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Fireball the fire starter that conquered Arturo Elías Ayub in Shark Tank Mexico

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October 15, 2020 10 min read

This article was translated from our Spanish edition using AI technologies. Errors may exist due to this process.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

  • Fireball is a charcoal, wood and campfire fire starter that is made from recyclable materials. It has 20 grams of weight and can last up to 16 minutes on.
  • The entrepreneurs arrived at Shark Tank México, asking for 650 thousand pesos (approximately $ 32,000) for 10% of the company.

A business that did not work, despair and a roasted carnita were the ingredients that did not let the entrepreneurial flame of Daniel Aguirre, originally from Torreón, Coahuila, go out.

The 38-year-old wanted to sell sawdust and all the waste that is obtained when making furniture and that is used for other areas in different industries, but the material did not have the characteristics that he was promised.

“I had approximately 3,500 cubic meters (of sawdust) stored, which are 70 trailers parked there in a warehouse, I despaired, sad, tired and without illusions, I asked myself what am I going to do with so much material?”, Says the entrepreneur in interview for Entrepreneur in Spanish.

In those moments, Daniel was invited to a roast beef where he realized how much the person struggled to light the charcoal and he came up with the idea of creating a product that would make this task easier. “Sure, they already exist,” he said, “but based on chemicals or on articles of raw materials that are not renewable.”

Image: Fireball via Facebook.

This is how the idea for Fireball came about in 2018. Later, the entrepreneur began to experiment with his own hands and materials, as he and his father have a furniture manufacturing business.

“I started to design it with my own hands, I got burned, why? because the materials are 80% pine wood and the other 20% is natural wax, so everything is recycled material ”, explains the entrepreneur.

According to Daniel, the Comarca Lagunera in Torreón is a basin of furniture factories, and what he and his team collect is material that went to waste.

“Other industries sent it to burn that is already a heavy wear of fuels, so we take that wax that is also called recycled wax that the industry does not use, all the wood, all the waste and we do the whole process and from there Fireball was really born in 2019, because it took us a year to make it efficient, ”he says.

Who doesn’t like roasted carnita?

In 2019 Daniel contacted Lina Velázquez, who for 12 years was dedicated to the sale of television advertising in companies such as Televisa and Dish México, started with augmented and virtual reality marketing and currently owns a flower shop of “eternal roses”.

“I invited Lina telling her that she already had a product that worked and that it helped people who don’t know how to light the charcoal. For this we did a large study of how many people use charcoal in Mexico and, well, I think the majority, I say, who does not like roasted carnita or the grill? And then I asked him to help me with the whole sales issue, I dedicate myself to producing to make the product more efficient and you dedicate yourself to placing it in butcher shops, supermarkets, convenience stores, online, in all the ways that you can to make a great team, that’s really how the topic started formally, ”says Daniel.

Image: Courtesy of Shark Tank México.

Daniel comments that when they started they had a capital of 10 thousand pesos from a last truck of the material that he sold and it did not work, and he said “well this has to work to produce the flames we need”.

Currently a little over a year after they turned in September, they have sold more than a million pieces. “Right now we are in Amazon , Mercado Libre and we have our own website , the same in any butcher shop, convenience store, we are going to enter Sams , Oxxo , all the supermarket brands that we already have a significant presence in one way or another. We are growing with the idea of entering the United States market, they have already asked us to export it, we are working on it, I believe that by 2021 we will be sending it there ”.

Fireball is a fire starter for charcoal, wood and campfire that is made of recyclable materials, it does not harm the environment, it does not flavor your food and it is not toxic. It weighs 20 grams and can last up to 16 minutes on.

Its price to the public is 16 pesos for an individual flame, 48 pesos for a tripack, and boxes of 15, 24 and 30 pieces at 198, 290, and 553 pesos, respectively.

Keeping the sales flame alive

According to Lina, the sales work has been one of the most exhausting things in the undertaking, especially in the context of COVID-19. “With the COVID, everything stopped and it is just being reactivated when they had already told us in March or February that we could enter and we are in November and it has been a truly exhausting process, I think they are already taking us into account because it is being one day yes and one day not insisting ”, explains the entrepreneur.

Lina Velázquez declares herself a fan of Shark Tank, she comments that it is a program that she has always liked “I see the one from the United States, Colombian, Mexican every season.” The entrepreneur asked her former boss for a contact and sent an email with her data and company information, however, they never answered her.

“But I’m stubborn, I sent an email again in December, ‘hey, what happened? Answer me yes or no but fight me’ and in January they mark me and I was having breakfast, in Playa del Carmen and they say ‘Lina Velázquez He talked about the Shark Tank program, hey a favor can you send me more information about your product. ‘ But the information that I sent him in the previous email was all I had, so I send it back and he replies at the mere hour that my product was authorized, ”says Lina.

It was December 16 and the entrepreneurs had to send all the documentation to be in the program before December 23. “And everything was to have a non-criminal record, a contract of 57 sheets, and not just one because there were like four, we wanted to and sent everything … I did not know anyone, that is, they gave me a contact but I only sent one email, I followed up and that’s when they spoke to me ”.

How to grill a shark?

Daniel was surprised “I mean, but how? We started operations on September 15, 2019, it was our first order and on December 16 he told me, hurry up, we are going to enter Shark Tank, ”he says.

According to the entrepreneur, from September to that date they had sold 30 thousand pieces and they reached Shark Tank Mexico which is broadcast every Friday at 10:00 p.m. on Canal Sony , asking for 650 thousand pesos (approximately $ 32,000) for the 10% of the company.

Photo: Courtesy of Shark Tank México.

Finally, they closed a deal with Arturo Elías Ayub for the same amount and 20% of the company plus one peso for each flame when they enter the United States market. In this context, entrepreneurs share some tips to convince a shark:

  1. Honesty, if your company really starts and has not sold a single product, be honest, “as we told them, we started on September 16 and when we presented ourselves with them we sold a certain amount, therefore we believe that our companies are worth so much to root of the numbers as raw as they are “.
  2. Know that you have a really efficient product that works during the 10, 15 or 30 minutes that you are going to be there in the program.
  3. Let him tell a story, “for us the topic of lighting the fire means that you are starting a meeting, a meeting, the roast meat, the grill starts with fire and what better way than to do it with our flame, we tell that story how to honor to a cut that can cost you up to 1,500 pesos with a well-tuned coal, which is our article. “
  4. Keep our feet on the ground, where we are going, what projects we have in the short, medium and long term.

What follows for Fireball is to consolidate the national and international market in the United States and Canada. Likewise, they want to grow in different types of items related to the environment of a grill.

“We are going to grow in different types of articles, we are creating a line of charcoal briquettes, made of pine sawdust, mesquite charcoal, a repellent for mosquitoes, cutting boards, everything that has to be a barbecue environment, articles that we are going to launch for 2021, which will be part of the Fireball family ”, concludes Daniel.

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The Trump campaign celebrated a growth record that Democrats downplayed.

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The White House celebrated economic growth numbers for the third quarter released on Thursday, even as Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s presidential campaign sought to throw cold water on the report — the last major data release leading up to the Nov. 3 election — and warned that the economic recovery was losing steam.

The economy grew at a record pace last quarter, but the upswing was a partial bounce-back after an enormous decline and left the economy smaller than it was before the pandemic. The White House took no notice of those glum caveats.

“This record economic growth is absolute validation of President Trump’s policies, which create jobs and opportunities for Americans in every corner of the country,” Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign said in a statement, highlighting a rebound of 33.1 percent at an annualized rate. Mr. Trump heralded the data on Twitter, posting that he was “so glad” that the number had come out before Election Day.

The annualized rate that the White House emphasized extrapolates growth numbers as if the current pace held up for a year, and risks overstating big swings. Because the economy’s growth has been so volatile amid the pandemic, economists have urged focusing on quarterly numbers.

Those showed a 7.4 percent gain in the third quarter. That rebound, by far the biggest since reliable statistics began after World War II, still leaves the economy short of its pre-pandemic levels. The pace of recovery has also slowed, and now coronavirus cases are rising again across much of the United States, raising the prospect of further pullback.

“The recovery is stalling out, thanks to Trump’s refusal to have a serious plan to deal with Covid or to pass a new economic relief plan for workers, small businesses and communities,” Mr. Biden’s campaign said in a release ahead of Thursday’s report. The rebound was widely expected, and the campaign characterized it as “a partial return from a catastrophic hit.”

Economists have warned that the recovery could face serious roadblocks ahead. Temporary measures meant to shore up households and businesses — including unemployment insurance supplements and forgivable loans — have run dry. Swaths of the service sector remain shut down as the virus continues to spread, and job losses that were temporary are increasingly turning permanent.

“With coronavirus infections hitting a record high in recent days and any additional fiscal stimulus unlikely to arrive until, at the earliest, the start of next year, further progress will be much slower,” Paul Ashworth, chief United States economist at Capital Economics, wrote in a note following the report.

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Black and Hispanic workers, especially women, lag in the U.S. economic recovery.

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The surge in economic output in the third quarter set a record, but the recovery isn’t reaching everyone.

Economists have long warned that aggregate statistics like gross domestic product can obscure important differences beneath the surface. In the aftermath of the last recession, for example, G.D.P. returned to its previous level in early 2011, even as poverty rates remained high and the unemployment rate for Black Americans was above 15 percent.

Aggregate statistics could be even more misleading during the current crisis. The job losses in the initial months of the pandemic disproportionately struck low-wage service workers, many of them Black and Hispanic women. Service-sector jobs have been slow to return, while school closings are keeping many parents, especially mothers, from returning to work. Nearly half a million Hispanic women have left the labor force over the last three months.

“If we’re thinking that the economy is recovering completely and uniformly, that is simply not the case,” said Michelle Holder, an economist at John Jay College in New York. “This rebound is unevenly distributed along racial and gender lines.”

The G.D.P. report released Thursday doesn’t break down the data by race, sex or income. But other sources make the disparities clear. A pair of studies by researchers at the Urban Institute released this week found that Black and Hispanic adults were more likely to have lost jobs or income since March, and were twice as likely as white adults to experience food insecurity in September.

The financial impact of the pandemic hit many of the families that were least able to afford it, even as white-collar workers were largely spared, said Michael Karpman, an Urban Institute researcher and one of the studies’ authors.

“A lot of people who were already in a precarious position before the pandemic are now in worse shape, whereas people who were better off have generally been faring better financially,” he said.

Federal relief programs, such as expanded unemployment benefits, helped offset the damage for many families in the first months of the pandemic. But those programs have mostly ended, and talks to revive them have stalled in Washington. With virus cases surging in much of the country, Mr. Karpman warned, the economic toll could increase.

“There could be a lot more hardship coming up this winter if there’s not more relief from Congress, with the impact falling disproportionately on Black and Hispanic workers and their families,” he said.

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Ant Challenged Beijing and Prospered. Now It Toes the Line.

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As Jack Ma of Alibaba helped turn China into the world’s biggest e-commerce market over the past two decades, he was also vowing to pull off a more audacious transformation.

“If the banks don’t change, we’ll change the banks,” he said in 2008, decrying how hard it was for small businesses in China to borrow from government-run lenders.

“The financial industry needs disrupters,” he told People’s Daily, the official Communist Party newspaper, a few years later. His goal, he said, was to make banks and other state-owned enterprises “feel unwell.”

The scope of Mr. Ma’s success is becoming clearer. The vehicle for his financial-technology ambitions, an Alibaba spinoff called Ant Group, is preparing for the largest initial public offering on record. Ant is set to raise $34 billion by selling its shares to the public in Hong Kong and Shanghai, according to stock exchange documents released on Monday. After the listing, Ant would be worth around $310 billion, much more than many global banks.

The company is going public not as a scrappy upstart, but as a leviathan deeply dependent on the good will of the government Mr. Ma once relished prodding.

More than 730 million people use Ant’s Alipay app every month to pay for lunch, invest their savings and shop on credit. Yet Alipay’s size and importance have made it an inevitable target for China’s regulators, which have already brought its business to heel in certain areas.

These days, Ant talks mostly about creating partnerships with big banks, not disrupting or supplanting them. Several government-owned funds and institutions are Ant shareholders and stand to profit handsomely from the public offering.

The question now is how much higher Ant can fly without provoking the Chinese authorities into clipping its wings further.

Excitable investors see Ant as a buzzy internet innovator. The risk is that it becomes more like a heavily regulated “financial digital utility,” said Fraser Howie, the co-author of “Red Capitalism: The Fragile Financial Foundation of China’s Extraordinary Rise.”

“Utility stocks, as far as I remember, were not the ones to be seen as the most exciting,” Mr. Howie said.

Ant declined to comment, citing the quiet period demanded by regulators before its share sale.

The company has played give-and-take with Beijing for years. As smartphone payments became ubiquitous in China, Ant found itself managing huge piles of money in Alipay users’ virtual wallets. The central bank made it park those funds in special accounts where they would earn minimal interest.

After people piled into an easy-to-use investment fund inside Alipay, the government forced the fund to shed risk and lower returns. Regulators curbed a plan to use Alipay data as the basis for a credit-scoring system akin to Americans’ FICO scores.

China’s Supreme Court this summer capped interest rates for consumer loans, though it was unclear how the ceiling would apply to Ant. The central bank is preparing a new virtual currency that could compete against Alipay and another digital wallet, the messaging app WeChat, as an everyday payment tool.

Ant has learned ways of keeping the authorities on its side. Mr. Ma once boasted at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, about never taking money from the Chinese government. Today, funds associated with China’s social security system, its sovereign wealth fund, a state-owned life insurance company and the national postal carrier hold stakes in Ant. The I.P.O. is likely to increase the value of their holdings considerably.

“That’s how the state gets its payoff,” Mr. Howie said. With Ant, he said, “the line between state-owned enterprise and private enterprise is highly, highly blurred.”

China, in less than two generations, went from having a state-planned financial system to being at the global vanguard of internet finance, with trillions of dollars in transactions being made on mobile devices each year. Alipay had a lot to do with it.

Alibaba created the service in the early 2000s to hold payments for online purchases in escrow. Its broader usefulness quickly became clear in a country that mostly missed out on the credit card era. Features were added and users piled in. It became impossible for regulators and banks not to see the app as a threat.

ImageAnt Group’s headquarters in Hangzhou, China.
Credit…Alex Plavevski/EPA, via Shutterstock

A big test came when Ant began making an offer to Alipay users: Park your money in a section of the app called Yu’ebao, which means “leftover treasure,” and we will pay you more than the low rates fixed by the government at banks.

People could invest as much or as little as they wanted, making them feel like they were putting their pocket change to use. Yu’ebao was a hit, becoming one of the world’s largest money market funds.

The banks were terrified. One commentator for a state broadcaster called the fund a “vampire” and a “parasite.”

Still, “all the main regulators remained unanimous in saying that this was a positive thing for the Chinese financial system,” said Martin Chorzempa, a research fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington.

“If you can’t actually reform the banks,” Mr. Chorzempa said, “you can inject more competition.”

But then came worries about shadowy, unregulated corners of finance and the dangers they posed to the wider economy. Today, Chinese regulators are tightening supervision of financial holding companies, Ant included. Beijing has kept close watch on the financial instruments that small lenders create out of their consumer loans and sell to investors. Such securities help Ant fund some of its lending. But they also amplify the blowup if too many of those loans aren’t repaid.

“Those kinds of derivative products are something the government is really concerned about,” said Tian X. Hou, founder of the research firm TH Data Capital. Given Ant’s size, she said, “the government should be concerned.”

The broader worry for China is about growing levels of household debt. Beijing wants to cultivate a consumer economy, but excessive borrowing could eventually weigh on people’s spending power. The names of two of Alipay’s popular credit functions, Huabei and Jiebei, are jaunty invitations to spend and borrow.

Huang Ling, 22, started using Huabei when she was in high school. At the time, she didn’t qualify for a credit card. With Huabei’s help, she bought a drone, a scooter, a laptop and more.

The credit line made her feel rich. It also made her realize that if she actually wanted to be rich, she had to get busy.

“Living beyond my means forced me to work harder,” Ms. Huang said.

First, she opened a clothing shop in her hometown, Nanchang, in southeastern China. Then she started an advertising company in the inland metropolis of Chongqing. When the business needed cash, she borrowed from Jiebei.

Online shopping became a way to soothe daily anxieties, and Ms. Huang sometimes racked up thousands of dollars in Huabei bills, which only made her even more anxious. When the pandemic slammed her business, she started falling behind on her payments. That cast her into a deep depression.

Finally, early this month, with her parents’ help, she paid off her debts and closed her Huabei and Jiebei accounts. She felt “elated,” she said.

China’s recent troubles with freewheeling online loan platforms have put the government under pressure to protect ordinary borrowers.

Ant is helped by the fact that its business lines up with many of the Chinese leadership’s priorities: encouraging entrepreneurship and financial inclusion, and expanding the middle class. This year, the company helped the eastern city of Hangzhou, where it is based, set up an early version of the government’s app-based system for dictating coronavirus quarantines.

Such coziness is bound to raise hackles overseas. In Washington, Chinese tech companies that are seen as close to the government are radioactive.

In January 2017, Eric Jing, then Ant’s chief executive, said the company aimed to be serving two billion users worldwide within a decade. Shortly after, Ant announced that it was acquiring the money transfer company MoneyGram to increase its U.S. footprint. By the following January, the deal was dead, thwarted by data security concerns.

More recently, top officials in the Trump administration have discussed whether to place Ant Group on the so-called entity list, which prohibits foreign companies from purchasing American products. Officials from the State Department have suggested that an interagency committee, which also includes officials from the departments of defense, commerce and energy, review Ant for the potential entity listing, according to three people familiar with the matter.

Ant does not talk much anymore about expanding in the United States.

Ana Swanson contributed reporting.

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