Ep. #1101 - Winning With Innovation
In today’s episode of Startup Hustle, hear a success story based on winning with innovation. Matt DeCoursey asks William Walls, founder of NORDEF, about his company and how his team won the Ag Innovation Challenge. They also share their perspectives on why you should put weight on your ideas and go for them.
Covered In This Episode
William and his team winning with innovation at the Ag Innovation Challenge is a big deal. It propelled them to greater heights in their niche. But how did they do it?
Listen to Matt and William as they talk about the contest and what other contestants did. Both entrepreneurs also share their insights on the patent office process. And they introduce the concept of a moat and how it works for your business.
Prepare to learn how to bring your innovative ideas to life. This Startup Hustle episode will give you a push in the right direction.
- William’s backstory and what they do at NORDEF (02:41)
- Are diesel engines dirty and inefficient? (05:13)
- The Ag Innovation Challenge (05:56)
- Talking about NORDEF’s goal (11:21)
- What is Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF)? (13:03)
- On trying to solve availability and freshness (16:34)
- About NORDEF’s competition (17:58)
- The cost of building the machine (19:29)
- Differences between disruptors versus problem solvers (21:08)
- Taking on the giants (24:26)
- The biggest problem that NORDEF is facing right now (29:01)
- Patents and trademarks (29:24)
- Brand standards and a company’s moat (34:46)
I hate to use the term disruptors, but we do plan to carve out a niche in this diesel exhaust fluid market. Help improve the lives of some farmers and school buses; keep them on the road. And maybe even make it a little bit easier for some fleets to do business.– William Walls
I want to take something that no one else is doing. And I want to go somewhere everyone will leave me alone to get good at it.– Matt DeCoursey
If you have an idea, do it. Just go for it. What do you get to lose? That’s an entrepreneurial spirit.– William Walls
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What’s more? We also have Startup Hustle partners with cost-effective solutions for your business.
Following is an auto-generated text transcript of this episode. Apologies for any errors!
Matt DeCoursey 00:01
And we’re back! Back for another episode of Startup Hustle. Matt DeCoursey here to have another conversation I’m hoping helps your business grow. So look, if you’re going to be an entrepreneur, you’ll probably innovate something. Or make something that’s innovative, even better. You’re either finding new solutions, or you’re finding problems to solve. But without that, you’re probably not going to be winning. That’s what we’re going to talk about today. Before I introduce today’s guest, today’s episode of Startup Hustle is powered by FullScale.io. Hiring software developers is difficult. And Full Scale can help you build a software team quickly and affordably and has the platform to help you manage that team. Go to FullScale.io to learn more. If you aren’t aware, that’s my business. And I would love to talk more to you about how we can help you out. Once again, if you go to FullScale.io, it takes about two minutes to answer a couple questions, and let us know what we can help you with. There’s a link for that in the show notes. With me today, I’ve got William Walls. William is the founder of NORDEF, they are in the heavy-duty trucking industry. You can go to NORDEF, N-O-R-D-E-F.com. There’s a link for that in the show notes as well, straight out of Kansas City, MO, my kinda hometown. I’m actually in Kansas, but it’s all one big Kansas City with an invisible line running through it. So I guess I should just say, William, welcome to Startup Hustle.
William Walls 01:23
Morning, morning. Thanks for having me.
Matt DeCoursey 01:26
There is that beautiful, invisible line through our city that we don’t, we’re aware of. And makes things weird.
William Walls 01:33
Honestly, you know, when you’re going after that state money, it creates some bounds.
Matt DeCoursey 01:38
That’s always odd. You get two sets of rules, two sets of taxes, and two sets of a lot of stuff. You can buy weed in Missouri, and you can gamble in Kansas; it just really depends on which side of the line you’re on. Anyway, I digress. So I guess, you know, let’s get the conversation started with a little bit more about your backstory and what you guys do over at NORDEF.
William Walls 02:01
You know, automotive educated, and most of my professional career has been in heavy-duty trucking. A little bit of the startup community. I was up at Smith Electric Vehicles. You know, I don’t know if you remember them. They were up by the airport, medium-duty trucks. Obama came to town and, you know, that whole thing. But now I’m in the heavy-duty trucking world. I’ve been there 10 years, you know, 20 years out of college. So most of my experience is here, and this is where I found this inefficiency. So where I found this problem that we have that I don’t think many people realize we have.
Matt DeCoursey 02:37
Well, what’s the problem?
William Walls 02:38
The problem is the EPA mandated diesel engines to be cleaner, and the diesel engine manufacturers couldn’t make a cleaner engine. So they decided to stick a quote-unquote after-treatment system on these engines, every diesel engine, so Volkswagen Beetles to locomotives and rail and steam or ocean liners. But this after-treatment system requires an aqueous solution called diesel exhaust fluid def. And our route to market, we just plugged it into the local bulk oil distribution model. You know, this is a water product, our ideas, and novel, per se, or ideas novel to the segment in this industry. But you know, tide took water out of Tide Pods, and Campbell’s took water out of soup, and we took water out of death. Right. So now you’re just shipping around the area and then adding back in the water at the point of use. The problem is deaf people have a short shelf life of about six months. If it’s stored properly. You’re spending most of that time just getting the product to the customers’ hands. The bulk of the deaf is made regionally around the country. So it’s shipped by trucks to clean the trucks on the road. Right? It’s not an efficient route to market model.
Matt DeCoursey 04:03
Okay, I’m not gonna pretend to be an expert on any of this stuff, dude. Like when we start talking about engines, I’m like, how much horsepower? And how fast does it go? And then I don’t even have that same kind of engine in my car because I run on electricity now, which is faster. But yeah, there’s a lot. I think the only thing I know is that diesel engines last longer. It’s not always easy to get diesel at the pump. And I know that it’s used for a lot of bigger engines and stuff like that.
William Walls 04:33
They’re dirty engines, though. Are they? Yes, very much. So.
Matt DeCoursey 04:38
I’m gonna because I was under the impression that, on some levels, diesel might actually have been a little bit cleaner than the burning of diesel.
William Walls 04:44
I guess it could be cleaner but the diesel engine itself is very inefficient. Remember back in the day, or the term a rolling coal member when people used to blow the smoke out their tailpipes? Am I grown up, and all of that now that slit that was going in the atmosphere harming our ozone is now captured under the truck with the use of diesel exhaust fluid.
Matt DeCoursey 05:11
And it will spit you out. Sorry, let me cut you off.
William Walls 05:14
No, no, no, go ahead.
Matt DeCoursey 05:16
Well, I was gonna say, I mean, speaking of winning with innovation, do you just want us one second? Let’s talk about that. Let’s not wait too long. Because obviously, as I said, I’m busy shaming myself for my lack of Engine and fuel combustion knowledge, which, I don’t know why I wouldn’t know too much about that, but they’re worse. Let’s talk a little bit about your Ag Innovation Challenge. And what that looks like.
William Walls 05:45
Yeah, so we’re constantly looking for money, pockets of money here and there. You know, we participated in the UMKC Digital Sandbox contest, you know, got a little money there to help pay for patents and IP protection. We got some money from the state of Kansas. And we found this Ag industry challenge Innovation Challenge was put on by the Farm Bureau. And it was kind of a long shot. The application process was a very lengthy, very long written application with a video that we had to go shoot and put together. And in the end, we were one of 70 companies who applied nationwide and got accepted to this pitch Contest, which took us all the way down to Puerto Rico. There were semifinals, and there were top 10. Then there was the Final Four, which we presented at the Farm Bureau conference in the showroom. While people were walking around, it was kind of a crazy experience. But yeah, we walked away from that thing in the whole contest.
Matt DeCoursey 06:48
What were some of the other things that people were doing at that contest? Like, who are you competing against?
William Walls 06:53
Oh, very cool stuff. One of them was mushrooms. These guys out of Georgia are growing mushrooms in containers, like trucking containers. They built an automated system that controls humidity and temperature, and light, and they’re growing mushrooms. They are very cool guys. They were runners-up, there was another group, this girl and a veterinarian out of Texas, and they were improving embryos which were basically IVF for cows. It was very wild out there technology. They can bring calves to full term better than natural, I guess, Mother Nature. And then the other top for the other contestant where were from Iowa, and they were taking the farmers market online. So they are closing the loop or putting you directly in contact with these farms who are growing, you know, their butcher in their own cows and they got pigs and pork and chickens and eggs and, and produce and grains and they’re putting you in contact with new everyday people and me with these farms regionally. It’s pretty cool because they were very good competition.
Matt DeCoursey 08:09
I’m learning that today’s episode is going to be the one where I know absolutely nothing about nothing. And I’m okay with that. Yeah, you know, we try to cast a wide lens on entrepreneurship. And by the way, in order to do that, that means you’re gonna talk about some days. People asked me a lot, and they’re like, Well, is it hard doing the podcast as much as you do? And I said, not when I know what we’re talking about. Yeah. And then there are the times I don’t, which is today, which is fine. Now, you know, give me a little background. And part of, you know, Startup Hustle. And William and I are both from the Kansas City metropolitan area, smack dab in the middle of the United States. If you’re listening from somewhere outside the US, or if you’re someone in the US that didn’t realize that, like the Kansas City Chiefs are actually in Missouri, it blows people’s minds when you tell them that, but there’s a lot of agriculture and farming here. And with that, here in our hometown, there’s a lot of ag tech, and I’ve seen people do some very innovative things from, you know, using machine learning algorithms to apparently the look on a cow’s face will tell you if it can be Sekera Yeah, and there’s just like a whole lot of you know, everything from using drones to check things out in the great wild open and stuff like that. Now when it comes back to now, one thing I do have a grasp on. So you know, well, you know, I’m not sure if you’re aware, but I’ve got about 300 employees in the Philippines, and you know that there’s a difference between the transportation methods and things that I see. Man, I’ll tell you what, we’ve done a pretty decent job of cleaning up air quality and stuff like that here that isn’t necessarily the case everywhere. I run into that a lot. There’s a lot of, like, two-wheeled vehicles and stuff like that that don’t have quite the cleansing stuff on it. So with what you’re working on, I mean, is this something that you, I mean, obviously, you’re hoping is a worldwide solution? Or Is anyone else doing what you’re doing? Like, where does this all go for you?
William Walls 10:21
Everybody is making def regionally and shipping it to the end user customer, which is wild. Two years ago, you know, we started the company in 2019, when we kind of saw the problem and started brainstorming a solution. And one of my very initial conversations, I was with a staff sergeant down there at the Air Force Base in Wichita, McConnell, and I was telling him, you know, a little bit of our technology. And he said, Well, let me tell you a very cool story. And this was kind of a Goosebumps moment for me and an aha moment, much wider, right, I’m focused on heavy-duty trucking and, and making those guys and fleet’s lives easier. And he told me a story of how they had to take all their equipment to deployment in Africa. And then they had to park it because all the deaths had gone bad. They left it outside, you know, the humidity can knock out that balance of urea and water in the jug. And then if it doesn’t, the engine will not operate if the death is bad. And they had to go to, you know, I think it was South Africa. They had to send a plane down to go pick up a product. And he said, Well, I don’t even care if you’re more cost-effective. If you can keep my vehicles running. Because we measure everything and deaths. Every time we do a deployment. There’s, you know, there’s life on the line there. If you can keep my vehicles operating, you’re in. And that really started a whole conversation about this being much bigger than the US. This is all seven continents when you really start thinking about, you know, military operations there. The diesel engine manufacturers aren’t making vehicles that don’t meet the Paris Agreement and aren’t cleaner for, you know, third-world deployments. You know, when they go on deployment, they take new vehicles with them. They’ve got these updated EPA-mandated after-treatment systems on board. And you know, it was very cool. I mean, I got goosebumps just talking to this guy and the aha moment of how big this could really be.
Matt DeCoursey 12:23
How big is the like, and how much depth? Which once again, diesel exhaust fluid? Like, how much of that do you need? Like, okay, I can visualize 20 gallons? How much gas? Do I need to run? 20 gallons? Is it like a little tiny bed? Or is it a lot?
William Walls 12:38
No, it’s a little bit so your everyday Volkswagens got a little jug, probably the same size of your washer, fluid jug, right, your little reservoir, it’s not much. But when you’re talking over the road trucks, when you’re talking school buses, when we were at that AG innovation challenge a lot of these farmers, which was very cool, because they’re very similar age group that I am in, who came up to me, you know, second, third generation farmers, and they’re like, well, sometimes I’m out operating the tractor I’m, you know, 100 miles from the house, and we’re at a death and I gotta park that tractor. And I have to run back to town to get death. If you guys had a machine at the farm at the Co Op, that would make my life 100 times easier. We keep finding all these little niche markets that are using death, that are struggling with availability and good products. When you look at, you know, when you go online and look at forecasts, you know, they’re saying that this segment deaf usage is going to be $42 billion by 2025. Or some, it’s math. And it’s water, we’re shipping water. So most of that cost is free, you know, you got a little packaging cost there to have a single use plastic that ends up in the landfill. But we’re shipping water to clean trucks that are already on the road, we added trucks to the road to clean trucks on the road. It makes no sense.
Matt DeCoursey 14:03
So where’s the real solution to this? Is it the manufacturing of it? Is it an improvement? Is it the transportation of it or like, I mean, it kind of sounds to me when you’re talking about that farm solution. And you know, once again, back to the rural nature of where we live, like you live here in the city. But if I drive an hour, any direction from where I live, I am living in the middle, I know, I’ll be in the middle of a cow corn or wheat or soy pasture. And I get it the struggle is real if you’re out of something, and you’re in the middle of Kansas that could take the rest of your day. So is it about learning how to just or is it just the distribution of this, like where’s the biggest problem to solve with all of it?
William Walls 14:47
That’s what we plan to solve. We want to first get rid of all the single use plastics, right? If you make it right there on site, let’s just say the farm example or the military base. You don’t have to use these single use plastics to ship it all over the place. is, but you’re cutting out all the additional freight costs, downtime risks. When you can make it right there on the spot using municipal water, our technology, it’s got some filters on board. It turns it into very pure water. We add in the urea by weight, and then it’s like a Keurig machine, you know, you’ll come in, you turn on your coffee machine, you’ll turn on your death machine. But making it local only cuts out all those costs and risk of downtime but also gives you the purest, freshest product on the market. Because this stuff that you’re buying now at the store at O’Reilly That’s kept right there in front of the glass window. That’s bacon in the sun all summer long, you don’t even know if it’s good or not. You know, that was probably made a year ago. up so it’s what’s important to these farmers.
Matt DeCoursey 15:51
So you guys are making more machines than the fluid.
William Walls 15:54
That’s exactly right. The fluids are already out there. There’s been an ISO spec since 2010. Our problem or our technology, the problem we’re solving is availability, freshness, make it right there on the spot, you don’t have to run it down.
Matt DeCoursey 16:07
I’m looking at a chart that’s on the Nord f.com site and it’s localized water plus you’re right, it’s got the little urea pods in the depot mixing machine. Yeah, I got a picture of a mixer that equals fresh def. Man, I didn’t even know this stuff existed on demand.
William Walls 16:25
That’s our tagline we’ve done as far as designing our pod, which is what the urea is in like a K cup for a Keurig. Right? That urea comes in this pod that is stackable, and then returnable back to us so we can use them. So we are completely eliminating single use plastics.
Matt DeCoursey 16:45
The closest thing I’ve got to relate to this is over the weekend, my car said it was low on washer fluid and I was like shit I needed. Now here’s the thing, you know, I’m actually driving a Tesla. So like, I don’t get oil changes. I don’t get these things that fill up the fluids. I don’t stop at the gas station. I went to Amazon. I was like God, I don’t know if I want to just have jet one jugs. And it was like I bought some solution. I can make 32 gallons. And it’s just a little tiny. Example little tiny thing. I was like, oh, that sounds a lot better. I like that idea.
William Walls 17:17
That’s exactly right. You know, that means also, I don’t have to throw away 32 gallon jugs or whatever down the road or Yeah, so that’s about as close as I’m gonna get to that.
Matt DeCoursey 17:18
All right. So you got a pretty big undertaking here. And you know, when it comes to building machinery and stuff like that, there’s obviously going to be other players in the market, you’re probably like, Who are you competing with here? And how do you plan on doing that?
William Walls 17:43
So No buddy is playing in the hyperlocal deaf production market? Where were the only ones so far. And we’re, you know, we’re, we’re through proof of concept. We’re working on a prototype right now. As you know, we’ve partnered with UMKC and their technology lab. And you know, I’m really curious to see how the energy market and these large producers of DEF are going to react. I think right now, they just think we’re a cool little fun side project, a passion project. But, you know, once we get some distribution or maybe a military contract, we’re working down that path right now with UMKC. On DOD, you know, SBIR kind of research project that I hope results in the contract, you know, going forward, a multi-year contract, but, you know, I don’t know if they’re going to try to build a machine similar to us. I mean, it’s such a big market, you know, I don’t know that we’ll ever be more than just a small niche. But as of today, nobody’s making it hyperlocal like we are.
Matt DeCoursey 18:49
So what’s it like when you talk about building one of these machines, like what’s the goal for, for how much that should cost?
William Walls 18:57
So off the shelf, you know, I know what it cost 90% of our equipment was just off the shelf parts. You know, a lot of it is the custom stuff we need, there were a few custom parts, we had to design and build 3d print a lot of software and programming. So that’s obviously custom. us, but we don’t want people to buy the machine. I want to own the machine. And like the Culligan man, right? You got an office, you need some water for your employees, some fresh drinking water, that’s gonna be us who will own the machine. We’ll put it in your shop, you can use it. Maybe it’s the gas station along, you know, I44 and I70 ad. And then you just buy the urea pots from us.
Matt DeCoursey 19:38
God, that makes a lot more sense. All right. Yeah. So a quick reminder. So William is obviously an expert at this. I’m not but if you’re looking for expert software developers, that doesn’t have to be difficult, especially when you visit full scale.io where you can build a software team quickly and affordably. Use the Full Scale platform to define your technical needs and then see what available All first testers and leaders ready to join your team visit full scale.io. To learn more, while you’re down there, click on the link for NORDEF. So you can get a better idea of, maybe you can get a better grasp on this than I had coming into this. Alright, so like, there’s a lot of moving parts here a lot to consider, you know, like, how, all right, how difficult is it for you to explain what the hell it is that you do to people. What we do to people, not to people like what you do, like, I mean, cuz I talked to people about what I do at Full Scale, and like, some people are like, Oh, you build websites? I’m like, yeah, we, you know, we want to disrupt. I have two partners, you know, we’ve all been to each other’s weddings, we were friends first, we all have that kind of green.
William Walls 20:38
Passion. You know, we all worked for electric vehicle companies at one point in our past, and that’s where a lot of us met. My two fellow founders and I, but you know, that you gotta have that sense of wanting to solve problems. I don’t know that any one of us want to be, you know, work for ourselves self employed, I think we want to be problem solvers. I hate to even use the term disruptors, because it sounds so you know, I think we just want to, I think we want to make a change in a very non logical router market of a product that’s, you know, primarily water. This is our nights and weekends, we all have day jobs. You know, we’re, which was interesting, because when we went into that contest, you know, my three fellow people that we competed against for AG Innovation Challenges are day jobs. And this is our passion project, almost our nights and weekends that we’re trying to get off the ground, you know. But yeah, you know, we’re entrepreneurial spirit. And that’s what we’re focused on. We I hate to use that term disruptors, but we do plan to carve out a niche, and this diesel exhaust fluid market, and keep some, you know, help improve the lives of some farmers and some school buses, keep them on the road. And, you know, maybe even make it a little bit easier for some fleets to do business and drive some cost out of there, you know?
Matt DeCoursey 22:13
Well, I actually know quite a few inventors, you know, and, you know, these are start your startup founder in that case, but a lot of inventors that I know, except the fact that they don’t want to deal with Bill, like the actual manufacture and distribution of the product, maybe more. So. Like, they got the great idea. They sketched it out, they got patents on it, they’ve created the working models like, here you go, Look, this works. And then, you know, like, and that’s why I was asking, because, you know, you’re talking about a Ford, you’re looking at a $42 billion a year industry, you know, currently, or whatever that means. It’s a lot of billions right now. And I mean, dude, the capital intensive nature of just doing anything like that. And then here’s the reality, you know, somewhere, somehow what you do as an entrepreneur is or probably is, or will be a threat or competition to someone else. And these some of these big inner talking about, okay, if, if DAF is a $42 billion a year thing? How big is the fuel? Yeah, you know, some of that, I mean, here’s, and the reality is a lot of these big companies, they buy up IP, and it ends up in a cabinet somewhere.
William Walls 23:34
A lot of us farmers that we ran into that AG challenge, said that please take this to market, don’t call that someone to buy this and put it in a safe somewhere, you know, because this is a real problem that we need help with.
Matt DeCoursey 23:46
But you know, with that, there’s, you know, there’s a lot of a lot of companies that go and buy this kind of stuff. And then you know, from inventors, and that’s, but that’s the inventors business model, you know, because the thing is, the reality is, is when you’re looking at something and you’re like, well, we just got $120,000 and, and grants or, or this or that. I mean, you’re you’re about a billion away from the world from possibly having a worldwide distribution model. So there’s a little bit that’s okay. I mean, that’s the thing is like, trying to, I don’t know, I mean, I’ve had I had a guy wants that. I gave a speech at global entrepreneur week, and this guy was waiting for me afterward, he had this like, big, thick business plan. He’s like, Hey, dude, I’d like to talk to you about this. This plan I’ve gotten I was like, Cool, man. What’s it about? He goes, I’m gonna take down Amazon and I was like, bro, I don’t have time. I was just like, I don’t have time for this shit right now. It’s like, you look at some of that is like you’re not Yeah, I’m sorry. You’re not like the reality that that? I mean, sure. There is that one and a quadrillion chance. That that’s going to be what happens, you know, I should have said, Do you have pictures of Bezos or something like that. But there’s merit in that where I’m going with this is I don’t want it like, like the disrupter angle is a good thing. And that’s not a bad thing. Because you know, things have to, okay, you looking at like, Okay, if you’re old enough to even remember tabs. It was a pain in the ass to get a fucking cab. I remember one time, like being in Chicago, and I’m like, out at a busy intersection, not in the city. And it took, it’s like I was late sitting there. I could not get a frickin cab to stop. Yeah. And I just remember how lame and frustrating that was. And you know, now there’s whoever comes and picks you up right at your front door. And I don’t know, you asked me to invest in a cab company right now. I’d say what’s the cab? Yeah. You know, and with that there’s disruption, disruptions, a good thing, you know? And these are like, what would you rather have? Would you rather have Uber and leave? Or do you rather go back to cabs? And, you know, so these things take time, and you look at like the billions and billions of dollars that went into that disruption? And oh, there’s lots of lots to climb over.
William Walls 26:16
So anyway, like, I like the Amazon guy spirit, though, you know, I mean, I think that’s what, that’s what I said, I don’t want to, I don’t want to step on that.
Matt DeCoursey 26:21
But, you know, some of the best advice that I ever got was from a guy named literal Holt and liberals, the founder of CARSTAR, which became one of the largest and is now probably the largest auto body repair chain out there. And he said, Matt, I said, Well, they’re all How do you look at yourself as an entrepreneur? And he said, Well, I like to be a coward. And I was like, What are you talking about? Yeah, I want to take something that no one else is doing. And I want to go somewhere, where everyone will leave me alone to get really good at it. And talking to Larry is kind of like talking to like the Oracle and Yoda at the same time and kind of like after like, you know, you have to kind of let it settle and summer and brew and percolate and everything I was like, whoa. But the moral of that story is that, you know, taking on the Giants. Yes, you will. What about David and Goliath? Weathers the 999,999 times where Goliath just stepped on that guy. And, and didn’t even know it. Yeah, that’s that’s the thing, like you talked about, like the Amazon guy spear or whatever. And but, but that’s the thing. And another thing with that is no one wants to read your 60 page business plan first.
William Walls 27:39
Yeah, kind of emails anymore. Ready for emails to go away?
Matt DeCoursey 27:44
God, that’d be nice.
William Walls 27:46
You know, I’m focused on my business partners, and I, the three of us as founders, we want to solve the problem, you know, it’s more of a passion project. I think when we first started this, it was, Why isn’t anybody else doing this? And evolutionary, you know, it kind of became that’s our theme. Like, let’s just keep going until we realize why somebody else hasn’t done this. And nobody’s told us no, yet. In fact, everybody keeps saying, that’s a great idea. Keep going. Keep going, you know, what’s the one?
Matt DeCoursey 28:15
What’s the biggest problem your business is trying to solve right now?
William Walls 28:21
Commercialization, you know, we’ve got our technology figured out, we got the IP in place waiting on the USPTO office, which has been painstaking, slow.
Matt DeCoursey 28:34
But take a second to talk about that process. Because I don’t think we do that enough on this show. Like, that’s the road here to tell that real story. And people like, well, I got a patent on it. I’m like, you know, I was that guy.
William Walls 28:44
I was that guy before we raised the money for that. And Hovey Williams out here, you know, right down the street from where you and I are, there are patent attorneys, and they really opened my eyes on the process and how to build a moat around your idea, you know, build plenty of room for you to grow your company, because, you know, it might go in a different direction, or technology could change as you continue to develop your technology. But it’s a very lengthy process. You know, we filed our provisionary, which just puts it out there in the world. They stamp it and say you’re first in line. And then that was not or not. That’s exactly right. That’s it. I mean, we’re $22,000 into this and they can come back and go to bed. You know, you don’t know. It’s kind of a risk like that. But with the right legal team, you know, you kind of know how this thing’s going to come out. But you know, you did. We did our provisional back in 2020-2021 and we had to file the formal patent application. Earlier this year, it got published online so the world now can go Hold on. I’ve got some that compete with what these boys are working on, and here’s my stuff. And then they let that sit out there and percolate for another, you know, 36 months or something.
Matt DeCoursey 30:13
It’s a long, it’s a long process, and part of our somewhere around 2025 Yeah, you’ll get it. Wow.
William Walls 30:17
Yeah. You know, the trademark process, I was sitting at home the other day with my kids just Googling terms and looking to see what’s out there. And somebody had used our name. In a very similar application I had a heart attack, I immediately called our patent attorney, and they got me a trademark. And we filed that right away, because we didn’t have a lot of brand recognition. And then when we won that AG challenge, and all those farmers knew who we were in that whole industry, knew who we were, and the problems we’re trying to solve. felt like they were behind us, almost all of a sudden, we had brand equity and, you know, your heart sinks. But it’s a it’s, it’s a, you gotta be in for the long haul and have a lot of faith in that PTO. US Patent Office process.
Matt DeCoursey 31:06
Yeah, I know that the provisional process is pretty strict, and somewhat straightforward. But that part is Yeah, yeah. Yeah, that’s the part I think a lot of people file provisionals. And that’s about as far as it ever goes. But don’t you have to have a working model? Yeah. For it, like an actual, like a true patent? You can’t just draw it up in a barn. It’s exactly like actually building something that was exactly right. Because how would they go about verifying and validating that?
William Walls 31:32
Well, you have to pay for the research team to go out and validate. But it’s including all of those specifics in your patent application, what makes you specific, if it’s broad? Yeah, I want to do this one thing, and this one segment over here that you got to be a little bit more specific than that, on that, to be successful with the patent. But also, it’s about being specific about your technology, but also in a way that expands a moat around you. So you can go above and beyond. Another interesting thing that came up was the Keurig model. You know, Keurig, and the K cup, they protected the coffee machine, but not the K cup. And everybody went out and made their own K cup, you know. So we learned from that, you know, case, study, whatever you want to call it, and we put a lot of protection around our pod design as well. So we are the guys that will supply our pod for our machine going forward. We have a little reluctance of taking our technology out there before the patents are fully awarded, you know, putting pictures online or taking them to trade shows or, or contests. And that’s where the legal team comes back and goes, No, you’re at your mark.
Matt DeCoursey 32:42
Yeah, that’s why that notch and the timeline. I mean, I’ve seen a lot of stuff. So yeah, the closest thing I have to compare to any of this is I used to work for the world’s largest maker of electronic musical instruments, and they got all kinds of patents on all kinds of stuff. Yeah. Because and you know, once that patent is pending, anyone that’s infringed upon it along the way might owe you money later. Yeah, right. Right. It’s a weird process. It is.
William Walls 33:09
It’s, yeah, it’s but even to find it, you have to spend money to fight it. You know, I mean, it just means you’re there first. You landed on Plymouth Rock first, that’s all it means.
Matt DeCoursey 33:17
the pattern games kind of weird. It’s a lot to keep up with. I remember what the trademark stuff I’ve gone through that that’s that’s all process. Yeah. And you gotta do a lot of stuff to protect that. I mean, there are some fortunately, some built in copyright and kind of stuff that, you know, prevent some people from coming in and I don’t know if it’s, there’s a lot to be said about it.
William Walls 33:40
So our patent attorneys have made me feel really comfortable. They are worth their money. I mean, their hourly rates, no joke, but they really make you feel comfortable that you are protected, you can talk about it. You know, some advice they gave me early on another trademark is: be specific with your brand, your colors, your taglines and put it on everything and be consistent. That’s the best way to protect your brand.
Matt DeCoursey 34:06
Yeah, those are called brand standards. And by the way, anyone that’s listening to your business should have them I actually was talking about I was talking about this just a few couple days ago. And the importance of it it’s like not having brand standards would be like someone showing up at Pepsi and decided that the red and the blue should be green and yellow today, as is a completely different logo at that. Yeah, but it as your business grows, and I’ve gone through this and why was I even talking about this? Well, because we’ve got all these departments at Full Scale, you know, in 300 employees and you know, 300 person companies often turn into 3000 person companies in a heartbeat because once you get past that initial thing, you know, you’re still fighting it out in this like beginning phases stuff and then when things pop, you know things can get big in a hurry. And these are the little things you go back to and that’s because you want people you want you need to let everyone know this is okay to say this is okay to use, this is how we do it, this is how we don’t do it. This is what you’re allowed to do, this is what you shouldn’t be doing. Otherwise, you get a bunch of people on a bunch of purchases yelling a bunch of shit that you don’t really want them to yell. There’s one other thing I wanted to define. So you use the word Mote a couple of times when you talk about an economic or product or industry type moat. That’s the protection you have or the distance you have between you and the next competitor. That’s right. So you’ll look at something well, like Tesla is a good example. We talked about them earlier, Tesla actually has a very small note, because there’s a ton of people making electric cars right now and a bunch of people that have said, well, yeah, and honestly, they’re, they’re electric cars better than the other cars. It really is. And but with that, you know, there’s a bunch of people coming up on them. And you look at something like Google has a very wide economy and a very wide moat, because there aren’t a whole lot of them. Right? What do you do? Are you like, Yeah, I’m going to Yahoo people, like, well, Bing has chat GPT in it. Yeah. Until I hear someone say Bing it. No, one’s like, Hey, let me bring you. Yeah, like, who listening goes to bing.com, before they go to Google, right? And that’s, that’s a real thing. You know, and it’s the same thing. And it’s like, you know, so that’s what the moat means. And, and the, you know, the, the purpose of a moat, and Medieval Times was to protect you from the enemy. It’s a strategy, wham, across that thing, they put alligators and all kinds of nasty shit in there. And it’s a protective mechanism. And that’s something that your investors, acquirers and other people look at, because if you like, and that’s, that’s where that inventive process is pretty, pretty great. You know, in the beginning, because you said, like, you know, I don’t want to get too deep into it. But you know, the, you because I don’t want to ask you a bunch of stuff, you don’t want to probably publish our own podcasts. But, you know, there’s, I mean, there’s a lot of ways to, I mean, sometimes just creating that mode is to get a shovel and start digging, no Castle how to vote right away?
William Walls 37:11
Well, it’s hard, it’s hard, because it’s early on to protect yourself, but you have to kind of guess where you’re gonna be, you know, 48 months down the road where technology could go. Where, where the competition could be who’s going to, you know, it’s a strategy as much as it is protection?
Matt DeCoursey 37:30
Well, there’s a lot of like I mentioned, having worked in musical instrument, diamond is a long time ago, that’s company Roland, and Roland invented MIDI mid, our Musical Instrument Digital Interface, which is like the, the community like the operating system that so many, you know that that is what makes a keyboard communicate with a computer or whatever. And the inventor of that was the founder of Roland who actually didn’t patent it, he’s like, this is too good for I want everyone to have this, which is one of the most selfless things I’ve ever seen in entrepreneurship, to be honest, because that would have been pretty valuable. And they patented and, and hung on to some other things. But in that particular case, you will run into a lot of companies that get some stuff out there. Because it’s better to be out there. And sometimes it’s better for the industry. And like a lot of that. So there are some things that you see, you know, we’ve talked since we mentioned Tesla a couple times Tesla’s done that with a few different things, and you know, I don’t know there’s some things that you’ll see that cuz, cuz sometimes, so you mentioned like the the K cup, and carrying, like, I could actually make a mild argument for like, letting that out there. Because, you know, maybe you can’t make every single flavor or everything that someone wants, there’s something to be sad about having accessibility to you fk. That’s kind of like software and hardware, you know, and I remember I’m a diligent Apple person. But I remember, you know, you remember, not everything was ready for Apple or you have an iPhone app, but you didn’t have an Android app and all these things and it’s good, it’s good to not always have just one. Like there’s a lot that those competing products have a lot to do. Now if you’re trying to build a product, you need to hire software engineers. Full Scale can help us have the people in the platform to help you build and manage a team of experts go to FullScale.io. And all you need to do is answer a few questions. Let our platform match you up with a fully vetted, highly experienced team of engineer software engineers, testers. Laters Full Scale, we specialize in building long term teams that work only for you learn more when you visit full scale.io There is a link in the show notes for that and there is a link for Nord f.com If you want to go down there and give a click and see what William and his and his people are up to. With that. You know, we’re here at the end of another episode of Startup Hustle and anytime we get a founder, have a conversation with the founder. I’d like to end my episodes with the founders freestyle. So you know this, I think that probably the number one comment I get from guests as well, that went fast. So I was giving everyone an opportunity to say anything that they didn’t get to say thank people talk about key, anything key we talked about? So here’s the mic, brother, what do you got?
William Walls 40:22
You know, when we first started doing this, we came up with this idea and took the market or, you know, designed it in the garage and took it to the patent attorneys. And, and everybody said, you know, why has anybody done this before? I mean, it is a lot of business knowledge. And it’s a lot of understanding the problem, being able to articulate it, but it’s a lot of faith. It’s a lot of faith in yourself, it’s confidence, but it’s faith, that this is a problem that everybody needs, and to see it through. And, you know, I tell the story, just just what we’ve accomplished so far, in our three years of doing this, you know, building this brand and winning this contest, and these conversations with the Department of Defense that I find so much fun, and it’s very inspiring. If you have an idea, just do it, just go for it. What do you have to lose? You know, that’s an entrepreneur spirit. Like I said, I don’t want to be self employed, I just want to solve a problem and, and see if it goes anywhere, you know, leave a mark. That’s what I’m after. And would I really encourage other people to do it, too, and just try it out? You know, it’s a lot of fun learning. It’s a passion project.
Matt DeCoursey 41:39
Yeah, I think, you know, for my freestyle, a couple things that stood out here are well, first off, thanks for working on any environmental solutions. I always, always want to thank people because I swear man, every founder, I get on here that’s working on something like it’s some thankless shit. It is, I mean, that in the most loving way possible, because no one’s thanking people that often the way that they should, you know, I’ve had people that are, reinventing seafood, cleaning the oceans, working on the environment, like fixing all these things. And like, I mean, they have a harder time getting support and getting money, then someone that’s quite honestly, on many days building damaging shit. So you know, Kansas City is such a startup market.
William Walls 42:22
And there are so many startup resources here in Kansas City. But honestly, when we go out and talk about our technology and our hardware and the problem we’re trying to solve, I mean, it’s just like, people don’t think that everything here is healthcare.
Matt DeCoursey 42:38
And I asked earlier, how hard do you have it? How hard of a time do you even know what death was? I had no clue. I like diesel very much. Like, I didn’t realize that there was like, another thing on there.
William Walls 42:51
Everybody started maps, you know? No, I appreciate you saying that. That’s very cool.
Matt DeCoursey 42:55
Well, but it’s important. And you know, that’s the thing that a lot of people I think don’t wrap their arms around when it comes to entrepreneurship is there is a whole ton of it that goes on and occurs like it’s like you mentioned, it’s a passion project. And then, you know, another thing that I want to remind everyone is that you know, there’s this saying that the riches are in the niches and, and it is really true, like, I have met so many people that have accumulated wealth or built and exited or manage a highly profitable company. And you’re like, what do you do? And they’re like, I import ostrich feathers from Zambia. And I’m like, where is Zambia? You know, like, you know, so So with that, though, that’s back to that whole, like that cowardly approach, like, no, find this little thing, this niche and, and, you know, I think everyone’s out there as an entrepreneur, we build this like fantasy structure around this unicorn company, and this billion dollar enterprise and like, the luck those are very, very rare. I know most of the most successful people I know. And I’ve met a lot of successful people, especially through this podcast, that you know, like, hey, it doesn’t have to be a billion-dollar thing, at least for you to be highly successful and make a huge difference. So you know, find these little niches, I think that, you know, in 2023 and beyond that, you know, that’s in many ways is gonna be the future of entrepreneurship because let’s be realistic, man, a lot of the core things the obvious shit has been done and trying to enter try to enter those races against people that have been in it for 1525 40 years. At this point, it can be more or more, you know, and that’s what I was surprised to hear about because, you know, the diesel engine, I mean, that’s not a new thing. That’s not a new thing. Yeah, that was like that was when they came out with the unleaded engine and all that. I mean, we’re getting rid of diesel, so who knows but man, thanks for fighting the good fight, and best of luck to you. I’ll catch up with you and check in on the progress on this down the road. Thank you.
William Walls 45:20
Thanks for having me on today. Good coverage.