MissionCIT CEO and Co-Founder Warren Fisher spoke with MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price about his entrepreneurial experience, helping launch a new startup, and integrating into Connecticut’s entrepreneur ecosystem.
NAN PRICE: Have you always been entrepreneurial?
WARREN FISHER: Yes. I started my first business at age 25 as a value-added reseller using the latest technology from Silicon Valley and building systems for manufacturers in the Chicago area. It was a successful business. I ran it for two years then sold it to a consulting company that had been contracting us and worked for them for seven years. That was my first entrepreneurial experience.
Since then, I’ve been an intrapreneur in several businesses. Life led me to having children and I needed more of the stability of working for someone else. Nine years ago, I moved to Connecticut from Westchester, NY, where I was running software companies. I’m a software engineer who learned how to sell and grew through the ranks to eventually run these companies.
NAN: Most of your business experience is from outside of Connecticut. How did you plug into the entrepreneur community here?
WARREN: When I moved to Connecticut, I was heads down, running this turnaround for a New York private equity company. Once I completed the turnaround, I wanted to help startups and update my tech skills by learning the latest in website technology. The first website I built is www.winebuyoftheday.com, which is still active.
I didn’t have a network here and I needed to build one, which Nerac, Inc. President Kevin Bouley helped me to do. I was introduced to Kevin when I wanted to get involved in the startup community as a mentor. That’s how I found XcellR8 and connected with Kevin. I figured, with my involvement with XcellR8, if any startups came through where I thought I might add value, maybe there would be an opportunity.
NAN: Is that how you became involved with MissionCIT?
WARREN: Exactly. A team came through and presented a startup that planned to build virtual reality training for firefighters. I thought it was such a cool concept. They had a graphic artist and two firefighters—and nobody who knew anything about software. They were building a software company and paying retail for a prototype. I started out as an advisor and then they asked me to join the company.
I did my due diligence on the market and found out that the training for fire service is extensive, but the market for virtual reality training was very small with a long sales cycle. The cost to develop virtual reality training programs using the current technology was very high, and there are hundreds of courses to build. Bottom line, it was near impossible to make money with high costs and a limited market.
So, we needed to pivot and, shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the team and I met with the head of the Office of Emergency Medical Services in Connecticut to find out how to best meet their needs. We found out they really wanted a hybrid training platform.
NAN: Did that help you target your niche and clientele?
WARREN: Yes. We then built this company to do hybrid training for first responders, firefighters, and EMT services. We understood that the fire service likes to buy from folks in the fire service. So, we had an in there with my colleagues who are firefighters.
We then realized there was a market niche for services the fire service does not like to do or cannot do. For example, they like to train firefighters to be firefighters and advance their firefighting knowledge.
In Connecticut, every firefighter has to be EMT certified. MissionCIT provides that training.
We also found an opportunity to provide testing. If you’re a career firefighter and you want to become an officer—a lieutenant, captain, or a chief—you have to take a test that must be provided by a third-party company. We provide those tests, now enhanced using our technology platform.
Also, fire departments of all kinds—volunteer, career, and hybrid—often need a suite of strategic services to help them with things like planning and recruitment, and retention. We also help with that.
We’ve built a technology platform providing hybrid content for EMTs and the fire service. We built a lot of content for EMTs and we’re starting to build more fire content. And we’ve been extending our promotional testing and strategic services client base.
We’re selling primarily in Connecticut because that was our base to build a solid infrastructure. Early on, we connected with four out of the nine fire schools in the state. These schools provide basic firefighter training and some specialty courses. They don’t provide EMT training and they don’t generally hire outside companies to deliver the courses.
MissionCIT is the first company they hired to provide EMT training through the fire schools. That earned us a lot of credibility in the state—and we got it because my colleagues are firefighters. It’s really resonating within the fire service that they know the people on our team are excellent at what they do. And they know they have somebody who knows how to run a business and build technology.
NAN: Any advice to others starting a business?
WARREN: I have a few tips. One is to go out and sell something. You don’t know what the customer wants until they say, “Yes, I’ll pay for that” versus “That’s a great idea and I’ll probably buy it from you.” You want to find the “Yes, I’ll pay for that and I need this now.”
The corollary to that is: Be ready to pivot because, however great an idea you have, it may not be what the market wants, especially if there are not already people out there who know how to buy what you want to sell. It’s about the pivot. It’s about talking to customers and finding out what they want to buy. And they usually tell you if you’re honest and open and sincere.
Finally, sometimes things come full circle, as we now have a client contracting us to build virtual reality courses for them.