Strange Success

This self-made millionaire invented a 'gun' that shoots salt at flies

This surfer brought in millions shooting flies
This surfer brought in millions shooting flies

If killing a fly bothers you, stop reading.

If, however, flies are your nemesis, if they make your life miserable when you're trying to picnic at the park, barbecue in the backyard, sleep at night but can't because some stupid fly got in the house and is buzzing around...

If you hate them, then Lorenzo Maggiore is your patron saint.

"I was a weird kid, I didn't like flies," says the 57-year-old from Los Angeles. "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."

Maggiore is the artistic madman behind Bug-A-Salt, a $40 "gun" which uses table salt as buckshot to stun or kill bugs, especially flies. Salt makes the product safe to use around food, and it also doesn't blow the bug to bits. "That's another thing that's beautiful about it, it leaves them whole," he says. A lot of times, Bug-A-Salt doesn't actually kill the bug, it just gets it off your table.

Last year, Bug-A-Salt sold one million units.

BUG-A-SALT shooters
Mary Stevens

Lorenzo Maggiore never graduated high school. "I moved to Oxnard and surfed for three years." His parents were concerned, so Maggiore went to trade school and learned to hang wallpaper. He liked it. He could be his own boss, he liked the puzzle of hanging the wallpaper correctly and it gave him time to surf. Decades later he became an artist after his sister signed him up for an art class, and he discovered that people liked his unusual creations.

But he always had this idea to make a gun to kill flies. "It's fun, and it's ridiculous," Maggiore says. "I couldn't let it go."

He tried to make and market one in the '90s, but it didn't go anywhere. "It was really crude." Then, in 2009, Maggiore's sister passed away. "She was really kind of a fan of mine, or a supporter." He decided at that moment to give the idea one last shot. "I just looked up at the sky and said, 'Ok, I'm going to try this again.'"

Maggiore maxed out his credit cards and went to China to spend two months working with a prototype toy maker. He would eventually spend $70,000 of profits from his wallpaper hanging business, along with about $30,000 from an angel investor he met through a friend of the family. Finally, the prototype was completed. "I'm just sitting in the hotel looking at this thing that I've done," he recalls, laughing. "It's ready for the world, but I have nowhere to sell it. I have no plan!"

A friend suggested Maggiore make a video for Kickstarter to raise money for production. "I said, 'What's Kickstarter?'" In 2012, he put together a hilarious short video demonstrating the effectiveness of the Bug-A-Salt with a lot of slo-mo action shots. "Kickstarter rejected it," he says. Maggiore isn't sure why, but he suspects Kickstarter didn't think he was being serious, that this was all a gag.

"So I called my buddy and he's like, 'We'll try Indiegogo." Indiegogo did agree to put up the video, and after a couple weeks, BuzzFeed caught wind of it. Suddenly, "it was surreal." orders came pouring in. Maggiore was trying to raise $15,000 to pay for one container of 7,000 Bug-A-Salt guns to be shipped from China. "I raised $575,000."

The original video has been viewed more than 3.5 million times.

However, Maggiore realized his crowdfunding campaign had a big problem. "I didn't know it was international." Support came in from countries he couldn't ship to, "so we had to return all the money." That accounted for about 10% to 12% of the early money.

Finally, the Bug-A-Salt, a dream he'd had since he was a teenager, was a real thing. Over the last seven years, sales have grown as Maggiore continued to improve the product (and make more hilarious videos). The company says 2018 revenues reached $27 million.

Maggiore says most customers buy the weapon as a gimmick then discover it works, and then they become addicted to it. "They always say, 'We don't have any flies to shoot, so now we leave the doors and windows open.' Now they want flies to come in," he laughs.

Jane Wells and Lorenzo Maggiore, BUG-A-SALT founder
Mary Stevens

The company now has around 20 employees based in Venice, California. For a guy who was used to working alone, managing others has been a challenge. "It's just really hard to get people that are honest and hardworking," he says. "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." He brought in a president who now does a lot of the heavy lifting.

Along the way, he spent $80,000 on a patent, and manufacturing continues to be in China. "It would cost five times as much to do it in the U.S." That has created challenges. Maggiore's manufacturer changed factories in China for the 3.0 version of the Bug-A-Salt, and over 10% of the new products were defective. In other words, there were some bugs in the system he had to spend time and money working out. "Two or three weeks after I launched it, I quickly shut it down and addressed the problem."

Maggiore may now be worth millions, but he certainly doesn't dress or act like it. He's very much still the surfer with an eye for art, but he has also shown that a determined belief in a crazy idea can pay off. "I mean, the odds are, like, so against me in the whole thing," he says, "but the idea is so good."

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