John Machacek, Chief Innovation Officer for the Greater Fargo Moorhead Economic Development Corporation, has worked with countless startups throughout our community over the past seven years. He knows their ups, their downs, but most of all, he knows the questions to ask them. Here are John Machacek’s 10 questions for Matt Faul, President, and Jesse Faul, Vice President, of Red E.
1. Tell us your Red E elevator pitch?
Jesse: Red E designs, sells, and services high-performing aftermarket solutions for air seeders and precision planters as well and also provides valuable engineering services for other companies and individuals resulting in a winning combination for our customers.
2. In watching one of your YouTube videos, you mention the philosophy of helping your customers maintain and upgrade w at they already have. What does that mean and why is it important?
Matt: We grew up with a grandpa and dad who made do with what they had, often tweaking and rebuilding so that they could make ends meet. The challenges in farming haven’t gone away, they’ve only magnified. With continually rising input costs, margins remain small in farming – growers need to cover more acres in less time to make it pencil out. JFK said, “The farmer is the only man in our economy who buys everything at retail, sells at wholesale, and pays freight both ways.” Red E helps growers save money through the upgrading of their existing equipment with modern technology, improved durability, and greater performance. All of this contributes to greater margins through higher yields and lower operating costs.
3. Red E is multi-faceted in that you not only have your parts and equipment, but you are an engineering company as well. How much do those two aspects intersect in the products and work you do?
Jesse: Red E would not be the business it is today without engineering and sales complimenting each other. Prior to selling performance agriculture parts, we were designing them for other companies behind the scenes. That allowed us to cut our teeth on what designs made sense and which ones should be scrapped. One of the hinge points for Red E’s continued long-term success is having a sharp engineering group that can innovate and solve issues. Sales compliments the engineering by bringing new problems to the forefront.
4. What is your process for solving those necessities and problems of the farmers? I’m sure there are some standard problems and parts, but also issues that may be more unique.
Matt: Necessity is the mother of invention and innovation. We always want to be slow to speak and quick to listen. Every time we talk to a farmer, rebuild a machine or attend a farm show we learn something. Those learning experiences come through doing and taking part. Finding elegantly simple solutions to problems that haven’t been solved really gets our juices flowing.
5. So, I imagine with your engineering process and mindsight mixed in, it’s not just about fixing or replacing a part. Am I correct?
Jesse: Hearing a farmer say, “It works exactly how it should’ve been designed,” is one of the highest compliments we receive. We are by nature an engineering company so we have a problem-solving culture at our core. With the ability to apply engineering principles, design in 3D CAD, and manufacture quality parts, we have the luxury of being able to hone in on specific machines and make them perform optimally. What we learn on one area of a machine is usually applied to another, having a snowball effect on optimization. We continually ask ourselves what can we do better. We’ll often send engineers to the farms to help with installation as there is nothing like instant feedback from the customers. Staff are trained to come back to the office EVERY time thinking, “What did we learn? What we can we improve upon?” Where we don’t have the capacity or skill, we partner with companies and individuals who do. Intelligent Ag in Fargo, for example, has been a great technology solutions partner in providing excellent blockage and flow monitoring so farmers always know their seed is getting to the ground.
6. It sounds like constant listening and learning is a mantra at Red E. How do you incorporate that mindset into your team?
Jesse: It’s not always natural for someone new coming in to prioritize the end user’s needs, but every day we strive to set a culture tone that this is the requirement of being on the Red E team. Our team members develop a keen ear for learning opportunities. We have an incredibly talented team that continues to get better and better each day, project by project and installation by installation.
7. I know you hire interns and were interns yourself while in college. Can you tell me about the importance of internships?
Matt: We’ve had a good 15-20 interns over the years and have hired several on as full-time employees. There is no substitute for real-world applications and on-the-job training. Internships are a great tool for both the intern and the company. Think of it as an extended job interview for both parties. The intern gets the opportunity to see what a company is all about, get paid, and only be committed for a few months. Employers get the opportunity to see beyond the one hour “speed dating” interview before making a huge investment. Internships also allow companies to hire many people for these extended job interviews. Being interns once ourselves, we can relate well to what they are experiencing. I remember initially being intimidated being given responsibility during my first internship. I quickly realized though, that the people around me were there to help. That experience was so helpful in my learning, development and motivation. Our past internships allowed us to make connections with some people who are still our mentors and who have been instrumental in our success because they are people who have been there and done that. It would be short-sighted for anyone to wreck, dismiss, or take for granted the relationships they encounter.
8. I really think you do a great job with your social media, especially utilizing YouTube. What has been your approach in using YouTube, for example?
Matt: Our start on social media and YouTube began when we were younger. We enjoyed going on adventures and posting about them. We would take video while we went on hunting or motorcycle trips. I would admit that I was resistant to getting on Instagram and even for a time became inactive on Facebook. Our media specialist at the time helped us realize we need to be on different platforms as a way of marketing ourselves. It wasn’t until we were about to be featured by the ‘FarmTuber’ MN Millennial Farmer (775k+ followers) a few years ago that we really got serious about it. I didn’t know how to do even simple tasks in the beginning and felt like a rookie even posting too much which cost me followers but thanks to our team we have really hit a sweet spot in engagement. Now I might be labeled as that guy that is always trying to document what we are doing. We love showing the world who we are and these platforms are an effective way to do it.
9. If you could go back in time to Jesse and Matt from several years ago, what hindsight advice would you give yourself?
Remember life is a marathon not a sprint. School trains you to think in 1-year segments – every year is a new grade and new experiences. Once out of school it’s easy to keep thinking that big things need to change every year. That can sometimes create unrest and thinking we should advance sooner than what our experience and contribution warrants. Dig in and invest, don’t focus on the quick success schemes because consistent progress in the right direction is what wins. Although it’s marathon, time does goes fast! Seize every moment and remember you will be held accountable for everything you do in this life – what you do here matters for eternity!
10. What can we do as a community to help Red E succeed?
Our team has worked with hundreds of satisfied farmers and service crews from around the world, who collectively have rebuilt 1,000’s of drills with our parts that have years of proven performance. We enjoy using innovation and engineering to solve problems, so if you have a problem to solve in an industry we serve, let us know.
About John: John Machacek has been helping local startups with the Greater Fargo Moorhead Economic Development Corporation since prior to his position with the GFMEDC. Before joining the team, Machacek was the VP of Finance & Operations at United Way of Cass-Clay and a business banker at U.S. Bank.