."
Since its founding, 300 Below has grown in both size and scope. Pete has added key management personnel, upgraded equipment, and twice relocated to larger facilities. In its fifth year of operation, the company's sales topped the $1 million mark. 300 Below has also been featured in numerous national science and industry publications, a USA Today feature and a program on the Discovery Channel.
"Business is great and getting better," says Pete. "We've inverted our business plan, having gone from 20,000 customers with small projects to a smaller client base worth hundreds of thousands of dollars each. That has improved the production efficiencies for both the manufacturers and my company, and given me a little more free time."
So what's Pete doing with his spare time? Working with SCORE. "I regularly stay in touch with my mentor, Rupert Macpherson, who is just a prince of a guy," Pete says. "I also speak to their new clients, and tell them what we went through and what to expect as they get their businesses started. It's my way of giving back to an organization that was extremely helpful to me."
"SCORE helped me to fill in my house brick by brick," he says. "SCORE showed me how to identify markets and suppliers, understand management and accounting systems and develop a financial structure to secure working capital."
Pete never forgets that his success was due in large part to a dream, tenacity and help from SCORE. "Rupert and the other mentors helped me plan, set goals and evaluate results," he says. "They also offered a never-ending supply of moral support, which helped me survive the normal ups and downs of a start-up. When you sit across from an experienced person who's been down this road before, you get a clearer vision of what you need to do, and what you can accomplish."
Pete found the ideal contractor for his dream when he met SCORE Mentor Rupert Macphereson, a former marketing director of an agricultural company. Rupert was a kindred spirit. He realized immediately that Pete had a great idea; he just needed to convey it to the right people.
At Rupert's suggestion, Pete first targeted area industries and utilized an existing cryogenic firm's facilities. By offering free trials, Pete convinced customers that his process could reduce industrial tool expenses by 5 percent or more. In a matter of months, he was able to purchase equipment and offer cryogenic services on his own.
Another important "brick" was access to technical knowledge. Rupert introduced Pete to experts in the fields of electronics and metallurgy—a valuable conduit of information that would help take 300 Below beyond the industrial market. Before long, Pete's cryogenic treatment was improving the tone of musical instruments; reducing friction in engine parts; and making razor blades, plastics and even nylon hose last longer.