First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Fred Schonenberg: We are doing well. Thank you for asking.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded VentureFuel.
Fred Schonenberg: I founded VentureFuel 7 years ago after my clients kept asking, “what’s next.” I worked with folks like Starbucks, Nike, Microsoft, and Pepsi, and each was seeking new solutions and new ways to connect with consumers. They were always looking for new, better, creative solutions. Around the same time, a friend launched a great startup and spent a dinner complaining to me how he couldn’t get a meeting with these same companies – because he was too early to break into those companies. I realized there was an opportunity to create magic by connecting emerging companies with established companies.
How does VentureFuel innovate?
Fred Schonenberg: We take the really complex, difficult challenges of large multi-national established companies and traditional industries – and we inject new solutions, new technologies, and new thinking via startups. We do this through partnerships, pilots, and accelerators.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Fred Schonenberg: Large companies have either entrenched in the tried and true or accelerated into embracing new opportunities. So some of our clients have put innovation on hold, but the vast majority have taken the other path and realized the way it was will never be again. So they are really focusing on new ways of solving problems. In many ways, the Pandemic awoke corporates to embrace new solutions. The digital transformation that was set to take 10 years happened in 10 weeks. What’s next is now.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Fred Schonenberg: Yeah, there was and still is a lot of uncertainty. One thing we did really well was to act quickly. We saw this coming a bit earlier than most in the US due to our global clients. So we closed the office and suspended travels early. Then we cut anything that wasn’t mission critical right away to ensure our team wouldn’t be asked to take cuts and that their jobs were safe. The biggest lesson learned is that you don’t need a lot of things you think are essential. We took a really objective look at every dollar – would this be missed short/long term. We cut a lot of things that we don’t miss at all.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and VentureFuel in the future?
Fred Schonenberg: Being a founder is REALLY hard in the best of times. Every day is a roller coaster. So now founders are on a roller coaster on top of another roller coaster. It’s really tasking. You are worried about health for your family and your team, the ambiguity of the economy and clients, the government, and the state of the world. It’s non-stop – on top of being a founder. The best thing is exercise – workout. 1 hr. 100% lean into a great sweat. The other thing is learning and being creative. I have taken up Spanish, which I am horrible at – but challenges my mind. We launched The VentureFuel Podcast, which has been a great creative outlet and allowed me to talk to some of the greatest people in the business. These outlets are CRUCIAL. Oh, and sleep – which I get none of with a 1-year-old, but I hear it’s good for you.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Fred Schonenberg: My competitor is the status quo. It’s really easy to do what you did last year and get that budget re-approved rather than taking a risk on new and different. That’s the battle we fight every day. We find the change agents, the visionaries, the instigators, the innovators, the intrapreneurs, and the misfits in large corporations – these are the people that when they see us, go OH HELL YEAH. So the way we continue to excel is to arm these folks with our solutions.
Your final thoughts?
Fred Schonenberg: I hope the innovation mindset continues to inspire the folks working in large companies. Creative solutions are the most important weapon to the challenges we face – at work, home, and globally. Founders and entrepreneurs know this and are out there grinding at creating a better way. If you are at a big company, you have to tap into that magic. Tried and true isn’t going to get you different results.