Series W - Fuel50-01

This week Series W spoke to Anne Fulton and Jo Mills, CEO and President (respectively) of Fuel 50, a world leading SaaS Career Pathing technology delivered by the Career Engagement Group. Fuel50 has gained traction in a new niche market segment in the enterprise HR market, addressing staff retention and engagement for large organizations. See below the interview for more information on Fuel50’s market and business model.

How did you develop the idea for Fuel50?

Anne: Fuel50 career pathing software has been a significant life’s work for Jo and I.  We both knew from our conversations with HR practitioners around the globe that engagement and retention were growing issues and were aware that Career Development is the primary driver for both.  This was the catalyst for taking our existing proprietary FuelFactors and tackling the untapped niche within the HR technology landscape and building a SaaS solution to deliver a compelling career pathing solution to the attraction and retention problem in organizations.  I had been working in the Talent Management industry for the last 10 years, and had been fascinated by the cloud enablement and SaaS business model that emerged during that time. We love the HR Tech space, so it was a huge attraction to take our domain expertise and existing IP and build a SaaS model around this.  Thankfully we have been able to attract a board of SaaS & HR Tech entrepreneurs who had built $50 million dollar SaaS companies in a five year period to help us execute on our vision of being the “benchmark career path software” in the HR Tech space with a  similar fast-growth story.

How did you make the decision to take the plunge and start your own company? What was your professional alternative?

Jo: I came from an HR background so understood our clients’ pain around attracting and retaining talent.  I’d also been working as an executive career coach and consultant to large enterprise organizations so knew the career pain that was being experienced from both the employee and employer side. On the side I had built a range of online career resources that I was marketing globally, so when Anne and I started working together about 6 years ago it was a complete meeting of the minds with a shared vision for creating a career path solution that was going to positive impact people’s lives while also building a globally successful business utilizing the emerging cloud technology

Anne: I am serial entrepreneur, and starting businesses has been in my DNA since my late 20s. It was an inevitability for me. Fuel50 career pathing has also been my life-long mission in many ways; I started my career as a Vocational Guidance Counsellor and returned to studies as an Organizational Psychologist with the specific objective of learning how to build predictive assessments. Fuel50 has been the culmination of many learning experiences along the way, most recently in the Talent Management industry, so being able to deliver Fuel50 career pathing which is based on our proprietary FuelFactors and which now utilizes machine intelligence to deliver personalized career pathing options for individuals, has been hugely satisfying.  We love that we are being able to positively impact the career experiences of people in 30 countries and 15 languages now, and to help HR practitioners positively impact their business metrics through an attractive Career Value Proposition for their people that impacts engagement and retention statistics. A win-win for all our stakeholders – employees, managers, HR practitioners and business leaders.

How did you get your first investors on board? What would you have done differently?

Jo: We entered the funding game via the Angel community and have continued to get amazing support from these Angels.  We have some great people with HR Technology and SaaS business experience within our investment community and we regularly tap into this expertise which is just as valuable to us as the funding.  We have quarterly “Wine & Fuel” Investor briefing sessions and these have significantly helped strengthen the support we get from our investors, as well as being fun. Our most recent event was a Whiskey-tasting “educational”, which went down well.  I think our big learning has been that it would have been useful to put in place a strategic funding plan right from day one.

What have been the hardest parts of expanding from New Zealand to the US?

Anne: We think of ourselves as doing something of a “David & Goliath” act as we play into the Talent Management Technology cloud space, which is dominated by the big boys like Oracle and SAP. So we have always had the mantra that we have to “punch above our weight” and build a big, strong, visible brand to help us.  Our marketing has been memorable, and we have been successful in getting industry awards and coverage in the Wall Street Journal, which has helped us immensely.  We have also hired experienced HR Technology sales people who are locals and known in their markets.  We try to think of ourselves as a US company first and foremost with a Kiwi heritage; NZ is known as a great “test market” for early adopters. We went early to Australia and the UK too. Our first US client, a top 10 US bank with 350,000 employees globally, found us via our website, which gave us a good story to start our US launch with.  I have just re-located here now to LA, half way between New York where I spend a lot of time, and our Australasian operations. In hindsight, I should have made the move a year ago.  The hardest thing is dealing with some of the administrative set up for taxation, legal, insurances etc. but we have a very tenacious Finance Manager on our team who does a great job on that front.

What advice would you give to founders that want to grow internationally?

Jo: Do your homework, research your market and do your best to get brand visibility and connections with your audience even before you land. Hire local talent for networks and create a great business culture that enables you to continue to attract and retain great talent.

What has been your greatest WFIO (we’re f*****, it’s over) moment so far?

Anne: Can’t really think of getting that close to that moment yet, thankfully!  However, when a significant strategic investor we had lined up here in the US was delayed, we had to quickly re-think our funding strategy and act fast. We had thought we had our ongoing growth funding plan “sorted” with this potential partner. As a business, we talk career and workforce  agility all the time and this was one of those moments when we had to be agile and responsive ourselves.  Jo and I had a back-up plan launched within 24 hours of the news and got an incredible reception once again from our investment community, largely because we had built a reputation for delivering to our milestones and keeping our community really well-informed with our quarterly updates. So the learning was, if you do the right things early, it can help enormously when faced with setbacks.

What has been the most exciting moment so far?

Anne & Jo: A couple of biggies come to mind – the first was securing the Fortune 100 bank early on in our journey and the other was being endorsed by our peers in the HR Tech industry with winning Awesome New HR Technology late last year in Vegas. That was a very big day and long night. It has been a huge amount of fun and hard work for all the team, so recently winning the American Chamber of Commerce Award for StartUp Exporter of the Year was great, particularly getting the award from our Prime Minister along with the team. Lots of fun!

More about Fuel50

The Fuel50 Career Path Management technology is part of the HR Technology Industry valued at $14 billion and fast growing (was $520 million in 2008) (Forbes 2013). Fuel50 Career Pathing delivers to an untapped niche in the HR Technology market which currently spans Recruitment Management Technologies through to Learning Management Systems. Career Pathing is emerging as a demand area within this industry, as engagement and talent-attrition statistics all indicate career development is a key lever to impact these critical talent issues.

Fuel50 is career path cloud software that is used by more than 50 enterprise organizations across the globe.  In 15 languages already, and in 29 countries across the globe, Fuel career path software delivers 5 proprietary FuelFactor exercises that enable employees to identify the best career pathway for them within their organization. Fuel50’s predictive career pathing solution delivers personalized career pathing options based on sophisticated machine intelligence delivering a LinkedIn Style interface to employees.

After proof of concept in NZ, Australian and UK markets, and the bench strength now established and the scalability of the business model proven, strong partnership agreements in place, disruptive brand and quality client relationships, Fuel50 is focused on a continued growth trajectory.

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