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Fireside chat with Brad Wertman, Founder of Reef Buddy

Who is Brad Wertman?

I started my career doing product testing in the Detroit, Michigan automotive industry for companies like General Motors and Toyota. Later after moving to NYC, a place without a strong auto industry presence, I picked up web development to utilize my project management skills and still remain in a technical workspace. Being around the robust startup scene that had taken hold in NYC it tapped into my entrepreneurial spirit in a way that working for larger corporations such as GM and Toyota did not. From that point I would later dive into launching some business ideas of my own.

What’s the story behind Reef Buddy?

Reef Buddy was different from any of the prior startups I had worked on. It was borne entirely out of one of my own problems that I was trying to solve. I was one year in to having my own reef aquarium setup that had me doing a great deal of daily maintenance.

My wife and I had an opportunity to travel to SE Asia for 10 weeks but I knew no one in the hobby who I could ask to look after things while I was away. I had looked at some of the solutions in the market that automated this maintenance but they came with a hefty price tag of upwards of $2000.

Financially this wasn’t something that worked for me considering the expense of the travel I was about to embark on. As a result I grabbed a Raspberry Pi micro computer and put together my own system for about $200. After returning from our trip I found it to have worked well and asked the question why did reef aquarium maintenance automation equipment need to be so expensive.

What was the most difficult part of your experience in the early beginnings?

The most difficult thing is definitely the difference between bringing a web based service to market verses bringing something that has a physical electronics hardware component to the offering. People in the space often say that hardware is called hardware for a reason; it’s really hard. I’ve spent countless hours sourcing the right partner to help in bringing a consumer electronic product to market and tens of thousands of my own money.

What are you most proud of regarding your business?

I’m definitely the most proud of the people and network that has rallied behind Reef Buddy to help move it to where it is today. People like Tim Sandwisch of Local Networks who helped develop the Reef Buddy brand and social network presence, TJ Marzano of Valerity who I just received our hardware prototype from that is the most attractive looks-like, works-like prototype I could ask for and the people at the New York Designs business accelerator who brought countless resources to my business and helped push things forward in a way I could have never done on my own!

What is your vision for the future of Reef Buddy?

Other companies in the reef aquarium equipment space sell you a product that has no connection to the long term commitment it takes to be successful in the hobby. My vision for Reef Buddy is to give the hobbyist a product that connects them to our automation services and is there with them for the life of their aquarium. Reef Buddy is an affordable hardware enabled subscription service. It’s why we say at Reef Buddy we help you automate your tank and keep your money in the bank!

What’s your advice for the businesses that are trying to adapt to this economic climate? 

You can’t really talk about the economic climate without bringing up the impact of COVID. It had a big impact on our progress but the worst is behind us. Still it has changed the way business will be conducted in an irreversible way. Businesses have learned that remote teams work and that it isn’t necessary to pay high rents to have access to talent in big cities like NYC, LA and Chicago. This is an opportunity for small startup teams to have a leveled playing field to go after big business’ market share that they should take advantage of. They should go out and utilize services in middle America that offer the same quality at competitive rates.

Please name a few technologies which have the greatest impact on your business.

Like a lot of businesses we utilize backend as a Platform as a Service providers, Firebase and Google Cloud Platform for example. These are affordable services that readily scale with business demand. A lesser known service that we love is Mender. Mender lets us deploy firmware updates to our remote hardware devices in ways that would take large investments in people and infrastructure that simply would not be practical for us.

What books do you have on your nightstand?

The first is subscribed by Tien Tzou, the former CMO and CSO of Salesforce and cofounder of Zuora. Subscribed is the book that opened my eyes to the subscription business model that Reef Buddy would be built on. To summarize starts with the fact that nobody really cares about your product. Everyone buys a product because of what it can do for them. So why own a product when you can subscribe to a service that serves the same purpose? The book obviously goes into much greater detail with great examples and is well worth a read.The second is Shackleton’s Way by Margot Morrell and Stephanie Capparell. For those not familiar with Sir Ernest Shackleton he was an Antarctic explorer who led three expeditions in the early 1900s. As you can imagine the Antarctic even today is one of the most brutal environments on earth. The trials that his crew faced and how they got through them show both the faults and potential of human nature that is timelessly applicable. And in a place that put them in no shortage of crisis situations Shackleton provides us with great examples of leadership that brought his men to overcome each situation. The book really is like a manual that every great leader should aspire to live by. 

Because of the current economic climate our publication has started a series of discussions with professional individuals meant to engage our readers with relevant companies and their representatives in order to discuss their involvement, what challenges they have had in the past and what they are looking forward to in the future. This sequence aims to present a series of experiences, recent developments, changes and downsides in terms of their business areas, as well as their goals, values, career history, the high-impact success outcomes and achievements.

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