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The Briefing: December 2020

The Blue Creative Group Adds Four Clients in Four Weeks
The Blue Creative team is continuing to add to its roster of clients from around the globe. Although each project is different in scope, they all adhere to Blue’s belief that marketing and creative services is not simply a transactional endeavor and that the clichéd phrase “marketing partners” should have a lot more weight than an overused pitch-deck term. “We certainly have aspects of our business model that are pure transactional in order to provide a high-margin, higher-volume revenue bucket,” explains Andy Hawk, Blue Creative Group partner. “Yet paradoxically, we firmly believe that the only future-proof method of delivering value to our clients while reducing that typical agency churn is to be fully immersed in our clients’ business and the markets they serve. Whether it’s sustainable fuels, commercial cleaning supplies, or ski resorts, every member of the Blue team is tasked with knowing that client’s basic SWOT overview in order to be able to deliver truly meaningful marketing and creative direction. If not, we’re simply acting like a waiter filling an order. That’s no way to grow and sustain our business.”

Recent new accounts include Fuller Industries LLC of Great Bend, Kansas, the 113-year old commercial cleaning supply manufacturer and custom brush developer. Blue Creative was obtained as the agency of record and is tasked with re-branding all the divisions under a more defined corporate structure and producing all the tactical elements required. These include a new website, market research, public relations, ad creation, outbound marketing, new photography, and a graphic refresh. The Blue team descended on Great Bend twice in the last 45 days in order to meet with the company’s management and to fully understand each division, where they are having success, and where they have challenges that can be turned into opportunities. “Traveling during Covid is not exactly straightforward,” says Andy. “We ensure we are tested before leaving, then stay within our bubble while in Great Bend, and then quarantine and test before joining families again when we return. But there is no way to immerse ourselves and effectively move with speed without these in-person, on site meetings. When this all calms down, I’m especially looking forward to seeing the bottom half of our client’s faces that have been behind masks during all of these meetings!”

Blue Creative has continued to tap into its network from the Boulder office and signed top 25 accounting firm Eide Bailly LLP to the roster. Initial projects include content creation of 30-second television and radio spots in key markets. (Blue will partner with Fresnel portfolio company Tring Live Media on the radio production.)

The fourth quarter also saw the addition of Denver-based Dispatch Health. The company recently completed a $135 million Series C round and is expanding its at home medical care business into additional markets. It can provide the same services of many urgent-care facilities in the comfort and security of individual homes. Blue is tasked with creating video content within both the B-B and B-C divisions, including investor-facing video content.

Revealing Blue Creative’s unwillingness to be pigeonholed, the company also signed Maritimo Yacht Sales, the Holland, Michigan-based retails sales arm of Australia’s Maritimo Yachts. The luxury yacht manufacturer tapped Blue to review its previously owned yacht division and help to drive topline revenue through a multi-pronged listing-acquisition program, coupled by a retail sales marketing plan.

Digital Latitude Solutions Creates eCommerce Solutions for CleanGenic
One of the questions that will often come up during investor meetings is around what the connective tissue is between the nine seemingly disparate companies in the current FGC portfolio. In 2020, the complementary overlap was more evident than ever and has moved beyond the theoretical at warp speed. One case in point is the collaboration between the Blue Creative Group and Digital Latitude Solutions. Blue created a new ecommerce website for CleanGenic to market and sell hand sanitizer and other cleaning products. Scott Murray, co-founder and President of DLS brought in his team to then take the tools Blue created and is developing the entire sales channel solutions for CleanGenic, including Amazon, Walmart and Facebook. “Moving into the B-C space was a first for the client,” said Scott. “So we’ve been tasked with developing, managing, and enhancing their sales channels across the board. We’ll work with Blue to ensure the digital marketing plan is properly synced with the sales distribution. It’s a good program for CleanGenic since DLS only gets paid on the revenue generated. We have several more of these plans in the works for Q1 2021 and we’re projecting double digit growth as brands look to us to navigate the ecommerce market and achieve real product lift.”

The Fresnel Companies Forms Strategic Partnership with Axenic

It’s revealing when you look back at the genesis of a business relationship and how it came to be. The successful ones often seem like they’ve been in existence for decades. They rely on mutual trust, complementary skillsets, and a common core of objectives and values that collectively form a powerful unified approach to problem solving and creating investor wealth. And this certainly summarizes Fresnel’s nine-month relationship with Axenic.

With offices stretching around the world, Axenic applies a refreshing approach to business that leverages an ecosystem energized by investors, entrepreneurs and industry influencers. They’ve achieved significant success by applying a creative and strategic approach to start-ups and incubator stage companies, along with an investor focused model that has fueled successful capital raise initiatives around the world. Today, Axenic is currently managing $80 million in capital assets.

The Axenic team, led by founders Lewk Schulze and Ariya Behjat, is currently focusing on raising capital for Fresnel Growth Capital (FGC) within its extensive global investor network. During this endeavor, Axenic also recognized the mutual benefits of pulling XMed into FGC to leverage Fresnel’s management expertise and operational infrastructure. (See Q&A with XMed CEO Sean Field.)

“Working with Lewk and Ariya was a highlight of an already exciting year for our group,” said Tom Thies, Fresnel co-founder and partner. “From that initial meeting where Axenic truly understood our philosophy and approach, it’s been a strong relationship. Like Fresnel, they care down to their core about the entrepreneur and their investor. They’re not playing the typical PE numbers game. Instead they know how to build real brands and care deeply about every aspect of that process.”

The Axenic-Fresnel relationship has expanded across the portfolio and beyond the capital raise endeavors. The Blue Creative Group has partnered with Axenic on the public relations strategy for sustainable energy company Gevo (NASDAQ:  GEVO). “They’ve already taken such a deep dive in our businesses as part of the FGC capital raise program, that bringing in Axenic for the assist on other projects was a no-brainer,” said Fresnel CMO George Sass Jr. “Their team hit the ground running on unlocking earned media opportunities and complemented Blue’s efforts. ”

Fresnel is also reviewing market expansion opportunities with Perpetual Sports Network through Axenic’s network and expertise. “We’re looking forward to a long and mutually beneficial relationship with Axenic,” said Tom. “It’s odd, but I feel like they’ve been part of our group for years.”

Tring Understands Its Customers, Because It Understands Its Customers’ Customers

Tring offers a reinvented approach for retail by leveraging the power of in-store audio in ways that drive sales effectively. The difference lies in the level of service Tring delivers, and how the company can adapt to changing conditions through custom opportunities. That comes down to Sandy Barnes, who has helped build Tring into a loyalty powerhouse, one customer at a time.

Understanding shoppers helps retailers create sales, and Tring Live Media can help drive those conversions.

“I work with customers on the advertising side when they want to do their in-store messaging,” Sandy says. “We create their brand ID in a 30-second snap, or they want to promote particular items or if they want to do something new. Right now, there’s a lot of focus on ‘buy online, pick up in store.’”

Sandy Barnes takes care of her customers by thinking about what converts their customers.

Making sure the message is to the customers liking is one thing, but using the expertise of the staff at Tring makes sure the customers in the store get the message too. Understanding the customer experience in the store is the key to understanding Tring’s own customers. That’s a big part of what Sandy does. “I’ve worked in all sorts of retail from Mrs. Field’s Cookies to Timberland to Stonewall Kitchen, even an apple orchard that had a store and baked their own apple pies, helping them with sales and customer service,” she says. “A friend had a small business, and I helped her set up her marketing and merchandising and just basically doing whatever was needed. That’s how I’ve learned to grow my role, determining what the needs are for each individual customer, to get the job done and make their shoppers happy.”

Tring has a wide range of customers, from small retailers with three or fewer stores to huge grocery chains who sell some products that have margins of pennies. “The team we have is very responsive, and we’re small,” Sandy says. “We’re fast, we can move on a dime, because we work really closely together.”

And as markets shift and change, retail operations need to tailor their needs, and Tring can play a big part in that brand shift, something the team understands very well. “Once upon a time, it was the instinct of a shopkeeper figuring out, This might be a big seller,” Sandy says. “We’re adapting to find ways to help those existing brick-and-mortar stores reach more of their customers and bring in the statistics that the vendors need to target market their products. The data is huge. But we can see, there are only good things ahead.”

Rethinking Healthcare’s Next Evolution

Fresnel Growth Capital is thrilled to welcome both Sean Field and XMed to the Fresnel family. Sean is the CEO of Xmed, and from day one has delivered the necessary critical thinking and innovation needed with a vast healthcare background. Entrepreneurship runs in his veins, with several companies created and then sold under his leadership. Sean pioneered technologies that reinvented how medical information is gathered, and he’s still doing it, and he shares his fresh perspective on the future of healthcare data, Xmed, and his work with The Fresnel Companies.

Fitness, health, and wellness will come together in an engaged community in the Xmed app.

The Lens: Tell us a little about your background.

Sean Field: I got my start in 1990 when I founded a data-management company focused on critical-care diagnostics in hospitals. I saw an opportunity. I was young—20 years old—and my father worked in the critical-care testing field. I saw the lack of connectivity for the diagnostics results and the need for data management that was not taking place in that world.

I founded a software company together with a friend of mine who was a software engineer. Our company, called Laboratory Data Systems, was the first connectivity and data-management solution for decentralized testing in the hospitals. It was kind of a big deal, because back then it really was primarily critical care blood gas testing that was being done near the patient, or now what we refer to as the point-of-care. Whereas everything else was sent to the central laboratory for analysis.

We pioneered the connectivity, from both a hardware and communication protocol perspective. Therefore, not only were results captured for those tests analyzed in the near-patient-testing setting, but it created the foundation for other devices or tests to establish connectivity capability throughout the hospital. This enabled expansion of more routine tests to near-patient testing with connectivity being the conduit to improved patient-care outcomes. We provided quick results for more routine tests. For example, 30 years ago, for what we perceive today as a simple Glucose test, your blood was drawn and was sent to the lab for analysis. With the advent of connectivity solutions, and technological advancements of diagnostic devices, our solution served as a catalyst that enabled testing to leave the central laboratory and be done at the point-of-care.

TL: Sounds like a pretty fundamental change in the way healthcare is delivered. What happened next?

SF: I sold that company about eight years after I founded it, and went to work for the company that bought it, which was a major diagnostic equipment manufacturer for hospitals. Then about a year and half later, we sold that company to Roche Diagnostics, the largest diagnostic testing company in the world.

I moved overseas to work at Roche for five years, and founded a division of the company that was primarily focused on the information technology and actionable health information. That was really kind of the first step in the industry towards taking data and aggregating it in such a way to help improve patient outcomes through better medicine techniques based on data as opposed to just based on experience.

TL: It sounds like you were still pursuing the same idea: better healthcare through better information.

Sean Field, CEO, Xmed

SF: That’s correct, but I saw much more opportunity than what we were pursuing. So I left that job and came back to the United States, and refounded my old company, Laboratory Data Systems, and went back and did the whole thing all over again. This time, we had a much bigger focus on all point-of-care testing, since the world, point-of-care testing and information had changed so much, so quickly. Eight years later, I ended up selling it to the largest point-of-care diagnostic company in the world, Alere. I worked for them for a few of years, running their informatics division.

When my contract was up with them, I decided to leave. I thought I was going to semi-retire, you know, go fishing and play golf, and all that kind of stuff. I realized very quickly that I just needed to be busy and involved in something that I believe in, where I feel like I could be beneficial and help something grow and make it into a great company. It didn’t necessarily have to be a healthcare informatics company.

I started looking around and got involved in some ventures and some startup businesses, not so much involved in the day to day, but it did lead me to people like Fresnel partner Andrew Murphy. We have become very good friends in a relatively short time. And whenever there have been opportunities for us to collaborate and work together on things, we’ve done that.

TL: And the next opportunity came out of that ongoing conversation?

SF: That’s how I got involved with Xmed. Andrew knew my background in medical software, and felt like I’d be really good for the organization from a leadership perspective.

I really like the concept behind the platform. It’s a social and community-oriented environment, that we’re looking to create from a health and fitness perspective, as opposed to just being a website with informational content. We’re already working with the team on a lot of strategic stuff, setting up development teams and other things. But we are very focused on what we believe is going to be a unique way to present, engage, and share health and wellness information.

TL: Does Xmed present another paradigm shift?

SF: With an app, one of the things that I think we all see on the surface is what it does, and our understanding usually stops there. Look at an example, like Teladoc. It’s a telemedicine platform, where people go online and visit with a doctor, get a diagnosis, and get a prescription. The invention of it was created at Roche Diagnostics, back in 2004, and I was actually part of an innovation team at Roche that created the initial platform. We didn’t call it Teladoc back then, but it’s gone through multiple hands of ownership, multiple transformations to its look and feel, and whatever else. But what people see today on the surface, is the feature of a virtual doctors visit or consultation.

What they don’t understand is that there is a now a whole new subset of data that the medical world is starting to collect on illnesses, symptoms, or problems that patients are having that can be handled and managed without a doctor’s visit. It really does come down to the data, rather than just finding another way to provide treatment. Because at some point in time, we’re going to learn from the data that there are certain things you just can’t do with telemedicine. And there are a lot of things we didn’t think we could do. But now we realize we can, and I find it incredibly interesting to be able to analyze and understand the information in that data and then just see where the telemedicine part of this is going to be 10 years from now. The data is going to drive that.

TL: That sounds very promising for changing the way healthcare is delivered.

SF: I think 10 years from now we may find ourselves very rarely going to the doctor. With the Internet-of-Things, which is what diagnostics devices fall into now, we have the connectivity, the test results, treatment information, and thus the data for the analytics, that will drive change in how healthcare can be administered.

I think this is where general practitioner care is headed. Solutions like Teladoc, and a key part of what we are building on Xmed, will serve as a platform for getting physician care when you feel you need it for a fairly routine illness or symptoms. The platform has its own pool of physicians and patients can schedule a visit with a licensed physician or possibly get an immediate consult if a physician is “online” and accepting “walk-ins.”

TL: You’re talking about a shift in how people gain access to healthcare. Xmed seems to be looking at the next generation of patients.

SF: What I feel is going to make Xmed different, from a health and wellness app perspective, is that it’s based on the concept of a community, that’s socially interactive, sharing and engaging in many aspects of our daily health and wellness needs.

It’s more than an application where you go to find your physician or get a diagnosis and a treatment. It’s also where you can go to find out whatever you need or want to know. If you’re into fitness, it can be your fitness platform. We’re engaging with experts, motivators and influencers, who will be members on our app, who provide fitness activities or training classes or whatever it may be.

If you think about the industry today, all these things are separate. If you wanted workout videos, you get a fitness app where you get workout videos. And you figure out what you want to do: Am I doing flexibility? Am I working on strength training? Do I want a cardio session?

I’ve tried one of these, and the app assigned a coach to me. I didn’t choose the coach. And when I had questions about what I can do, if I find my performance has plateaued, that’s the only avenue of information that was provided. I see this as a problem and the solution is the social community focused on many aspects of health and wellness including general care, physical health, nutrition, mental health, the list goes on.

TL: That other app sounded reminiscent of the old ways of healthcare, when you were assigned a doctor.

SF: Exactly, and that’s what Xmed does differently, we want to allow the community to be part of that conversation. Yes, you can see your doctor, or another doctor or expert on the platform. But that doesn’t have to be your only avenue to finding the information or solutions you need. Why not provide a platform that enables a member to engage the entire community? Let the community have a voice, and share their experiences: Hey, this works for me, or This didn’t work for me, this might work for you. Whatever it may be.

The demographic we’re targeting—people who are younger now, have a comfort level with technology and social media, and are going to be needing increased healthcare as they get older—they tell us that they’re looking for that engaged community. It makes them want to keep coming back to the platform to get the information that they’re looking for, and have that interaction with other people who may be experiencing the same things or have other insights.

Part of our strategy is ensuring recurring use of the Xmed platform. If we were just providing a Teleconsult app, we don’t drive recurring use. We will provide features, tools, and information that will make it an everyday app for our users. We will employ gamification concepts that make it rewarding in many ways. These tools and rewards systems will encourage greater engagement in the app and drive the creation of new data that will hopefully enable the new advancements in healthcare.

At the end of the day, Xmed can make healthcare far more effective than it is today, even if it doesn’t necessarily deliver any major medical advances, such as a cure for cancer. We can definitely enable dramatically improved health and wellness to the lives of many people and because of that I’m very excited to be a part of it.

Learn more about Xmed.

Perpetual Sports Network Places the Collegiate Athlete at the Center of the Ecosystem

As part of Fresnel’s initiative to leverage its current IP and human capital across developing markets to create additional value, the Perpetual Sports Network recently joined the Fresnel Growth Capital portfolio of companies. Founded by professional basketball player and coach Reggie Jordan and sports-industry veteran David Glynn, Perpetual is focused on Name, Image, and Likeness opportunities.

Torus and Cipherium’s technology team and Blue Creative Group’s veteran content developers have combined a Blockchain Smart Contract Platform, a full-stack Content Hub, and a Subscription App. Bringing together these portfolio assets as a singular solution creates value and revenue by protecting all stakeholders—athletes, colleges and universities, partners, and sponsors—helping young people play an active role in building their future, and providing turnkey opportunities to monetize NIL.

At the heart of the content hub is the mobile content app developed with leading sports technology company Venuetize. This content hub will feature unique, custom-produced content focusing on the athlete as the brand. The hub is also connected to Perpetual Sports Network’s proprietary blockchain smart contract platform, a key component to protecting the athlete, providing secure levels of transparency, and additional elements of compliance tracking for colleges and universities. These three pieces come together as a single, integrated solution to protect the athlete, build their future, and provide athletes with new NIL opportunities.

On the first day that an athlete signs with Perpetual, the Content Studio will kick off a content plan that includes robust video storytelling produced by Blue’s team of action sports and documentary experts, long-form journalism stories that are unique to each athlete, and social-media content that will share the collegiate experience of each athlete with an audience. Employing Venuetize’s extensive experience in developing mobile platforms for specific teams, leagues, and venues, the Perpetual Sports Network app is designed to host the unique content within a subscriber channel. Subscription revenue then flows to the athlete via the company’s digital ledger platform. The guidelines of the digital ledger are pre-loaded to parallel any legal, college, or university regulatory parameters as well in an effort to reduce any additional hindrance on athletic departments.

This mobile experience is designed to allow for the organic integration of paid ads and sponsored content, delivering yet another channel to generate revenue for the athlete or collegiate institution and the company itself. Additional media revenue channels include events, email campaigns, third-party audience purchasing plans, and a consumer-facing, fan-centric website. Creating a media enterprise around the athlete versus creating a platform to aggregate the athlete-specific content allows Perpetual Sports Network to build lasting value for an athlete and the company.

“Coming together with a singular solution bridging technology and unique studio-level content will create value by protecting the athlete, building their future, and providing turnkey opportunities to monetize their NIL within the rules engine of the final legislation,” said David Glynn, Perpetual Sports Network president.” At this writing, athlete recruitment is underway, the app prototype is complete, and is scheduled to go live February 4, 2021. For more information, visit Perpetual Sports Network.

Blue Creative Group Helps Renewable Fuel Client Gevo, Inc. Pivot the Message in a Changing Energy Landscape

Blue Creative Group has been working with Gevo, Inc., a publicly traded innovator that makes advanced renewable fuels, to develop its message since mid-2019, when the company was targeting a market of airlines setting passenger records with its sustainable aviation fuel. Fast-forward to 2020, when the pandemic has caused governments to discourage travel and people are self-isolating. Blue dialed in the content, producing videos, whitepapers, and blogs to highlight Gevo’s efforts to develop even cleaner net-zero carbon fuels for all transportation needs, as well as showcasing the agricultural innovations the company encourages that have resulted in higher yields per acre of field corn. “The message from Gevo has been consistent since we first met with them,” says Jason Wood, content director for Blue Creative Group. “This company has a great story of innovation to tell, and the key economic drivers make more sense than ever now that disruption is the rule, rather than the exception.” Learn more at and

The Fresnel Companies Partners Share Their Philosophy in a New Video Series

The partners of the Fresnel Companies have an innovative take on the way they invest in businesses, and in this video they discuss how Enterprise Optimization works. This is the first video in an ongoing series that will let Andrew, Tom, and Murph share their unique insights about helping entrepreneurs and forging growth.

Kelly Blake Joins Blue Creative Group

Executive Vice President Kelly Blake of Blue Creative Group

Blue Creative Group is excited to add Executive Vice President Kelly Blake to its team. With more than 20 years of experience, Blake made her name time and again by listening to clients and tailoring campaigns and services to meet their specific goals. She creates traditional media strategies, including marketing, events, retailer and consumer promotions, chiefly in the sports, outdoors, and health and wellness industries. In her spare time, Blake launched Plastic Impact Promise, which was built on the pledge of ending the use of single-use plastic cups and bottles at outdoor-industry events. “Kelly gets it done—that’s why she’s here,” says George Sass, managing director of Blue Creative Group. “Whether it’s identifying a problem like an enlightened crowd generating plastic waste or winnowing down an intricate strategy into action steps for a team to tackle, she gets results with a focus on high quality and meeting deadlines.”

Prior to Blue, Kelly was a Vice President at Catapult Creative Labs, the marketing agency for Active Interest Media, and also served as an Executive Director at Golin, a global IPG communications agency, taking the lead on the Clif Bar & Company and Mount Gay client work for the consumer practice in the San Francisco office. “I’m excited to join Blue Creative Group,” Blake says. “This is an opportunity to work with a terrific team. We have clients across a wide spectrum of industries and we’re able to deliver a range of top-quality services that target their needs with an approach that goes beyond what many agencies do. That’s fulfilling and fun at the same time.” Blake will work out of her office in the Bay Area, where she lives with her family and a pair of cats, and enjoys an active lifestyle.

Partner Andrew Murphy Considers the Fresnel Partnership a Force Multiplier of its Parts

Partner Andrew Murphy

Partner Andrew Murphy considers the Fresnel partnership a force multiplier of its parts, with the expertise of the partners backstopped by a deep bench of all stars. And watch what happens when it works.

The Fresnel Companies portfolio may seem like a diverse set of businesses brought together with little in common. But if one were to look more deeply, the commonalities emerge, and the shared DNA of customer-facing technologies becomes apparent. But it doesn’t just happen: There’s a lot of thought and planning that set these companies on the path for stratospheric growth, and Fresnel partner Andrew Murphy has been preparing for that throughout his life.

What kind of background do you bring to The Fresnel Companies?

I lived in Great Bend, Kansas, for the majority of my life. Outside of college and graduate school, I had permanent residence there. I grew up in a family-owned commercial cattle-feeding operation that my father had founded in 1959, and they also farmed quite a bit over the years. We managed to do really well, and I always wanted to follow in his footsteps. I managed to do that with only one small hiatus: When I got out of graduate school, I went to work with Koch Industries in Wichita as an analyst at their market desk for part of my tenure. The last 25 percent of my two-year stint there was spent as an assistant manager at one of their commercial cattle-feeding operations, when they were still in the cattle-feeding business.

The opportunity to come back to Great Bend arrived in 1997 and I took over as manager of our family facility there and started looking for other opportunities to expand our scope and reach, chiefly because consolidation was and is the trend in the livestock business. We started making acquisitions with a partner feedyard of ours and then made four such acquisitions. At that point we determined that we needed to merge all of these businesses under one umbrella because we discovered inefficiencies in the system, meaning that the entities that shared common ownership didn’t necessarily share the common goal. Communication had become an issue. So we thought the most efficient way was to take it all and merge it into a company we founded in 2006 called Innovative Livestock Services (ILS), which is still in operation. We grew that company and merged many different things into it, so it was a consolidation of, at the time, five feedyards and, with a large land acquisition, we merged both companies’ farming operations into one company. There were several periphery companies—anything from fuel distribution to environmental services for the feedyards to pellet mills—and brought it all under one big management structure and streamlined the system. We built it into one of the most integrated and successful risk-management systems that exists in the industry and still is the best in the business as far as I’m concerned. Even though I’m no longer there I’m proud of what we built. We grew it to a certain extent and there was a timing opportunity that gave us—there were four of us who owned around 40 percent of that company—a liquidation event that allowed me to be creative and branch out and do other things in ag tech and some other ventures, and tech in general for that matter.

Is that when you learned about The Fresnel Companies?

My history with Fresnel actually goes all the way back to about 1972 or ’73. The reason I say that is because Tom Thies and I grew up together. His family was in the meatpacking business and my family was in the cattle-feeding business. He’s the youngest son of his family and I’m the youngest son of my family. In Great Bend everything is just down the street, but we lived literally about a block and a quarter from each other growing up. Our parents knew each other well and got us together quite a bit, and then we learned how to ride bikes and we didn’t need our parents anymore. So my journey with Tom started a long time ago.

After I had left ILS, my family relocated to a vacation home we had in Telluride, Colorado. From there, I started working on different ventures, re-investing in different things, diversifying what I was investing in, looking at different opportunities, and helping out with companies. What I’ve discovered is that I’m a really crummy passive investor—I prefer to be very involved or as involved as they’ll allow, and sometimes a little more involved than they’ll allow. I work with the Telluride Venture Accelerator, where they bring in groups and have a pitch day, and we work with startups and companies at various stages of their development.

My actual journey with Fresnel began in 2016, when Tom and I were both going to be in Kansas visiting parents. He was closer to Kansas City and I was closer to the middle of the state and he said, “Can you meet me in Abilene?” So we met up, and we sat and drank beer in a little pub in Abilene, boyhood home of Dwight D. Eisenhower, just as a frame of reference, and we got to talking about all the things we were involved in, going beyond the surface level of a phone call. Tom was talking about all the companies under the Fresnel umbrella and all the different opportunities they were looking at as well.

I looked at him and said, “How much more powerful could you be if you just built the structure above it and ran these companies effectively?” The idea is you have people who would be directly responsible for each individual company but take off the burden—and this is very similar to what we did at ILS—of the financing, the risk management, the fundraising efforts, the management efforts, and business development. Let the managers manage and get the most out of the companies themselves, while deflecting a lot of the noise that comes in while you’re trying to run a company like Tring, for example, and looking at different opportunities: which things fit and which things don’t. Create your goals and then let the senior team go out and bring you the tools that you need and focus those things down to where they belong. That was a very successful structure and I see very similar synergies within the five companies under the Fresnel umbrella as well.

I had seen what we talked about work firsthand at ILS. We let the managers manage. We saw the success of individual feedyards, or individual companies in this case, because they really ran as independent entities under one umbrella. Margins increased, performance was better, we didn’t have to worry about where more cattle were coming from. The ladies and gentlemen running those companies were able to focus on what was important and what made that company, that individual company, be successful, more so than having to worry about other things, such as, “We have to go through a financing component for this” or “We have to go out and be experts in the market and try to put risk management positions on,” and so on.

Was it something in the water in Great Bend?

There was a lot of excitement after that conversation, and then shortly thereafter I was introduced to Mr. Casson and we were a brotherhood. It’s interesting. Tom is the oldest of us and Andrew is the youngest our particular group of people and Tom’s only four months older than Mr. Casson. I don’t know if you could have designed it any better than that.

And likewise the Fresnel portfolio companies, there are five currently—you always have to throw that out there when you have Andrew Casson in a leadership position—you never know what that guy’s going to come up with, so you have to be prepared. There’s a unique value proposition in not only the diversification of these companies, even though they’re semi-interrelated, it’s harder to get from a Cipherium to a Clearly Ice & Water than it is to get from a Cipherium to an Emergent International Payment Systems. But all of them serve their direct purpose of being consumer front-loaded. They’re direct-to-consumer-type companies that enhance and enrich, and they all have this flavor to them—they’re all right there in front of everybody.

So it’s by design that each company makes the most of that high-profile position with consumers?

The best value proposition that exists is how active everybody actually is in the company, Tom and Patti and Andrew. But also how many people are willing to step in and be Experts-in-Residence, looking at those great opportunities. We have the best and the brightest basically in the on-deck circle. They could be called up to the plate at any minute. The broadening of the knowledge base is one of the most important things. These companies are not massive, so the talent pool has to be in a way, I don’t want to say artificial, but everyone is kind of a pseudo-full-time employee. As these companies grow, the components are there to seamlessly expand, which is great. And that really creates an opportunity for different biz-dev things, calling in different people for different meetings. Take Frank Murphy for example: He’s a prime-time player. And you look at the Experts-in- Residence right on down the line: We’re not talking about A players, we’re talking about All Stars, potential Hall-of-Famers. It’s amazing how it’s all come together over the last couple of years. I’m continuing to broaden horizons based on relationships that will ultimately come into play working on different projects and looking at where this enterprise can really go in the short, intermediate, and long term. I think everybody has to think like that.

One of the other things that’s unique about the Fresnel mentality, especially as you’re talking to partners and potential investors, is that one of the questions always is, “What’s your exit?” My experience in that realm is that if you’re thinking about an exit, you’ll never build anything. But everyone has to be honest with themselves. It’s always in play, and let’s be clear, even with entrepreneurs, everybody has their price, and everything is for sale, right? The exit strategy develops over time. My answer, and Tom asked me about this too, my answer always is, it depends. And it’s true, it depends on the circumstances, it depends on the timing, it depends on the buyer, or the seller, it depends on lots of things.

There are so many moving parts involved in this thing. And again, our primary focus is to build a successful company, one that outlasts the founders. It has to outlast all of us. And if you don’t build a successful company, you’re not going to have to worry about exit, except the only bad exit you can have, which is going under. And I think everybody realizes that.

But don’t entrepreneurs always look to sell?

I’ve been in the business world, but I have never really considered myself an entrepreneur although that’s what other people have labeled me. I look at people like Andrew Casson and how he developed the company that he built in the telecom world and did it in a completely different fashion to what was being done at that time, that’s entrepreneurial. Tom, getting out of college as a wet-behind-the-ears 23-year-old kid and being thrown into a business that hadn’t been created yet. Water kiosks were a thing, and water filtration was a thing, but creating a business out of it? I remember talking to him right after he had moved down to Arizona. I said, “Tom you can get water out of the tap. I think you’re nuts.” But he and his dad saw something that nobody else was seeing, and it obviously turned out to be extraordinarily successful.

I consider myself more of an operations guy, more of a strategist, than an entrepreneur. I’ve learned a lot in my career and I continue to learn, and I don’t ever want to stop doing that because that means something bad has happened. My goal is to be better every single day, even if it’s percentage points, even low percentage points.

I’ve learned that the way you structure a company, you build it like it’s been running for ten years and that philosophy flows equally throughout all of the Fresnel Companies. And that’s what drew me into the mentorships with groups like Venture Accelerator and other groups that I’ve consulted with over the years. It’s that you can make a product and start with a great idea or a solution to a problem. They really both have to be there, you have to be solving a problem. There are lots of mistakes you can make along the way. If you have your eyes on the prize and it’s like ten years out and you’ve got a staff of a hundred or 200 or whatever you’re going to have at your maximum size, you can avoid 75 percent of mistakes that you might make.

So building the structure of a company allows it to reach that critical mass sooner?

All this is circling back to the point: This group of people, Tom Patti, Andrew and I, we’re pretty damn battle-tested, and also backed up by the Experts-in-Residence. Who in this group is not going to, first, see a mistake or bad decision coming, second, stop it from happening, and, third, eliminate that mistake from being part of the process? I think that like-mindedness is equally enhanced by the fact that all of us—Tom, Patti, Andrew, and me—we all may get to the same point in a discussion, but we don’t all get to the same point the same way, and that’s the value of keeping your eye on the prize. People come to understand it, how we each get there is one of those things. There are differences in personality, and how I approach things may not be successful in certain settings in how I would convey them, but in other settings they are. And it’s the same with all of us. How we get to the end is different, but we all have the same end.

And the Experts-in-Residence think the same way, so there’s a certain amount of validation. We review decisions: This is our go-to-market, or this is our technology play, or this is what we see in the Emergent sector, and we come up with it and we get validation and/or enhancement of what we’ve just got done working on, which is really what makes it that much better.

How is that different from what an advisory board does?

That word Advisory Board is a term that is way overused. I’ve sat on “advisory boards” and all they really turn into a reason to have a boondoggle once or twice a year. That’s all they do because the advisory board is rarely informed about what’s going on day to day in most cases. In my opinion, they’re useless.

We spent a lot of time discussing this group of men and women that we’ve got, and what to really call them: Experts-in-Residence. And Lisa Meade, she liked what she saw and jumped in, not even waiting for the invitation. We hope there’s a waiting list to be an Expert-in-Residence. We hope that’s what we’re really developing: People throwing their talent at us on purpose. And what a terrible problem to have, that we have more talent to draw on. That’s really the essence, because we draw on the talent, rather than holding meetings to get a rubber-stamp approval.

These five companies are in position that any or all of them can go stratospheric at any time. The first one is always hardest. We’re seeing massive amounts of traction inside Emergent right now, and this is what we said it was going to be people. And that’s the easiest way to say it. This is happening just the way we said it was going to happen.

And that’s really what’s going on with the portfolio companies, and players to be named later. We’re getting these companies to where they really could be, within their own markets. And that’s a really cool thing to witness.