In the Words of Reed Barrett

Reed Barrett, Co-Founder at CampusOptics, started the first Entrepreneurship Club at the UM Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Barrett was a sophomore, business major at Ole Miss in 2004 when the two-story Alpha Tau Omega house burned down on Friday, August 27. “I was asleep in the house that night, along with 26 of my fraternity brothers,” Barrett recalls. Read his story below:

“I graduated from the school of business in 2007 with a BBA in Marketing. During the beginning of my sophomore year, on August 27, 2004, the Friday night before the Bama game, the Alpha Tau Omega house burned down. I was asleep in the house that night, along with 26 of my fraternity brothers. Jordan Williams was asleep on my futon; I was asleep in the loft of my room in ‘the valley’ (the basement of the house). At about 4am, I woke up to smoke entering my loft, and I could hear the embers of wood popping in the distance. Had it not been for the loud pops, I probably would not have woken up. I jumped down, shook Jordan to wake him up, managed to get one flip flop on before opening the door only to find flames coming out of Howard’s room across the hall from me, I ducked and ran out of the house, I still have a burn scar on my back to this day from debris. Jordan Williams, Howard Stone, and Will Townsend did not make it out alive. I replay the moment in my head all the time, wondering what I could have done differently. I do not recall hearing smoke alarms, ‘nor our fire alarm going off, or sprinklers going off in the house. 

A lot of people don’t know this, but those guys were some of my good friends, all three. Jordan was crashing on my futon because we were jamming on the guitar that evening (probably some Clapton). Howard, Will, and I went to the Auburn game together, SEC basketball tourney together, and Talladega together.

Fast forward to 2007, I started working in sales at a fast growing Austin, TX based oil and gas software firm called Drillinginfo. Drillinginfo was really good at collecting massive amounts of data and information, and providing software as the vehicle for our clients to make sense of the information in a meaningful way and make smarter decisions, faster. After a few years working in sales, I was given the opportunity to build some internal tools for our company in 2010 on the platform, which is when the lightbulb moment came. This cloud based software written for customer relationship management (CRM) could be repurposed into almost anything, and all I’d need to do is just re-name a few things. I didn’t know what I would write the application for, but I knew I had the toolbox to build with now.

Later that year, I took a class from Ed Perry, who was the president of our company at the time. Ed was also a master teacher at the Acton School of Entrepreneurship, Austin’s premier MBA program for budding entrepreneurs. Ed was gracious enough to let many of us Drillinginfo employees take his multi-week class Life of Meaning for free. It was during this class, that I realized (like many others), that I was not short on ideas! In fact, I had an idea problem… I had way too many of them! The class challenged you to take everything you thought you wanted to do, write it down, come back to it, write it down again, over, and over. It was a hard exercise, but it forced you to distill your focus down to one thing to focus on (or two).  It caused me to ask the question, “What is that one thing that will be with you for the rest of your life, no matter what for me?” The answer to that question was obvious, it was the fire. I think about the fire daily; What could I have done differently to make sure Jordan got out alive? Why didn’t the fire alarm go off? Why didn’t we have sprinklers on the ceiling? And finally, tying it back to value, “How can I help, so something so awful as this never happens again, to anyone?”

Well, I had a toolbox to build in;, and I had a purpose; Prevent The Fire.

So, I formed an LLC on Legal Zoom for 500 bucks Prevent The Fire, LLC, and started building. It took a few months to negotiate a deal with but they have a wonderful partnership program where you can white label their platform and they only take 15% of your top line revenues. I could do this without hiring a bunch of folks! So I did it. On nights and weekends over the years while still keeping my full-time job, I started talking with colleges and universities in Texas about how their Fire Marshals, Facilities professionals, and Environmental Health & Safety professionals do their jobs. Asking questions like: How do you keep track of the fire alarms, smoke alarms, building code, fire extinguishers? Is it still a paper form? Do you keep track in excel? Do you have any software in place today? What do you like about your process? What do you loathe?

After every conversation, I’d build something and go back to the person I had the conversation with over and over, for years in my spare time. The result was a good enough application for the Texas A&M Health Science Center to become my first client in 2013.

It’s pretty simple if you think about it; buildings have all this stuff in them that someone needs to make sure is working in the event an emergency happens. There are compliance codes that put structure around how those assets are inspected and maintained. Finally, higher education has unique nuances and requirements due to a diverse set of buildings on campus, including dorms, lecture halls, maintenance and research labs. So… we designed a laser focused application to tackle the problem and create a tremendous amount of efficiency for those whose jobs it is to keep the buildings safe on higher education campuses.

While these safety professionals are responsible for so much more, it started with helping them track safety equipment like fire alarms, smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, and defibrillators and making sure they were all being regularly inspected.

In 2019, by the grace of God, I found an incredible team in Austin, TX that included Joe Price, Josh Cody, and Brandon Phipps, who had recently exited from their previous higher education software company – AcademicWorks.  They had founded, bootstrapped, and successfully sold AcademicWorks to Blackbaud in 2017.  By 2019, they were looking for a new problem to solve with technology in the higher education space and were impressed with my story, what I had built to date, and the underlying problem I was trying to help campuses solve. After doing some additional market research and having conversations with safety professionals from across higher education, we decided to partner up to form CampusOptics with the goal of building a broader and more robust campus safety software platform. Today, the CampusOptics system has millions of lines of code and millions of dollars have been invested into building a modern, comprehensive, enterprise level, Environmental Health and Safety software platform specifically for higher education. CampusOptics helps institutions manage inspections, safety assets, chemical inventory, hazardous waste, permits, lab spaces, incidents, and emergency pre-plans with more exciting new features being added every week.

CampusOptics is already in use by colleges and universities across the United States and Canada and is entering an exciting period of growth. We are proud to call institutions such as The University of Texas at Austin, Texas A&M University, University of Memphis, William & Mary, The University of Alabama, Ole Miss, and many other highly respected institutions of higher education users of CampusOptics.  And we’re equally proud to know that we are helping these institutions enhance safety culture for students, staff and the campus community.

If there is one conclusion that someone can draw from our story, let it be this: Whatever that thing is that you’re thinking about doing, just do it. But the only way you’re going to keep doing it is if you care about it enough to never stop (the hardest part of entrepreneurship is the desire to quit, it was a core principle in the Life of Meaning course). So, make sure you decide on something meaningful.

I would like to inform everyone that the it that you decide on is not nearly as important as the why. If the why is there, you’ll figure out a way to make it work; if it matters enough to you, you’ll never quit.

We hope to honor the lives of Jordan, Howard, and Will by enabling universities across the world with the best tools to do their jobs smarter and faster – and to also keep catastrophes like the fire from happening again.

I hope the guys are smiling down on us. We can’t wait to see you in Heaven guys and give you a big hug (and maybe go back to Talladega and play guitar).”

Share this Page

More News