Casebyte finding its laptop storage groove

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By LEE HOWARD

Day Staff Writer

A funny thing happened when Ralph Belfiglio started to market his patented new device for professionals who run up against the problem of limited storage on laptop computers.

Belfiglio, founder of the Astor Place video production company in downtown, found that a group he'd never even considered a big part of the potential market for his new Casebyte device was starting to pay attention: deejays.

"We completely overlooked the fact that deejays would love it," Belfiglio said in an interview at his offices in the Harris Place building on State Street. "They bring whole libraries of music with them."

Belfiglio, being a video guy, figured his biggest market would be among like-minded production companies that take laptops out to shoots and quickly run out of storage space. Previous solutions to this problem of limited laptop storage space had involved attaching bulky external drives that were heavy and ugly.

But Belfiglio developed an elegant external memory device with up to 1 extra terabyte that fits over existing laptops like a glove, though it appears at first glance to be a laptop cover.

Belfiglio, who just obtained a final patent for Casebyte a few weeks ago, has been working on developing the device for two years. Just last month, he received his first short run of Casebytes, and has been madly assembling the parts ever since.

"My biggest worry is to run out of stock," he said.

Not experienced in marketing products, Belfiglio started using social media to get the word out about Casebyte. A couple of tech reviewers found out about Casebyte through Instagram, which Belfiglio has found more effective than Facebook, and he also got traction by sending the product to reviewers who do "unboxing" videos on YouTube.

"It's given us some credibility," Belfiglio said.

The inspiration for Casebyte came two years ago when Belfiglio, who has run a video-production company called Astor Place in both New York City and New London, started running into laptop storage issues out in the field. Options to boost storage at the time were not good, basically amounting to a jumble of dangling wires.

One night while helping his son work on an issue with his laptop, Belfiglio hit on the big idea: creating an external drive that looked like a protective case and could be plugged into the laptop. Strangely, there were no other devices like it on the market.

Working with local attorney Steve McHugh at TCORS in New London, Belfiglio applied for a utility patent to prevent knockoffs of the idea, then created a prototype. He later found Wepco Plastics in Middletown to redesign the case, do the initial molds and improve on the fit of the product.

"They've been amazing," Belfiglio said. "They've really taken the product to heart."

Thanks partly to an infusion of money from his business partner, local entrepreneur Harry Leiser, who bought 15 percent of the company, Belfiglio was able to get the idea off the ground and develop a relationship in China that has significantly brought down the cost of manufacturing the electronic components, including the key SSD drive.

Belfiglio said he now offers two models of the Casebyte, which so far is available only for Apple laptops. The version offering half a terabyte of extra storage space sells for $125, while the full terabyte version goes for $225.

'Just clip, connect and go'

The covers come in two colors: gray and black. The devices include a superfast SSD drive encased in plastic that can be plugged into a laptop with a USB C connector.

"Just clip, connect and go" is the company's marketing mantra.

Belfiglio elected to make Casebyte strictly for Apple laptops initially because that's the preferred product for most professionals requiring large storage space on their laptops.

"I'm using it every day," Belfiglio said. "I don't know how I ever lived without it."

Belfiglio's Casebyte office space is connected to Astor Place, allowing him to stay close to the video production company he founded. But most of his day now is devoted to getting Casebyte off the ground.

One of his biggest goals was getting the new product on Amazon.com, but that proved more difficult than Belfiglio imagined. Casebyte is a third-party provider of the product, but Belfiglio is working out the final details that would allow Amazon to stock and sell the product directly.

Belfiglio said he eventually would like to employ people in New London to assemble Casebyte, and if it takes off a full-scale manufacturing operation could be in the future. He said Peter Lent, the city's economic development director, has been supportive of the project and will become especially important as Casebyte gains traction going forward.

"It's a slow process getting the word out," Belfiglio said. "This has been such an incredible learning experience for me. If anyone thinks it's easy, they should come talk to me."

l.howard@theday.com

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