In Episode #33 of One More Question Ross is joined by Carey Smith, founder and ex-Chief Big Ass of Big Ass Fans and Founding Contrarian of Unorthodox Ventures.
A career entrepreneur, Carey Smith founded Big Ass Fans in 1999 and served as its CEO, or Chief Big Ass for 18 years. His contrarian business practices and relentless pursuit of new markets and high-quality products led to sustained, rapid growth. After selling Big Ass Fans for $500 million, Carey founded Unorthodox Ventures to provide everything investment firms lacked.
Ross and Carey discuss how he built the Big Ass Fans brand, the advantage of building for your customers, and the areas where conventional VC firms fall short.
Carey’s relentless pursuit of quality, doing simple things right, and focussing on your customers is an insider’s perspective in building a company that can achieve sustainable growth.
Highlights from the conversation:
You’re lucky if you find a name or concept that upsets a certain number of people
We did a lot of work to ensure that our customers thought that we hung the moon. And the advantage of that [was] our fans sold for twice what anybody else’s did
We talked to every single customer that we had — 10s of thousands of people over a period of years — to see how we could make the experience better
The product is almost secondary to the experience. The product is your ticket to entry. The experience of receiving the product, buying the product is what people ultimately take away — that’s where your brand comes to life.
Prospective customers would call us, and we would answer HVLS fan company and there would be a pause…they’d say, are you those guys that make those big ass fans?
The majority of what we got in payment was for the brand, because, I mean — we made money, but honestly, we did not make that much money.
More about Carey
A career entrepreneur, Carey Smith founded Big Ass Fans in 1999 and served as its CEO, or Chief Big Ass as he preferred, for 18 years. While other companies made and lost their fortunes, Carey’s contrarian business practices and relentless pursuit of new markets and high-quality products led to sustained, rapid growth. By 2017, Carey had grown the fan and light manufacturer to nearly $300 million in annual revenue and more than a thousand employees. And he’d done it without any outside investors. Ready for a new challenge, he sold Big Ass Fans for $500 million. The company’s stock appreciation rights program paid out $50 million to more than 100 loyal employees who shared Carey’s work ethic with 15 becoming overnight millionaires. Following the sale, Carey founded Unorthodox Ventures, his Austin-based twist on the business incubator that seeks to provide everything investment firms lacked when they approached him near daily at Big Ass Fans. Carey’s team consists of experts who help founders become serial entrepreneurs by providing support for everything from engineering and marketing to customer service and logistics.