The tech.mn Podcast: Strengthening the Supply Chain With Sunny Han of Fulcrum

Sunny chats with Shacarria Scott and Casey Shultz from tech.mn about manufacturing in America, Minnesota's startup ecosystem, and dominating World of Warcraft

Transcript:

Casey Shultz:
Shacarria, it's so good to see you.

Shacarria Scott:
It's so great to see you, too. I've missed your beautiful face.

Casey Shultz:
I've missed your face. When was the last time we did the podcast together?

Shacarria Scott:
I feel like it had to be October, November.

Casey Shultz:
I think so, too.

Shacarria Scott:
Yeah.

Casey Shultz:
It's just been one thing after another, between...

Shacarria Scott:
The both of us.

Casey Shultz:
Like, COVID and the holidays.

Shacarria Scott:
Yep.

Casey Shultz:
And, oh my gosh. Kids getting sick and no daycare.

Shacarria Scott:
Yeah. It's been really rough, but it's good to be in your presence.

Casey Shultz:
It feels really good to get back in the saddle together. It was... It was a little lonely hosting the podcast by myself. I'm not going to lie.

Shacarria Scott:
I'm sorry.

Casey Shultz:
No, it was... It was good. I learned some skills, I think. I don't know. My husband and I were just talking and we were like, "What happens when this pandemic ends? Does life feel like it goes to easy mode?". You know?

Shacarria Scott:
Yeah. I feel like things might still stay the same, though. I feel like we're just so traumatized from this experience. I think masks are just probably going to be a regular thing now, probably after like at... Yeah. Some parts of me just feel like some things that's been implemented are going to probably stay the same.

Casey Shultz:
There's definitely collective trauma that we as society are going to have to process and I think we're definitely seeing some of that come out in latent mental health issues that people are experiencing.

Shacarria Scott:
Yes. Yes.

Casey Shultz:
You know, you see a lot of YouTube videos of people just losing their minds at Target. You know?

Shacarria Scott:
Yes.

Casey Shultz:
Or, like, on airplanes. And, I think... I'm like, wow. That's a symptom that as a society, we're under a lot of stress.

Shacarria Scott:
Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Casey Shultz:
And, people are not getting the services that they need.

Shacarria Scott:
Exactly.

Casey Shultz:
So, I agree with you. I think that life is not going to magically get better when COVID is quote unquote over.

Shacarria Scott:
Yeah. Over.

Casey Shultz:
But, hopefully they'll just be more... I don't know. Like, things will just be more predictable.

Shacarria Scott:
Exactly. It's crazy to believe that next month is like two years since I think we've all kind of known about it.

Casey Shultz:
I know. And, I was just talking to somebody at Twin Ignition and they were like, "Oh yeah. Every day, my kindergartener is coming home with their computer from school because they don't know if they're going to be in school the next day." You know?

Shacarria Scott:
Mm-hmm (affirmative)-

Shacarria Scott:
Yeah.

Casey Shultz:
Like, just those types of... Like, we have no idea what's going to happen from day to day and it's really draining and exhausting.

Shacarria Scott:
Yes.

Casey Shultz:
So. Which also brings us to our guest today because we talk a lot about the supply chain issues that we're experiencing in manufacturing.

Shacarria Scott:
Exactly.

Casey Shultz:
We had the pleasure of interviewing Sunny Han, who is the founder and CEO of Fulcrum, a cloud-based software system that supports the business of manufacturing for a new generation of production that includes everything from planning to quality control of inventory.

Sunny has guided Fulcrum from self-funding to Series A, collecting accolades along the way, including being named one of the Minneapolis St. Paul Business Journal's 40 Under 40.

Casey Shultz:
Sunny, thank you so much for joining us on The Tech.MN Podcast. How are you doing?

Sunny Han:
Good. Thanks for having me.

Casey Shultz:
Now, we were just talking about the fact that you are one of the few people I know who's actually going into your office every day. And, that... Did you...? You said you did that through the entirety of the pandemic?

Sunny Han:
Yeah. There was a period of time where I was wearing a onesie into the office and screwing around the lobby. It was just myself. It's actually kind of cool and weird, but cool.

Casey Shultz:
Where are you located? Where is your office?

Sunny Han:
Downtown in the Baker Building. So, pretty close to the center of downtown.

Casey Shultz:
That's funny. I don't really think about these professional buildings. I think of them being kind of a little more uptight, a little stuffy.

Shacarria Scott:
Yep.

Casey Shultz:
That's a funny image of you being in a onesie on like a scooter through the office. Did anybody see you? Was a janitor coming around the corner ever shocked?

Sunny Han:
Yeah. The building had a meeting right when lockdown was kind of over and they were just on our floor because it was an empty floor for the rest of the building except for us in our corner here and I was on a call with an investor, like scooting around the corner and then an entire boardroom of people saw me and they just all burst out laughing. So, it was a little embarrassing, but yeah. I did get caught once.

Shacarria Scott:
Okay. And, I have to ask. What kind of onesie was it?

Sunny Han:
There's a company called One Piece. They make really nice onesies, so.

Shacarria Scott:
Yes. Okay.

Casey Shultz:
Was it a tuxedo onesie at least, to make it formal?

Sunny Han:
It was like a... It was like a poser onesie where it made me look like I knew how to ski or something. It was like patches and stuff everywhere and I do not how to ski at all, so...

Casey Shultz:
Oh my gosh. That's so funny. Well, Sunny, tell us a little bit about you. We're really excited to have you join us today. Now, you grew up in Minnesota, right?

Sunny Han:
I did. And, all of the things that make me who I am, I lucked out in being here. My mom immigrated here to go to grad school. There was no grad school in China, really, after the Cultural Revolution, so almost everybody that she went to school with went somewhere out of the country to go study and get their advanced degree and my mom studied computer science here. So, I hung out in Shepard Lab and met some engineers that taught me how to code and was there when they were working on the Gopher internet.

I took math at the University of Minnesota through a youth mathematics program. I did summer programs at Macalester. Like, all these random programs that just happened to exist in Minnesota that don't exist in other cities. I think all those things were really formative for me, so can't be more grateful for the Twin Cities.

Casey Shultz:
Have you read Malcolm Gladwell book, Outliers?

Sunny Han:
Mm-hmm (affirmative) Yep.

Casey Shultz:
I feel like you are the epitome of that, where it's like the happenstance of having access to computers and getting your quote unquote 10,000 hours in to be an expert in this field. Definitely seems like there's some parallels there.

Sunny Han:
Yeah. I like to go back and think that it was a choice of mine, but really, it wasn't. Right? It was an opportunity that just existed for me and not other people.

Casey Shultz:
Now, you are the founder of a company called Fulcrum.

Sunny Han:
Mm-hmm (affirmative)-

Casey Shultz:
Can you tell us a little bit about Fulcrum?

Sunny Han:
Yeah. Fulcrum is my third company after two spectacular but very quiet failures. So, we... We started as a consulting company working on building custom software. Our product is for manufacturers. It's for fairly complicated businesses and our goal is to make it look more like Stripe and Shopify and a little less like some of the more traditional pieces of software that these companies use.

And, these are big, broad, bulky products. So, the strategy was for us to really find product market fit by building something that people would pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for custom and try to boil it into a product.

I originally planned that taking a year and a half and it ended up taking four years to build enough and get enough understanding of it. But, I think a lot of our rapid growth lately... We've gone from I think seven people to 70 in just the last two years. I think a lot of that was just based on the time that we spent understanding the market and understanding the product.

So, about half the team here is in Minnesota. The rest of it is remote. We were remote first and actually added kind of this in person component later on. But, I think we're expecting to continue to grow at the same pace. But, really, a lot of it is just off the back of a lot of hard work from the years previous.

Casey Shultz:
Now, you actually have your B.S. in chemistry from Drake University and I saw that you were a research assistant at Harvard Medical School. Was entrepreneurship always your end goal or were you planning on being a doctor at some point?

Sunny Han:
No, I... I was... You know, in high school, I made websites for people and for money and burned illegal mix CDs using stuff downloaded from Napster and hung out on IRC servers and learned how to write scripts and things like that. But, when the time came to go to school, I guess my mom was an engineer and kind of wanted to do something different.

I know that sounds really stupid now, especially given this whole analogy about outliers. Like, why throw away all this experience? But, there was a part of me that wanted to optimize for my identity or whatever I thought my identity was.

So, yeah. I had some dreams of pharmaceutical sciences or pathology. I spent a summer looking at prostate cancer samples at Channing Laboratory at Harvard Medical and Brigham Women's Hospital and I think through that experience and some other experiences, I realized that I really do think in ways that are better served in developing software and understanding technology problems than in medicine. And so, hard pivoted out of that.

I think I found a home in chemistry, mostly because a lot of the work that I was doing in analytical chemistry, which is as close to computer science as you can get in chemistry, so it was a good fallback with some of the classes I had taken.

But, no. I think like I've always wanted to organize groups of people, whether that's being the captain of the math team or trying to get a group of people to play World of Warcraft together and take on challenges. Whatever it may be. I think there was always a part of me that wanted to do cool stuff and that always included convincing people and motivating them and organizing them.

So, I think that part always existed. But, I would probably call myself risk averse. I'm supposed to give a welcoming little speech to the Launch Minnesota board tomorrow and one of the subject matters is talking about why I want to help the startup community here and I think one of the things that is really unique about Minnesota is that I don't actually think that we have a lot of risk aversion individually. I think we have like societal risk aversion, where we're afraid of other people judging us, maybe, or we hear too many times, "Well, don't do that. Just go work for some Fortune 500 company."

I think there's a lot of individuals that otherwise would take a lot of risks and should be entrepreneurs, but I think the environment might talk you out of it. So, I think I probably suffered from that, too, and for whatever reason, realized that I wanted to start my own thing. But, for a long time, it just wasn't even a thing that I thought about.

Casey Shultz:
Fulcrum is your third company.

Sunny Han:
Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Casey Shultz:
Were your other two companies also in manufacturing? How did you end up in manufacturing?

Sunny Han:
I worked in consulting for a while and the firm that I worked with dealt specifically with small businesses, so I was able to see hundreds of different businesses in transportation, in manufacturing, in logistics, in a lot of different places. And so, the first two companies were in transportation and logistics and the second one was in financial analysis. So, there were always a lot of ideas just based on problems that I saw.

I think the mistakes that I made in the past... One, just trying to rely all on myself or being greedy or selfish about equity or about bringing a partner on. I think trying to avoid venture capital when that's what we needed or not knowing how to handle some basics in business and negotiations and in collections and getting cash in the door and things like that.

So, I would say those first two experiences, while very similar to what we're doing here at Fulcrum, those were mostly a training ground for me to cut my teeth and also to learn a little bit of humility, too. So.

Casey Shultz:
Is Fulcrum focused only on working with U.S.-based manufacturing companies?

Sunny Han:
We have about 15% of our customer base international, so in Malaysia, and in Australia, and England, and all over the world. But, we primarily target from a marketing standpoint U.S. based manufacturers. So, the goal eventually is to go internationally. But, I think the market here in the U.S. is so broad and so large that we'll spend quite a bit of time cutting our teeth on that.

Casey Shultz:
How do you think the U.S. competes in comparison with the global manufacturing opportunities?

Sunny Han:
Wow. I don't know... I don't know how philosophical you want to get on this, but I think a... I think about this a lot. It's something that I think about every single day in every little nook and cranny of time that I can find. But, part of it, I think, boils down to whether you believe that a society of freedom is the future or not, and I know that's going to sound like a weird hipster tangent.

But, if you look at China, they have the opportunity with the planned central economy to be able to say this whole city is manufacturing and down the street is a CNC machine shops and up the street are the railworks and there's a glass manufacturer and everything is within a seven mile radius and everything... There's just an incredible amount of efficiency that you can gain there. There's skill labor. You can push people around in different ways. There's a lot of things that you can accomplish when you have a lower amount of freedom and a higher amount of authoritarianism.

A lot of the challenges that we face in America are the result of us having an economy that is primarily freedom-driven. Small businesses power a lot of our economy from a manufacturing standpoint. They start businesses where they're from. They are all over the country. Now, we have some concentration in the Rust Belt and things like that. But, people tend to live where they want to live and they have skills based on the jobs that they have and we have this really robust, agile, adaptable, decentralized system. That takes a lot more coordination, a lot more effort, to achieve the same thing in a lot of different ways.

So, I think we can compete in a lot of different ways, but in the high volume economies of scale, we have a big barrier there, not just from labor differences between us and China, but also just in the way that our country and our government's set up.

Shacarria Scott:
We would love to get your thoughts on... Everyone's talking about there's a lot of supply chain problems right now. And, do you think that's making people think about manufacturing in a different way?

Sunny Han:
I think certainly more so now than ever, the average person is more aware that their stuff gets made somewhere and has to get to them in a way that isn't just from Amazon.

Shacarria Scott:
Mm-hmm (affirmative)-

Sunny Han:
There's some other portion of it behind that. I think in manufacturing, there's this concept called the bullwhip effect, which is that as supply chains go under stress, you have these ebbs and flows where a big shock to the supply chain, it's going to take years and years and years to really resolve because you're kind of redistributing things around to different places.

I think that the biggest opportunity right now and that we're working really hard on our end but a lot of other people are working really hard toward is this represents an opportunity for a... Kind of re-shift in the way that we source things and that we buy things, that I think people are realizing that it's okay to buy a much smaller quantity of something more often, source it locally, have that ability to be... Have that production, delivery happen within a couple months instead of waiting seven months for an entire container full of something to come overseas from China.

I think there's just a difference in mindset and I think that's helping to put more work in the hands of Americans and American manufacturing. And, not just Americans. Right? Locally. You know, French manufacturers in France and things that are sourced locally. I think there's a huge amount of environmental impact that people don't really realize that we can save in making things close to where they're used instead of shipping things to China and then shipping it back.

And, I don't think this is a disparaging moment against China, either. I think there's a lot of things I disagree with philosophically, but I think China's going to have an economic problem where they need to build stuff for themselves to be used there as well. So, I think this shift has always been happening very slowly and I think COVID's really accelerated it quite a bit, where we have this big paradigm shift that's about to start cracking very soon.

But, overall, I think that the average consumer has very little ability to kind of impact these decisions. These decisions are kind of more micro or macro economic within the companies that are doing the work.

Casey Shultz:
Has COVID really shined a light on the weaknesses of a centralized supply chain like you were mentioning in China, where entire cities have every...? I think the iPhone is a perfect example, where all the little tiny pieces for an iPhone are made within 15 miles of each other and that's the power of why a lot of these electronics are made in China, whereas if it was done in the U.S., it would be like you said, dispersed across the country.

But, the challenge there is when we have a pandemic come through like COVID where an entire city is shut down, now we're seeing the ripple effect of these products not getting manufactured at all, whereas if it was decentralized, yeah, you might have like a supply chain hiccup here or there, but enough goods would still be in manufacturing or being produced that it would have a smaller impact on our communities. So, do you think there is going to be a...? The pendulum is going to swing toward a more decentralized supply chain?

Sunny Han:
I think long term, that's where everything is headed. I think we see that just with production quantities going smaller and changing more frequently. There's a different car model every year now for most car manufacturers. There's new devices coming out, new things. But, I think for the iPhone specifically, there's always going to be some products where it's so popular and so prevalent that you want to control the quality of it. Right? You want the iPhone that exists in New England to be the same one that exists in Brazil to be the same one that exists in Australia. It really is much easier to do that if you can control within one facility or one set of facilities.

I think some of the ways that technology can help is to help improve quality and still decentralize it. But, it isn't how people think. There's no belief of it and the risks for a company like Apple to try it out and then have a bunch of iPhones not be to spec and have a bunch of PR backlash and consumer backlash... It isn't going to be led by Apple. It's going to be led by smaller product companies that are maybe selling something through Instagram or are primarily e-commerce only businesses that are in smaller production quantities. I think they'll be able to scale their operations up much faster than what... It took a long time for Apple to get to where they are now from an infrastructure standpoint. I think that's really where the change is going to happen, is with newer products and newer companies that are just going to have to be more decentralized in order for them to get there.

Like, right now, if you were to make a new product, you probably would have to buy components from seven or eight different vendors. And, while it seems like a pain in the ass, I think there's an embedded value there that they'll realize in the midterm. Maybe not in the short term, but over time.

Casey Shultz:
And, what's Fulcrum's role in that?

Sunny Han:
For us, one of our biggest goals is to make it so that it's easier to use these systems. Historically, it takes, I don't know, a year, two years to implement a piece of software. We're not significantly faster than that, not as much as we want to be. We want it to be instant. But, we're 50% to 70% faster. The software's more intuitive. It adapts. It's constantly evolving and updating. It's connected. You can share data between different companies. So, there's this connected future that we're really looking forward to creating here at the company.

We have a lot of our own challenges in scaling and growing the team and things like that. But, the future that we are imagining is one where you can share data across many different vendors and also have production and quality data synchronized and you can say these seven vendors can make it to that tolerance every single time and you can have that visibility and much more easily decentralize your production.

I think the insight that I was able to gain through working in the industry for so long is that these production supply chains actually, most of the time, outside of big companies like Apple and creating the iPhone and Apple Watch... Most of them rely on small and medium businesses to do the core primary fabrication. So, one of our biggest focuses is on that market segment, is on the smaller businesses, the medium-sized businesses, because they're the ones that are actually machining and making the stuff. They're assembled somewhere else.

And so, for us, we want to connect all these folks, these folks that don't have the billion dollar budget to do custom software development like Boeing does for themselves and offer them something that is really future-focused. So, I think the platform that we're building should enable a lot of these things to happen. But, I think we're more excited about all the things that will happen when you create these new systems and economies of scale that are much smaller than what they used to be. There's always things that we can't even imagine. Our brains aren't even capable of predicting what's going to happen. I think those are the things that get us the most excited.

Shacarria Scott:
So, you could correct me if I'm wrong, but previously when we were first talking, you said that your company went from seven people to 70. Correct?

Sunny Han:
That's correct. Yeah.

Shacarria Scott:
So, we've seen on your LinkedIn profile you're having a big hiring across your profile photo.

Sunny Han:
Right.

Shacarria Scott:
Could you tell us what some are the positions that you are hiring for?

Sunny Han:
Yeah. I think we're always interested in finding really talented product managers. The way that we're organized as a company, we're product-led. We want the product to be what makes it easier to sell, easier to market, easier to use, easier to implement, easier across the board. So, engineering and product are really important to us.

Shacarria Scott:
Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Sunny Han:
While we were way more successful than we expected in hiring engineers, we're still probably two product managers behind in terms of the size of the company and we really only have two product managers right now. So, that's a really important role that we're hiring for. And, just based on the demand that we have from very little marketing... Like, we're not out there advertising ourselves very much. We're having to grow the sales team way faster than we expected, so SDRs and account executives are also open positions for us right now.

Shacarria Scott:
I love that. And, would you also mind telling us what's been one of the biggest challenges in hiring for you guys?

Sunny Han:
I think we've been really spoiled in that over 90% of our offers have been accepted. The people that we've met, we've been able to really interview and find some really exceptionally talented people way above what we expected. So, the team is really strong. I think the biggest challenge for us is just having the discipline to do the entire process of interviewing even if we're tired or even if we're busy, and I think the team has really pulled together and done that and been disciplined and spent long nights working on really having the right conversation with everybody and that's why we've been able to hire so well.

Sunny Han:
So, I know there's a lot of other folks that are dealing with lots of resignations and difficulty hiring, but, knock on wood, we're... We've been very lucky that we've avoided most of that.

Casey Shultz:
In March 2020, if anybody recognizes the significance of that, you spoke at the... I can't say the word on our podcast. But, the Tech.MN F-Up Nights, where you share stories of failure, and I thought it was really interesting. You actually shared a story about a failure on your founding team. Can you tell us a little, like a shortened version of that, how you and your co-founder Trevor parted ways, talk a little bit more about that experience?

Sunny Han:
Yeah. There were three of us. We played World of Warcraft together. We were on a number one ranked world raid guild at the time, which means nothing to anybody now. But, we spent a lot of time together. I think I made a lot of the mistakes that I never thought that I would make. I think... You know, I've always known that working with somebody's very different than being friends with somebody. I pride myself in being a very blunt person and very good at giving direct feedback and being confrontational in a very, I don't know, non-adversarial way. But, that isn't how I behaved when it came to them.

I think a lot of it was trying to protect portions of our relationship together that made it so that I contorted what I wanted to say. I think there was a difference in direction. I think we were, in the beginning, very profitable in our consulting practice and when faced with this very difficult transition from making money to losing money and then getting money from other people, I don't think we were very aligned in what that felt like and what the outcomes looked like.

Shawn, one of my co-founders, extremely talented engineer, I don't think had the same conviction towards being a product company as Trevor and I did, and I was not clear enough in being decisive in saying we're going to build a product. And, that indecision allowed everybody to think something different about where the company was going and that just is a recipe for disaster in general. There was no cohesion or alignment at all.

And, I think Trevor left after... You know, I told you it took four years instead of a year and a half. Realistically speaking, we could have pivoted and raised capital way sooner than that. But, trying to balance out the safety net that we wanted from a consulting standpoint and also kind of half-assing building a product, that's really what burned Trevor out and I think resulted in losing a lot of trust in me and a lot of faith in my ability to make decisions with conviction. And, I think it was also facetious to Shawn as well.

So, without intending to do so, I think I was representing a reality that wasn't true to anybody and had my own goals inside that I wasn't really willing to share. So, I think the biggest lesson that I learned from that was that I need to be outcome independent, and I preach that a lot right now in our hiring process and in our sales process. I think the thing that was really different about me back then is that I wanted to engineer this outcome where we're all happily working together. But, instead, when things got to a point where it just wasn't likely that that was going to happen, instead of confronting it, I buried it and just tried to keep working towards this vision that I had. Right?

There's this non-clinical definition of depression as the inability to predict your future and I think that fear of depression pushed me to make decisions that were optimizing for trying to create this future that I had imagined instead of facing reality and doing things the right way. So, the biggest takeaway for me is trying to act in the right way and be outcome independent, but I think also there's a level of emotional maturity that I thought I had that I just didn't.

Casey Shultz:
What does it mean to be outcome independent?

Sunny Han:
I think it means to do what you believe is right philosophically and let the outcomes be measurements to how well you're doing. So, instead of saying we need to target a certain revenue number and just close the deals, I think we need to make the product better and make the sales tactics better and teach people more about the product and do things the right way and ask more questions and figure out more about our customers. I think being outcome independent... I think had I not learned that lesson that I might sell a bunch of contracts that we would still deliver on, but it would tax the engineers in building all these things we didn't need to build and remove our ability to focus the way that we have been able to.

So, I think having a really clear vision that we're going to connect all these businesses, we're going to start with this particular subsection of the market, we're going to do a really kick ass job of doing... Of providing fantastic software that people couldn't even imagine existing. Doing that and seeing are the sales materializing or not and saying, "Do we need to change our strategy and how we're building this product?". That's really scary to say it that way, right? To say that we might not be able to predict whether we're going to be successful or not. But, it's actually allowed us to do the most with the least amount of resources, to be as efficient as possible.

So, I think it was a really important lesson to learn. I think if that was the way that I needed to learn the lesson, it was worth it for me, even though it caused a lot of pain from a personal standpoint. But, I think that outcome independence is what allows us to act in a high integrity but also in a high effectivity way. So.

Casey Shultz:
Are there any other outcomes that have come from you focusing on outcome independence, other than efficiency and being able to build more with less?

Sunny Han:
Yeah. I think you tend to make fewer promises. If there is a candidate that you really want to work at your company, but they're not exactly bought in or they see things slightly different, if you really want them to work there, you might make promises that seem innocuous but can all build up towards either a toxically political culture or hurt feelings or worse. We have a lot of autonomy at the company. The company could just go in a different direction without you expecting it. So, I think in that regard, that's really important, too.

And, I think it's also really important in keeping people together. If we had to say that we needed to achieve certain results, there've been folks here that weren't performing that we gave a lot of our time to, some that didn't work out, but others that have flourished into some of our best team members. So, saying that it's the right human thing to do to spend that time with each individual human that is on the team... I think that also has led us to have a really strong culture where people really believe that we have their back, too, and if somebody does depart, they can feel confident that we did the right thing and we spent the right time and made the right decision together.

So, that isn't to say we aren't with faults and we haven't made a lot of other mistakes. But, I think overall, from a societal perspective, even though we're a very small society, having that trust provides us with a huge amount of velocity. If you can trust each other, you're just going to make decisions faster and communicate better. So, I think outcome independence fundamentally communicates a sense of integrity and trust that allows you to move faster as well.

Casey Shultz:
It sounds like you've invested a lot in defining your vision, mission, values. How do you communicate that with your team and new recruits to make sure that everybody's on the same page?

Sunny Han:
We do as much of the right thing as possible and that... A lot of times, that means that when we're really busy, we spend the time to play Pictionary together online or we spend the time to chat with each other and we fly people in to town and we spend the entire time just bonding and talking to each other about it. We are not very tolerant of things that don't fit our values and we try to make people as outspoken as possible and we have a very conscientious group of folks, so getting them to be intolerant of things that seem like small infractions, if you will, against our values has been challenging.

But, I think that self-policing, if you will, or self-correction, is really important and really valuable and I think when people talk about a cultural flywheel, I think what's really... What that really means to me is that at some point in time, even if you want to, you can't control the culture. It'll go wherever it wants to go. It reaches some critical mass.

And so, when we were smaller, I think we just over-focused on making sure those values were really, really important and really reinforced when the company was small enough that we could control it, and I think we're seeing the fruits of that labor now.

Shacarria Scott:
So, with the recent announcements, we would like to congratulate you on joining the Launch Minnesota Advisory Board. So, congratulations to you. I feel like you might have touched on that a little bit. But, what inspired you to join the board at all?

Sunny Han:
One of our investors, Bread and Butter Ventures, who have been really helpful to us throughout our journey... Mary Grove, who was formerly at Google, moved here from California with her husband Steve. Steve is back in Minnesota working with the government to improve the entrepreneurial community here. He encouraged me to apply and I think originally I immediately told him, "I don't think I'm qualified. I'm very flattered. I'm happy to help in any way possible, but there's no way that I can really contribute."

I think he talked me into the fact that there really was not enough founder voices on the board. There was another person, Aneela, who is fantastic. She's from HabitAware and she's on the board as well. But, he said that having more voices from folks who are on the operational end of a company that's founded would offer better perspective.

So, I think my primary goal is to try to help out the community in whatever way possible. In the previous two companies I started, I wasn't aware of any resources that were around.

I don't know that I was actively looking for them, but I also think that being able to say, "Hey, here are some creative ways to get a hold of some founders that are working 100 hours a week that might not have the time to go look for these grants or these resources. Here's how you can get a hold of them and here's how you can encourage more people to take risks."... I think if there's anything that I can do from a perspective standpoint to help that, it can only help increase the community that we have here.

I'm very deeply convinced that it's not a huge amount of difference between what we're doing now and what we need to do to make the startup community a lot richer here. We need just incrementally more people to take slightly bigger risks and a few more people to take a few more risks and I think we'll reach that critical mass where it continues to reinforce itself where people who are successful continue to pay it forward. I think we're very close, but if I can accelerate that, that helps me and that helps the entire community here. So, I'm happy to contribute in any way I can.

Casey Shultz:
What do you see Launch Minnesota's role in the community as far as inspiring people to take more risks in entrepreneurship?

Sunny Han:
Certainly giving grants and a little bit more capital to start will ease some of that initial failure mode fears. Right? I think that giving somebody 10,000, 50,000, however much money that they're granted immediately gives them creditability so that if they do hear that conversation like you're crazy, there's some social validation, social proof to say the city, the government, the state, your local community is supporting you in taking this risk because it's important for the community. And, I think hearing that validation is a small little whisper that can grow louder over time. But, it's probably not heard in most households in most communities here. Right? So, I think that's one really big part of it.

I think the second part of it is saying that there are people here. We don't... We have a really, not super sprawled out, but pretty sprawled out organizational structure to our city here, and we don't really have as much opportunity as you do in San Francisco or New York to just happenstance run into other folks that might be good resources. So, in this environment, having an organization that tries to centralize some of those resources and connections and points the right people to the right places... I think that can be really helpful, too, in just making the market, if you will, between human people that can help each other.

And, I think lastly, just reinforcing, "hey, I know that you're struggling and you're doubting yourself and I can't tell you you're going to be successful, but I can tell you that it's a high expected-value move for you to keep trying." And, just hearing somebody say that I think is a missing voice that we have here in the Twin Cities.

Casey Shultz:
Sunny, this has been a lot of fun. Tell us. What is the vision for Fulcrum? How will you measure success?

Sunny Han:
I think being obsessed with our customers has been our focus from day one, so our success will be measured by their happiness, their fluidity, their adaptability, their improved profitability, their improved confidence that they're going to be okay going forward. I think that everybody wants to see themselves as important in the eyes of somebody else and I think what we can hopefully provide to more and more companies over time is that experience, that somebody is working really hard to make your experience better every single day as a business owner, as an operator, as a entry level employee, whoever you are that's in manufacturing, and that even though the industry is somewhat forgotten and somewhat unknown, that there is somebody that really thinks that what you do is one of the most important things for our society.

So, the more that we can reinforce that and actually deliver tangible help to our customers, that's how we've always measured our success internally and how we'll continue to do so.

Shacarria Scott:
Thank you for that. That was actually very beautiful. So, I guess we can take this in for a landing, then. I'm pretty sure you're tired of us drilling you with questions, so I promise I only have like a couple more.

Sunny Han:
I appreciate it.

Casey Shultz:
It's not like he's getting interviewed or something.

Shacarria Scott:
Right. I know. Well, one thing we would like to know is, what's one thing you love about Minnesota's startup ecosystem and what's one thing that you feel like we could definitely be doing better?

Sunny Han:
I think most people here when asked are really willing to help in a very genuine way. I know we're accused often of being passive aggressive and being non-confrontational, but there is a really strong understanding that there's a difference between being nice and being kind when it comes to business advice and advice for entrepreneurs.

So, I have... I don't think I've ever... In the random times I've met anybody randomly in any place, I don't think I've ever been given any platitudes or any sort of false advice or anything that was misleading, and I think that's not true in a lot of other ecosystems and communities. So, that's something that might seem really trivial and small, but adds up to something really big, especially as the ecosystem's going to grow over time.

I think the thing that we can do a lot better is I think we can do a lot better at connecting and talking, even if it doesn't serve us in the moment. There just isn't enough chatter that goes on anywhere. There's not enough interest. There's not enough importance put on it. I think that if you go to the Bay Area, there might be too much importance put on it to the point where everything is glorified too much. But, I think we're almost on the polar opposite end of that spectrum and anything we can do to bring more creditability and credence to people taking risks with their time, their lives... I think it'll be better for everybody here.

And, I think also Minnesota in general suffers from a diversity problem just from the demographics that we have. I don't know that that's solvable by me or any other individual and I don't know an answer to that on how it can get better. But, I know that it is not representative of what it should be here in Minnesota.

Shacarria Scott:
So, we had a couple of name drops within this episode. We would also like to know who is someone in Minnesota's tech or startup that we should know about and why. So, a little shout-out time.

Sunny Han:
I would be remiss if I didn't mention Phil Soran. Phil and Daren Cotter are successful entrepreneurs that have mentored me and have been angel investors in our company throughout the journey that we've had. They've both been able to give extremely tactical advice which is way more rare than I ever expected, to have someone that will say either, "I don't know, but here's someone you can talk to," or, "This is exactly how it happened to me." That is incredibly rare.

Through the MESA program, I was put in contact with Connell Smith and John Tedesco, two business leaders that are in town that, for a very small amount of money, is willing to talk to me every month and absorb a lot of emotional pain that I have and also provide a lot of guidance as well and I'm really grateful for them.

And then, lastly, this is a weird one, but Yishan Wong. He's on our board. He was the CEO of Reddit. He was one of the first engineers at Facebook and PayPal. He went to Mounds View High School, the high school that I went to. He was on the math team 10 years before I was and I made contact with him through our math team coach's retirement party, which, again, all sounds super nerdy. But, his management and tactical advice have been incredibly valuable throughout this short and long journey at the same time. And, another one of those things where just by happenstance from the high school that I went to, I was able to get this connection with him.

So grateful for all these different connections.

Shacarria Scott:
And, where can we follow along to keep up with all the great things about Fulcrum?

Casey Shultz:
And, if somebody wants to apply for a job, where should they go?

Shacarria Scott:
Exactly.

Sunny Han:
You... Anyone who's listening can always just email me. Sunny like the weather. S-U-N-N-Y at fulcrumpro.com. Very few people actually take me up on that offer and email me, so it's not as if my inbox is overflowing. But, if anybody's listening, wants to get in touch and have any questions, they can feel free to reach out directly. I'll always respond. Sometimes very late, but I try to be as timely as possible.

But, our website, fulcrumpro.com, is where you can see all our product updates and we're on LinkedIn at Fulcrum HQ. You can search for Fulcrum Manufacturing and we'll come up as the first result, so you can follow us there as well.

Shacarria Scott:
So, you heard that, guys. Flood his inbox.

Casey Shultz:
You must have a pretty good strategy for managing email. I do not. I'm horrible at email, so I do not give my email out too much because I...

Sunny Han:
Oh. I wouldn't... I wouldn't applaud myself. I just excavated four months worth of emails. I'm at complete inbox zero right now, but it will start to pile up over the next four months as well. So, it's very much an anxiety and then blitz to clear it all out methodology that I use, so.

Casey Shultz:
Nice.

Shacarria Scott:
Yep.

Casey Shultz:
Sunny, thank you so much for joining us today. It was a pleasure getting to know you and hearing what's going on with Fulcrum. I'm really looking forward to seeing everything that y'all accomplish over the next few years.

Sunny Han:
Thanks for great questions and a great discussion.

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