February 17, 2023 • By Dennis Beaver
You likely have never heard of Keith Nothacker, or BACtrack, the company he founded in 2001 during his senior year at the University of Pennsylvania where he was an economics major.
And that’s OK with him, because Keith knows his company can take credit for saving untold numbers of lives – and that is no exaggeration – keeping drivers safe, and preventing thousands of arrests for DUI.
BACTrack’s story is an example of what one entrepreneur did to succeed, and Nothacker was more than willing to set out the steps he took that led to his company having the largest market share of personal breathalyzer sales in North America.
Law Enforcement Had Them but Individuals Did Not
BACTrack is the result of observations leading to an idea for a product that would address a specific need: Letting drivers know their own blood alcohol level before driving.
“On a university campus,” he points out, “it is no secret that students consume alcohol and some get pulled over and cited for DUI.” The police had breathalyzers but there was nothing on the market individuals could to buy enabling them to test themselves, to see their blood alcohol level, (BA) before deciding to drive.
This need was met by the team he assembled who developed the first personal breathalyzers.
Operative Word – Focus
“In a world where cryptocurrency gets hot, all these new fads come and go, but for us the operative term was focus. We did not try to become something that we were not. We identified an opportunity and focused relentlessly on it. It is a key to our success as there is no other company out there who can say, ‘We know personal breathalyzers better than BACtrack.’”
I asked Keith, “What role, if any, did customer feedback play in your success”?
“Good is good, but bad feedback is much more important,” he replied. “We had to focus on what the customer was willing to buy and their needs. That’s what paid the bills and allowed us to invest in research and development, growing this market from nothing to where we are now.”
Determine and Overcome Initial Challenges
“In the beginning, we had no momentum and so everything was a challenge. Getting any type of market acceptance was hard. Hiring people was difficult. Getting product developed was hard.
“Fast forward 21 years later – we have team members, but we had to create our own momentum day-to-day and hour-by-hour. You have to fight every hour of every day. That means checking all the boxes: Develop a product and distribution model that is profitable. Build a talented team.
“Have an eye on the future so you will have relevant products years from now – in addition to concentrating on the day-to-day.”
If Your Product Works, it will be picked up by Major Retailers
While things like Fitbit are accepted as normal and necessary health accessories today, “owning a personal breathalyzer was not in the beginning,” he points out.
“But what made it obvious as an item retail should be selling was our online sales that were huge as it met a customer need, solving a real problem. If you have a product or service that works, and you do things correctly, you’re going to have success.
“We were satisfying a true customer need – the ability to quickly and accurately estimate your BAC before driving. Law enforcement has an alcohol detector, so why shouldn’t everyone own one at a reasonable price point and test themselves?”
Start by Satisfying One Customer’s Needs
There is, of course, a formula for success in sales: “You start by satisfying one customer’s need, helping them to understand the relationship of alcohol levels to driving ability and safety. As we grew, we saw parents buying them to test their kids, schools who test the kids at a dance, so many people with alcohol use disorders. Society is much more aware of addressing health problems using technology, and that is what a breathalyzer offers. Ours are sold worldwide in 20,000 stores.”
What Causes an Entrepreneur to Fail?
Usually we only hear success stories, but I wanted to know his view of what causes an entrepreneur to fail. What are they doing wrong?
(1) Not focusing on the right things: For example, logos are nice, but they don’t pay bills. Your product or service must resonate with customers.
(2) Not hiring a great team. Our team is amazing. We have passionate and extremely smart people to work with.
(3) Play Hide the Ball – Refuse to discuss the bad news. Problems only get worse!
(4) Don’t Wait! Start a Business at a Young Age. If you can before having a family, so much the better so you will not have to navigate the challenges of family, work balance.
Why This Topic is so important to me
As a deputy district attorney I prosecuted many DUI cases and handle them in private practice. In every instance, if the defendant had known their blood alcoh9ol level, I’m sure most would not have driven.
Next to the requirement of a driver’s license should be owning a personal breathalyzer.
I’ve tested BACtrack devices against law enforcement units. Their numbers match. And, yes, there are good devices manufactured by other companies. My point is that if you are going to drive and drink, it is just common sense to own a personal breathalyzer.
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.