Deal Dive: Thank god a startup is solving the bed bug problem

Bugs can be, well, pests. They can cause serious damage inside homes and buildings, and can also wreak havoc outdoors on crops and plants. The amount of chaos and calamity these little fellas can cause is directly tied to one factor: how many of them there are.

Most people don’t realize they have a bug problem until there are enough of them to cause noticeable damage to homes, furniture or wildlife. And by the time they do, the problem may already have become a bit unwieldy.

That’s exactly the kind of situation Spotta hopes to prevent. Using sensors, the startup’s small devices work to spot the first few bugs so people can get rid of the pests before there is an infestation.

“This is a sector that hasn’t innovated for decades,” Robert Fryers, the company’s co-founder and CEO, told TechCrunch+. “Nothing has changed. People are looking at plastic buckets and sticky paper, and surely technology can help this. Catch it early before you need loads of chemicals.”

Spotta’s small devices attract bugs inside them, identify them and send images of the bugs to their users, Fryers explained. For this type of product to be able to scale, he said, it is key for the devices to be small, cheap and require very little maintenance.

The company was started in 2017 by Fryers and co-founder and CTO Neil D’Souza-Mathew, because they saw a gap in the market that they could solve. They’ve just raised a £3 million ($3.7 million) Series A round led by The Yield Lab, STIHL Ventures, and ACF Investors.

Spotta currently has three products: one designed for hotels to spot bed bugs — the company saw revenue spike 4x after the Paris bed bug debacle earlier this year — and two devices for outdoor insects that destroy trees like palms. Fryers said they will use the money from this round to expand into at least two new categories.

“A lot of people don’t realize how big a deal it is. Insects cause half-a-trillion [dollars] of damage a year; they are more economically important than Switzerland,” Fryers said. “I could list 30 different insect species that cause damage.”

I’ll admit I was originally interested in this startup because it is working on the bed bug problem, and dealing with bed bugs back in 2016 quickly made it one of the top three worst experiences of my life — likely for the exact reason Fryers mentioned. By the time we realized the bugs were in our apartment, they’d infested everything. Pest control failed to eradicate them for many months and we ended up moving out. I’m still scarred, and every time I travel, I get back home and go through a whole song and dance just to be sure I haven’t brought the little fuckers back home.

But Spotta is interesting in many other ways, too. For one, being able to target where bugs are before they infest an area changes the entire game. Fryers used the example of a crop field: If you know the field has bugs but don’t know where they are, you have to spray the entire field to fix the problem, which can be both inefficient and bad for the environment.

Being able to quickly find the source could definitely be helpful inside buildings, too. I found exactly one roach in my apartment this summer — on my soppressata in the fridge! — and called an exterminator. They sprayed the entire apartment and will have to do so every six months, because they don’t have a way to find out where that one bug had come from.

The sustainability angle here is also interesting. Spotta not only helps to target where issues are, which means the problems will require fewer chemicals to treat, but it also helps save plants and trees if infestations are caught early.

Preventing an infestation is any day better than just treating one bug. And while Fryers said he and D’Souza-Mathew don’t have the background needed to make existing pest-fighting chemicals cleaner or more effective, that is also a key part of fighting invasive pests. Entrepreneurs should try to tap that market, too.

I’m excited for the future of this company. Bugs truly give me the ick and anything trying to get rid of bed bug infestations is worthy of attention in my book.