A year ago, at CES, I broke out the snark-hammer at 444, a startup that was trying to make a ‘smart’ pepper spray device. I came across the same company again at CES this year. To my surprise, it had landed a significant partnership, co-development, and co-branding deal with Mace, one of the biggest names in the sprayable self-defense sector.
444‘s agreement with Mace is “a preliminary exclusivity agreement for purposes of jointly developing and bringing to market a smart pepper spray device that is GPS and Bluetooth enabled and which sends out current location to emergency contacts when deployed.”
“We were here at CES last year, starting with a rough-looking 3D print and an example PCBA board. We made a lot of connections, and we got some news articles from TechCrunch and many others,” says Logan Nash, co-founder at 444. “The wind just kind of took the idea out there in the self-defense industry. A few months after CES, Mace reached out reached out to us, and we’ve built a great relationship with them and finalized our partnership”
The samples 444 had at its booth were pre-production samples that looked stellar: Great design, well-made, and almost ready to go into production. The team tells me they hope to start spinning up production in the next few months.
“We did a lot of customer discovery to figure out exactly what the consumer wants, and what they need. One of the things we kept hearing was that the users want a sleek, aesthetically appealing device. So that’s what we have here. A great-looking device with great colors and high quality, it’s very strong. It has a metal frame to really keep everything together,” Nash explains. “But we also wanted longevity for the device. If the user does deploy their pepper spray, they can unscrew the back, and replace the canister so it’s ready for another use.”
The replaceable-cannister model is novel; most pepper sprays are cheap single-use devices, but 444’s offering is a premium product that will cost significantly more than the $14-for-two devices you can order on Amazon. Its price tag is likely to be in the $75-100 range, the team tells TechCrunch, so being able to reuse the device and the electronics is crucial.
The company hastens to share that even if you forget to charge the device, the Mace part still works – that’s fully mechanical – although obviously the GPS alert system to your support circle wouldn’t be activated.
“When you deploy the device, pepper spray comes out. It also sends a signal to your phone, which will send your current – and live – location to nominated emergency contact, whether that’s mom, dad, brother, sister, you name it,” says Nash. “That part is free. For an additional subscription, the app will connect you to a 24-hour emergency hotline which will then direct you to local authorities, whether that’s police dispatchers or campus security.”
As a company, Mace has had a rough couple of years. From a peak market cap of $46 million in April 2021, today, the company is worth less than $2.5 million. It stands to reason that the company is turning to young innovators to bolster its relevance in the market.
“Mace Brand is very excited about this first-of-its-kind smart product for Mace. The spray is the most advanced of its kind and we believe the most significant release in the industry in decades,” Sanjay Singh, Chairman and CEO of Mace Brand wrote in a press statement. “This product is perfect for those who value personal safety while looking for the most technologically advanced product. The product’s high-end design should appeal to consumers on the move and at home.”
I’ll have the humble pie for one, please, sir.
Let me be the first to say that I really didn’t see that coming; I was genuinely surprised to be reminded of the company at all, and doubly baffled they were still around. I missed something – and it’s a little refreshing to be reminded of that in such a person-to-person way as running into the founders at the very same trade show a year later.
I often end up seeing startups at CES that seem completely pointless (this year, my eyes did backflips over Direction 9. If they get acquired by Samsung by next year, I guess I really have to reevaluate my role as an analyst), and after many years of seeing startups do dumb things, I do find myself a little jaded.
This serves as a great great reminder that, for true entrepreneurs, it takes more than a snarky post from an opinionated blogger to encourage them to throw in the towel. Consider this my “Hey, I’m wrong at least 20% of the time” confession, and I’m curious to see where 444 goes from here.