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Firefighter Peter Thorpe had seen a lot of devastating fires started by stoves, so he developed FireAvert, which automatically shuts off stoves. Wes Clark, Peter’s business partner and our guest in this episode, shares with Clate and Scott what it was like to prepare for—and recover from—being on ABC’s Shark Tank, overcoming rejection, and figuring out the simplest way to solve business problems. Oh—and that time he exploded a can of beans all over the fire chief.
Mentioned in this episode: “How the Mighty Fall” by Jim Collins.
Wes Clark: I think at least once a day there's the question of are we going to make it? There's never a recession from that question.
Clate Mask: That's Wes Clark from FireAvert. To hear more about his challenges, the successes, and what he learned by being on Shark Tank, listen to the full episode of The Small Business Success podcast.
Scott Martineau: So welcome today to The Small Business Success podcast. I'm Scott Martineau.
Clate Mask: And I'm Clate Mask, co-founders of Infusionsoft.
Scott Martineau: All right. Well, Wes, thank you so much for taking time to be with us today. On this podcast, we talk with small business owners and we understand a little more about the story, and our listeners love to hear everything. They love to hear the lows. They love to hear the highs. So we'll want to explore that with you today. But maybe before we get started, do you mind just giving us a little bit of background, tell us more about your company, –
and what inspired you to have this idea to go start the company, and why do you exist?
Clate Mask: Yeah. And Wes, I'd love you also tell us kind of where you are in your journey and your evolution this entrepreneurial ride that you're on. Like tell us kind of where the company is, when did it start, how many employees do you have now, that kind of thing. So if you could give us a little more on the background of FireAvert, that would be great.
Wes Clark: Sure. I'd be happy to. So just a quick overview of our company. It's called FireAvert. It's a product that automatically shuts off your stove when you forget that you're cooking and prevents you from burning down your house. So hopefully a useful product in the realm of things. So the idea started about four and a half years ago. So my business partner, Pete Thorpe, he's a firefighter and he'd go on a ton of these calls, and it was always somebody had left food on the stove, –
or the large majority of the time somebody had left food on the stove and nobody was even around. It was usually a neighbor that called the fire department or something like that. They'd come, break down the door, find the pot, throw it on the lawn, put a note up on the door and say, "Sorry we broke your door."
Scott Martineau: [Laughter]
Wes Clark: "Your food is out on the lawn." And so one day after one of these events, he had the thought, "What if the smoke alarm that's been going off for two hours all by itself could shut off the stove?" And at that point, he was a student at BYU and so he gathered up some other students in engineering, and product development, and business, and they started putting this idea together and doing the business plan competitions throughout the state. And I think they won – either won or took second place at – the BYU competition.
They won the UEA, which is the Utah Entrepreneur Challenge, and then several others they either won or placed second throughout the inner-mountain west. And so they'd gotten some money. They'd started development. And as students do, they all are excited about this project and they work on it real hard for two years, and then they all graduate and go their way. Well, Pete was the only one left standing, and so he was kind of running this on his own, and mortgaging his house to pay the bills, the classic entrepreneur story. He's just a smart guy.
And one of my buddies from grad school called me and said, "You know what? There's a guy that we're backing here and we need your help. We'd love to have you come take a look and see if you can help him build a business around this." And so about two years ago, I came on, and we've finished up getting the product –
manufactured and shipped over here. And that's kind of where I came into it. I'd been at Intel for almost nine years prior to that and I'd dabbled in some entrepreneurial start-up stuff and really had a desire to go after a dream, and this was a great person. Pete's a great guy, a great product, great story. And so while I was on my sabbatical from Intel, I took the leap, and so that's how I got involved with FireAvert.
And so that was pre-revenue two years ago. We went to our first trade show in June of 2014. From that, we got our first PO after burning a bunch of food for a client out in Kentucky. They wanted to see the product work –
in their kitchen, so they had us throw beans, and bacon, and oil in the stove, and we had like 20 executives from the company around, looking, watching. And me, of course, I'd had no sleep. We'd flown in, drove three hours, got there at 4:00 AM, got up at 6:00 and drove the rest of the way. No sleep. I exploded a can of beans all over the chief of fire. We thought we were done. We thought we were going to get rode out of town on a rail. But ended up we went and apologized by taking them ice cream, which is a firefighter kind of standard when you –
Scott Martineau: The way to their heart?
Clate Mask: Yeah.
Wes Clark: Yeah. And when you screw up, you buy ice cream for the whole station. So that's what we did.
Clate Mask: [Laughter] That's great.
Wes Clark: We ended up having a great time with them. So, anyways, I'm off topic.
Scott Martineau: So how did you explode a can of beans on the fire chief?
Wes Clark: So it, the tab broke, and so I was trying to get it open, and I was trying to get it, I was using another can to tap on it, and it exploded.
Clate Mask: [Laughter] Well, that's an awesome story. Thanks for sharing with us kind of how it started and how you got into it. So now you're one of the leaders of the business. It sounds like you joined on and now you're growing the company. You're way past the pre-revenue stage, obviously. You've got your first purchase orders. How many employees do you guys have now?
Wes Clark: So we have about five. We've got some part-time students, some probably six if you count all of the part-time students. So yeah, we've been selling for about two years, a little over two years. So we're revenue-positive. This last year we did $1 million in sales –
over $1 million in sales. So we've had double-digit growth the last two years. And so it's been a great journey and a ton of learning.
Clate Mask: Yeah. Well, that's great. Congratulations. You know, Scott and I talk about this all the time, but so few companies ever get past $1 million in sales annually. So that's actually just about three percent of businesses that ever start that get there. About seven or eight percent of businesses that exist are there today, so when you factor in all those that get started and never make it there, it's a tiny fraction of the companies that start that get there. So good for you. Congratulations on the success.
And I'd love to hear a little bit more because there are a couple of things you said that I think kind of resonate with entrepreneurs that hear this. First of all, every entrepreneur feels like a firefighter. You guys actually are – your business donor actually is a firefighter. You started that way. And yet, he got out of firefighting and got into creating an opportunity to help people that's –
it's related, but it's a venture that now is helping people to really avert disaster. And that's a pretty cool thing. So how did that transition work of quitting the day job, getting out of firefighting, jumping into actually doing this work in FireAvert?
Wes Clark: Well, for Pete, he's actually one of the most amazing people I know, and he's actually doing both still.
Clate Mask: Oh, wow.
Wes Clark: He's working like two full-time jobs at the same time. But how he got into this was he just started, "What's the problem? How do I solve it? What's the simplest way to get there?" And that's kind of been his approach and our motto is just, "What's the simplest way to solve the problem?" We don't need a ton of complicated systems. Let's just figure out the shortest, –
quickest way to solve the problem. And so that's kind of been the drive that's gotten him to where, like you said, most people never get to. And we work well together that way because we focus on what do we need to get done to just make the next step happen?
Clate Mask: That's great.
Scott Martineau: Wow. So getting from zero to $1 million in two years. That's a fast ride. Tell us what that was like. What were some of the challenges and struggles that you had as you scaled that – as you grew that quickly.
Wes Clark: Well, you know, employees are always your biggest challenge. They're your biggest cost. They're your biggest blessing and your greatest reward. And so it's been a challenge getting employees that can scale with us, that have that mindset. You kind of have to have an ownership mindset when you're this small and be willing to take ownership of everything that comes your way.
And so it's, things like customer service, making sure that we have consistent customer service, and getting a message in a tone that's consistent across everybody in the company, whether they talk to Pete, or me, or one of our college interns. So that's been one of our struggles. It's also been a struggle to educate people. This is a need. It's like insurance. Nobody likes insurance. Nobody wants to have insurance.
Scott Martineau: Until they need it.
Wes Clark: Until they need it, exactly. And so it's been hard communicating the message that this isn't just an insurance product, but it's a product that also helps at-risk groups like seniors especially stay at home, stay independent, –
maintain their dignity and their ability to have a normal life as long as possible. And this is one of the things that I think has really come out for us is learning the right messaging and understanding your customer. And so that's definitely been a journey over the last two years is figuring out who our real customers are, what the real needs are that we meet, and then how do we take that message to them and grow at a fast rate?
Scott Martineau: Yeah. Yeah. So I think that's a key thing that so many business owners are experiencing in particularly in what we call stage one and stage two as you're building up the business and getting to a few hundred thousand in revenue. It's that identification of who really is the target customer? What are the benefits that you deliver for them? How do you message that and communicate it in an effective way –
so that it really resonates with your audience and they say, "Yeah, that's – I'm after that"? Those things that you've been learning as you've gone through the last probably year, 18 months, because in the very beginning stages, you're really struggling with that, but you've started to find a message, a product, explain the solution and the benefits in ways that the prospect is hearing, and receiving, and getting excited about.
And I think a lot of times for business owners as they're trying to pursue their dreams and ambitions, that's where they get stuck a little bit is how do we communicate effectively what the benefits of our product or service really are? And then how do we really match that to the target customer and find more of those target customers?
So was there work you did in kind of identifying who the right customer is or some kind of breakthrough that you had where you started to see, "Oh, that's it. That's what really is compelling to the audience that we're after." Or, "That's the exact kind of customer that we're after."
Were there any breakthroughs that you can think of over the last year, 18 months or so, that you've found as you started to grow revenue and get to that $1 million mark?
Wes Clark: Yeah. Absolutely. So a lot of entrepreneur business is as much luck as it is skill.
Scott Martineau: [Laughter]
Wes Clark: And I think I would say that that was our case. We were focusing on the multi-family housing companies that own large portfolios, and they're one of our main customer lines still. But we were talking with somebody at one of those trade shows, and they said, "Hey, you really should be at the senior housing trade show." And so we went to that, and one of the last things or one, when we were tearing down our booth at the end of the show there was a lady that ran up to us and she said, "Oh, I'm so glad you're still here. You were the last people on our list. I needed to find out what –
you guys do and what you're about." And as we were explaining what we were doing, she started to cry.
Scott Martineau: Wow.
Wes Clark: Yeah. And I thought she was faking or making it up, but she was very genuine, and here's what she said and why it was so powerful. She said, "You will give some of our residents a few more months of dignity to be able to live on their own and choose the food that they eat, and that's their last choice before they have to move into the next level of care."
Scott Martineau: Wow.
Clate Mask: That's powerful.
Scott Martineau: That is.
Wes Clark: So that's when we knew that not only could we protect property, but we could give independence and dignity to people.
Clate Mask: Yeah. And I think that you made a couple points there about – you said it's luck. Well, I would say –
you were out there in the market at a trade show at the very end of the trade show where maybe a less persistent, less tenacious entrepreneur would have packed it in a little early. The show wasn't maybe going the way you wanted it to go. You stuck around and you stumbled into a target customer and a niche in the market that you could go after. And I think there are lessons there for entrepreneurs in how we find success: that continued tenacity, the willingness to open our eyes and see a target customer that might be totally different than what we were thinking about but that can get the benefits of the solution that we're creating.
So good for you. We hear stories like this a lot of times with entrepreneurs, and Scott and I talk with them, and sometimes it does look like luck. But we're big believers in the Thomas Jefferson quote that "The harder the work, the luckier I seem to get." So good for you guys for working so hard.
Scott Martineau: So, Wes.
Wes Clark: Yeah.
Scott Martineau: I remember going back to the time before Clate and I decided to go out and get venture capital and we thought, "Man, I think if we went and got –
funding, every problem we have would go away."
Wes Clark: [Laughter]
Scott Martineau: So you started with some seed capital. I don't know how much. But tell us, was it all roses? Or did you ever have a time – maybe take us on that journey. What's kind of been the hardest thing that you – maybe you didn't have one of these experiences, but what's the hardest thing that you've had to experience as a business?
Wes Clark: Well, any time you take capital of any type, you are under a new obligation. And that obligation is a heavy obligation.
Scott Martineau: Yes, we know. [Laughter] We understand.
Wes Clark: And so you no longer are on your own dime, and you're no longer only beholden to you. So just in general, I wouldn't say that we've had any bad experiences, but you have that obligation and it's always around, and you know it. And you know it. And so it does change the dynamics of how you –
approach things and you have to have more of an urgency as you go about your business.
Scott Martineau: So tell us a little more, maybe not necessarily connected to the financing, but what would you say has been the most difficult time in the business? What's kind of the low point if you were to look back over the history and where you maybe had the biggest question: is it going to work? Is this going to –
Clate Mask: Well, and you guys had the – I know you had from just anecdotal conversation the joy of a product recall. So that might not be something all entrepreneurs can identify with. But I would imagine that was probably pretty rough to deal with. Maybe that's that low light, or maybe it's not. But why don't you answer Scott's question and then maybe talk about the recall, and if it's the same thing, great.
Wes Clark: Well, so I don't know about you guys, but I think at least once a day there's the question of are we going to make it? There's never a recession from that question.
But, yeah, definitely. The product recall was a very difficult situation. Our product is designed for safety and so it's not so much that it's a recall for the safety of the consumer. It was the settings on the product were such that it wasn't passing power through to let the stoves go on.
So obviously, a safety product is designed so that you don't have issues. But customers don't like it when their stoves don't go on. So we had to work through what inventory we had, what customers had, and that was a ton of work just getting that all taken care of and a real struggle maintaining customer relations because of that. And so –
we were able to successfully work through it just because we were focused on the customer and we tried to make it right by the customer even at the expense of our revenue or our margin.
Clate Mask: Yeah. Yeah. Well, I love that you're honest in the challenges that you face. I think that's one of the things that Scott and I talk with entrepreneurs, as we do this podcast, there are a couple of things that seem to always be appreciated by other entrepreneurs, and that is honesty in the challenges that exist, as well as kind of understanding that the challenges don't go away because you hit a million in revenue or $3 million or $5 million. They're just new challenges and that's just part of the ride of entrepreneurship and the fun of what we do in building and growing our businesses. So thank you for sharing that. Thanks for helping the listeners to understand some of the challenges you experienced and that you're not always out of the woods. It's like, "Hey, we got to keep working.
We've got to keep innovating, keep improving." I'd love to know, what's your definition of success? When you talk about small business success, what does that mean to you?
Wes Clark: Well, what we have as a company goal is pretty simple. Right now, unattended cooking fires is the number one cause of home and apartment fires in the US. Our goal is to move the needle and make that the number two cause of home and apartment fires in the US. So it's what we would call a big hairy audacious goal, a BHAG, and that is kind of our overarching goal. But then also just the customer experience. So delighting our customers. Having customers that say, "Your customer service was great." Or, "Thank you for dealing with that hard issue –
and working through it with us, but we appreciate and you did a great job."
Scott Martineau: So the listeners unfortunately they don't get to see your face, but as we're sitting here having this conversation, I can tell there were two points in our conversation earlier where you shared how meaningful this product is in the lives of customers. In one case, it was a perspective customer. But tell us what experiences have you had with customers in this – you're in a very personal – you're in their kitchen helping to save their lives.
Wes Clark: [Laughter]
Scott Martineau: Can you share any stories about what that's been like as your product has been out there in the market?
Wes Clark: Yeah. Let me share two quick stories. One, there was a lady who called us and wanted to get a product, and she was here local. And so we went and installed – Pete went and installed it for her. And after he got done, showed her how it works, walked through it, she gave him a hug and said, "Thank you so much.
My husband has been leaving pans on the stove and leaving the stove on and I've been waking up at night thinking that I'm going to die because there's a pot left on the stove overnight." And so that was a very heartwarming experience.
Somebody else who installed this, he's a younger fellow, has a family. He installed this before they went on an anniversary trip to Hawaii and their mother-in-law or his mother-in-law was there watching the kids. Well, he gets a call the second day they're there telling him that FireAvert had shut off the stove and averted a potential disaster because she'd gone out and gotten distracted with the grandkids and forgot that she was cooking. And so she was out of the house and didn't even know that the smoke alarm was going off. And so –
it's one of those cases where who knows what the end result may have been, but just the peace of mind knowing that their vacation wasn't ruined by the news of some disaster.
Scott Martineau: Oh, yeah.
Clate Mask: Yeah. That's great. You know, one thing I hear in your comments, and when Scott and I see entrepreneurs that build a business and they get past that $1 million mark and they're really growing, a lot of times what we see is there's such a conviction and a passion behind the purpose of the company. And it's not that that's the case in every success story, but more often than not it is. There's a strong belief, a strong conviction in the purpose of why the company exists.
And sometimes we see companies that aren't at that point and we're coaching them and helping them to actually articulate that purpose and get really clear on why the company exists, get to that personal place of why it means so much.
But congratulations to you guys because you can see the passion and conviction you had. You can see that it's the meaning behind the business to you is very personal. It's very significant. And when you hire employees that have that same feeling, and when you hire, when you bring on partners, when you – as we say, when you – hire, train, and fire to that purpose those values, that mission that you're on, it makes the growth of the business all quite a bit easier, and I can tell you guys are on that path.
So congratulations to you, and I wanted to just call that out because we can see it in your words and your comments and the stories you share. A lot of times business owners will overlook that. They don't recognize how critically important that passion is for the purpose of the company and how that actually attracts the right people and helps the company to grow from seven figures to eight figures and beyond. So good for you guys.
Wes Clark: Well, thank you.
Scott Martineau: So, Wes, tell us maybe the high point of your business. What's been the time when you've maybe felt the most exhilarated or the most fulfilled in the work that you're doing at FireAvert.
Wes Clark: Well, [laughter] I'll go back to the –
Scott Martineau: It makes you laugh. That's fantastic.
Wes Clark: [Laughter] Well, so there's lots of high points, one that I've kind of already referenced was the experience of burning food, spilling food all over the fire chief. And we thought for sure we were done. But then a week later or two weeks later, we were, we got a PO from them for six figures, and we were just elated, the fact that we'd come away from the experience thinking we'd completely blown it, but then to be redeemed and to be able to get our first large PO was just – we were jumping up and down for joy.
Scott Martineau: [Laughter]
Wes Clark: So it was a lot of fun.
And there's been – we missed three planes on that trip out there.
Scott Martineau: [Laughter]
Wes Clark: So just throw anything and everything that could go bad or wrong, and it did, and we were able to still get a PO out of it. It was just – you can’t describe the feelings.
Clate Mask: That's cool. I think every entrepreneur can relate to those moments were you go through the planes, trains, and automobiles experiences trying to get that new customer, new client, purchase order, and then just the exhilaration you feel when you make the sale. Scott and I, as you were telling the story, I'm thinking about some of the things that Scott and I did early on when this business was custom software. We went to Calcot. [Laughter]
Scott Martineau: Oh, my goodness. [Laughter]
Clate Mask: We make our big pitch, and just some of the things that you say just recreate a lot of memories for us and the ways that we were trying to build and grow the business in the early stage.
And I know listeners have that same feeling, and they can relate to that moment where you close a big sale, and it's a really important thing, and it might be the thing that enabled you to make payroll, or it might have enabled you to actually make your mortgage payment on time, or 30 days late so it doesn't hit your credit report. [Laughter]
Scott Martineau: [Laughter]
Clate Mask: But those kind of things that just kind of keep you on the path, right? They keep you going. And I appreciate you sharing that.
Scott Martineau: And by the way, there's something about the sales call that, for businesses that have an actual sales process. I remember Calcot that Clate was referring to was this huge, it was kind of a – it was a struggling business at the time, I guess, but it was still probably a billion – I mean, it was a massive company. It was a cotton co-op.
Clate Mask: California – Yeah. California Cotton Co-op.
Scott Martineau: And I just remember the feeling, the difference between what we wanted to appear like and what we felt like on the inside. We're just these two guys. We had no business being in there. We're sitting there selling against these other companies that were actually legitimate, and we were so not that.
Clate Mask: I also, I just.
Wes Clark: I love that. It's so beautiful. It's such a –
Clate Mask: Well, and the fatigue that you experience as you go through trying to make that whole thing work. And I remember after we got done with our presentation sitting there in that Mexican restaurant eating chips and salsa [laughter] and just being like, "Oh." It was such a great experience. But those things in the moment, and whether you make the sale or not there's just a way that it builds you and prepares you and makes you more capable for the next thing.
And in the moment, sometimes you just feel so worn down, I think about your comments about not sleeping, and missing planes, and all of that stuff, but that's all part of the journey and that's what makes the wins so much more exhilarating. So good for you guys for powering through that and getting the purchase order and the fun of that.
You've also had an experience that probably many of our listeners haven't had but could, would like to know more about, and that is your Shark Tank experience where you got an opportunity to go and be on the show. And it sounds like that was a great learning experience and positive in a lot of ways.
So take a minute and tell us about that. I think that would be cool for listeners to hear about.
Wes Clark: Well, Shark Tank is definitely an intense experience and we went down to LA – well, let me back up. So you have to pitch to 'em, and they came to Utah to pitch. And actually, I was out on an anniversary trip, and Pete last minute decided to go pitch. We'd kicked it back and forth several times. And so he pitched, and they liked it, and so he went to the next person and pitched. And anyway, so there's this series of pitches and things. And over a period of two months, you kind of do paperwork. You do videos. You do all the stuff that enables you to get in their bin, or in their funnel, if you will. And they finally said, "Yeah. Okay.
Come down and record." So we went down there. Pete went on and he did the whole pitch. You know, "I'm a firefighter and an entrepreneur." He had his gear on. And I can only imagine what he was going through. We've talked about it a lot. But I know we were nervously waiting outside for him to come in. But it's so intense that they even have you talk to a psychiatrist after you pitch to the sharks.
Scott Martineau: Ah, that's fantastic.
Clate Mask: [Laughter] That is awesome.
Wes Clark: [Laughter] You're in there for anywheres from 45 minutes to maybe an hour and a half. And so they grill you, and it's intense. And there's three elements. There's the pitch. There's the story and the negotiations.
Scott Martineau: Yeah.
Wes Clark: And so you really have to have all of those elements prepared.
Or the question and answer. Sorry. Pitch, questions and answers, and then financial negotiations. And so we had rehearsed those, and Pete did really well with those. But it's a fun experience for everybody involved, and it was a great opportunity to get our product out in front of the country and make people aware of what we do and how we can save lives, and affect the lives of others. So I think we went in there with a goal of getting a deal with Lori, and we were able to do that.
Scott Martineau: Oh, wow. Congratulations. That's cool.
Wes Clark: So it was quite a ride and good TV. If you get a chance, go watch it because it's a great video piece. We're re-airing tomorrow – or Friday, actually.
So go see that and enjoy it.
Clate Mask: All right.
Scott Martineau: Fantastic.
Clate Mask: Well, good for you guys. That's awesome. I know there are a lot of people that wonder what that process is like, and thanks for sharing a little bit about it. I just think that's totally fascinating that they have you talk to a psychiatrist afterward. [Laughter] To help the poor entrepreneur that just gets the snot beat of them by the shark tank and let them recover with a psychiatrist. That's classic. [Laughter]
Wes Clark: Yeah.
Scott Martineau: I think entrepreneurs need a psychiatrist about every year, probably, just to bring us back into the right mindset – maybe every month.
Wes Clark: Well, and the tough part was was we didn't know if we were going to air, and we didn't know how they were going to reflect the engagement.
Scott Martineau: Ah, yeah.
Wes Clark: Because they can reflect it however they want.
Scott Martineau: However they – yeah.
Wes Clark: So it was six months, really, before we heard much, and then they're like, "You got two weeks. It's going to be on. Get ready for it."
Clate Mask: That's cool. Very cool.
Scott Martineau: Yeah.
So, Wes, I'm curious for our listeners if you were to sort of boil down all of your experience, you came from Intel, this massive company. Now you've been in a small business. What's the biggest nugget of wisdom that you can offer up to our listeners in general about small business success?
Wes Clark: Well, I think it's understanding your customer. It's getting a product that matches the needs of the marketplace and then putting in place the systems that allow you to engage your customers and communicate with them. And you guys used the analogy of the strawberry field and cultivating the strawberry field. That's really what it's about. Even if you have a good product and people need it, you have to be able to cultivate, communicate, and engage your customers. And that's really been –
my biggest takeaway is no rejection is a permanent rejection. It just means they're not ready. And if you're not able to capture that – or not capture that, but still cultivate that relationship, you're missing a lot of opportunities.
Clate Mask: That's really great. Your comment reminds me of the – I think it's a Winston Churchill quote. He says, "No failure is fatal and no success is permanent." It's just a matter of continuing to improve, and grow, and learn from things. And then your point about the strawberry fields, for those that are listening that may not be familiar with it, we talk about the fact that all the strawberries are not ripe at once.
All your customers or all your prospects are not ready to buy from you at once. There are some that are very green and they'll be ready down the road, and there are some that are kind of getting close to being ripe, and they're not quite ready to be enjoyed. And then there's some that are ripe and delicious –
and ready to be enjoyed. And if you cultivate them and you feed, and water, and do all the things you need to do, over time you can actually harvest an amazing crop. But that requires nurturing. It requires, in business that requires continued follow up and personalized nurturing so that you can help and educate those prospects until they're ready to be your customers.
So thanks for sharing that piece of wisdom and thanks for the other things that you shared. I think your point, to put a fine point on it, you really made clear, I think, for entrepreneurs the importance of what we call product – or we call market, message, match. And that's who is the market that you're talking to? How are you getting the message of how your product really solves the problem for that market? And matching that up in just the right way. A lot of times entrepreneurs miss that. Congratulations for you guys in finding that market to message match. And, of course, it's a dynamic thing that's always moving, which makes it so fun.
But, I think what you shared is great wisdom and great advice for people. I wonder, do you have any questions for us? Is there anything that you wonder that Scott and I might be able to address for you?
Wes Clark: So what's been your biggest challenge along your road? Where would you say that you learned the most coming through that challenge?
Clate Mask: Hmm. Great. Do you want me to take a first stab, Scott, or do you want to take it?
Scott Martineau: Well, it's hard to narrow that down. It feels like there are just natural ceilings as a business grows. So we had a certain set of concerns when it was the three of us, and a different set of concerns when we were getting over the five-person mark, and the ten-person, and so forth, and we still have today. I'd probably say that one of the most challenging things has always been – and I think is for entrepreneurs – is learning to relinquish control and to let go of things that you convince yourself you're the only one on the planet that can do it that well.
Wes Clark: [Laughter]
Scott Martineau: And the great thing about the other side of that – by the way, I'm not sure it ever completely goes away. I think it just changes and there's new forms of that. We teach a lot, though, that leadership is an exercise in relinquishing control. But the beautiful thing is that on the other side of letting go is an amazing opportunity to watch people do amazing things with their natural talents. And frankly, it has become one of the most rewarding parts of our business is watching people and what they can do with their native genius.
Clate Mask: Yeah. I totally agree with Scott. I think the challenge is to adjust to where you are in your evolution. So, as Scott said, there are natural ceilings and those ceilings relate to the stages of small business success. And as the business is growing you bump into new ceilings, and there are new skills that are required to get past that stage. So I think the trick for the entrepreneur –
as the company is growing is really to recognize when it's time to make an adjustment in the way that you are leading and growing the business. And it really does come down to the point that Scott made that how do we relinquish control at the right times? And you have this challenge, as Scott said, that in this entrepreneurial journey we need to learn how to let go of more and more and allow other people to come in and do, add their greatness and help create the vision of the company and achieve the vision of the company.
But the challenge is about how to do that and when is a really tricky one. And we talk a lot about this in Elite Forum. In fact, I was just talking about it this morning as I was talking with the Elite Forum group that's here today. But I would say that the commonality among all of this, and something I've been really attuned to recently, is that I do believe that it comes down, when you ask the question, "Can the entrepreneur make this shift, moving from stage one, to stage two, to stage three, to stage four?"
And as you get into the higher stages, –
this question becomes a bigger and bigger question. And the question is can the entrepreneur make the shift to be the leader in the next stage? And I believe that a big part of that answer of whether or not the entrepreneur can make the shift is the level of humility that the entrepreneur has. And I think it's actually quite a contrary approach to what a lot of entrepreneurs think. You think, "Well, I got to this next stage," and you're kind of filled with pride, and you're all excited because you did this, and you're patting yourself on the back, and other people are patting you on the back and saying, "Hey, great job. Congratulations on getting to this stage or that stage."
But if we don't humble ourselves sufficiently, we don't actually begin to recognize that, as Scott said, other people can do this just as well, if not better. There's more than one right way to do it. And we actually begin to hold on and develop, attach pride and ego to certain things we do, and our identity gets wrapped up in that, instead of being able to say, "You know what? It'd be a lot better if I allowed somebody else to take this on, –
and I backed off, and I took on a different aspect of the leadership of the company."
So to me, that humility inside the entrepreneur has a lot to do with whether that entrepreneur is going to be able to adapt and grow the business and move into the next stage. And there are actually books about this. If you ever want to read a book called, by Jim Collins, about why the mighty fall, he doesn't talk about it in terms of pride or ego. He talks about it in terms of hubris, which is basically the same thing. And that hubris a lot of times is what prevents a business from going to the next level. And you need look no further than the leader him or herself to get a sense for whether or not the business is going to be able to move to the next stage.
Wes Clark: Very cool.
Clate Mask: So thanks for asking the question. We got a chance to pontificate a little bit there, which is always fun. [Laughter] So thanks for giving us an opportunity to talk about it. This has been great, Wes. Congratulations on your success to this point and the things that you've got out in front of you, the passion you have for the business.
I think it's been a ton of fun talking with you. I know our listeners are going to get a lot out of this, particularly the things you shared about market to message match. Just congratulations on what you've achieved. It's been great and thanks for sharing it with us.
Scott Martineau: Yes. Thank you so much, Wes.
Wes Clark: [Unintelligible comment]
Scott Martineau: And thank you to all of our listeners. That wraps up this episode of The Small Business Success podcast. Tune in next time to hear more stories and examples of how small businesses are overcoming challenges and killing it in their business.
Clate Mask: Don't forget to rate on iTunes and share and subscribe. We look forward to the next podcast. Make sure you tune in.