Joel Matlin is standing on the front lawn of his north Toronto home on a sunny spring day, smiling from ear to ear. He’s getting ready to shoot a television commercial.
“This is exactly what I did every year with my former company. This is the same crew,” he says fondly, as a member of the production crew attaches a small microphone to his dress shirt.
Matlin’s “former company” is AlarmForce Industries Inc., the home alarm company that he founded and turned into a household name with the help of a catchy jingle and phone number. In 2013, the board of directors fired him after 25 years of service.
Now Matlin, 67, and his son Adam are back with a new home security firm, called Think Protection. It launches June 1. The seasoned entrepreneur and executive will step back into the spotlight to be the company’s public face.
“Coming to work everyday is fun,” he says. “At my old job, it was also a lot of fun. But, in life, you have to look forward.”
Think Protection is Matlin’s big comeback, although he wouldn’t call it that.
The Montreal native started his first company in 1969 at the age of 20. His company, Frisco Bay Industries designed, built, and installed electronic security systems for banks and trust companies.
After the company was bought out, Matlin tried to retire at 40, with $4 million in his pocket. That lasted about three weeks.
He saw opportunity in the growing home-alarm market. In 1988, at the age of 40, Matlin founded AlarmForce.
Within 10 years, the company had sold 20,000 of its patented two-way voice alarm systems. It became a public company in 1992.
Matlin’s son Adam, went to film school in North Carolina. and, after a stint working in Hollywood, joined the company as the marketing manager in 2007. Six years later, he had worked his way up to vice-president of sales and marketing.
By 2013, the company was doing well, growing at a faster rate than the industry. with $50 million in annual sales, and no debt.
Then, “unceremoniously, we were fired,” Matlin said. “At the board meeting, they said they were giving us two choices: retire or you get fired. I said, “I have no desire to retire.’”
The company issued a press release in July stating that Matlin’s employment as president and chief executive had been terminated following a strategic review of the company. Adam was also fired.
“When you get fired from a job, it doesn’t matter what the job is, it’s a traumatic experience,” Matlin said.
“I was depressed for a time. No question about it. But you have two choices in life: you see how much time you have in life or you mope in your misery. I decided I have a whole life to live and I wanted to make the most of it.”
By the end of the year, Matlin and his son had started their own digital marketing firm, Matlin Creative.
“We were doing reasonably well,” Adam, 37, said. “We built a legitimate business with known clients. It was good, but our passion was in the security business.”
They knew they wanted to get back into home security, but not replicate AlarmForce. “We were at Blockbuster. We didn’t want to open another video store. We wanted to come back with Netflix,” Adam said.
In January, 2015, after their non-compete agreements with Alarm Force had expired, they started Think Protection. The systems offers home automation: controlling door looks, the thermostat and lights, as well as video surveillance.
The big selling point, Matlin says, is that there’s no contract, and customers can cancel their services any time.
“With our history in the business, we know what customers wanted and what they didn’t. The time away helped. We figured out in a perfect world what we would sell our customers,” Adam said.
However, AlarmForce filed a lawsuit alleging that Matlin had breeched his non-compete. The lawsuit also sought to bar two former employees, David Costantini and Maciej Gerwel, from working for Think Protection.
“They have every right to be afraid of us,” Matlin said. “We want to deliver the highest level of technology at the lowest price with no contract.”
AlarmForce dropped the lawsuit, but was ordered last week to pay $45,000 in court costs to Matlin and the other defendants. It declined to comment on the case.
“Joel is fantastic at what he does. He has such a great attitude and inspires you to do great things. It was an easy decision” to join Think Protection, said Costantini, chief financial officer of Think Protection.
“With Joel’s branding and his presence in the market, with our value proposition, we’re going to excel tremendously. We’re going to come out strong.”
Matlin filed his own wrongful dismissal lawsuit against Alarm Force in September, 2013, asking for $1.3 million for wrongful dismissal and $10 million in damages. That case is pending.
Matlin says his goal is to expand Think Protection across Canada over the coming year and then expand into the U.S. The company may even become public one day.
“We will build a significant company quickly,” Adam said. “We want everyone to know the brand, the jingle, and the value proposition. My dad always says failure is not an option.”