Craig Fuller | Freight Trucking, Fundraising Strategies, and Transitioning To Virtual Events

Craig Fuller 11:26

you know, I think you hear this a lot from founders is like, they just had this feeling they had to do it. So I had realized, I didn’t like when I got fired from my father. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, like I had identified myself never having gone out and had an outside job and thought, well, maybe I need to get a real job or a job working for somebody else. And it became really quick, quickly apparent that I’m not a good employee. Because I just never knew how to be an employee. And I was working for this employee incentive company. And then I met my now wife, and I hated the job not because it was a bad job, because I just didn’t believe I was I was that helpful. I thought they were paying me too much relative to what I was actually doing for them. And just felt like

John Corcoran 12:15

you don’t hear that as a complaint very often. But okay, but just as a

Craig Fuller 12:18

foul as an entrepreneur, you’re like, you’re overpaying me versus what you’re actually getting out of me. This was I was uninspiring. I wasn’t growing, I wasn’t challenged. And I wanted to go back and do something that I thought was, you know, and so I realized really quickly, I worked there for a couple of months and realized really quickly, I didn’t want to stay there and I didn’t want to be an employee, I want to go start a business. And I didn’t care if it failed. I literally, for the first time I didn’t have the comfort of my family, I had ran through whatever cash I had day trading on successfully. And I just had this epiphany to go do it. And I walked in my wife and I had been dating for two months at the time, she’d never know me as an entrepreneur. And I walked in and said, I’m going to quit my job and she’s like, Please don’t shoot we, at this point, she had agreed that she was going to move to Texas, or we were going to you know, we were starting to build the foundation of a relationship. We had fallen in love. And so we were gonna, like, build this relationship. And all of a sudden, I’m talking about quitting the job and not having you know, she’s gonna quit her job to move at the point at the time, Texas. And, and I was like, and so about two months later, I came home one day, and I said, I quit my job. And she’s like, What, and I was like, I’m done. I’m doing this, I believe in it. I don’t care if it fails. And that was it. I had a little bit of cash, just enough to sort of pay myself to keep my to pay my bills. And I had a credit card that had I opened up a credit card that Bank of America offered me I had really good credit that was sort of the last sort of holes of liquidity. And I had a fit, I opened up a $50,000 credit line would be on a on a credit card that offered zero APR for six months. And I was like, let’s do it. So they were essentially my first bank. They didn’t even realize they helped fund my business. They certainly didn’t get the equity. But they were the first they were my first investor. And that basically bought us six months. Yeah, okay, six months of $50,000 to sort of get this thing going if you can keep

John Corcoran 14:08

your expenses under 60,000 flying off to Silicon Valley and raising money.

Craig Fuller 14:12

Yeah, like well, I had also had a lot of miles. So I was able to use miles, miles. I mean, this is sort of the scrappiness that entrepreneurs go through is that you sort of have to figure it out. And it was fun. It was like it was rewarding because it was it was a different time. It was it was a lot of constraints to sort of build it. And we ended up finding an angel investor in Dallas that put 2 million into the business and all of a sudden, you know after about there was a couple months later, all of a sudden things changed because now we had real money and and then I started to sort of scale up the team and we ended up running for the 2 million over the course of about a year as we sort of scaled the technology and the business and the staff and my wife and I were she was my fiancee we’re gonna get married. We had no money like to go to go to go on a honeymoon. So I had miles. And I had paid off my credit card and was able to use that as sort of fend off the wolf, if you will, in terms of keeping keeping the business running. So I was literally using my credit card to make payroll. And I even took out a payday loan at one point, just to sort of really what, yeah,

John Corcoran 15:24

that’s crazy. I’m looking at CrunchBase CrunchBase says you’ve raised 92 million, over eight different funding rounds, what have you learned about raising money over the years? Because a lot of entrepreneurs who haven’t done it before find it’s just a completely different animal of funding a business?

Craig Fuller 15:43

Yeah, I think raising money is most like cells and any, it’s all networking, and it’s building, building your network. And so it’s, you know, it’s doing things like podcasts for podcasts weren’t really a big thing when I got started. So it wasn’t, I wasn’t actually doing broadcasts, but today, that would be a great model to sort of get out there. But it was, um, you know, for it’s all networking. So LinkedIn, this has been LinkedIn was actually quite good. Before Microsoft bought it. And it was a, it was a fantastic tool, because not a lot of it was an underutilized tool back in 2016, where there wasn’t a lot of direct marketing, like you can reach out to a CEO and get a response of some of the largest companies. And that’s what I did. And so I started in network with this idea and this concept, and I also network to sort of find venture capitalist. And then then that was how I sort of walked through the scenario. And then I will also say, as you know, as a founder of a business that has the chance to raise money, one of the things that’s quite frightening is you’ve never raised money, you don’t know whether a deal is good or bad, or whatever. And you’re always like I don’t, this stuff was very complicated. I had some good mentors that were able to sort of work through it. But the other thing is, I had taken some deals that now I regret, or I would have regretted, if I known now, what I didn’t know then. And I think, at the time that I made those deals, I was very excited to get my first investment, which was really turned out to be alone, it wasn’t an investment, I found out it was actually a loan that has now been paid back. And they they got 25% of the company for $2 million. That was a loan. So that would be very expensive under today’s terms, but it was a PowerPoint presentation. I didn’t know any better. So I think it’s, it’s important to network and to sort of, you know, it’s the whole thing about just making enough calls, like anything, it’s just getting out there. And, and don’t be afraid to have to make those connections.

John Corcoran 17:39

Now, I love to ask people about March 2020. At that point in time, your business was doing a lot of events, you actually had a big event upcoming, I believe it was in May of 2020. Take me back to the those weeks or days, when you start to read the news, and you start to realize this is gonna have a major impact on on your business. And yet you had to make a change.

Craig Fuller 18:00

Yeah, so it was a pretty it was pretty much in time, because back in 2019. So we were gotten funded. I think at this point, we had raised 20 to $30 million. And but we also had a pretty big, you know, we took like 130 140 employees, we scaled up really quickly. And we got two unsolicited offers in the fall of 2019. And our board was made up of venture capitalists said, let’s wait, let’s run a process and not take these offers. And let’s move it into the first quarter of next year. And so we did, and we timed our capital raise for January of 2020. And so I went out to the Bay in January 2020. And we were expecting term sheets by March 2020. This is all happening at this very same time that the world was becoming aware of what COVID was. And it was a weird because in supply chain, we’re looking at what’s happened in COVID. Back end as early as January, I’m giving speeches about the impact of the supply chain in January 2020 to American executives about what COVID is going to mean at the same time, I’m trying to raise money. And so it was a really horrible time to raise. I remember, we only had capital for May. So we just had runway to get us to May of 2020. And the other sort of tidbit of this is we were at the time $10 million in revenue, of which 5 million of that had come from live events. So we’re staring at this situation in March 2020. We’re nearly out of cash. And half our business is probably going to zero because of COVID. And it’s like what do you do? And so we ended up basically saying, why don’t we do a virtual event, which we did, and we we ended up moving our physical events to virtual. And what was great about that business is we basically created a TV network out of it. So I’d taken Michael Bloomberg book, Bloomberg by Bloomberg, which is sort of his I’m autobiography. And he in sort of emulated a lot in my business that he had built. And I thought this is a great time, I was actually excited, which seems like a really strange sort of phenomenon, to go and use this opportunity to build something new. And to take our physical events and convert it into virtual and our TV product, tell it for you know, it’s a 95% contribution business. And it ended up basically replacing all the revenue that we lost in our physical events over the course of two years, which is great, because now we have that, and we kept it. And now we have physical events. But in that moment in time, we were staring at a situation where we’re almost at a cash my business was gonna go under. And all of a sudden, March of 2020 was the best month in our history. Now, it’s a little bit of contacted, supply chains were getting completely disrupted because of COVID. Like, it was very uncertain. Nobody knew what was happening. Automation, yeah, information, real time information. So we didn’t go on the market before March of 2020. And we’re telling people high frequency data, which is what we focus on, which is data that’s basically real time or within 24 hours is much more important in a supply chain that’s subject to disruptions than data that that may have been around for much longer, but has a lower cadence and lower frequency. And because we’re a new player, most of this data was a couple years old and had didn’t have a lot of history to it. What happened is COVID, reset everything and reset the economy. And all of a sudden, we had this explosion of interest in our high frequency data and had the best month ever. And so I entered March 2020 thinking, you know, basically walk into Walmart and thinking I could be a Walmart greeter if everything else fails, or look into overdriving to sort of make ends meet when this company goes under. Basically loading up I you know, I bought a car, I bought a new car, I bought a boat, like I was like we were it just like completely changed the trajectory of the business at the end of March. And we ended up raising some money from some investors. And what was crazy about it was, it was some of the it was we set it up as a as basically alone in this situation. So it wasn’t a lot of dilution. So it turned out the regretting the deal now because it turned out to be a really good deal for us, and not as great for them. But But anyways, having said that, it was it was an interesting time. So

John Corcoran 22:25

yeah, that’s absolutely not, I mean, you You speak very kind of positively about I was expecting a little bit more emotional damage. No,

Craig Fuller 22:32

it was the honestly, and I know this sounds and like, I didn’t have any buddy personally, it wasn’t packed by COVID. Like I knew people that obviously got sick, but no one in my family or my universe. So this will sound a little dismissive or insensitive to those that actually lost folks. And so I want to caution to say that but personally COVID was actually a really great time for the business for my my personal life. You know, we had I, it was the first time in my life that I didn’t have to get on an airplane, I had platinum status with American and diamond status with Delta, just to sort of show how much time I was flying around the country. I didn’t have to fly and all of a sudden, I could spend time with my then one year old and now. Now they’re two but my, my little my children without having to leave the house and there’s no expectation for it. And the business just exploded because supply chain became a really important concept in the boardroom. And so in many ways COVID We were a primary beneficiary of COVID. And so I have I know it sounds crazy, but quite fun memories of that time, because I think personally and from a business standpoint, it was actually a really positive sort of outcome for

John Corcoran 23:45

  1. Yeah, yeah, I know. We’re getting short on time. So I want a couple more things I want to touch on before we run out of time. You you’d been a pilot as a kid really interested in aviation. And now you’re CEO Flying Magazine, which was this magazine that you read as a kid that’s got to be such a cool thing. So this I guess what ended up happening is you were interested in the magazine got back into flying reached out. They said it wasn’t for sale, but you made them offer they couldn’t refuse. What is that like to come full circle on that one?

Craig Fuller 24:14

Yeah, sort of my 13 year old self was really proud because I like got to be the owner of Flying Magazine. SO

John Corcoran 24:20

Mad Magazine wasn’t available. So you went for flying instead? Which Mad Magazine wasn’t. This boy’s life or lying

Craig Fuller 24:28

to me was like Sports Illustrated when Michael Jordan was on the front of it. I mean, it was a meaningful part when magazines were like the thing as a kid. No, I had, I had taken a 20 year hiatus from flying I started flying at 13 and stopped at 20. And, you know, I had built this business and all of a sudden, you find yourself as a founder find yourself from every functional role, because you’re not good at most of them. And you end up hiring people that are much better and I ended up and the thing that you primarily focus Saunders raising capital, and I ended up not needing to raise money when all of a sudden FreightWaves became cashflow positive. So we went from like a $2 million burn to like no burn in the course of a year, and we didn’t raise money anymore. And so I find myself with nothing to do. Like I wasn’t, nobody wanted me to take the jobs that I had fired myself from back over. And I didn’t want to do that. So it had taken up flying. And I started reading all of the media publications and aviation Flying Magazine, one of them. And I thought as a media executive, I could do a much better job at this, you know, we have, I have a sense for what high quality media is. And so I reached out and had the opportunity to buy it. Like you said that it wasn’t for sale initially, but they agreed to sell it to me. And I’m now the proud owner of Flying Magazine. And it’s awesome. It is, it is a passion project. And my goal is to build a FreightWaves of aviation or $100 million dollar data and media, business and aviation, which is what we’re working on right now.

John Corcoran 25:57

That’s really cool. Last question. I’m a big fan of gratitude, especially expressing gratitude to peers and contemporaries and mentors who’ve helped you along the way who would you acknowledge publicly for thanking you for helping

Craig Fuller 26:08

so many people, but I think the folks that were most meaningful to me, are those folks that really sort of stuck out in the very earliest days, when it’s you when you’re successful, or you’ve had success. It’s easy for people to get, you know, to sort of be in your camp, but it’s those people that really believe in you, or believed in me in the very earliest days that are most meaningful. So Todd Hardison is a dear friend of mine, I had met him in the payments business, he taught me everything in payments. And so he he went out and made the first introduction to the first set of investors. So I’m permanently indebted to Todd. And there’s just been so many people on the way I would say, for founders that are looking at, you know, trying to determine their own journey, the most important thing is to have a good sounding board or personal coaches. And for me, I have a set of investors that are not on my board, that were very early investors in FreightWaves, the your max, whom I so when I bought Flying Magazine, I pretty much self funded it. But I went to to investors and basically asked him to put a little bit of money into the business so that I that I can have a basically a board, I can have people to keep me honest. And so they own like 16% of the business, eight and eight, these two brothers do. And it’s not because I needed the money, but because they wanted their guidance, and I wanted them to have skin in the game. And so, so it’s worked out. So I have partners that are that are basically there to keep me out of trouble from doing things that and so it’s great to have those kinds of people that you can trust and depend on.

John Corcoran 27:46

Craig, this has been great. Where can people go to learn more about you? I know you do a lot of media appearances on Bloomberg and things like that. But where can people go to learn more about your businesses?

Craig Fuller 27:54

Yeah, I mean, I’m at FreightAlley on Twitter. That’s usually the place that I live and sort of stay so you can usually find me there. And so that’s usually the best place to sort of seek out

John Corcoran 28:06

we’re both one of the weirdos out there. It was still really likes Twitter and thinks that there’s lots of great content on there’s awesome. I agree. I agree. Yeah, totally.

Craig Fuller 28:14

I mean, I just hope Musk doesn’t screw it up. I say this. But it would be a really sad day if he did. It’s a very powerful tool.

John Corcoran 28:22

It is, it is amazing. Introduction to interesting content out there. Craig, thank you so much. Appreciate you.

Outro 28:29

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