Made in Denver: LavaBox
MSU Denver graduate keeps Coloradans warm (and safe) outdoors with a restriction-proof fire pit.
Editor’s note: Throughout the fall, RED’s Made in Denver series will highlight Mile High business owners who graduated from MSU Denver programs.
Sometimes, the brightest ideas are born in the grimmest moments.
Remember fall 2020, when statewide wildfire bans added to the misery of the pandemic? That’s when Josh Thurmond had a Eureka moment. A lifelong tinkerer, he had the bright idea of hooking up a propane gas lead to an old-style military ammo can, mixing indestructibility, utility and a certain chic. And so, the LavaBox was born.
“I thought, if I want people to adopt this idea and not burn Colorado down, I’ll have to both make it good and put a rock ’n’ roll idea around it,” said Thurmond, who received his degree in History from Metropolitan State University of Denver in 2007. Almost immediately, orders came flooding in. And the newly minted CEO (that’s chief eruption officer) at LavaBox Portable Campfires found himself blazing a trail in the fast-growing propane-fire business.
Best in class
One big reason for Thurmond’s success is that after the fire bans took hold, LavaBox was the first restriction-proof fire pit to hit the market. That was no accident. “I went to patent literally days after finishing the final prototype,” he said. “When our much-bigger competitors all followed months later with products mimicking our idea, it was really funny.”
Seeing those new products hit stores also told Thurmond something else: His LavaBox simply worked much better. “I mean, it’s basically a flamethrower in a box,” he said, “and what could be cooler than that?”
One other thing about being cool: It saves money. Since the LavaBox launched, hundreds of people have posted photos of themselves alongside their shiny new flaming toy, which has brought priceless publicity. “All my competitors have to pay for staged and stilted-looking professional shots,” Thurmond said. “But those great and natural-looking photos on our website were all sent in by happy users.”
From the outset, Thurmond said he kind of knew his LavaBox would be a hit. As a keen outdoorsman, he understands that sitting outdoors around a fire is an almost-primal human need. After all, who doesn’t like to rub their chilly hands in front of a real blaze?
“Bob Dylan said it best in that song: ‘We are fighting to be warm,’” he said. “Humans have always tried to light up the night for warmth and safety.”
But these days, he said, people use fires at night so they can sit outside and still see each other’s faces, witness their smiles and share stories of what happened during the day. “That’s something we’ve largely lost in cities and suburbs,” he said, “but I wanted to make sure we could still hold on to it in natural spaces.”
From his earliest days, Thurmond has had an urge to build and innovate — to just make things work better. “It drove my dad crazy because I’d steal all his tools and go cut down wood to build things,” he said. He has since spent many years focusing on making recreation more accessible — for example, by crafting adaptable sports equipment while directing programs for the National Sports Center for the Disabled.
And his skills are still evolving. “I weld a lot these days and am also dabbling heavily in electronics,” he grinned. “My tinkering game is good!”
And as for his tinkering plans? “Oh, I definitely have some big ideas on the way that people will be excited about,” he said. But for now, Thurmond is focused on building the LavaBox business. “You know, it was only October 2020 when I first had the spark of an idea,” he said. “But we’ve already sold almost 4,000 LavaBoxes, and our first full-time employee starts this month.
“Truthfully, it feels like our journey has only just started.”