Raleigh's FilterEasy makes it easy to replace those 'nasty' air filters

dranii@newsobserver.comJuly 11, 2014 

— As the name intentionally implies, local startup FilterEasy aims to wring the hassle out of buying air filters for heating and air-conditioning systems.

The company offers an online subscription service that regularly sends the air filters you need for your HVAC system right to your door.

"We weren't the first (company) to do this, by any means," said co-founder and CEO Thad Tarkington. "But no one had really done it in the right way."

Tarkington and co-founder Kevin Barry, the chief operating officer, dropped out of N.C. State University last year to pursue their entrepreneurial dream. But Tarkington, 22, and Barry, 21, have no regrets considering how FilterEasy has performed since they officially launched their website in May 2013 following a successful beta test.

Although they decline to say how many subscribers their five-employee company has, they say FilterEasy's monthly revenue has been nearly doubling.

"We'll do over a million in revenue this year," Tarkington say.

When they scoped out the online competition, Tarkington and Barry found that the other companies - none of which were very big - were charging premium prices for the convenience of home delivery. They decided that the key to success, in addition to having a user-friendly website, was to charge prices that made their service comparably priced to buying filters from a big-box retailer.

"We may not be making as much (profit) as a store," Tarkington said. "We're interested in having customers who will be with us for a lifetime. We're not looking to make a quick buck on one filter."

Consumers who sign up online for FilterEasy's service select how many filters they need (most homes need 1 to 3 filters); filter size; the filter grade they want; and whether them want them delivered monthly, every other month, or once every three months.

Customers aren't charged until the filters are shipped, and they can cancel at any time.

Venture capitalist Jason Caplain of Bull City Venture Partners and Southern Capitol Ventures is a satisfied FilterEasy customer. Neither of his firms has invested in the business.

Caplain said he used to set his calendar to remind him every three months that it was time to change his filter. When the time came, if he didn't have any filters on hand he'd end up going to the store to buy a three-pack; he'd store the two he didn't need immediately in a closet.

But no more.

"The convenience thing, I just can't stress it enough," Caplain said of FilterEasy's service. "Now, all of a sudden, (the air filter) just shows up, and I know I have to change it."

Caplain also was impressed by the simplicity of signing up to be a FilterEasy customer.

"I think these guys have developed a very elegant solution," he said. "It's a real easy interface."

Last December, FilterEasy raised $310,000 in funding from a group of local investors, including members of RTP Capital Associates, which is a network of so-called angel investors who plow their money into startups.

"We thought very highly of Kevin and Thad. We thought they were both very energetic young men," said Mark Friedman, co-chair of RTP Capital's investment committee. "It was very refreshing to see two guys as young as they were when they started this business really understand the market that they were trying to build their business around."

The market that FilterEasy is attacking also is appealing, Friedman said.

"Anybody who has a home has a need for air filters," Friedman said. "Buying them at the store is a pain in the neck."

Tarkington and Barry said that getting a thorough understanding of the market took a lot of leg work - including walking the filter aisle at home improvement stores and talking to HVAC companies.

"At one point we even showed up at ... a manufacturing facility," Barry said.

But they also had expert guidance stemming from their acceptance last year in The Iron Yard, a business accelerator in Greenville, S.C. Like many accelerators, Iron Yard provides seed funding for startups - FilterEasy received $20,000 - and also provides mentoring.

Barry said the inspiration for FilterEasy came from his own experience replacing a "nasty" air filter in his apartment that was way past its replacement date.

"I went to Home Depot to go grab a new filter. That took me 25 minutes to get there," he said. "It turned out that the filter size was incorrect. So I had to repeat the entire process again to get the correct one."

Ranii: 919-829-4877

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