Our mission is simple: to revolutionize the global flood mitigation industry virtually overnight by saving countless lives and preventing billions of dollars in property damage, in what must be the most catastrophic conditions known to man–tsunamis, hurricanes, floods, mudslides, and even armed conflict itself–using our revolutionary, fully-automated sandbagging technology.

The worse, the better.

 

We got into this business by majoring in Shakespeare.

And then hanging out with the wrong people, of course. Seriously, we have always believed that there is a certain poetry in imagining elegant, effective and simple solutions to the everyday problems that plague us (no matter how crazy or mundane), and then trying to turn those solutions into reality. A thing of beauty is a joy forever, as the saying goes, especially if it works.

Back in 1995 we partnered with a visionary industrial designer and world-class engineer and, after 5 years of hard work and sweat, we built a prototype that was impressive enough to get us in the door at Vermeer Manufacturing in Pella, Iowa.

A big part of our inspiration for "Sandhog" was born of a shared frustration: we really disliked the mediocrity and waste we saw all around us, especially when it was due to a failure of imagination, or intellectual dishonesty, or sloth, (shoddy workmanship also galled us all) that then became accepted as inevitable and somehow "good". So we gave ourselves a real challenge–could we advance our civilization 1200 times/hour simply by filling sandbags faster and with more finesse than they've ever been filled before?

"SandDog" is the 2.0 version of this revolutionary machine. We went back to basics by simplifying things, making it easier to operate and service, cheaper, and more reliable too. Long may it reign.

 

Yabba, dabba, doooo!

Just kidding. Let's be clear about one thing, the SandDog is not a reinvention of the wheel. It's not even a particularly clever use of a technology that's already used extensively in the packaging industry–the vertical form fill sealer (VFFS)–whenever bulk granular material of any description needs to be bagged.

If you want to see what we're talking about, just go to your pantry and take out a box of Fruity Pebbles, or any cereal you have on hand for that matter–they're a perfect illustration of this ubiquitous method.

Open the box and pull out the cereal bag. You'll see that the bag is made up of one piece of plastic sheeting that's been formed into a tube, filled with the cereal, and then sealed and cut on both ends. Some settling of the contents may have occured!

The technology already exists.

There's really nothing new under the sun. Adapting technology from one field and using it for another totally unrelated purpose is called exaptation, and has existed since the dawn of time. The most famous example is Gutenberg taking the wine press and making it into a worldwide printing revolution.

The brilliance of the SandDog is not the machine at all but the sandbags it produces. All we're going to do is remake (and resize) the sandbag itself in terms of VFFS production, i.e. linear, just like with the Fruity Pebbles, but this time taking it out of the factory and into the field. We'll start with a roll of polypropylene and make the sandbag out of it while filling it with sand at the same time. We're going to repeat that last sentence because it is the key to this ground-breaking idea: we are going to make the sandbag itself using well-proven VFFS techniques while filling it at the same time.

You can watch one of these types of machines in action by clicking here.

The SandDog then just becomes the manufacturing vehicle while the sandbag, the "Dogbag" if you will, is the real revelation/source of revenue. We can all but give away the SandDog, because, much like the razor/ razor blade concept, our money will be made on the bagrolls. We estimate that each SandDog, over the life of the machine, will use an order of magnitude above the retail price of the machine itself in bagrolls. And our bagrolls must be used or the warranty on the machine is voided. King Gillette had figured it out exactly right.

Sandbags are the best solution to flood control. They're also the problem.

The way we think about sandbags has been unchanged for 4,000 years, and all our current methods of production and use have been based on this ancient (and outdated) technology if you will. Which isn't wrong, or bad, but could and will be exponentially better, as these following paragraphs will show. It's very rare for a product to be a paradigm-shift in a certain system or industry, but we feel the SandDog will be because it will not only revolutionize the sandbagging industry overnight by fully- automating the entire process, but it will do so by reinventing the sandbag itself.

Sandbag size is a function of its weight, and this is determined by what the average construction worker of past centuries could carry for an extended period of time. Going back to the Egyptians, this weight is about 40 pounds, varying from 30 pounds if the sand is dry and the sandbag half-full, to a little over 50 pounds if the sandbag is 2/3 full and the sand is saturated. Historical builders of sandbag structures gleaned from the agricultural industry that bags of seed are more easily carried if they are rectangular in shape and are held with the long direction vertically. In time, the standard sandbag dimensions came to be 4 inches x 10 inches x 17 inches.

The size and shape of the individual sandbag is the one and only basis for the design of sandbag structures. For flood control sandbags are stacked into walls. A flat 14" x 26" sandbag filled 2/3 full results in a sandbag approximately 4" x 10" x 17". If these are stacked in the standard brick-like fashion with each new layer offset 1/2 sandbag in the vertical direction, the result is a sandbag wall with a pyramidal cross section. Since sandbags are stacked with their long dimension parallel to the wall, the 4 inch and 10 inch dimensions determine a proportion of a height 2.5 times the width.

It has been shown however, that a retaining wall with a base to height ratio of 2.5:1 is not necessarily ideally suited to its purpose, and that a nine inch sandbag is just as effective but much cheaper than a ten inch. Additionally, if a slightly different stacking method is employed, a stable wall with a base to height ratio of 1.5:1 can also be built. A 4" x 9" x 17" sandbag is also sufficiently similar to existing sandbags to be used in conjunction with them. Though the size difference may seem small, if it is multiplied by the 125 million sandbags used in 1993 Mid-Continental Flood for example (at .41 cubic feet of fill per sandbag), it equals 6 million cubic feet of fill which did not have to be moved. We can see the time/labor savings are of an order of magnitude.

Unfortunately, the global demand for SandDog is unlimited. And growing.

Think about it: flooding, hurricanes, tsunamis, and war have plagued man since the beginning of recorded time, and will continue, unabated, recession-proof, immune to borders or ideology, across the globe, forever. The chart below, copyright PLOS, shows that even though there's an ebb and flow, natural disasters aren't going away anytime soon. The good news is that we will be able to greatly reduce the material and human costs of these disasters.

 

We'll stick with U.S. to do our figures since we have the most information and experience close to home. Let's just say that a pretty fair round number for sandbags produced in this country per year is 60 million, give or take a few million. Our guess is that each SandDog will make, on average, 500,000 sandbags per year, which means there is a market potential of at least 120 machines per year.

Our sandbagging material will cost out to an average of 20 cents per bag, depending on the type and use. For comparison, the typical 3-side, drawstring polypropylene sandbags sold today retail for about 30 cents/bag depending on the quantity ordered. So, 60 million sandbags at 20 cents each equals $12,000,000 and change per year, guaranteed, since the bagging material has to be purchased from us or the warranty on the SandDog is voided. So we're looking at up to $6,000,000 in savings on sandbags alone, not counting labor.

Since labor is intense for filling standard sandbags, the cost would probably be about 40 cents/hand-filled bag versus 10 cents/Dogbag, that's another $18,0000,000 in savings.

Extrapolating, we think the worldwide market for sandbags is at least 4 or 5 times the U.S. market, conservatively speaking, for a global total of around 120–240 million sandbags. So the market potential for SandDog machines and bagging material is, let's say, 500 machines per year worldwide, plus 300 million sandbags, which, doing the math: $15 million (500 x $30,000) + $60 million (300 million x 60¢) equals a roughly $75 million yearly global market.

But this is deceiving, and only accounts for the current usage of sandbags, and doesn't include the Butterfly Effect. Once the cost of bags drops drastically because of our cheap, genius automation, sandbags will then be used for many, many other applications that are currently cost prohibitive.

Let's just think outside the bag for a minute: construction and landscaping industry; fire containment; avalanche mitigation; temporary housing for post-disaster relief, i.e. timber frame housing with sandbag walls. Also, SandDog could be used in third world countries as a mobile grain bagging center for farmers who can't easily get their harvest to market. We'll discuss the military applications and potential next, but as you can already see the possibilities are virtually endless. 

The most effective weapon for saving lives during war is... sandbags.

Unbelievable. And then again, totally believable. Over the years the U.S. Army has done remarkably little research and prototyping on "field expedient sandbagging aides", considering it is the largest producer of sandbags in the world. And for the fact that sandbags have been proven to be one of the most effective means of saving lives in times of conflict, broadly speaking.

 

Throughout history, most notably during World War I and II, various bag holders and sand scoops made from entrenching tools, scrap plywood and lumber were tested in the trenches so-to-speak by individual soldiers or units, with limited success. The first real attempt at an automated sandbagging machine, however, didn't occur until much later.

The U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Laboratory in Fort Belvoir, Virginia designed and tested a full-scale prototype of an automated sandbag filling machine in 1959. It was designed to have a capacity of 1000 bags per hour, but in reality produced less than half that number. Essentially, the machine consists of a bucket elevator mounted on a trailer, and powered by what looks to be a small gasoline engine. The upper end of the elevator is equipped with a funnel to direct the fill into a bag held below it, but apparently without a valve to control the actual amount of sand flowing into the bag. Conventional sandbags with hand tying methods were used in this machine, and it's speculated that the primary reason for failing to meet the specified goal of 1000 sandbags per hour is a lack of automated methods of bag closure. Its large size, and the fact that it produced only half of the expected goal, led to its early demise.

Other attempts followed: the U.S. Army Medium Weight Sandbagger was the first attempt at a machine capable of procuring its own fill but still relied on hand-tying the bags; the Lightweight Sandbagger Nos. 1 and 2 produced during the Vietnam Era met with more success but still relied on a skilled human operator and were thus not fully automated, managing at best 250 bags per hour.

These machines, in the final analysis must also be seen as failures, or at best, only partial successes. With an output of 150–250 bags per hour, they meet less than half the production rate outlined in the original briefs. Due to problems of high maintenance and low bag production, it was recommended in 1971 that that no more research be done in this area.

All this means is that there's a huge potential market for SandDog in the military, not only on the front lines, but at embassies, barracks and rear-line facilities. Anti-ballistic capabilities can be integrated into the bagging material, as needed, to mitigate any threat level.


Our only competition is 3 men and a shovel. Or a Deere with 6 nipples.

Over the years several machines have been designed which attempted to automate the sandbag production process, but these have been only marginal successes at best. However, even from failure lessons can be learned. On careful analysis, all the machines share a common fault: they rely on the conventional sandbag – an object originally designed to shore up the banks of the Nile. It is the sandbag itself which is wholly unsuited to automation, which we've already discussed in more detail. A lot of well-meaning people still don't understand this simple fact.

An Illinois firm produces a sandbag filler called the Kanzler which consists of a 2 cubic yard bin with four foot-operated chutes underneath. A worker places an empty bag under the chute, opens the valve, and lets sand flow into the bag. This system, though much better than mere shoveling, has two major drawbacks. First, the fill material must be completely dry, or it will bridge in the chutes, severely hampering the productivity of the machine. For this reason, its use is limited to only dry fill. Secondly, it relies in other equipment and labor to source fill. The only step it removes from the conventional sandbag filling process is the shoveling of the fill into the bags. The bags must still be tied, stacked for transport, and the fill somehow acquired. The success of this system relies on brute manpower.

The Quicksander, like the Kanzler Sandbagger consists mainly of a hopper, but in this case it is attached to a dump truck, which conveys sand into bags held at either end by two operators. Sandbagging Systems boasts 3000 filled bags per hour. This should be taken with a grain of salt. To maintain such a rate would require 1 filled bag every 1.3 seconds. No way, Jose.

Like its two counterparts, the Speed Bagger is a hopper with valves for the releasing of sand under which bags are manually held to be filled. In this instance, the operators are allowed the comfort of a standing posture, but capacity is limited to the small size of the hopper and the necessity for all bagging operations to stop when the hopper needs to be refilled. And, a loader or similar machine is needed for operation.

 

The HESCO Bastion is a collapsible wire mesh container with a heavy-duty plastic liner, filled with sand using a loader or excavator, is essentially a super-sizing of the sandbag for the 21st century, and will prove to be our biggest competitor. After the first Gulf War, HESCO Bastions became a popular flood mitigation (and security) staple because they are easy to set up, and they work. HESCO has been very aggresive in expanding their market share since. However, there are several drawbacks to them: they are very expensive, and must be deployed on site. And the area must be fairly level and allow access to a front-end loader.

Flood, Sweat, & Tears

We think the initial and primary source of revenue for the SandDog will be in the pay-for-service market. We believe it will be lucrative to partner with a well-established flood mitigation company like Storm Services. They already provide soup-to-nuts flood and disaster mitigation, including portable sleeper units, shower trailers, dining and catering, generators, food, ice, lighting, etc. They've worked with FEMA for years, and have all the logistics, facilities, and expertise needed to seemlessly add SandDog to their services.

We'd like to call this subscription service company FLOOD, SWEAT & TEARS, which will have dozens of machines and thousands of bagrolls ready at Storm Service's headquarters in York, Alabama, which we'll deploy anywhere in the southeast within 24 hours.

Many municipalities and communities with a history of regular or occasional flooding may not have the budget or the foresight to purchase the SandDog right away or outright, but as a subscriber could get the flood protection they need at a fraction of the cost. We'll also partner with insurance companies to offer flood insurance discounts to our corporate and government customers, as well as individuals who choose to purchase the coverage.

We'll also offer customized as-needed payment plans for FEMA and individual states, counties, and towns. 

We'd like to start with Storm Service in Alabama, and then expand to California, the Fargo River region in Minnesota, and the tri-state New York area. Eventually, of course, worldwide.

The MVP is the MVP.

We think that a minumum viable product is the key to the success of this company, since a simple working prototype will be all the proof of concept the very small number of important flood-mitigation industry players will need to see the enormous value and possibilities.

We'll follow the core principles of The Lean Startup: Product (SandDog), Strategy (MVP to the key players in the industry), and Vision (creating a thriving and world-changing business). We'll also have a rigorous Build-Measure-Learn feedback loop, that we'll evaluate weekly, if not sometimes daily.

Unlike most start-ups these days, which spend a huge percentage of their initial investment capital on sales and marketing, we will use nearly all of ours on MVP BML feedback loop. Our engineers will essentially become our sales people. Once we have an MVP, we will head down to Storm Service's annual new product fair which will have all the movers and shakers in the industry in one place, and show them our giant-killer.

The big question is, of course, how much money do we need?

Stage 1 Funding

We know how valuable money is, or at least we can imagine it since we've never really had any, but with $2 million for our first round of start-up capital we will do our best to build a simple, reliable, manufacture-ready prototype. A Soviet T-34 tank comes immediately to mind: not necessarily beautiful or particularly complicated, and the Germans laughed, but it won the war. Estimated time: 18 months.

Stage 2 Funding

Once the working prototype is completed, and we have generated excitement within the disaster community (and hopefully a few pre-orders), we would like to partner with an already established manufacturer to produce our machines, and a probably separate company that specializes in bagrolls. Our old friends at Vermeer might be interested again. We're also thinking Tritex Corporation, John Deere, or even Tesla. We will need $10 million to tool up for manufacturing–which will include both machines and bag roll production, our headquarters, maintenance facility, machine and bag roll inventory, and staff.

Stage 3 Funding

This is the final stage and will be for expanding Flood, Sweat & Tears, first in a slow roll-out across the U.S., and then eventually as sales increase, across the globe. We estimate another $10 million for this phase. After that, we should be profitable and growing, and can stand up straight and thrive on our own.

Want to be left high and dry? We're at your service.

Give us a ring anytime on (401) 572-7090, or email us on  johnnymustard@oldscoolcompany.com. If you'd like to stop by to see our current worldwide global operation, stop by 38 Charles Street, Newport, RI 02840.

Door's always open.