S2Ep65: Build a Successful Company Culture with Shared Goals and Values

In today’s episode, Allan welcomes Ian Clifford. Ian is the Founder and CEO at FuelPositive. FuelPositive is a growth stage company focused on licensing, partnership, and acquisition opportunities building upon various technological achievements. Allan and Ian discuss the importance of establishing startup guidelines to help entrepreneurs create a path to success. In addition, they discuss the quality of your company must be built around shared goals and values. To learn more and Ian, visit FuelPositive Clean Energy Solutions | FuelPositive

Hey, everyone, welcome to the show. I’m Allan. I’m a family man and attorney and an entrepreneur. Each week, we provide resources and advice to help build your business. Are you ready? Then let’s go. Everyone, Welcome to the Business Growth Pod. I’m your host, Allan Draper. excited to introduce you today to Ian Clifford. Ian is the founder and CEO at fuel positive. Fuel positive is a growth stage company focused on licensing partnership and acquisition opportunities, building upon various technological achievement, we’re going to get into that because I’m not even sure exactly what that means. So we’re gonna chat a little bit about Ian about his entrepreneurial journey. And we’re gonna focus on you, our listeners, the entrepreneurs out there that are trying to get their business to the next level, or even for some of you who are just trying to get started. So welcome to the show. Ian, glad to have you.

Oh, great to be here. Alan, thanks.

Let’s talk a little bit about that introduction I gave you tell me a little bit about fuel positive, I obviously have done some research. And I understand a little bit about what you guys do. But for our listeners that have never heard of fuel positive. Tell us a little bit about it.

The genesis of fuel positive happened about 18 months ago, coming out of a energy storage technology that we’re commercializing, and we became really interested in replacements for fossil fuel. So understanding that, you know, one of the biggest challenges on the planet is, how are we going to get away from our fossil fuel dependency? How are we going to transition easily? A lot of people have challenges with battery electric, for obvious reasons. And is there a way of replacing fossil fuels that is, is practical, viable, and something that can be commercialized today. So we started looking at Green ammonia. And when people think of ammonia, you know, you think of cleaning products. So yeah, think of a skating rink that has a weird smell something like that. But in our research, we learned that ammonia is an incredibly versatile molecule. And there are ways of producing it that are absolutely carbon free. So it is a material that can be produced in a way in a pure green way that can then be utilized in agriculture as a fertilizer or as a fossil fuel replacement running an internal combustion engines. It’s a very, very great refrigerant. So we became really, really compelled with this, and did extensive due diligence on the technology on the inventors who are developing it. And last April entered into an agreement to purchase the intellectual property for the purposes of commercializing it, which is what we’re doing right now. So. So that’s, that’s in a nutshell, the genesis of what we been doing this is through a number of other startup phases, looking at different technologies in the past. So I don’t like using the word serial entrepreneur, because it sounds like a serial murderer or something like that. But the idea is that I’ve been through many, many startups and a number of exits. And I’m just really, really excited about the team that we have put together with feel positive. How

do you start up entrepreneurs? How do they find a good team?

I think that’s the biggest challenge for any entrepreneur is to find the right people. I start by making sure that the values and the mission of the company are very, very clearly stated. So you’re really transparent in terms of your goals and your values, so that you can then make sure that people who at least are interested to begin with are taking a very serious look at those, then I typically start people or groups on a contract basis. I think one of the best ways to get to know working with individuals or organizations is is on a contract basis. So they’re a contract supplier to us. And that relationship may last three months, it may last six months, but it gives you a really good impression of when You’re the customer, how they treat you, right. So you get a really, really good sense of how seriously they take the relationship with you, how they manage their time, how they bill you, and all of those really important intrinsic aspects of those relationships. And then after that period, you can turn that consulting agreement into an employment contract, or a more serious, potentially, a merger and acquisition depending on what you’re looking at, and how you’re building your organization. But I really like to test the waters slowly and get get to know people get to know organizations, and see if there’s a fit. And to this date, over the last year and a half, we’ve been incredibly careful. And of all the businesses that I’ve started up and run, I think I’ve got the best team now that I’ve ever had. And that comes through a lot of trial and error and learning how to do it properly. But like I said, starting with a really clear mission statement, a really clear statement of values will at least get that initial alignment in place, and then you can go from there.

Yeah, I’ve realized that there’s, there’s only two types of people in this world, two types of entrepreneurs, there’s only two, I’m gonna break it down into different classes. There are those that are good in partnerships or that desire to work in partnerships. And there are those that don’t. When I’m talking about partnerships, I’m talking about somebody that they share equity in the company with, right? You touched on some other partnerships that are super important, right? Our vendors are huge partners in our businesses, and you know, to help us succeed and everything, but I’m specifically talking about sharing equity. And I have very specific requirements. But I love this idea of, hey, let’s be clear about the vision. Let’s be clear about why we’re doing this. And I think the reason why is because if you get that down, you agree to that. The rest is just details. Mm hmm. Right? If you guys are on the same page, with where you want to take the company, even if the direction changes, right, because one of the best functions or features of a company is that it’s malleable, right? You put your foot in the ground, and you pivot around certain things. But I agree with you, when you’re looking for a partner, you have to make sure you share some goals, there’s got to be some foundation. And I think that’s it.

And you touched on it. I mean, the importance of a really clear HR policy or HR process is important. And from my experience, again, you can’t start that early enough. Because the old adage, you know, one bad apple, right, and it can really damage it. So you’ve got a team of 10 or 15 people, one bad element in that can create a huge amount of damage. And that’s something you’ve got to be conscious of and cautious of all the time. And you can’t start that too early. So I mean, we have you know, we’re about 15 people. So we’re a small company that we’ve started, you know, we’ve had HR type consulting in place, not right from the get go, because we were able to handle that on our own. But as as soon as you start to grow, absolutely, that’s an essential ingredient. You touched on sort of the ownership thing. We’re public company. And so we have a different sort of relationship to ownership in the sense that we don’t have any majority shareholders, we have key management and board of directors, but nobody owns more than 10% of the company. So we’ve got a very, very even playing field to begin with. I mean, we’ve got we have some hierarchy in terms of titles, and so on. But I’m very much a consensus building CEO. So I mean, unless there’s a sort of a life and death issue that has to be dealt with immediately, I tend to work really hard towards building consensus across the team. This again, goes back to the whole question of mission and values, right? So if you’ve got the right people, everybody is sort of sharing that. Yeah. Everybody’s voices is important. And no,

and I know, that’s a good point. I recently hired a CFO for one of our companies. And we had a meeting just yesterday. And at the end of the meeting, he said, Hey, thanks for living up to what you told me in the interview regarding letting me do what I needed to do. Yeah. Because he was used to being in these micro managing situations where he was being micromanaged. Yeah. And I told him, Look at this company already has one of me and one is probably more than enough, right? So why would I hire you and tell you what to do? That doesn’t make any sense, but we will do it. So I like this idea of consensus. And I think when you’re looking for a partner, you know, what’s funny is that as human beings, we naturally were inclined and we kind of gravitate toward people that think like us. And that, that agree with the things that we agree with and, you know, are aligned with different things when I think it’s actually important, especially for a company to get offsetting points of view and beliefs, right?

Mm hmm. Oh, it is? Absolutely. So I mean, you need to hire complex people, right, you need to hire people who have have very complex thought processes, and really evaluate and look at things from many, many different angles. And that’s why I mean, you see, CEOs or founders or whoever, who are so focused, so directed, they’re not looking at anything other than the goal. And they’re missing so much along the way, right, there’s so much opportunity, there’s so many ways of reshaping your company, making it better all the time. I mean, that’s the other thing too, is, I always want my company to be better. And and that’s through people that’s through really great making really good decisions, following really, really interesting ideas. And having good process in place, too, is also very important, right? So you’re, you know, you know, when you’re analyzing an opportunity, that you’re following a set of guidelines, really, that help you do that effectively. So, again, time being their most valuable commodity, you want to make sure that you do things in a really efficient and effective way. And again, that all comes down to the people that you’re working with. I mean, I stress that all the time when I’m talking about the quality of our company is is of course built around these shared goals, shared values, and

100%. Right, I think you want somebody and I think this principle applies to different positions, definitely upper level management, or you know, C suite executives or partners, which we’ve been talking about in privately held companies. It’s kind of funny, right? Because we want to share these core values, or the the mission statement, or the vision or whatever you want to call it of the company. Right, the purpose. But I think that’s kind of where it ends with the similarities beyond that, I’m looking for somebody that can complement my skills, right? Because we all look at things differently. And we tend to look at things and think that our perspective is correct. It’s just the nature of human beings. And we need people, as entrepreneurs, we need people that can look at something and see something completely different, right? We’re looking at the same thing, and we see things completely different. Now, you started a business that I mean, you guys are out there on the creative front, right? Very much, where you guys, you’re kind of creating this marketplace, you’re moving around technology and and doing things to kind of innovate. And I think that’s really impressive. I think for an entrepreneur, I think it can be a little intimidating to take on something like that. What type of encouragement do you have for the folks that are listening that are like, hey, there’s no real market for this? Or, Man, I’m really going to be sticking my neck out? Because I’m not sure who our competitors are? And what type of encouragement do you have for them?

Well, I think it’s great to be in a disruptive space, we, as entrepreneurs have to push for change. Because most industries and industries that have been around for 100 years are incredibly change averse. So you look at the automotive industry. And you look at Tesla. I mean, there’s a reason why you look at the computer industry, and you look at Apple, I mean, it is about innovation, it’s about pushing boundaries, and it’s knowing that you will find an audience, right. Like, it’s interesting, because our first audience, for our technology are farmers. And farmers historically, I’ve been really worried about change, they’re very fearful of change. But when you can empower them, and you can give them control of their own destiny, and our technology helps provide that on the farm. You can’t believe the change in attitude, right? But so this this audience that you don’t think is interested in turns out to be absolutely fascinated and completely onside. And that’s because you’re taking chances you’re out there pushing, you’re out there for pushing for change. I mean, we’re, of course incredibly environmentally focused in terms of what we do. So it’s finding the right partners again, who share our mission and our values and we’re finding them you know, we’re by putting ourselves out there and making it very clear who we are and not never really watering down who we are being very clear and firm and who we are, we attract the right partners. And you know, that’s a big part of our positioning because we’re up against you know, we’re up against it’s you know, class brought up right you know, the market Yeah, we’re up against the the oil industry and the fertilizer industry and ammonia industry, which are again, you know, they’re dinosaurs literally and but they’ve got trillions and trillions of dollars worth of market share. So there’s there’s opportunity and changes is an imperative, environmental change that imperative. So, for me, it’s just, you know, find something that you’re passionate about that you really believe in that you’re willing to take chances on and go for it. Because if we don’t do it, it’s not going to happen. I mean, that’s the reality here, you can’t wait for governments to change things of can’t wait for most major corporations are very, very slow to move in any direction. So it’s really up to an entrepreneurial part of society and business to make things happen. That should be inspiring. It’s scary. So making sure you’ve got the right financial support, and you can weather the storm is a really obviously a big, big part of the equation as well. And not always

easy. You know, a lot of people, they shy away from markets or industries where there’s these behemoths, right? Because they’re so intimidated. And I get that, right. I’ve I’ve had that. I’ve shared that sentiment, but you hit on an important point, and that is the smaller companies, the startups are the ones that can really effectuate change. We’re having an issue. I just got a text this morning from some guy that manages one of our companies. And he said that we’re gonna have some issues with vehicles because of what’s going on in Canada right now. Oh, right. Of course, I was confused. And, you know, we have 100 vehicles on backorder, or something. And my response to him was, man, I can’t believe that companies that large, they have such a hard time adapting. But it makes sense, right? The infrastructure is just so deep. We’re in, you know, in car manufacturing there. It’s very complicated, right? There’s several moving pieces, but a smaller company, you brought up Tesla, they’re able to, you know, that well, they’re not smaller anymore. They’re newer,

they’re doing things differently. I mean, they’re looking at ways that yeah, manufacturing and distribution that’s very, very novel. Yeah, interesting model,

for sure. I mean, I think that’s a good point. They’re doing things differently. And a lot of the, you know, the old guys, the big companies, they move so slowly, and they’re like, hey, this has worked for us in the past, to some extent, we’re just gonna keep doing what we’re doing. Right? Except for, they’ll have a commercial during the Super Bowl or something that talks about how they have a new line of EVs are Yeah, for me that’s motivating, like, hey, take them on. I mean, if I were giving someone advice that they’re in a really tough to crack industry, I would say start niche, start super niche. Find out what your USP is, find out what you’re unique at, of course, and go after

him. Yep. Absolutely. Yeah. And I, and it’s interesting, because I think consumers are looking for change as well. I mean, I think everyone’s sort of fed up with the way things are done, and, and how centralized so many things are energy, fossil fuels supply chain, you know, we’re all experiencing that through COVID How price fluctuation is so profound. So yeah, I mean, again, so our business is all about decentralizing. So in the case of farmers, making them independent of the oil and gas industry, making them independent of the the fertilizer industry, and giving them the equipment and the support that they need to produce their own fuel to produce their own fertilizers to produce their own refrigerants all on farm, right. So this is, you know, they need solar power, they need wind power, they need hydroelectric power, and they have a carbon free source of fuel fertilizer and, and other aspects. So this is where, you know, you say, find your niche, find something that differentiates don’t just reinvent the wheel, you know, you’ve got to create a new wheel. And what does that look like? The way we do it, we approach a huge industry, and we say, how do we break this down into something that’s totally different. And something that the big the big organizations can’t do? Because they can’t move that fast. So we’re saying we’re taking our nimble, entrepreneurial approach to this, and we’re gonna solve this problem fast, right? Because that’s what we’re good at. That’s what effective entrepreneurs do, they change things quickly, and they make things happen quickly. So that’s a piece of advice, you know, just figure out how to differentiate and then be really clear and really proud about it. Right? And really push it Yeah. And you’ll find,

ya know, for sure, and I think you’re gonna find some raving fans to support you, right? And they’re going to be your best form of marketing. Exactly. Get those people that they share the beliefs of the company, they’re behind a lot more of the why you’re doing things than the what you’re doing. Yeah, exactly. And allow them to spread the word. Tesla’s

Tesla doesn’t has never advertised, for instance, I mean, it’s all word of mouth. It’s all end users. And this is in farming. It’s very interesting, because it’s a very connected vocal community. Right. And farmers historically take care of each other. I mean, and so they talk about things that change their lives in a positive or negative way. and they support each other. So there’s that. So again, that’s sort of finding a niche, finding a community, finding customers that are like minded and so on. So it’s all it’s all part of the process. Yeah. But again, I think entrepreneurs can do this in a way that big business just can’t at this point. They just don’t understand how to

do that. No, I love it. And I think part of that is, especially if you’re kind of in a novel market is the education, right? Being patient with your customers and helping them understand, I grew up in a small farming community on the Oregon Idaho border, right. So I grew up basically on a farm. And farmers of all people have a tough time evolving, they really do. And so you have to be patient with them. And just just like any type of consumer base, and make sure you educate them, and help them understand really how your business or product is gonna help their lives be better at the end of the day.

Exactly, exactly. Yeah. And then, you know, you find one, and then you find the next one, and then those two, find five more. And those five, find 100. More. I mean, that’s how it that’s how those very organic growth, if you will, in terms of finding your audience, finding your market. And that’s one way of doing it, for sure.

Love it. Well, it’s been a real pleasure in where can people reach out to you if they want to hear more about fuel positive all the great things that you guys have going on over there?

Sure. Well, the websites easy that’s its fuel. positive.com. And my email is easy. It’s Ian, that’s IA n at fuel positive.com. And I’m happy to take inbound questions and help point people, you know, based on my experience in the right direction, if it’s, if it’s useful, great if it’s not. Okay, that’s fine, too. Yeah. All right.

Sounds good. Thanks so much for joining us today. Ian. Nothing but the best in the future for you.

You too, Alan. Thank you.

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