Each year an estimated 40,000 injuries occur due to the use of table saws. Add in joiners, planers, and sanders, and it’s another 11,000 injuries each year. In most cases, these injuries are accidents that could have been avoided—and in total, there are more than 410,000 related injuries that happen on an annual basis.
Scott Swaaley is the Founder & CEO of MAKESafe Tools, a Silicon Valley Founder Institute portfolio company pioneering solutions that prevent hazards caused by power tools.
There are two concerns when it comes to the safety and use of power tools: Humans don’t read instructions, and don’t know all of the relevant safety standards. Take for example OSHA’s safety and standards for power tools. There are dozens of them, and within each standard, there are close to another 100 subsections. That’s a lot to know to operate power tools, especially considering how few people even pick up an instruction or safety book before using a tool. Because of this fact, many incidents that occur due to the use of these tools are considered preventable. For professional use of power tools, OSHA requires businesses to follow each of these rules, but accidents still happen.
Swaaley first became interested in trying to alleviate safety concerns associated with power tools during his time running educational maker spaces and labs for schools.
Over the past 10 years, Swaaley has identified a number of safety issues: in an environment where kids are learning new skills, just meeting the safety standards wasn’t sufficient. Swaaley says,
The world of power tools is full of risky assumptions. For example, people believe that once you turn a tool off, it's no longer a danger. Yet the reality is that tools like band saws and grinders can coast for over a minute after being turned off - definitely still a danger. I first identified this issue running maker spaces and after learning that there were no products in the market to address this, I I built a prototype for that [school] shop. People kept asking about it so I went through FI, found that this product had legs, and the rest is history.
Three years later, Swaaley is now focused on MAKESafe Tools full-time—the company has successfully bootstrapped its way forward, and today has sales continuing to roll in, is in ongoing talks with three new distributors, and has a new manufacturing partnership locked in. Swaaley’s was even featured in Most Likely to Succeed, a documentary that focuses on reimagining how students and teachers interact through makerspaces, and what educators are capable of doing when they think outside the traditional classroom lecture. MAKESafe Tools is also hard at work on several new products.
This work is important. We are working to make sure that workers go home safe to their families each night.
For more than 40 years, these same types of related injuries have predictably and continually impacted lives.
People already know about these hazards but they don’t do anything about them—and that’s because it’s simply too hard. They might have a $300 machine, and they would need to spend hours upon hours and over $5,000 to really make a difference, so nobody does it. Instead, they can now just buy our product and have all the benefits without the headache. Our product that work with almost any stationary power tool and installs in seconds - you just plug it in.
When asked what challenges MAKESafe Tools faced as a bootstrapped startup, Swaaley said that you have to be a jack-of-all-trades. That means one day he is building the website, the next he’s building prototypes in the shop, and the following day he’s working on sales and marketing initiatives. Regardless of the task, as an entrepreneur, Swaaley says you have to embrace the willingness to doing everything. He also highlighted the importance of finding mentors and building peer groups.
I’ve talked to hundreds of people and have had to learn how to filter out useful feedback from general noise. After months of searching, I met a guy through a bootstrapper breakfast, and have since joined his MasterMind group - a group of entrepreneurs that meet regularly to support each other. This group has been my most consistently useful source of feedback and advice. Everyone knows my history, they have a broad swath of experience, and they help to keep me focused, productive, and moving in the right direction.
As an entrepreneur working on your own, it can be easy to run in circles. But having strong mentors and peer groups provides an outlet for entrepreneurs to avoid the echo chamber and have their ideas challenged early and often. It wasn’t easy finding his ideal group and mentors, but now that he has, Swaaley takes time to share his gratitude towards them, and give back to other entrepreneurs.
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