The Principles of Successful Modern Business

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The Principles of Successful Modern Business

The Principles of Successful Modern Business

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Starting the conversation:

Forget viral. Forget overnight success. Forget shortcuts. Are you willing to live in a tent to chase your dreams? Robert Herr, CEO at The Empower Project shares what he’s learned about passion, determination, and the hidden costs of building a business.

The percentage of startups that fail is staggering. A necessary trait to succeed is the willingness to own your weaknesses and embrace them as you vision, build a team, and do the right work. To do this well, curiosity and clear communication are also necessary. Even when you feel like you are repeating yourself, it is important to find the mantra for your vision — so that others will understand and join you.

In this episode, you will hear details about what is really in your control, how life is a pitch, and that even when surrounded by ambiguity you must take the next step. Jess Dewell talks candidly with Robert Herr, CEO at The Empower Project about doing what it takes to achieve your dreams.

Host: Jess Dewell

Guest: Robert Herr

What You Will Hear:

2:15 What it really means to Robbie Herr to be a 15-year entrepreneur.

  • Following curiosity more than what others say to do.
  • Found his own way — first company launched in college, using Friday mornings!
  • Joined and grew a club for mentoring and micro-investing in startups.

6:25 Not an overnight success; four years later it felt ready to really start.

  • The design, manufacturing, supply chain, and first customers consumed all time.
  • And then … the sales and marketing could begin.
  • Even in hard times he kept taking the next step: “I don’t have quit in me.”

11:00 Doing whatever it takes — including living in a tent.

  • Commitment to do the work.
  • Striving toward the lifestyle … and the network.
  • Mental Health Impacts are REAL. Emotional, mental, physical, as well as relationship with others.
  • Perspective is the biggest skill learned.
  • Communication matters more than he ever imagined.
  • Three skills necessary to follow your curiosity and keep making progress.

21:20 Discern what is in your control — quickly.

  • And then prioritize efforts and resources.
  • Stick to the principles for doing the necessary work, strive toward also having the team following them.
  • Be consistent and stick to platforms, otherwise you will end up stuck and working hard.

31:00 The impact of The Empower Project is global.

  • There are secret costs of building a business from startup.
  • What it really takes to live the life you want.
  • Feelings that precipitated “it’s time to exit.”
  • Lessons of failed acquisitions: You can’t go all in on one thing at the expense of business operations.

45:00 I learned my purpose is to make power portable.

  • Purpose: social connection and improvement.
  • Design: viable business and the best product in its class.
  • Sustainable: reducing the physical waste of the product in hand.

52:05 It is BOLD to do whatever it takes to reach your biggest goals.


Robert Herr 00:00
So I pitched a tent in my co-founders backyard and lived in it for six months, while I developed this company, it was actually one of my favorite experiences. But that’s the level of commitment that, that I had. And that is common amongst founders.

You are listening to the Bold Business Podcast, where you will hear first-hand experiences about what it really takes to ensure market relevance and your company’s future.

Jess Dewell 00:28
We must evolve as people and as leaders to keep going and make the achievements that we want to make. It is sometimes grinding, it is sometimes overwhelming. And regardless, we dig down and we do whatever it takes. And let me just tell you, in that doing whatever it takes, we’re building perspective, which is the one thing that cannot be replaced by technology. And I’m telling you, this is going to be a conversation that you want to listen to, because not only are we talking about purpose, how do we get through an evolution of a business to the point where it takes many years to actually understand what we want our purpose to be. We’re also going to be talking about what does it really mean to do whatever it takes. And Robbie tells us that Robert, her is the founder of the Empower project. I was excited to have him on not only as a founder, not only as a creator, but also as somebody who believes in the greater good. His startup journey, which he does share with us a lot about. He started at 20, while in college in Santa Barbara. And now, over 13 years later, he is talking about the journey he had, where he is at and what he is committed to continue to do. doubling down sticking with it never giving up has allowed him to understand that design philosophy is important that sustainability is important, especially when we’re talking about mobile power. Because that’s really what the Empower project is, it’s about portable power, and then to be best in class, and to make a difference, where possible, not only for us in our everyday lives, but when we need it most. I want to start with how come you’re a 15-year entrepreneur?

Robert Herr 02:16
I have always been a person that has followed my curiosity more than listen to what I should be doing. So rebellious by nature, perhaps. And that certainly led me to self-employment, right? I’ve always been directed by my curiosity. And so I was always looking for ways to make a living but not have to work on someone else’s schedule, then that was the original as a teenager, like how do I make a profit, make a living and do the things I’d like to do and acquire the things I’d like to acquire live that lifestyle without having to clock in and clock out to someone else’s job and someone else’s thing I just thought very clearly someone’s business is their vision is their life, and you can work for them or you can try to create your own. And I knew that innately. So yeah. And there wasn’t a lot of education around entrepreneurship in southwest rural Colorado, in the 90s and early 2000s. I’d had to learn Actually, no, yeah, yeah. Very small pockets of Silicon Valley and Xerox PARC and stuff. But there was like, yeah, it was it, especially where I was. Everything’s 10 years behind where we’re out on the coast. I was always just like, how do I find my own way. And so it’s just been a natural characteristic of myself. And I know, they’re all different types of entrepreneurs. But I’m one of those unfortunates that was born this way. Or fortunate, depending on how you like.

Jess Dewell 03:44
To the choir friend, we’re not even to the choir, we’re in the same choir. That’s what that [yeah], give me an experience. When you were a teenager. And you were realizing this was the first adventure out that you were like, I want to acquire funds so I can do what I want. What did that first role job money acquisition look like?

Robert Herr 04:04
My first real official formal business was when I was 20-years-old. Yeah, that started by when I was at Santa Barbara City College. And I was looking for kind of a way to start a business and looking for a concept and whatnot. And luckily, there was this little entrepreneurship club at the Santa Barbara City College and there was six people in it. And it was a Friday morning. So Friday mornings in college are like, nobody’s gonna go no good. flowy except for six people that were trying to get something on their resume to transfer to university, they didn’t really actually care about entrepreneurship. I went and I was like, I want to learn how to start a business here. Like how do I incorporate a company? How do I do raise money or whatever right now within a product idea. And so there was a little club and the director of the club at the time was like, I’m gonna get a seasoned entrepreneur to come in here and mentor and invest micro investment $500 into a team. And I was like, Okay, great. I’ll go prove people in the next semester I was the president of the entrepreneurship club that was only person in it. And six others had moved on to university. I went recruited people. And the next year we had 35 People in the next semester 35 people in the club, and the seasoned entrepreneur that the director brought in. Melissa Marino’s is the director of the Entrepreneurship Club at the time. She’s fantastic. And as she brought in this gentleman who started a bunch of businesses, and he started teaching us and putting $500 in the teams, that’s where the first company I started was born. And that was fuel box. And wasn’t even the first concept that I was working on with that in that little club. But it came about and realized there was a pain point of losing our phone chargers, and they were 30 bucks, and there’s different types. And so we were the college students, like how can we fix this. And that was where we came up with the concept for kind of an updated electrical outlet that had the cables built in. And then it evolved into a two-part system that had the ability to bring the outlet with you. So you could just have a look. That was a we were very early in the battery pack, mobile battery pack powerbank kind of market, then 2012. So amazing. Yeah. So that was writing to Jay, doesn’t it? Oh, yeah, I’ve been it’s a theme of my career, for sure is a global power and empowerment. Yeah. Yeah.

Jess Dewell 06:17
Fast forward to today, the theme of your career. What are you doing at the empowerment project?

Robert Herr 06:24
So the Empower Project is a culmination of all the difference experiences I’ve had over the last almost 15 years in business and in inventing products and producing products. So yeah, like I mentioned, that was my first product company, if your box was started at 20, at school, and we, we really learned the hard way took us about four years to figure out how to design and manufacture and fundraise and go to market with a product like this, that being like my MBA program that essentially, is exactly what that is. Yeah, it was a really character-building experience as the nice way of saying it. And yeah.

Jess Dewell 07:03
For those of you who have not been there, you will not understand that, just know it’s insane.

Robert Herr 07:08
If you want me to tell some more stories within that time period.

Jess Dewell 07:12
At least one. Just give the people who have no concept of what it is for creating, designing and producing a product what that actually, a why for years, that’s actually fast, I think.

Robert Herr 07:25
Yeah, that was when we really finally started shipping. There wasn’t even that was when we started learning about sales and marketing, distribution, and stuff like that. So anyways, the Yeah, the first four years, which of course, everybody thinks they’re gonna make it big in the first year, right. And then once you don’t people know, majority of the field will drop out. But I don’t have quit and me and that’s another aspect of being born this way is you figure it out. And so you evolve until it works. And that’s the story of my career really, is evolve until it works. And that’s the story of a lot of successful entrepreneurs is you have to just evolve, you don’t quit. So anyhow, the first four years, like, here’s an example of the level of commitment you have to have in order to see something through. Like we were able to raise about $50,000 out of school. So we did this on a project within school with no budget with a $500 budget. And then we’re like, what are we going to do go on to other university or this I burned my boats. I mean, this is my first venture, I’m going for it. And we’re able to raise about $50,000 from kind of family friends, right, this small egg, my brother in law was the first 5000 bucks and I learned how to attract money. And I think I talked a lot about fundraising. But the best fundraising efforts are when you get people to come to you versus you going to to people for money. And the way to do that. There’s this very, there’s various ways but generally you ask for advice, and not for money. You ask for mentorship and support and then you get to a place for like, wow, this is actually a pretty compelling business case. A I invest or I have a friend that may want to invest. That’s when that’s how you raise money. Yeah. So during that time, you come out of school, I’m 20 years old, I don’t and out of a two year college right and I’m Yeah, we got a little place in one of the first co working spaces here in Santa Barbara, we got a little a desk there. So we found a home my partner I found a home with a for our business, it was like, I think 500 bucks a month. So it’s really affordable. And it was like we basically lived in the space and I was working at a tennis club here in Santa Barbara that gave me access to nice facilities and great people. And I played some professional tennis as a teenager so I have that skill set. And it’s a good networking skill set. So I leveraged that you got to find your skill sets as fast as possible and leverage them to network it’s definitely a big piece of advice but, but it was a tennis lessons and that small paycheck that kept me alive but it was still not in I could pay my rent was still not I couldn’t dedicate enough hours to fuel box that I wanted. So I so I pitched a tent in my co-founders backyard up on the mesa here in Santa Barbara and lived in it for six months. Wow. I developed this company, and I had no rent I had my closet was in the trunk of my car. And I use the tennis center as my shower and my bathroom. And it was actually amazing. Like it was one of my favorite, some of my favorite experiences. But that’s the level of commitment that that I had. And that is common amongst founders I’m going all in. But we were able to get a couple $100,000 in investments, and we were able to get the next levels of prototyping and production. And that that was just in the first year. So it still took two or more two or more years to get to market to actually start generating revenue for the business. So I think at that point, we’d maybe raise half a million over those two or three years to get to that stage. So just incremental raises seed rounds, to get to that space. And that’s where you either become a career-entrepreneur or you never be an entrepreneur, and realize that’s enough for me.

Jess Dewell 10:55
Whatever it takes, is going to be different for everybody. But whatever it takes sounds like it gave you time. What else did it give you?

Robert Herr 11:05
The mental health impacts of going this route are heavier than most right, you build up, you have to have a very high pain tolerance, or build up a pain tolerance, because emotional mental maintenance, because you’re basically you’re pushing up against resistance and rejection almost every day, right? Essentially, in every way, if you’re trying to do something new, if you’re just trying to create another yogurt shop or something, you’re gonna have less resistance, it’s still hard, no matter what, you still have to get people in the door, it’s tough to figure out supply chain and do all that stuff. But it’s not like you’re trying to do a yogurt shop on the moon, that’s you tried to do that, it’s you’d have a lot more resistance. So anyway, that resistance has built up in a way that has caused crazy impacts, like very intense impacts on my own personal well being. And like my ability to maintain, like a stable home life and relationships and like impacted heavily by fully commitment fully committed to adventure, which is why it’s recommended to do this when you’re just starting off because you don’t have kids and more responsibilities that are out that are have to be taken into consideration. So that’s I could talk a lot about the downsides and the challenges, interpersonal challenges that I’ve had to deal with throughout my career by committing to this stage, but on the plus side, the network that I have within founders and investors and creators and people that build things is immense. And so lucky to know and be known by folks that do that create a lot of what our world is. And I like to be a part of that community I like because I’m a builder, the creator, I like to be a part of that. And I’ve benefited personally from a lot of those relationships, dude, by being invited and included and all these different types of lifestyle activities that go along with your friend who just IPO the company for two $3 billion. There’s, it’s great to be friends with folks like that you have a good time and you meet great people and lifestyle. Even if you don’t have if your personal income isn’t there, you can live away that your personal finances don’t necessarily reflect. And that’s that’s a huge benefit. So it’s I’ve lived a very beautiful and rich life. And my bank balance not has not necessarily reflected that life. That’s it’s amazing. And then the perspective is by far the most valuable thing that I’ve built through the challenges that I went through. So perspective I’d say is like, the experience affords you perspective. And your perspective is what is the value, like if I people can value their time at different rates, and your perspective, your knowledge is one thing but knowledge is so readily available online. And especially with AI tools now like you can get knowledge very cheap, 20 bucks a month, you’re gonna get the access to the best knowledge in any field you want. But the perspective is what you pay for the perspective is something that you can’t just get online. And that’s what I’ve been able to, to curate. And I’ve paid millions of dollars over the years to get to this perspective. And now my perspective is worth a lot. And so that’s a huge benefit. But that’s that’s the those are the pros and cons of this experience thus far.

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Jess Dewell 14:27
I know we started because you were like, I built this club at this college and here I am. And then your theme of your life came through that. And you had said somewhere in that transition about the skills. You’ve got to find your skills and you’ve got to leverage them quickly. What are the skills that maybe you didn’t know you had that were able to be articulated in that journey that you’re have that actually helped you get to this perspective today?

Robert Herr 14:56
My ability to communicate and communication I think is an under are valued or just not taught enough when it comes to entrepreneurship, communication is everything and being able to clearly communicate your vision, your intense your struggles, not communicating your struggles and your challenges and your weaknesses as something that took me a long time to figure out how to do, because the faster you can do that the faster you can identify and communicate your weak points, the faster you can fill those in with people that those are their strong points, strong suits. So that’s, but that all comes down to communication. And can I communicate that am I willing to communicate my vulnerability, another one of my sayings is, as an entrepreneur is life’s a pitch, if you’re going to be an entrepreneur, life’s a pitch, and you have to, you’re pitching everybody all the time, including yourself, and you’re always working on it, always polishing that that rugged stone into a Polish stone ideally. And so that is that is key. And that’ll help you develop your communication. So the faster you can more clearly communicate what you’re doing. And the better that communication becomes is, the faster you will become more, more successful or efficient at what you’re trying to do.

Jess Dewell 16:03
It doesn’t even matter what this is, right? It could be figuring out a marketing strategy, it could be figuring out how to network and talk to people, it could be online ads that you’re paying for Google, the more you have to have data. And the only way to get data is to do it over and over again. It falls apart when we don’t know how to ask a question when we don’t know how to listen, when we are hearing some of what’s going on around us. So we just gloss over because we have our own agenda. So the other side of communication is really that internalization, can I really hear, can I really shape?

Robert Herr 16:33
Self-awareness. And then the other aspect that you just highlighted very well is courage, you have to be brave and courageous to go out there. And to do this, you have to have the self-awareness to reflect upon how you’re putting yourself out there and how it’s being received and how you can improve it. And yeah, and then be able to communicate that even better. So yeah, the self-awareness and the bravery and the ability to face rejection is that’s the that’s the persistence or perseverance. And no matter who you are, it will affect you. No matter how thick a skin you have, it will eventually soak through there are aspects of of entrepreneurship that, that only people that have really tried to start their own businesses can understand. Because it’s just like, consistent heartbreak, consistent rejection, consistent pain, that you have to overcome and not give into yourself. Because that so that…

Jess Dewell 17:26
Oh let me tell you, when was the last time you had impostor syndrome, or doubted something that was going on?

Robert Herr 17:31

Jess Dewell 17:32
Me too? Yeah, big time. Me too, yesterday, and it never ends. Perspective does not bring is not a salve for that it’s going to be continuous.

Robert Herr 17:42
I think the best salve is this right is connecting with others that can understand and ideally provide value to the listeners or to anyone else. That’s the only kind of reprieve that I’ve really felt is like, How can I let this help other people to not have to endure this level of pain. And that’s like evolution in its living form. Like we’re, yeah, I appreciate these opportunities. And I really enjoy this kind of aspect of the work, because it’s promotional of what I do and whatnot. But more importantly, it’s an opportunity for me to hopefully provide value to someone out there that’s trying to do their own thing and be like, Okay, here’s an area I can work, I can work on self-awareness and communication and having courage. And no matter what, you’re still gonna get punched in the face every day. So you have to overcome it, and be willing to do the old Rocky, it’s not about how hard you get hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep getting up.

Jess Dewell 18:34
It really is like the Christmas story with the lunch money in the bullies every day sometimes. And that’s people are like, that’s so that’s just for movie. I’m like, I’m not sure, maybe. But there are patterns of life where that just eight is the thing. And that’s what it feels like you just go home one day, you break and it changes. But guess what happens? There’ll be another one. And there’ll be another one and you just put it on repeat. And so I appreciate your willingness to be so honest because it is one of the reasons that I actually created this podcast, Robbie was specifically because we’re not having enough of the tough conversations. And sometimes it’s easier to talk about it here between two people or three people. And then other people can learn. And then by saying it out loud, that it is cathartic in a way. Wow, look how far I’ve come. Look how far I’ve come. And so part of that, look how far I’ve come. Oh, you want to say something about that?

Robert Herr 19:24
There are lots of people say it’s lonely that doing this thing. It’s lonely at the top, if you any founder can tell you that kind of thing. And that that it’s true. But I think more of this kind of discussion where it’s how do we be less lonely? How do we support each other? How do we be a solution rather than just highlighting the fact that it’s lonely and like still living in it so much and I think there has been progress and like the co-working kind of spaces. That’s a great way for like lonely creatives and inventors and innovators try to not be so lonely and so help each other and like these podcasts are fantastic opportunities for people to understand themselves better and to connect Dinner whatnot. So I really appreciate you, and everything you’ve done to get to this stage and for inviting me on as a guest.

Jess Dewell 20:06
By the way, everybody who’s listening, Robbie and I have a common connection we didn’t know we had until the first time that we talked and it cracks me up. So I’m just going to do a shout-out. Dan, if you were listening, Dan angle, we have you in common. And you’ve already heard about this by now. But we’ll just give you the shout-out to the point of the power of network, to the point of people who we never know we’re going to have when we put ourselves out there, when we’re willing to communicate, when we’re willing to have that self-awareness to keep going. We end up with people in common, we didn’t even know we’re in different states we’ve never met, we’ve actually both lived in Colorado just at different times. We are both founders, we’re both we both have technology connections. I’m more on the service side of things, Robbie’s more on the product side of things. But guess what, we still have commonalities that come from nowhere. So to your point, Robbie, about what we’re doing here, that I think is a good illustration in one way, actually.

Robert Herr 20:57
Yeah, and we’re all just a few degrees of separation from each other and a minor you are. So it’s lovely when you get to when you get to connect those dots and see how like, we’re all connected. And we all we all want each other to succeed.

Jess Dewell 21:10
So when you get to the Empowerment Project, and you get to the problems that you’re solving today, with all of the skills that you’re bringing to the table, how do you discern what’s in your control, and really focus in on that?

Robert Herr 21:24
I don’t know, I have a super difficult, difficult time identifying what I’m in control of and what I’m not in control of. But it’s I do struggle with the ability to prioritize efforts and prioritize resources. And then that’s a constant role within any business is like how do I, I have X amount of dollars, I have X amount of support and team, I have this structure of these many customers or whatever. And you have to decide, like, where to allocate your time and resources, and that I have found is a more challenging aspect of what I can control or what I can control. It’s actually just prioritizing.

Jess Dewell 22:03
Yeah, it’s been a tough one. So what are some ways that you help yourself?

Robert Herr 22:07
Writing out your list, having never software, there’s nothing that will be like a pen and paper because it’s activates different parts of your brain. So we also use the tools. And it’s great to have the ability to just snap a photo now, and that will transcribe it right into your notes or your platforms, your asana is or hub spots, or whatever it is that you’d like to use. We could talk about all the different software’s and tools out there. But yeah, starting with what you can control, what can’t you control, and then within the list that you can control, discussing, ideally, with your team, I find it almost it’s not a strong suit of mine, as I as you can probably hear in my voice and tell, organize and prioritize. So if you have someone who’s more left brain, which my interim CEO right now, his name’s Joe brisky. And he’s the most impressive prioritization and kind of organization mine that I know that I’ve ever worked with. And he’s so good at saying, okay, like at assigning value to each thing within our control, and then, and then prioritizing which what hitless is needs to be knocked out first, then you just set them up and knock them down. And that’s the only way to actually get through, but endless amount of tasks that you could be doing. And, and so I can’t impress upon anybody, enough that finding someone that can support you, if you’re not the love with spreadsheet, and love with the numbers and the specific like, ability to just line things up really well then find that person to compliment you. So that’s that for me, that’s my team, and I work my team to support me in those regards. And then I just have to stick to the schedule, stick to the tasks. And that’s it. That’s been the way I do it. How often do you make adjustments, I am speaking this to myself more than anyone here is stick to the principles and did not adjust your create a structure in which adjustments can be fit within. And so you don’t change your platforms, I jumped from one platform to another see this era. Now this yarn is better. This social media scheduler is better. Let’s go to this other social media is scheduler, like always trying to like jump ship to a new platform is I’ve found have been has been a downfall. For me, I lose so much productivity, and trying to be on the better or more efficient systems. But if you just stick to your systems, you get your systems and processes set up for yourself that are workable, they’re not going to be perfect, but they’re workable. You stick to those then any of the adjustments that come in are still within your system. So you have the one calendar system, you have the one task list system. And if you’re doing from paper to to your team task lists, you have Slack for your communications platform with your team. Use Slack, don’t text use Slack, don’t email, use Slack, like stick to your platforms, and don’t stray From them, and then all of the curveballs and all the wild things that come out, you will still be organized within the structure of your systems and processes. And that’s the only way to stay safe. And so don’t change your systems and processes very often, you’re gonna have to look at them, but look at them, like once a year.

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Jess Dewell 25:34
When we’re in technology, and when things are moving so fast, and when we’re working with ways to communicate and be more efficient, it is the biggest shiny object that can detract a team and slow it down and momentum. Because with that comes change management. With that comes adoption with that comes with changing habits. And to your point, those structures and play within those structures, capitalize on the habits that are already in place,

Robert Herr 26:01
When you get to a certain size of organization, those can be some of the biggest challenges actually, is your systems and processes. For those reasons, when you’re smaller, or alone or just a very small team. Like that’s incredible if you have to stay consistent. And that’s been an area I’ve struggled with more than anything is just consistency with the same platform. So I’ve been really working on just staying consistent in the structure of my systems and process that up.

Jess Dewell 26:25
And so that’s when I start looking at other ways to do things in new technologies. I’m like, Oh, I really don’t like the work I’m doing right now. I’m totally avoiding the things that actually need to be done. So I’ve turned that into all when I am doing this thing, oh, when I’m jumping out of that, you have to go back to those priorities. Because there might be something that a better question needs to be asked or in a refinement needs to be made, or something has already been done. And we’re actually redoing it. And I haven’t been able to articulate it yet, whatever it is, but that’s my clue. Tune in tune in.

Robert Herr 26:57
You and I are very similar in that way where like uprooting is a term that kind of encapsulates it where it’s, I always feel like I need to change my website, I always like my products never get enough. My it’s always there’s something better. A shiny object syndrome is like always fighting for my attention. That’s a huge part of my battle as a manager as a, as a, as an employee of my own business. And as an operator of my own life, keeping the blinders on or cutting out the uprooting and saying, I’m going to stick with this stick through this because I’m able to do that in the long haul. And like, overall macro, like, obviously, I’ve been, you know, my first business toolbox is still the parent company to the Empower project was 12 years 12 or 13 years later, so it’s able to stick with it in that regard. But like how many times I have pivoted in different spaces that I could, if I just like push through in one specific space and stick with it, it could have probably been a lot higher revenue and profitability in terms of just like the KPIs in business that we track, like, I could have been probably multiples of where I’m at right now.

Jess Dewell 28:04
And I’m gonna say sure. And think about the impact you’re making right now think about what the Empower Project is actually doing. Without all of those things. Would you be exactly where you are right now?

Robert Herr 28:14
I don’t know what our timescale is here like that right now. But I’d love to just give you an overview of like, how I came to where I’m at with…

Jess Dewell 28:22
You know what, I am excited for you to share that.

Robert Herr 28:25
Yeah, great. I’ll give you the story of my experience through my perspective of the like, the why I’ve done what I’ve done, and how I’ve come to where I’m at right now. So as I mentioned, I started fuel box with a partner at the Santa Barbara City College when I was 20 years old, and I fumbled my way into learning and experiencing how to build a business and how to develop a compelling project. And a really, it was self-motivated, like how do I make living in a way in Santa Barbara, California, and where the income required is quite high to live a comfortable lifestyle. So it’s okay, like, essentially, like, how do I make millions? That’s the thinking at 20 years old? How do I make millions and thrive here in this life in this beautiful place? I love so much. I love Santa Barbara, it’s fantastic. That was the motivation for the first seven years was right? How do I make this a business how to make this viable. And so we figured out how to sell product through direct online, we did $80,000 on a pre-order campaign. And then we went into just online sales. And it was just like we were still trickling along maybe 100,000 bucks or 200,000 bucks, like a year it was like so a couple of us just trying to survive. And we were raising money just to like augments the business and get to that next stage. And then it was like we’re fatigued or five years in, we’re not like making the income required. We’re still surviving somehow, but we’re not making we’re not scaling. It’s not getting to a place of like sustainability. So when we met a guy that was in the b2b business, so he sold into hotel groups and to doing like corporate gifting and that that whole business and so that kind It took us up to the next level. It was like, alright, and he was fantastic. And so he joined us like our head of wholesale accounts on how to sales there. And we went up to half a million and like maybe half a million to a million in sales. All right, hey, like, we’re all, we all can pay ourselves like a livable wage. And in Santa Barbara, like, we’ve made it to another level. But in at this point, I’m six years in as the CEO and and I’m like, How the hell do I exit this business? Like, how do I get to sale this is not sustainable for me. Maybe at that point, we’re making 60 grand a month, or, or 60 grand a year, five grand a month, and I was just like you like Santa Barbara is very, it’s not going to do very well. And so you can imagine like how that affects your personal life? Like how do you date like in that kind of situation, how it doesn’t go very well, which is very challenging creates a lot of mental health struggle, which affects your business more than anything. And I’m actually in the midst of writing a book right now, it’s been years in the making, but it’s the secret costs of building a company accounting for the unknown costs in starting a business because by far and none, the most expensive costs in a business is the founders mental health. And like the management team has mental health and like I’ve my own personal, like ability to show up and perform like that higher, you’re supported, and your own personal life and like yourself, you’re feeling centered, you’re really excel, you really believe in what you’re doing. You feel like you’re home life is like stable, and your financial health is stable, like those aspects can make your performance like top level at work, and but it takes away from work to have to work on that stuff. sounds counterintuitive. But you’re like, I don’t need to sleep. I don’t mean, I’ll sleep at the office, I’ll sleep in a tent and let that cofounders backyard for six months, I don’t care, I’m gonna, I’m gonna make this thing happen. And then you’re yours in that. So in this point in the story, I’m six years in, I’m now affording rents and like how they’re holding down decent relationships, but like, still not living, still not feeling like, well centered, still not like feeling good about myself in my life at this point. So it’s just like, how do I exit this business? How do I turn this company that we’ve raised? Maybe at this point, we’ve raised like 700,000 to a million dollars. And we’ve done like a million or two are in sales total. And so that’s okay, at least it’s something like we build something here. There’s value here. How can I package this? How can I package and sell this? Or what level do I need to get it to, to be able to package and sell it? So I started looking for people that do mergers and acquisitions and getting advice from them, and putting it out there to the world and being serendipitous about it, we got an opportunity to so this is the next part of the story. So we got introduced to a gentleman at Verizon federal that manages all of the federal side of Ryan’s business, which is massive, and they did disaster relief work. So operation, OCR was set up by a guy named Jeff Schweitzer, who was running. He’s a chief innovation architect at Verizon. So he was a he’s an amazing guy. He’s not doing that at Amazon. But he was, but prior to that he’s a military background. He was hired by the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon to clean up the aftermath of Katrina, when that happened in New Orleans. So he he was he’s brought in to organize mass chaos and help get people out of it. So that natural disaster kind of response was his thing. So he set up this operation virgin response for Verizon, and we were one of the small companies that were invited to to attend. It was in this military training facility in Perry, Georgia. And it was in Grant’s like a couple 100 acres of mock subway stations, mock cityscapes, total 780, sevens crashed and burned all kinds of crazy stuff. So that is where we got introduced to doing work with the government. And we, and I was like, Okay, this is b2b, to the next level. And, yeah, we designed and started making products that were like, like, this year, a solar battery pack, we call the survivor pack, that was weatherproof and resistance to harsh use cases. We ended up working with the Department of Homeland Security after that, and I started spending a lot of time in Washington DC, saying, Okay, this is a, this is an opportunity for us to work with large contract stuff. Yeah. And a company, like another company that was at that event, had this seemingly incredible technology and was interested in acquiring us. So I said, Okay, I got an acquisition opportunity. I’m going all in on this. I am so tired, just making scraps to to get by. So I’ve got the opportunity with the government, and I’m gonna leverage that fursuit with this other group to buy us. So I the next eight months, and during that time, I brought on like a seasoned CEO who was oh wait, wait To advance for what we needed, and we couldn’t afford him. And it’s always just created a really well stress position to be in as a founder of being the CEO that he’s 30 grand a month, kind of thing. And we’re like, he’s like to take to the next level, but it just didn’t have enough dynamic to, for it to work with us, we’re used to companies 50 to 100, people are ready and resources to manage not like creating the resources. So that was a that was like a tough situation internally. And then externally, I’m just battling to get the company packaged and sold, and looking for big contracts to go after with the government. So six months later, maybe six to eight months later, through a couple 100 grand and legal, and me just being relentless in pursuit to sell this business, we get a $7 million acquisition purchase agreement as a company out of Hawaii. And I was Yeah, I was relentless. I was like, I’m closing this deal more than anything in my life, I’m closing this deal. And then when I got the price to 7 million bucks, which my original investors would have got 12x on their money. And the late latest investors would have 3x their money within a year or two. And so it was like, I’m the founder, I’m doing and I’m exiting, and I would have my partner and I would have walked away with 1.5 Each, or 1.7 each. So it’s like a win such a win sign that sign the purchase agreement. We’re gonna be operating as a company, we’re doing a roll up strategy, buying a bunch of companies, and we’re gonna operate one division of it. And the contracts with the by that a $10 million operating budget, I had a 300k year salary, I had a signing bonus, I had 21 million and options and the parent company, I was like, Ah, I finally made it. It was like, I was like the was amazing. All my investors at that point, you have 30 some investors, seven employees, everybody was rich, like in my mind, that was just like, what like we did it. Success. And then the money never showed up.

Jess Dewell 36:51

Robert Herr 36:51
Oh, here it was like week later. So fun, still haven’t been transferred. Like what’s going on? Oh, see, oh, and I have that company. It’s misuse of banking, blah, blah, blah. Two weeks go by three weeks go by my attorney who’s who was like, the same attorney as Facebook, we had like spending $1,000 an hour on. It was like, huh, I don’t know what’s going on. I can’t tell you what the deal is here. So it’s like you’re on top of the world for a second. And then it just came crashing down. And everything was just like, and I was in. So for about two weeks, two to three weeks, I was in the seat that I feel like I was born to be in I was like, I the CMO of Tesla at the time was going to come join the VP of market with Tesla’s gonna come join our team. I had a CEO who was like, most brilliant man were so lucky, he was gonna be joining as a CTO, I had a letter of intent on a building, we were gonna be operating. And I had all these employment employees coming in that were like rockstars. And I was like, yes, like, I have a budget, I can do these things. This technology, this company, I thought they had was, was remarkable, in relation to power. And, and so when it all came crashing down, it was like the darkest depression I’ve ever been in. It was so difficult. And, and meanwhile, my company had like 20 grand in the bank. And like all of my employees, decimated, all of my investors who thought they just got big returns are just not happy with me. And I don’t know all the details. But it was like, for a year, I was trying to make it happen still after that. And they ended up having all their assets seized by the SEC. And it was just like, they never really could come through. So it was just like a really hard lesson for me to learn. Like, you can’t go all in on an opportunity, even if you’re totally like desperate for one because you have to still operate your business. And so I was so came back down to like, found my co-founder and I and at this point, we hated each other and we had so many resentments build up and it was like, just a brutal time. And, uh, luckily, I was able to close a deal with Homeland Security for 700,000 bucks. So I was able to close the deal. After that, I’ll happen for 700,000 bucks.

Jess Dewell 39:05
Nice. How long how long it within that year of trying to get the money that to happen?

Robert Herr 39:13
I think within six months, we were knocked out not paying ourselves or backfilling. [Yeah.] Credit cards and figuring it out.

Jess Dewell 39:19
And yeah, and that was about it. It was somewhere in that six months where the things started to show up, even though I had that place. But you were in this you were in this very dire, bad, dark place.

Robert Herr 39:30
It’s such an emotional time for me because the like the blowout between my co-founder and I was like, extremely heavy in public. And had he had to leave the company forced a shareholder agreement and a shareholder meeting and it was like, by far the worst meeting I’ve ever attended. And he ended up exiting the company. So I’m like, Alright, now I’m operating this thing. I have the contracts and relationships. And I was using my design firm at the time as the as like, a supportive system like they had the ability to support supply chains. I don’t know really partnered up a bit. And in supporting this, the deal, I was able to close funding for it, and to be able to support the production and deliver on the deal. And I was pregnant with my daughter with my partner. So during that time, we were gonna have a baby. And I needed money desperately. And so it was like that contract came in and we got paid on it. Like, the week my daughter was born 12 weeks premature it was she was very early. But yeah, so it was just a real godsend that we were able to close that contract, get paid on it. My daughter was like, came into this world healthy, even though it was very early, she was fine. And we had an amazing team to support us. But so it was like huge, awful divorce with the partnership at work. Terrible. And then it sounds like not only is the pain of like that deal of acquisition, my seven-year journey to, to exit, falling out and being completely flat broke and that kind of things. And but then then the awful fall out divorce with the partner, the co-founder, and then and then like, you know, premature baby. And it’s like, oh my gosh, but at least you know, the silver lining is like close that deal was able to get like my first paycheck. That was like 30 grand or something. 40-30 $40,000. That was like, so necessary for me when my daughter was born. [Yeah.] And then it was like, we left the hospital. It was like February 2, 2020. And then COVID hit. So welcome back. Welcome to COVID. So that was the leader in the COVID for me.

You’re listening to the Bold Business Podcast hosted by Jess Dewell, a nationally recognized Strategic Growth consultant. She works with business owners and executives to integrate just two elements that guide business through the ups and downs of growth. Number one. Know what work is necessary. Number two. Do all the work possible. Schedule a complimentary consultation to find out more at Red

Robert Herr 42:06
And I have a little baby. That’s my world. And she’s it’s she’s been…

Jess Dewell 42:11
So toddler, right? So four?

Robert Herr 42:13
She’s four to four-and-a-half now. But yeah, there’s another part to this. So during that time during that transition when I was being supported by my design agency, so much on on operational stuff as well to deliver on that deal with Homeland Security. Meanwhile, my my business shifted from b2b and in direct online sales just to doing this contract just to working with government. And I was like, Okay, this is an opportunity. And as I built those relationships, which took a lot of work, and a lot of time in DC and lot of legwork, which folks that are in operations don’t understand how much it takes to develop relationships just because they have access to their email online or whatever it takes years. I’d like referrals in and time and developing relationships. Anyhow, my partners at the agency and I were like there’s an opportunity to do a lot more products, like modernizing equipment for military and for like tactical users that like beyond just power. And I was like, Great, let’s get up another company. So I started Bunker supply company with my co-founder there. We created Bunker to modernize equipment for tactical users in the department of defense and homeland security and those types of use cases. And his agency in his background can support rapid development, prototyping and my like business development and opportunity to to folks within fuel boxes network was, was the one I brought to the table. So the idea was to merge Fuel Box into Bunker Supply. And that was my initiative with the team there. But fortunately, my co-founders at Bunker had different ideas. And so they pushed me I had three co-founders there, they pushed me out in an unexpected surprise thing that turned into litigation for a year. And basically, at the end of the day, it’s okay, I’m exiting this new business that’s blowing up and doing very well. And just being like, completely out. Like there was red flags throughout the process that I, I chose to

Jess Dewell 44:07
Hindsight you saw, like there was some trust on your part that the red flags might not have been red flags because of the way the work was being done together. And the common end goal is what I’m hearing.

Robert Herr 44:20
Yeah, and it’s just there’s a lot of factors that go into these relationships, there was a lot of resentments being withheld. And ultimately, the communication broke down and the communication and trust trust factors were brought down and then that’s what happens in any type of relationship whether that’s business or personal. It was very unfortunate. But where I was able to exit in a way that was like put me into a decent position financially and shoebox in a decent position. So I started Jewel Box and add some like maybe a million bucks. And the bank at this point, I’m really doing a lot of interpersonal work, like really reflecting what is it like? What’s my purpose? Hear, so it was like, a decade and where I started looking at what’s my purpose? And I think it takes some time. I love founders that are really young that have a purpose that are purpose or mission-driven. But I was it right? Like my purpose and mission was like, How do I survive? How to make a living? How do I thrive? That was my drive. But now, after going through so much, and after, like making a living and surviving, and going through enough, we’re like, why am I doing this? What’s my why Simon? Simon Sinek? What? What’s my why? What’s my purpose? And that’s when I was like, by far my favorite work was when we got to do Hurricane relief with Verizon, through Operation converter-response, they bought out all of our products. I didn’t mention this. But at one point, they had $80,000, the inventory of our battery packs, they bought them all when Hurricane Irma hit, and sent them to Mexico Beach, Florida, where the community had just been destroyed, and the grids were down. So portable power was super valuable, like people were would pay whatever it took to be able to communicate, and FEMA funded that. So we even got paid for those units were purchased by FEMA. But I was like, in retrospect, at the beginning of the Empower project, I was like, How can we do that for free for people? Like how can we? How can I do that work that feels good. That’s I’m proud of when people are like this saved my life I got was able to get communication with my children that were displaced, and the networks are down and we’re all just in fight or flight. So yeah, I was like, that’s what I want to do. I was like how Okay, so that’s, that was my why, with the Empower project, I had some money from the deals that we did, and I’ve got this entity fuel box. And so I’m still in power space. And at Bunker, we did other projects that were in armor and within like really cool, efficiency improvements within products within the Navy, and I got to work with Navy, and it was just really fun wetsuits and gets cool stuff like that. I had to branch out a little bit. But then as that kind of imploded for me, I go, Okay, I’m back to power right back to empires. Now, it’s like the Empower project just came to me, because I want, it I was wanted to do disaster relief work. And so I was like, Alright, I don’t want to make it a nonprofit, necessarily, let’s do the Thomas Chu model, let’s do the Warby Parker model where we buy one, donate one by one, give one. So that’s where the power project started. We’ve got these solar battery packs that are great. And they last a long time. And if there’s no grid, they can be charged from the sun. And then I was like, Okay, well, let’s design a really sleek, cool every day, like Dyson vacuum version of charging your phone. And that’s where I designed the power pack. And then power Dawkins, the most sleek and modern wireless charging system where the battery pack is, is MagSafe at the dock is really beautiful and waited and sits really well and lives in your environment that are then just obtrusive tech. And so this two-part system with flow through charging is I worked with an incredible design firm out of Chicago minimal and designed the system where this battery pack is really innovative. And we created a what’s what I think is the best charging product on the market. I have three pillars to this new business that I cultivated throughout my whole career. It’s driven by purpose, like we have to do something that matters that isn’t money-related. I want to support people when they need it the most when they’re in crisis. And we know how to do that through the work we did with FEMA and Verizon, and Nokia. And that was awesome. So I was like, Alright, let’s do more of that. And now it’s like how do we pay for that? How do we make a viable business out of that, let’s make the best charging system on the market. Because I’m a Product fanatic myself, I love I’m a design geek, I spend tons of time on Pinterest and like within design systems just figuring out exactly what I want. And I’ve been studying the way we charge our phones for over a decade. So I know the product space very well. And I like to think I have a good eye for design. So that’s where the design pillar is, is my philosophy. I’d like to be the Dyson of our category James Dyson made vacuuming fun, and where you have a dopamine release, when you vacuum, I want to have that same experience when you charge your phone, which seems like a mundane thing, but we all have to do it. So that’s why that’s what the product set for the Empower project has created. And so the social impact is the drive the design philosophy is the sale is the is we actually make the money. And then the third piece is I’ve always felt I’ve sold and distributed 10s of 1000s of products over my career. And after a few years, they end up in a landfill. And I felt I feel that my gut I do not like that. It feels awful. It goes against who I am. And what I try to do as a person is leave a positive impact ideally a negative carbon footprint when I leave this planet but I’ve done this because that’s the way the industry is built. It’s really hard to change the industry. So on this go around, I’ve worked been working my tail off my team has been working so hard to find biobased plastics that work to have a recycling program with every battery. If that we can get returned from a customer when it’s live, lived its life. We’ll send it to our partner or send elements to replace 98 to recycle 90 80% of the battery, put it back in our supply chain, I want to fully circular supply chain. And biobased materials are available using cork on on the footer versus the silicone. And that’s so that’s the sustainability piece. And the planet piece is our third pillar. So we’ve got the social impact, which is my heart and my purpose forgot the design, which is so fun. And it’s really well done. And I put it up against anybody on the market. And then the sustainability piece is the afterlife thought like, how do we actually support this world in our children’s world? So that’s brought me to the Empower Pride, that is the Empower Project. And now I’m here just trying to promote it and trying to get distribution really working on it’s still a battle, it’s a battle, I’m still working with small resources, and have not scaled this business yet. So I’m working on scaling it now. And that’s where I’m at.

Jess Dewell 50:49
But you know what, you’re gonna have to come back in a year and be likely what the scaling guy does. I like to follow companies like this. And now that are listed our listeners who’ve had this, we’ve had a couple of companies come back and check in with us. How did you do? What did you do? Some continued some pivoted, some didn’t. So it’s interesting. And I think that’s a really cool, I think it’s really cool. I think it’s really cool on all fronts. I even think the hardship is cool because it was only through those you were able to really decide that’s what you wanted the Empower project to be. Now that in Yes, that’s a silver lining, and the work of working through all of the stuff that has been going on for you for a few years, may still be going on. And I wish to highlight that because that type of self-work that type of self-care, that type of being able to look in a mirror and go, Wow, this is the good, the bad, the ugly, wow, I how do I actually feel about this? There are not positive feelings, there are not good things that come into that. And I think that needs to be honored as much to put you exactly where you are right here.

Robert Herr 51:56
Like I said, I thank you for the opportunity to share my story and to [Yeah], yeah, give us a glimpse into or window into kind of the, the lifestyle and the realities of I’ve tried to do something different or good and or, like just be a success story, myself. And yeah, so thank you. Thank you for that.

Jess Dewell 52:16
So what makes a bold, what makes it bold to just keep going?

Robert Herr 52:22
I think the bold part comes in the face of criticism, rejection fear, and that more than anyone from yourself, I don’t think anybody is harsher on me than myself. And I think that’s true for every, everybody. We’re you know, we are our own worst critics, you have to be bold to try to stand in Integrity with your mission. And that’s like that pain threshold can go up and I’m experiencing that right now. Like, I have to modify our mission or donation aspect in order to sell enough product to sustain the business. So it’s you got to be bold to be able to do that. And yeah, I think that there’s opportunities throughout every part of the business that you have to be bold in.

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