Shawn Parker and Brendan Ford have been friends since long before starting Fuel. We sat down for an interview with the founders to learn more about their now 30-year partnership and the journey to starting Fuel.
How did you meet?
Parker: In the summer of 1988, we met at freshman orientation in the cafeteria. Ford informed me he had already marked his territory in terms of crushes he had. We were already talking about territories at a young age.
What made you want to venture into business together?
Ford: We knew we could go do it better together. We knew from the success we had had that we could improve things and do them the right way. We took our business experience and went to do it ourselves and have a better culture.
Was it a challenge to decide to leave your stable jobs and start Fuel? Did one of you require more convincing by the other?
Ford: I left my job first, and it wasn’t a challenge for me. I knew I was going to do something in ENT and tinnitus by helping with telehealth. I wasn’t in a time crunch.
Parker: For me, I reflected about my current employer and realized I was in a toxic environment, and the excitement of a new opportunity was inspiring. We both knew in different ways we wanted to do something different.
After I left, I reached out to Ford. After a week of planning, we went to NJ to cut a deal with Oticon. It was hectic having no income and living off savings and credit cards. We were on our own for initial costs of traveling to grow our business, and it was a struggle for a while.
Ford: We did our own wiring and painted our first office. We bought desks at salvage stores and were extremely frugal. After six months, we gained financial momentum. In March 2010, we signed our first member, Mt. Hood ENT. Our creative director, Jeff Green, is married to the audiologist there.
What is one situation that you initially disagreed on while starting your business and how did navigate it to find a common ground?
Parker: I hated the second building’s pistachio colored paint. It was formerly a call center. But it made sense at the time, budget-wise and for growth goals. We fight because we’re the yin and the yang, and we know how to get a reaction from each other. I make quick decisions while Ford likes to think about it. But we’re family at the end of the day and always find a place of agreement.
What was your initial vision of Fuel? Did you foresee it getting to where it is today?
Ford: My initial vision of Fuel was I wanted to do all things business for ENTs. I didn’t know a lot about the ancillaries and more involved aspects like allergy, cochlear implants and balloon sinuplasty, so we had to learn more about ENT specialties in order to offer the right services.
We took a focused approach with medical practices to learn more about those specialties. In order to provide customized resources, we needed to go out and learn their needs, which helped us evolve into the one-stop resource. We needed to learn how things are done in the clinics as well as network with best industry leaders.
We made duplicable processes around sleep, allergy, etc., after seeing who did it best. We broke it down into a step-by-step process and then enriched it with marketing.
In what ways do you work best together?
Parker: Ford is very analytical and likes to think through things. I like to move quick so it’s become a good balance. Ford looks at the details – he’s cautious and critical and critiques everything and thinks about what could go wrong. I’m more opportunity-seeking and growth-oriented. If we were both one way it wouldn’t be good, so the balance helps us analyze things properly.
Do you share the same vision for Fuel’s future?
Parker: Yes, to keep growing and build something stable and successful. We want a good, solid organization where people want to be. We want to keep doing the right thing while maintaining a good company culture.
Anything else you’d both like to share with this audience that’s not included in the audience?
Ford: One big key to our success was being able to identify talented, like-minded professionals. Without them, we wouldn’t be able to get to where we are. We identified the personality traits and skills of the type of person we wanted to work with. We took the time to assess the elements we wanted to have in the Fuel family. We spent a lot of time early on deciding what kind of people we wanted to work with, and that time has paid off.
To learn more about the history of Fuel and the services we offer, contact your regional manager.