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Bluetooth your burnt ends: BBQ tech startup fires up new way to keep tabs on those slabs

DATE POSTED:January 12, 2022

FireBoard is smoking toward its seventh office in seven years as hiring and product development heat up for the ever-expanding Kansas City-based maker of cloud-connected digital thermometers — a staple tool of many BBQ enthusiasts and restauranteurs.

It’s latest addition: the FireBoard Spark, an entry-level meat thermometer with a lower price point than previous models, sleek countertop design, leave-in probe option, and the flexibility to monitor and log temperatures with or without FireBoard’s app.

FireBoard Spark

“It is a natural extension of what we have already built,” said Ted Conrad, co-founder of FireBoard. “It uses the same mobile app and features people love about FireBoard, but it adds instant read capability.”

Click here to explore the Spark and other products from FireBoard.

Now producing its second-generation of thermometers, the company’s FireBoard 2 line — developed in June 2020 — also includes three tiered models of devices, designed to operate through smartphones or the web. Users can easily track up to six temperatures at once. The devices also alert users via SMS or email to make sure their temperatures are on track.

It’s tech that can help BBQ novices and competitive pitmasters alike, Conrad said.

“This is a hobby for most people, and it’s easy to get excited,” he said. “It’s a fun device, but it is something that makes cooking better. Temperature is key.”

The Spark’s rollout began in November 2021, and has already helped push the IoT startup’s team to more than 20, he said, emphasizing an extended period of growth for FireBoard. The company plans to move to a new facility in Columbus Park this summer.

“2020 was a huge year for us,” Conrad said. “We were up about 70 percent from the year before. 2021 built on that to some extent. In 2022, it is exciting to have the new product. Whenever you get to that, it is exciting to see where the growth is going.”

Watch a product demonstration for the Fireboard Spark below, then keep reading.

Completing the circuit

Co-founders Conrad and Steven Briggeman reconnected to launch FireBoard in 2015 more than a decade after graduating from Kansas State University. Though they had gone in different directions, they agreed the timing was right to start a tech company.

“Components with IoT (Internet of Things) started coming down in price,” Conrad said. “It seemed like the concept of making devices cloud connected made sense. Before, you could have made a cloud-connected device, but it would have been expensive.”

Leaving a 14-year career in the investment world, Conrad gravitated specifically toward tech solutions, he said, noting the need for simple, cloud-connected thermometers offered an opportunity he couldn’t resist.

“Even though it was a career shift, it felt natural,” Conrad said.

Wendy Jones and Lesley Moore pack FireBoard products ordered for the day at the company's Kansas City facilities

Wendy Jones and Lesley Moore pack FireBoard products ordered for the day at the company’s Kansas City facilities

Developing the first round of FireBoard products took about a year and a half, he said. Ensuring they worked took another two. When Conrad and Briggeman were ready to launch, they chose the crowdfunding route in late 2016.

“We had organic, word-of-mouth marketing,” Conrad said. 

“We probably gave out between 30 to 50 demo units for people to enjoy and learn what the FireBoard experience is,” he continued.

Initially, the products sold in the hundreds of units, so the co-founders hired a small team for assembly, kitting and shipping. Demand has grown significantly, he said, and so has the Kansas City operation.

“It started with two of us, then it went to four,” Conrad said. “Now, I think we’re at 21.” 

Click here to learn more about FireBoard.

FireBoard's current factory and headquarters at 3305 Terrace St., Kansas City

FireBoard’s current factory and headquarters at 3305 Terrace St., Kansas City

Hard-wired to scale

FireBoard’s product pipeline already is grilling up new ideas for 2022 with a new device expected to launch in the fall and others in various stages of development.

“The natural step for us is to make more connected sensors that are easier to use,” Conrad said. “We want to have a broader application. It could even expand to industrial applications. Continuing to add products as extensions to what we’ve already built makes sense.”

FireBoard hardware at the company's Kansas City factory

FireBoard hardware at the company’s Kansas City factory

FireBoard also aims to expand into the grocery store, food production, and restaurant markets with its products — tapping into the advantages of new record keeping software.

“I think we all just love technology,” Conrad said. “The hard part is executing on ideas. You may think of an idea, but actually making it into a quality product that will scale is more difficult than coming up with the idea.”

An in-the-works update to the FireBoard app will turn up the heat on an identified need that benefits new and existing product owners, he said, teasing functionality that will give people an estimate for how long dinner will take to cook.

“All the FireBoard products are cloud-connected, and they get updates automatically,” Conrad said. “People who bought a FireBoard years ago can still get the same benefits of purchasing a new product.”

The co-founders also hope to work with other Kansas City startups to find new uses for FireBoard’s tech. 

“If we can all work together and potentially help share ideas, I think there is a pretty cool story to tell in Kansas City,” Conrad said. “The key is building a quality product that solves a relatively simple problem. … When you work in technology, you start realizing what the possibilities are.”

Click here to shop FireBoard’s selection of devices, books, rubs and accessories.

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