Craig Fuller is a repeat startup entrepreneur who has launched, scaled, and exited multiple businesses. He’s gone from the family business to publicly traded businesses to going out on his own.
During our interview on the DealMakers Podcast, Craig Fuller shared his journey from childhood working in the family businesses to getting fired by your dad and doing your own thing. Plus, funding your own business, how venture capital works, VC versus private equity funding, and his key to success.
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Born Into Entrepreneurship
Fuller was born in Chattanooga, TN. A city he says is a great place to be in a COVID-19 world, with its hyper-fast internet and plenty of outdoor space to enjoy.
Entrepreneurship runs way back in Craig’s DNA. His great grandfather was in trucking. His grandfather was a pioneer in the same space. Both of his sons, Craig’s father, and uncle started their own trucking businesses, employing thousands of people.
His father began bootstrapping his own business back in the mid-80s. He learned a lot from him. Both about the trucking industry and running a business. He was inspired by him to become an entrepreneur and found his time learning from him at work and around the dinner table the most valuable education he received. Even more so than his Master’s.
He had been going to the office with his dad since he was six years old. He became the company’s first help-desk technician. His father’s business went public when Craig was just around 15 years old.
He stayed until he was 24, learning everything he could and exploring many roles and parts of the business. He washed the trucks and helped maintain them. He worked dispatch and saw what it took to be an executive.
Like many successful entrepreneurs, Craig Fuller started out as an intrapreneur.
In college, he tried selling air freight. Pretty soon he became the ‘truck guy’ at DFW airport. They would call him saying, “I don’t care what it costs, but I need a truck.”
He took the idea to his father. His son going out to start a competing business didn’t seem like a good move. So, they set it up as an experiment and kind of a startup within this bigger company.
Craig was told he could split 25% of the margins with his team by one of the executives. Within 24 months it turned out to be a huge hit. One of the most profitable parts of the organization, with a $68M a year margin.
Seeing this, the exec he reported began slashing the compensation. That went down to 5% for the team, then a basic $100k a year salary, with no bonus, instead of the millions he should be earning for his contribution.
He was effectively told that since his father and family were doing so well, that he should really take one for the team. Even though his boss was getting the bonuses for his work.
He clearly wasn’t being compensated fairly for his value. He decided to go do something else.
Getting Fired By Your Father
His father ended up backing him as one of the investors in Transcard. A prepaid card and payments business. They ended up with 400 bank customers and were acquired by US Bank.
After the acquisition, Craig had managed to keep part of the business. He was ultimately ousted or fired by his own father.
No matter the reasons, getting laid off or let go by a family member never feels good. Still, he knew he loved him, but wasn’t going to involve dad in his next venture.
How To Fund Your Business
After doing some day trading and seeing what was happening in global ocean shipping, he stumbled on the idea of creating a futures market around trucking.
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Today, FreightWaves is a media data business, dubbed ‘the Bloomberg of freight.’ They use data to help freight companies win, manage logistics, reduce risk and get a better understanding of their industry.
The company’s? SaaS product, SONAR, is a freight market analytics tool and dashboard, aggregating billions of data points from hundreds of sources to provide the fastest data in the transportation and logistics sector. The platform is mode agnostic and has time-series and geo-based data from all modes of freight, including truck, rail, ocean, air, and warehouse.
Craig didn’t have a lot of capital. He did have good credit. So, he opened up a credit card and got a 0% interest deal and $50k line of credit. FrieghtWaves has now raised $75M from a mix of investors.
Storytelling is everything which is something that Craig was able to master. Being able to capture the essence of what you are doing in 15 to 20 slides is the key. For a winning deck, take a look at the pitch deck template created by Silicon Valley legend, Peter Thiel (see it here) where the most critical slides are highlighted.
Remember to unlock the pitch deck template that is being used by founders around the world to raise millions below.
They’ve had angel investors, VCs, and private equity investments.
He shared some significant differences between venture capital and private equity with our audience.
VCs are famous for looking for those 100x returns. He describes them as wildcats drilling for oil. In the oil business, you can drill a lot of holes and come up dry. It can be 10 or 100 and you may still come up empty. But, if you do strike oil, just one well could produce many millions of dollars and offset the cost of the other 99 holes you tried to drill.
It’s the same for VCs. They only need one investment to produce a 100x return. They don’t care if the others go bust. They just want to go fast and find out if you are a bust or a gusher fast.
In contrast, private equity may target far more modest 3-5x returns. He says they are more concerned with preserving capital and modest growth. As long as you are delivering on that, they’ll leave you alone. When you come up short, that’s when they’ll show up and put you on the sidelines.
That doesn’t seem to be a problem for FreightWaves today. They are already an almost $20M a year company, with 130 employees, which is growing 200% per year.
Listen in to the full podcast episode to find out more, including:
- Working with family
- The unforeseen challenges of taking money from family and friends
- The one key focus that took his business from one customer to 400
- How to get in touch with Craig fuller