Freddie Figgers: The millionaire tech inventor who was ‘thrown away’ as a baby

Just one piece of advice 31-year-old entrepreneur Freddie Figgers would like to pass on to others.

When he was eight years old, he asked his father, Nathan, about the circumstances of his birth, and the reply was unforgettable.

“He said, ‘Listen I’m going to shoot it to you straight, Fred. Your biological mother, she threw you away, and me and Betty Mae, we didn’t want to send you through foster care and we adopted you, and you’re my son.'”

Freddie had been found abandoned as a newborn baby next to a dumpster (a large rubbish container) in rural Florida.

“When he told me that, I was like, ‘OK I’m trash,’ and I felt unwanted. But he grabbed my shoulder and he said, ‘Listen, don’t you ever let that bother you.'”

Nathan Figgers was a maintenance worker and handyman and Betty Mae Figgers, a farmworker. They lived in Quincy, a rural community of about 8,000 people in North Florida, and were in their 50s when Freddie was born in 1989.

“Kids used to bully me and call me, ‘Dumpster baby,’ ‘Trash can boy,’ ‘Nobody wants you,’ ‘You’re dirty,'” he says.

“I remember getting off the school bus sometimes and kids used to just come behind and grab me and throw me in a trash can and laugh at me.”

It reached a point where his father would wait for him at the bus stop and walk him home, but the children mocked Nathan too, Freddie remembers, “saying, ‘Haha, look at the old man with the cane.'”

So far as Freddie was concerned, Nathan and Betty Mae were heroes, and great role models.

“I saw my father always helping people, stopping on the side of the road helping strangers, feeding the homeless,” he says. “He was an incredible man, and for them to take me in and raise me, that’s the man I want to be like.”

At weekends Freddie and Nathan would drive around “dumpster diving” – looking for useful things that had been thrown away by their owners. Freddie particularly had his eye out for a computer.

“It’s an old saying, ‘One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,'” says Freddie, “and I was always fascinated by computers. I always wanted a Gateway computer, but at that time we couldn’t afford one.”

Finally, one day when Freddie was nine, they went to a second-hand shop called Goodwill, where they came across a broken Macintosh computer.

“We persuaded the sales associate,” says Freddie, “and he said, ‘Hey, I’ll give it to you for $24,’ (£17), so we took the computer home and I was just so ecstatic.”

He was already fond of tinkering with the collection of radios, alarm clocks or VCRs that Nathan had accumulated, and the broken Mac now became the focus of his attention.

“When I got it home and it wouldn’t come on, I took the computer apart,” says Freddie.

“As I was looking in it I saw capacitors that were broken. I had soldering guns there and I had radios and alarm clocks, so I took parts out of my father’s radio alarm clock and I soldered them into the circuit board.”

After about 50 attempts, he says, the computer finally switched on – and at this moment Freddie says he knew that he wanted to spend his life working with technology.

He was 12 when his skills became noticed by others. At an after-school club, while other children were playing in the playground, Freddie set to work repairing broken computers in the school’s computer lab.

“If the hard drive was corrupt I would swap it out. If it needed more memory I would add more RAM. If it needed a power supply, I would switch it out,” he says.

The director of the after-school program was Quincy’s mayor and when she saw that he was bringing broken computers back to life, she asked him to come to the city hall with his parents.

“When we get to city hall, she shows me all of these computers in the back, oh gosh, maybe 100 of them stacked up, and she says, ‘I need these computers repaired.'”

From then on, Freddie spent time every day after school mending this pile of computers, for $12 (£9) an hour.

“It wasn’t even really about the money,” he says. “I had an opportunity to do something that I loved to do and it was just so fun to me.”

A couple of years later, a coding opportunity arose. Quincy needed a system to check the city’s water pressure gauges, and a company had quoted $600,000 (£432,500) to develop a computer program.

Freddie remembers that the city manager called out, “Hey, Freddie’s a computer dork, he could probably help with this.”

“So I said, ‘Sir, listen, if you give me an opportunity, I could build the same program. So he gave me that opportunity and I built that program exactly to the specifications that they needed. I didn’t get paid $600,000, I got my regular paycheque and went home.”

It was a crucial turning point in Freddie’s life. He was only 15, but he now decided to leave school and start up his own computing business – much to his parent’s dismay.

“They believed in education, work, retirement, and I wanted to break that chain, I wanted to do something different,” he says.

Freddie’s business was going from strength to strength when a couple of years later, Nathan started rapidly developing Alzheimer’s disease.

One disturbing symptom was that he would wake up in the night and re-enact things he had seen on television earlier in the evening. This led to what Freddie calls “the most traumatizing thing that ever happened to me”.

He started out providing services in rural areas of north Florida and southern Georgia, not far from Quincy, and the company has steadily grown. In 2014, Freddie launched a smartphone, the Figgers F1, with a device that detects motion and switches to “safe mode” above 10mph, preventing people from texting while driving. The Figgers F3, which went on sale in 2019, contains a chip designed to enable wireless charging whenever the phone is within five meters of a “super base charger” – a device that has been awaiting approval by the FCC.

The marketing of the F3 caused controversy, with some bloggers arguing that not all of the first model’s features were as up-to-date as they said they had been led to believe. Freddie told the BBC: “Our goal is to provide honesty and transparency while we provide quality and advanced products at an affordable price.”

Freddie’s mother, 83, has now also begun to develop Alzheimer’s. He says she’s very proud of what he has achieved and realizes that the glucometer, which might have saved her uncle’s life, is “something special”.

Freddie married Natlie Figgers, an attorney, in 2015, and they have a little girl. As well as his businesses, he runs a foundation that invests in education and healthcare projects and helps disadvantaged children and families. Recent schemes have included donating bicycles to children in foster care, and PPE to people on the frontline of the coronavirus pandemic.

Freddie says the most important advice he would give his little girl about life would be to “never give up, no matter how cold the world may look,” and try to make a positive impact on the life of every person you encounter. It’s a message Freddie’s father and number one supporter, Nathan, would have entirely agreed with.