Banksie and his fire escape ladders

Cab taken on Thursday 7th December from home to Barnes.

We started off debating the likely journey length then quickly got onto the weather. The day had seen unusual and dramatic weather but my driver had missed the worst of it as he’d been in a meeting with his web designer. Curious, I asked what he needed a web designer for and was very glad I did. It turns out my driver was the inventor of a successful product and now found himself reluctantly having to take on the role of entrepreneur. These aren’t his words but this is his story:

Banksie had been in a merchant fireman in his youth and had personally been touched by the tragic consequences of fire. When his daughters were young he’d bought fire escape ladders to keep them safe. As an ex-fireman, he knew that without instinctive knowledge on how to use them, just owning the ladders wouldn’t be enough to save lives, so he set about drilling his daughters in how to use them. The drills were less successful than hoped and soon provoked tears of frustration, the ladders were too heavy and cumbersome for the young girls to manoeuver – making them worse than useless should fire break out.

Banksie quickly realised that the problem was the design and saw what was needed – a ladder in a box that could be wall-mounted with a straightforward mechanism for quick and easy release in an emergancy. He was certain someone must make such a thing and set about sourcing them. He contacted manufacturers directly but was repeatedly told that no such thing existed, the maufacturers kept trying to sell him the same kind of ladder as he already owned.

One day, he drove past an sign for a patent office asking for novel patent ideas and on a whim decided to see if a patent existed for wall-mounted fire escape ladders. A few days later the patent office called him in excitement to say no such patent existed and they felt he was onto a good idea. So Banksie took out the patent and set about developing his ladder.

It took 5 years, a lot of money (Banksie and his family moved into a smaller house to finance it) and masses of work. Luckily he was working as a courier, so had pleanty of driving time to puzzle over it. The biggest problem was making them light enough to go on the wall but strong enough to hold someone’s weight. There were lots of small victories and setbacks, but he got there in the end.

The ladders were both popular and profitable. Banksie wasn’t bothered about running a company himself, so he put the patent up for lease and let someone else manage it. Things had been going well, but just recently Banksie felt he had started to get a rough deal – the people looking after his business weren’t doing it justice. what irked him the most was the fact that they kept putting up the price; making the cost of the ladders out of reach for the low-earning household – the people Banksie had always imagined selling to. He had decided to take back control.

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