Scott Smith is the owner of Cobra Firing Systems, a designer and manufacturer of firing systems for pyrotechnic shows. The company builds electronics that remotely detonate anything from traditional firework displays, to special effects in movies and concerts, as well as military simulators. They have over 12 thousand customers in 100 countries.
Scott Smith graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute with a dual major in computer systems engineering and computer science. While in his senior year of college, Scott started a software company focused on multichannel retail management. He used a web-based application that at the time was based on PHP, Apache, mySQL and Linux. He was with this company for 10 years before the company was sold in 2011.
Turning his hobby and passion into a long-term career, Scott A. Smith launched Cobra Firing Systems in 2009. Using his talent in engineering, he built a system that would suit fireworks to music and the business was born.
In his free time, Scott Smith enjoys scuba diving and spending time with two kids, three dogs and two cats. He currently resides in Saratoga Springs, New York.
How did you get started and what inspired you to?
My grandfather owned his own coal company and my father was a consultant who owns his own business for over 30 years, so I think I was just destined for entrepreneurial things. I think it’s simply that I enjoy the business and watching it grow.
How do you make money?
I think the money is a byproduct of having good customer service and a good product. If those two things are done right, the money is a result, versus leading with the finances.
How long did it take for you to become profitable?
We were profitable by the end of the first year. We took the time to understand who our customer was and what the market was doing. We had relationships lined up because we took that time, made the preparations.
When you were first starting out, was there a time that you doubted this was the right way to go? If so, how did you handle it?
I think there’s always going to be doubt, but it’s a natural thing, a healthy fear to have. Making sure that you’re on target with the market you’re in and building what the customer wants at the right price. Just making sure that you’re making the right decisions.
How did you get your first customer?
We built a website for the business and advertised through Google AdWords. We started to establish relationships and those eventually turned in to customers.
What is one marketing strategy besides referrals that you’re using well to generate new business?
I think word of mouth can be incredibly powerful for any business. We’re involved with online forums and groups of pyrotechnic clubs from all over the world. Honestly, because this is a niche market with a strong community worldwide.
What do you think makes you successful?
We don’t have any predetermined ideas of a right or wrong way of doing something, that’s up to the customer. It’s critical to let the customer and the market drive those decisions versus what we think is best. Just making sure that we stay customer centric and aligned with what they are looking for.
What has been the most satisfying moment in business?
We recently held Cobra-Con, a three-day convention, for a client. We ended it with five pyro-musical firework shows and had over 40 seminars. I got to meet customers face-to-face, which was really neat. I think it just helps to symbolize our growth as a business and it the arena, and it was very rewarding to me.
What does the future hold for your business, and what are you most excited about?
I would say that the future is huge for this industry. Most firework shows are still fired by hand. I think it will help create a better overall experience for the audience as well. The next 10 to 20 years will be a very innovative time in this industry.
What books have inspired you?
Truthfully, I don’t really read business books. I am part of a group, Entrepreneur Organization, where we all network together. I think meeting with other successful entrepreneurs, hearing their successes or failures, is more inspirational than reading a traditional business book.
What is a recent purchase that you’ve made to help with your business?
I would guess that would be, again during Cobra-Con, I took some clients out to dinner. It was great just to have conversations with them. You never know when a little conversation is going to turn into something significant for your own organization.