Walton Students Paul Forness, Toby Johnson and Raleigh Woods were all students in Matt Waller's Entrepreneurs Honors Forum Class in the fall of 2018.
Paul Forness is a junior Supply Chain Management and Information Systems major from Rockwall, Texas.
Toby Johnson is a junior Finance major from Harrison, Arkansas.
Raleigh Woods is a sophomore Management and Marketing major from Branson, Missouri.
00:08 Matt Waller: Hi. I'm Matt Waller, Dean of the Sam M. Walton College of Business. Welcome to Be Epic, the podcast where we explore Excellence, Professionalism, Innovation, and Collegiality, and what those values mean in business, education, and your life today.
00:28 Matt Waller: Today I'm here with three students who took my class this semester. I taught a class called "Entrepreneurs." It's a Honors forum and I had about 25 students in there. And each week, we had about four, three or four entrepreneurs come and speak to the class, and the students would write LinkedIn articles about the entrepreneurs and they would get to know them. So welcome, students. Would you mind introducing yourselves? Paul, we can start with you.
01:04 Paul Forness: Sure. I'm Paul Forness. I'm a Junior in Supply Chain Management and Information Systems, and I am from Rockwell, Texas.
01:11 Toby Johnson: Hi. My name is Toby Johnson. I'm a Junior Finance major, and I'm from Harrison, Arkansas.
01:18 Raleigh Woods: My name is Raleigh Woods. I am from Branson, Missouri, and I'm a Management and Marketing major.
01:23 Matt Waller: And what year did you say you were?
01:25 Raleigh Woods: Oh, I'm a sophomore.
01:26 Matt Waller: Sophomore, okay. And so, you all took this class, "Entrepreneurs", and it's an Honors forum, so you're all obviously Honor students. Are there any particular guests that we had that really stand out to you? Raleigh, does anyone stand out to you?
01:48 Raleigh Woods: I have a few that stood out to me. I really appreciated hearing from Henry Ho, who was the co-founder of Field Agent. As he was speaking, it was just really cool to see not only his passion for his business, but him translating into the rest of the things he does in his life. And I was actually able to grab coffee with him afterwards to kinda hear about how he's worked with his company and just taken those things and excelled them to his, I guess, business passions outside of his original business. And that's really cool to hear from him over time. And also, Heather Nelson was really neat because I had studied abroad and she was actually at the Study Abroad Program, because she's really good friends with the professor who led. So it was kinda neat to be able to catch back up with her and hear more about her actual industry she's in, rather than her on the personal side.
02:30 Matt Waller: Well, you mentioned Field Agent, which is a really interesting business. Of course, Henry was with Procter & Gamble for most of his career and that work he did at Procter & Gamble I think, gave him the idea to some degree for the business that he started.
02:49 Raleigh Woods: Definitely. He spoke about how his corporate let him travel a lot and how just being able to work in other cultures was able to get him there. And I think, he said he started kind of at the boom of the cell phone industry, which is really what they're based off of. So he's taking the new technology at hand and making a business and profit off of that, to help people with it.
03:06 Matt Waller: Yeah, I remember talking to him. I don't know what year it would have been, it seems like it was 2010, it may have been earlier, but he was talking about, "This smartphone is going to change the way business is done." And it was that kind of thinking that led to the idea of Field Agent, which is basically a way to crowdsource information and their company's focused mainly on retail, up to this point.
03:37 Raleigh Woods: Yes, and he also mentioned, he started on a napkin at lunch. I mean, we hear about all these people who start in their parent's garage, everything, but theirs started on a napkin. So I think it's really neat to look at people's baseline and what they've already grown to; their office is really neat, and I got the opportunity to tour it the other day. And they've grown immensely from that small napkin at the lunch table.
03:55 Matt Waller: Yeah, they've got a nice building.
03:57 Raleigh Woods: They do.
03:58 Matt Waller: Off of Gregg St.
04:00 Raleigh Woods: Yes, yes.
04:00 Matt Waller: So Toby, what... Did any particular entrepreneurs really stand out to you?
04:05 Toby Johnson: Yeah, I would say that the two that were, I guess my favorite or that stood out the most to me were Whyte Spyder with Eric Howerton, and Startup Junkie with Jeff Amerine, just because the amount of passion that both of those... That those two men have for the area and what their vision they have of the future. And Jeff, with his idea that we can be the leading area in global supply chain and retail and data analytics. And then just Eric with his absolute, insane passion of what Walmart is and what Walmart could be and how they can beat Amazon and all these things. I've never seen two grown men so passionate about an area as much as those two. And it definitely developed my love and respect for the Northwest Arkansas region a lot more than I had coming into this school here.
04:49 Matt Waller: So Jeff, as you mentioned, he talked about the opportunity for Northwest Arkansas to really leverage the fact that we've got lots of expertise around supply chain, retail, consumer products, etcetera. Were you surprised by any of that?
05:09 Toby Johnson: I was. I grew up an hour down the road from Northwest Arkansas. I never really appreciated what Walmart is and what Walmart has brought into the area, and not only Walmart but also JB Hunt and Tyson. And the way that he described it was, we could be the Silicon Valley of supply chain, we can be the Silicon Valley of retail. There's nothing stopping us other than ourselves. And it was just, it kind of broke my mind. I was like, "What on earth is he talking about? Is this really real?" And the way he laid it out, I was like, "Oh yeah, this is 100% a possibility and it's probably gonna happen within the next 10 years or so." So it's very exciting, especially for someone who wants to stay in the area. It's like, "This is what this could be, I'm all in. I'm ready for it."
05:49 Matt Waller: That's great. Paul, which ones stood out to you?
05:54 Paul Forness: For me, one that stood out was actually tonight, Jon Allen from Onyx Coffee Labs. You hear a lot that in the startup world, you really, really need to be passionate about whatever idea you're pursuing. And no one struck me as having as much passion as Jon, simply because he said something along the lines of, "I've been robbed 5 million times in this business." And for him to be able to wake up every day and to continue to see that as his passion and love it, and continue to pursue it the way he has, is just inspirational to me.
06:28 Matt Waller: Well, that's great, yeah. And it's amazing how Onyx Coffee has grown so much in such a short period of time, starting here in Northwest Arkansas.
06:40 Paul Forness: Absolutely.
06:41 Raleigh Woods: I was in Kansas City a few weekends ago, and I walked into a coffee shop and there, sitting on the wall was Onyx Coffee. And just a little bit of hometown came out in me, I was like, "Wow, way to represent." Expand on, 'cause they are really moving a lot of places really quickly.
06:55 Matt Waller: So I'm gonna come back to you, Raleigh, you mentioned Seal Energy Solutions, Heather Nelson. And so you said she was on a study abroad with you?
07:06 Raleigh Woods: Yes. She was actually a student of Molly Rapert who's a marketing professor at UofA. And I went to Italy with Molly Rapert last summer under the Chamber program, and Miss Heather was able to come for a week and sit in on the back of our class to relearn from Molly and hear different things while she was also making a trip to Europe. So she was able to go on the field trips and sit in on class with us, so we got to chat on the bus and kind of over lunch to hear from her. And then now, she's doing solar energy in Arkansas. And they're getting to a really big breaking point in getting into different areas within solar energy. And that's not a huge business right now in Arkansas, but it's something that's gonna blow up very quickly 'cause it's very viable for the whole community and the consumers as well.
07:47 Matt Waller: Yeah, that's right. She talked about how a lot of people don't realize that there's a positive ROI associated with solar in many cases.
07:56 Raleigh Woods: Absolutely. And one thing they did that's really different is they take a very educational approach. So if you come to them as a client, they're not like, "Oh yes, we're going and install these solar panels." They start at base one. They look at your windows and make sure your windows are efficient, they make sure you have the lights. So they not only make you more energy efficient but they go through and revamp your entire building or infrastructure to make it efficient as a whole and just take every moment to educate their consumer as well as help them.
08:21 Toby Johnson: It's very interesting because speaking of solar, the very first person that I wrote a LinkedIn article was Douglas Hutchings with Picasolar. And I always thought that, "Alright, oh, solar energy is something that California does or something that Arizona does." But like, "No, it's actually happening right here in Arkansas, and there's two prime examples of people that are doing it here and being very successful in what they do."
08:41 Matt Waller: Yeah. And Picasolar came out of research that Douglas Hutchings was doing while he was a doctoral student here, and he's turned it into a business. He's quite an entrepreneur. I don't know if you remember, but at one point during the semester, we had Dan Sanker. In our class, of course, we had pre-revenue entrepreneurs, maybe they've commercialized the technology, or they've started a business, not making money yet which happens a lot in areas like pharmaceuticals and things like that, really high-tech, all the way to Dan Sanker, who had a growth company. And of course, Dan has this company called CaseStack and he moved to Northwest Arkansas about 10 years ago from Los Angeles because he knew this was really where his market was. And when he moved here, it was a really small company 10 years ago, and now it's... Well, he sold it just before attending our class for $255 million dollars. It's hard to believe he created that much value over a 10-year period. Did that surprise you all, or is it hard to even conceptualize that? But what did you think of that?
10:09 Raleigh Woods: I think, it was definitely shocking that... It was cool to sit in his presence knowing what he had just done. 10 years is a really quick time for that to come to fruition. But I think, it just brings more credibility to our area like, "Yes, we have Walmart and that's what everyone recognizes us as. But we not only have that, we have all these other things." So for him to be able to come in and build that company and sell it, it's not only incredible for him and his story, but for the area to bring that recognition as well. And while as students in the business school, we have a hand and know what's going on, I think when more people start to find out about that, they just were in awe of what is actually here.
10:45 Toby Johnson: I would say it was interesting because, like you said, we had a lot of pre-revenue, very early startups. Startups that haven't really come to fruition, or really, as we talked about in your class with the J curve model, they haven't really gotten through the valley of shadow of death yet. They haven't seen the light at the end of the tunnel. And he's sitting there at the end of the tunnel, sitting on...
11:04 Matt Waller: Harvest.
11:05 Toby Johnson: Yes, in the harvest phase, sitting on 250 million reasons why you should do a startup and why you should invest in yourself and be an entrepreneur.
11:14 Paul Forness: You asked whether or not it was something that was difficult to conceptualize. And I think the reason that I didn't find it hard to imagine was just because Dan is one of those very few people who, with every sentence, can captivate an audience. He's a funny guy, he has a lot of charisma, and it's easy to see why he is where he is.
11:38 Matt Waller: And of course, he's still the CEO of CaseStack. And he started another company, too, which is called SupplyPike, and he talked a little bit about that and he's the chairman of that company. So we also had another couple of companies that came into class. Soon after, they had some sort of event where they raised money. And you may remember Stan Zylowsky from Movista, which is up in Bentonville. The day that he came in... It hadn't been too long before that, that he had just done a Series A venture capital around of $12 million. And I... It's funny for me because I still remember so clearly when he was an MBA student, he and his friend, April, started Movista together based on an idea they came up with while they were in the MBA program. And now, the company's worth a tremendous amount of money and doing a lot of business. Okay, any other companies come to mind that stood out to you?
12:51 Raleigh Woods: NOWDiagnostics was really cool because again, this area is not recognized for their medical work. And we have this guy who came in with an extremely great history of his own medical business field and just making innovations. And his technology was so revolutionary and something we really need. And I believe, he was one of the first people that came, so just hearing from him was really neat 'cause it was something I wasn't expecting to hear coming into the class.
13:18 Matt Waller: Kevin's business, NOWDiagnostics is pretty remarkable. In that business, the thing that's challenging is the FDA 'cause they've gotta get FDA approval. And with his cartridges, you just prick your finger and it tells you whether you're pregnant or not, or they've got cartridges for, I believe, what are some of the other...
13:44 Toby Johnson: The flu. He said he had one for the flu...
13:45 Matt Waller: The flu...
13:45 Raleigh Woods: Strep throat.
13:46 Toby Johnson: Strep throat...
13:47 Matt Waller: Strep throat. Yeah, that's pretty remarkable. When you think of how much money that could save the economy if... If you've got kids and you don't know if they have Strep or they have a flu, or what they have, instead of going to the doctor, you could just go to Walmart and buy a few cartridges and test them on your kid and go, "Okay, they don't have any of these things, it's probably just a cold." Or they have Strep, we need to go to the doctor. That's got to be more efficient for the economy than always going to the doctor.
14:19 Toby Johnson: I think that's one of the biggest examples of just a disruptive technology that we had in the class just because the medical field is such an older, stuck in their ways like, "Go to the doctor, go to the hospital." There's not a lot of home remedies that you can just go and do yourself, and he just is trying to go revolutionize that. Like you said, it's gonna be hard with the FDA just because of all the regulations, because that's the way things are nowadays, with this blue tape after blue tape after blue tape, paper after paper after paper. But I think once that gets through all those regulatory periods, that's gonna be big for the economy, that's gonna be known for Fayetteville, Arkansas.
14:54 Paul Forness: And I think it's interesting you mentioned the FDA. From that session, I remember a discussion about how FDA approval can actually be a beneficial process for startups. Because once you get over that hump, it's a lot easier or a lot more difficult for someone else to follow in your footsteps. So once you get to that point, you are pretty much set for the next five or so years.
15:17 Toby Johnson: And I wanna say someone else in that panel preferred to go globally because it was easier to be get through regulations in other countries than it was in America just because of the way that our regulatory system is and our FDA is set up.
15:31 Matt Waller: That's right. So one other company that had a transaction before they came to our class was Engine, and they had just raised $4 million, I think. It was amazing that during our class, just before people would come to our class, all of a sudden, they'd have these transactions. So I'm gonna start charging entrepreneurs to come to my class.
16:00 Matt Waller: Paul, what did you think of Engine?
16:03 Paul Forness: I thought it was a really interesting idea. There's a lot going on in the e-commerce space right now, and a lot of that takes place with small businesses. And so, it's neat that Engine fills a sort of gap with the medium to large businesses that wasn't necessarily occupied at that time.
16:21 Matt Waller: So I remember back in the '90s, a number of companies were started at about the same time. One of them was a company called Thompson & Murray, which was eventually bought by Saatchi & Saatchi, now it's called Saatchi & Saatchi X. Saatchi & Saatchi X was really, and Thompson Murray when it started was a new kind of business that we call shopper marketing today. But prior to that, you had ad agencies. And so, this was a different animal where you're really advertising or marketing to shoppers directly. And it was a new business model, it turned out to be a great one, and that's why Thompson & Murray sold for a lot of money to Saatchi & Saatchi, now it was called Saatchi & Saatchi X. It's still hear in Northwest Arkansas and it's doing well. But there were a number of companies that started in Northwest Arkansas around that time. And another one that started was Mitchell Communications. Elise Mitchell founded that, and she had quite a bit of experience in PR. She'd always been interested in PR. Do any of you remember that?
17:35 Raleigh Woods: I remember she came in, and she just stood out because she was very confident in everything she said. I believe, she said, she had previously worked doing PR for the Holiday Inns. Is that... A hotel company. And then, due to her husband's job, she moved to Arkansas and no longer had that position there, or she had left that position when she moved to Arkansas. She's just kinda got bored and wanted to figure out something else to do and she had this great experience in PR. And she just, up one day, at her kitchen table started a PR company. There was a few things that really stuck out from what she said to us. One of them was she's turned right around 'cause we were asking her how did you get your clients? And she goes, "I turned right around and got my employer as my first client."
18:15 Raleigh Woods: And she was not afraid to turn around to ask the people who she'd worked for for years to be her first client, and it turned out to be super successful. And just from there, it continued to grow. And she's talked a lot about morphing because PR has changed and advertising has all changed a lot due to technology and the internet, and just how we shop as consumers, and now they're doing a lot of influencers. If you see on Instagram, people will be sponsored by certain things and they have a lot of followers and they're considered influencers. And there, the company who goes up to find whatever Instagrammer would be really good to do North Face PR, and they go and connect those two companies. And recently, she sold to a Japanese company, and that was pretty neat to hear about her experience getting across the cultural borders with learning how to do Japanese business compared to American business because there are a lot of cultural things that could be seen as differences there, but she actually made that a really strong suit and still works for her company as well.
19:07 Matt Waller: Terry Turpin has started a company. It's got brick and mortar retail, but they're also doing e-commerce called Bearded Goat. Do any of you remember that company?
19:21 Paul Forness: Sure, sure. I think one of the really interesting things with Bearded Goat was their method of advertising. We talked a little bit about how there were ad agencies and then influencers, and now we're starting to see a rise of what I guess you could call micro-influencing or guerilla marketing where you, as a company, would hire say college students, people who have fairly wide nets of maybe 2000 followers, and then have them advertise your products. And the key draw there is that the people doing the advertising are people you know. They're not celebrities you might follow and have interest in, they're people that are actually in your lives and that you might see on a day-to-day basis. So I think that really helps pull in new customers and it's a model they're looking to expand nationwide.
20:14 Toby Johnson: And Bearded Goat just, because cyber week was last week, they just finished their 10 days of greatness where they did different sales each day. And the marketing that they did through Instagram and through their... They have campus reps that they try to facilitate, have one campus rep in every area at the University of Arkansas, whether that be one in every fraternity, one in every sorority, one in every dorm, one in every social club. They just try to bull-rush the University of Arkansas, and they just did a great job marketing with all their people. Every one of their campus reps would post on Instagram and say, "Hey, y'all it's day one. This is the sale." "Hey, it's day two. This is the sale." And I don't know the financials of what they did, but I imagine they had a decent amount of sales this past week just because of influx and the rush of just social media, social media, social media, Instagram post, Instagram story, Twitter, everything. They went all out, and a full on blitz. It was really interesting to see.
21:08 Paul Forness: And it's anecdotal, but I've seen their posts everywhere in the past couple months.
21:12 Matt Waller: Wow, the internet and social media has created so many unusual ways of marketing that didn't exist just a few years ago and that, I guess, was one example. One other company that we had come in, Justin Urso, was with Skosay. What do you remember about that?
21:32 Toby Johnson: I remember, the problem that he was trying to solve was that people in our generation, the younger generation, they don't like to go into stores as much anymore. So he was trying to bridge the gap of new brands trying to reach new clients. But if you don't go in the store, you'll never see samples. So how do we bridge this gap? And the way that he found was, you can go in onto Skosay's website, and you can sign up to be... Like you're a consumer and you sign up for free samples, and they'll send you stuff in the mail, or they'll send you coupons through your email. And that's like his way of bridging the gap of people don't go to stores anymore, how are we gonna get free samples and how are we gonna push our products to people that don't know how to find our products? And he found a really cool way to bridge that gap which was very interesting to me.
22:18 Matt Waller: So one other company we had come in was Lineus Medical, Spencer Jones. And it really resonated with me what he has invented selling, and it's remarkable. He was an RN for quite a few years before he invented these two devices, but do you remember that?
22:43 Raleigh Woods: Yeah, it was really neat how he came in. So like Dean Waller said, he was an RN and kinda saw a problem that a lot of his patients were facing. And that is like, you will have an IV in but the nurses also need to draw blood at the same time and you only have two arms to draw from. So sometimes, the hands will be kinda sore from previous days if you're in the hospital frequently. And he was like, "Why should we not just create a tube that we can give an IV to and draw blood from at the same time?" And that's just so genius 'cause I had an experience where I was getting an IV and blood drawn pretty frequently for a few days and like this would have been so much helpful. For not only me as a patient, but for the nurses to take the ease of them. And from there, he ran up the idea, got into some incubators and started building this business and now is going through the process of getting it FDA approved, but it's clearly something that's a big need in the medical field. And it's such a simple product. And I know once it gets passed all the things, everyone's gonna adapt it because there's no reason for them not to. And it really is simple. It's kind of bizarre that no one has created this before, we're not already utilizing it. And so he was a great example of just seeing a problem and running with it and creating a business out of it.
23:47 Matt Waller: Well, you know, that's right. If you're in the hospital for a long time, you may have an IV in, and then they come in in the middle of the night. It's like you finally get to sleep, and at 3:00 in the morning, they wake you up to take blood, to take labs. And boy, this... All Patients would love this and so would nurses because nurses don't like having to wake up patients that are in pain and uncomfortable to begin with. Do you remember the other product? One other product he invented which is really neat, if you have an IV and you're in the hospital for a long time, of course, they want you to walk around a lot. And so, even right after surgery, especially, if you have abdominal surgery, they want you to get up and walk right after you wake up, if you can. And so, you're walking around with your IV pole and your IV in your arm. And sometimes, especially, if you're in the hospital for weeks, you might be walking outside and you might hit a bump in the sidewalk and the whole thing goes over and it rips it out of your arm, and then it's a big procedure to get you re-set up. He came up with a way that the IV disconnects quickly without being ripped out of you. And all you have to do is clean both sides with alcohol and click them back together. Those are both brilliant products that solve a real problem to your point.
25:27 Raleigh Woods: And I can vouch for using that this summer. I was able to get out of a hospital bed and walk around the city because my IV did not have to be connected. And it was convenient to not have to worry about getting that big needle pulled out of my arm 'cause that would not have been fun. So I don't know if that was his that was implemented, but there was a product like it and it's just, for me personally, it did great things, so I was able to move around and stuff.
25:49 Matt Waller: One thing, of course, we learned in the course of, J curve, create, the first phase. And coming up with the idea for a new business, a new product, a new service, the most common way to do it and probably the most valuable in those cases is solving real problems. So entrepreneurs are really always looking for problems.
26:18 Toby Johnson: Because you have basically your two options are either solve a problem or make something so much better than anything else that people want it. But if you look at it from just a logical standpoint, it's much harder to sell someone on something that's better 'cause they're like, "Why do I need a new phone, I have this one?" But if you say like, "You have this problem, let me address it." It just makes more logical sense and like why you can sell those and why those are more common and more profitable businesses.
26:46 Raleigh Woods: One thing I really appreciate from the class as a whole is not only getting to hear people's direct business experience with financials, their accounting, something, but really hearing about the relationships they build and how they're having to deal with people, what made them successful from a people side. 'Cause they were sitting up there like... Terry Turpin was literally in shorts and flip flops. These are real people just living their lives. We get to see them in a very casual level. Dan Sanker, who was extremely humble when he came in. He just made a fortune and he just kind of... When you brought it up to him, he's just kinda shrugged his shoulders and gave a nice little smile. It was very nice to see the real people behind companies that are doing massive, moving things in America.
27:22 Paul Forness: It's also interesting to see how much of a tight-knit community the entrepreneurship world is in Arkansas. All these entrepreneurs that we met knew each other in some way or another, and all of them were incredibly nice and humble. And five or six times at least we were told that if we ever wanted to talk to them we could just shoot them a message and ask to sit down for coffee, and they would be more than happy to. So it's nice to see that sort of community growth and opportunity for mentorship.
27:54 Toby Johnson: And then kind of to build off that, one of my... I never told you this. I should have told you this a long time ago, Dean Waller, about Entrepreneurship, but I have a friend that lives in San Antonio and his... I don't know what his technical title is or who he works for, but his job is... The downtown part of San Antonio has gotten really rough, it's got a lot of closed down businesses, not a lot of economic growth there, and he goes in and revamps the buildings and brings tech startups in. And so at least the tech start-ups try their best and if they fail they're in a giant community full of other tech startups 'cause you just walk down the street there's another one, and there's another one. So they fail, and then he gets together with someone else and then start a new idea. Or if they all fail, and they get all together and it's just kind of cool that he's doing that right now in San Antonio, but Northwest Arkansas already has that infrastructure setup, which is very interesting.
28:46 Paul Forness: That also reminds me, one of the common themes I really noticed across this forum was that it's really important for aspiring entrepreneurs to be on the look out for disruptive technologies, because that's where a lot of the opportunities are these days, and we've seen that first-hand, a lot of these companies, they are based on those technologies and they saw opportunities before most other people do.
29:10 Matt Waller: Good. Well, thank you all for taking time to visit with me about these entrepreneurs we met, and I know there were many others but... And it was great having you in my course.
29:25 Matt Waller: Thanks for listening to today's episode of the "Be Epic" Podcast from the Walton College. You can find us on Google, SoundCloud, iTunes, or look for us wherever you find your podcasts. Be sure to subscribe and rate us. You can find current and past episodes by searching "beepicpodcast", one word. That's B-E-E-P-I-C podcast. And now, be epic!