A Los Angeles man has made a multimillion-dollar business from selling guns that kill flies with … salt.
That’s right: just regular table salt.
Lorenzo Maggiore, 57, made the gun, which he calls Bug-A-Salt. Its primary purpose is to stun or kill bugs with salt, which makes it safe to use near food and prevents a huge mess of bug debris from forming.
“That’s another thing that’s beautiful about it, it leaves them whole,” Maggiore said, according to CNBC’s Make It. According to him, much of the time the salt gun doesn’t kill the bug, but it does get the bug off the table or whatever other surface it might be on.
In 2018, he told the media outlet that he had sold a million units of the Bug-A-Salt guns.
Maggiore said he always disliked flies, even when he was a kid—he is turned off by the dirt and diseases they often carry.
“I was a weird kid, I didn’t like flies,” he told CNBC’s Make It. “I used to put them in my Hot Wheels cars and send them down the track. They land on poo, and then they land on your food. Anything that does that, I’m not really interested in.”
— CNBC (@CNBC) May 23, 2019
Maggiore had often thought of creating a gun that would get rid of flies. He told CNBC’s Make It that for him, it was intriguing and out-there and so he wasn’t able to let go of the idea. Back in the 90s, he made a bug-gun prototype and tried to sell it in the market, but it didn’t work.
As a young man, after dropping out of high school, he pursued his hobby, surfing. He recalled moving to Oxnard for three years to surf, which created concerns for his parents. He then decided to go to trade school and learn to install wallpaper. He became proficient at fitting the wallpaper and even ended up creating his own wallpaper-installing business. He enjoyed the challenge, and it gave him time to enjoy surfing.
Maggiore’s sister motivated him to realize his bug gun idea after it failed the first time. She signed him up for art classes in the evenings, and it was here that he realized people liked his creativity.
In 2009, his sister passed away. In his grief, Maggiore remembered her strong support for everything he did, even with the bug gun prototype. So, to honor her, he decided to revisit his bug gun idea.
“I just looked up at the sky and said, ‘Ok, I’m going to try this again,'” Maggiore said.
He told CNBC that he maxed out his credit card and spent two months in China to create the prototype with a toymaker. He used the money he earned with his wallpaper business—around $70,000, along with a $30,000 investment from an angel investor—to finish his prototype.
“I’m just sitting in the hotel looking at this thing that I’ve done,” he told CNBC’s Make It. “It’s ready for the world, but I have nowhere to sell it. I have no plan!”
A friend told him to market his product on Kickstarter and helped create a demonstration video to pair with his bug gun. However, Kickstarter rejected it. They switched to Indiegogo, and after Indiegogo agreed to put Maggiore’s product on their website, it caught the attention of Buzzfeed, and drew in tons of enthusiastic customers. He had initially wanted to raise $15,000 to pay for 7,000 Bug-A-Salt packages, but ended up raising $575,000.
Since then, the promotional demonstration video has been viewed more than 3.5 million times.
However, a lot of people from all over the world wanted to buy Maggiore’s product, which this became his first major roadblock, as he wasn’t able to ship internationally. He returned that money, which was around 10 to 12 percent of the product’s income in the beginning.
Over time, he has had to create many versions, and engage many manufacturers, in order to deal with the “bugs” (no pun intended) and irregularities in the product.
According to Maggiore, most people who bought the gun got it for fun, but soon realized that it actually did work. Many of his customers became obsessed with shooting flies.
“They always say, ‘We don’t have any flies to shoot, so now we leave the doors and windows open,'” Maggiore told CNBC. “Now they want flies to come in.”
The company has around 20 employees. A man who primarily worked alone, Maggiore not only had to learn to work with others, but to manage his employees. This was a big challenge.
“It’s just really hard to get people that are honest and hardworking,” he told CNBC’s Make It. Talking about his day, he said, “When I was working by myself, it would just end and I could just be free. Now there’s 9 million things to think about.”