To invest or not invest. Investing in your people is a big decision. The real issue here is that it depends on where you are in the growth of your company. But for nearly all of the companies I see, they must be investing the right way. When you are investing in your people, you want to make sure it is more than just traditional training that gets certifications and technology tools. Today’s guest is Nour Baki, Co-Founder at Instafuel. Inc Magazine ranked his company #1298 on the 2021 Inc 5000 list. Instafuel is the most innovative way to improve efficiency and increase profitability within your fleet. Nour gives his reasons for investing in your people. We look beyond the traditional methods companies are doing it.
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Nour Baki: The Transcript
About: Instafuel co-founders Wisam Nahhas and Nour Baki began in the mobile fueling space in 2014 with another service, FuelMe LLC, which specialized in corporate clients, universities, and other large entities. They parted ways with FuelMe to found Instafuel in 2015, with a focus squarely on business-to-business (B2B) fueling. Since then, the company has quietly worked to establish a base of fleet customers and compete with other mobile fueling services for market share.
Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.
Nour Baki: We couldn’t find guys from that side of the business that fit in our culture. , we’re a young company. Very much a progressive company, transit technology, dictation. We just do things differently. And these guys were very much stuck in their ways and they didn’t want to change. And so we made a conscious decision early on in the business team to say, you know what? We don’t want guys like that, but let’s bring our own guys, and let’s find some good quality candidates that fit our culture. We’re willing to learn new things out of new different things. And let’s, let’s invest in that. Let’s get them certified with their CDLs, with their medication. I’m going to train them the Instafuel way. And what we found was not only did those guys stick longer, they were there. You know, some of the drivers that we have five years ago are still with us today.
Intro: Welcome to Growth Think Tank. This is the one and only place where you will get insight from the founders and the CEOs, the fastest growing privately held companies. I am the host. My name is Gene Hammett. I hope leaders and their teams navigate the defining moments of their growth. Are you ready to grow?
Gene Hammett: Do you have a plan for hiring the best employees, developing those employees, and creating a place where they are contributing to the bottom line and the best way possible will your job as the founder or CEO of your company must mean that you have some thoughts around what it takes to create a place where people love to come to work. One of the most important aspects of that is investing in your people. Investing in your people really does mean that you’ve got to identify the skill gaps, the mindset gaps, and all of the details that they want to improve on. Provide those services. Provide that space so that they can create more impact within the company. They’re increasing their own value. All of this wraps up into what I like to think of is people taking ownership of their role because they’re growing inside of this. This is one of the factors of people feeling like owners in the company. I studied this with fast growth companies. Today’s interview is with a co-founder of Instafuel.
They’re a really unique mobile fueling company that, where they deliver it to your fleet site, but they have technology wrapped into this. So they know where every gallon goes. We’re talking with Nour Baki, about what does it take to invest in your people the right way? What does it mean to invest in your people and where did he get all these details? One of the things I like about this conversation, and he talks about really, how do you create a space for an entry-level employee to move up the ranks of the company to become a contributing manager or leader inside of this workforce. And this has been necessary, a recipe for their company to continue to grow at the pace they are because they have a path for people to evolve and grow, invest in your people is really critical aspect of really getting the most out of people and getting them engaged in work. When they know that you care about them and you invest in them, they show up differently for the work that they’re doing. Today’s episode is all about you being the best leader you can be. If you have any questions about what’s next for you. I want you to go to GeneHammett.com, figure out some of the content that you want to consume.
Happy to help you with that. If you just reach out to me, I’d be willing to, to guide you in that, just go to GeneHammett.com. Send me an email through the contact form, but if you are not sure about what your next step is as a leader, what you really need to focus on, then my job is to help you do that. It’s absolutely free. All you have to do is go to GeneHammett.com and you can click on there to apply, to, to have a conversation with me. There’s no cost. And if you’re the founder or CEO of a fast-growth company or someone who wants to be a fast-growth company, then I’d love to help you figure out what’s next for you. Just go to GeneHammett.com.
Now here’s the interview with Nour,
Nour, how are you?
Nour Baki: Good, good Gene, how are you?
Gene Hammett: I’m fantastic. Excited to have you on Growth Think Tank.
Nour Baki: I appreciate you guys having me on. I’m very excited.
Gene Hammett: Nour, you have been selected to be on the show because of the growth you’ve had in your company, the way you see leadership, and people. Before we dive into that, let’s talk about the company you’ve created here. Instafuel. Tell us a little bit about, more about that.
Nour Baki: Yeah. Instafuel, server with my business partner and I back in 2015, six years old, almost seven years old. , we are an on-demand fuel delivery service. So we go out and we deliver directly into vehicles. , we specifically target business suites. So any business that has somewhere between five to a thousand vehicles at the park overnight, that’s who we go after we go, we go at night, we refuel all their vehicles, all their equipment and send them customized reports every morning with what was filled and what wasn’t filled, et cetera. And we’ve been growing steadily ever since. , it’s been a crazy ride over the last five years or so.
Gene Hammett: What makes your company different. Is that the emphasis you put on innovation and technology? Tell us just a little bit about why that’s so important in your industry.
Nour Baki: So mobile fueling is an initiative. We plan mobile feeling as it’s not a new industry, it’s been around for about 30 to 40 years or so. , but it’s a very, , we, we call it a legacy business. It’s, it’s basically guys from the seventies, eighties. We’ve built their businesses and they’re very much old school and the way they go about their operations. So everything’s very much paperwork and there’s no legitimate tracking. , and it is very much, there’s a lot of room for improvement efficiencies in their processes. So my background, my business background we’re from work, we have a tech background, so we’ve been doing mobile development since we were in college. And, at the time we had an idea for basically doing something called Uber for gas. That was kind of the idea for the business. And it evolved into basically becoming a mobile refueler for businesses and B2B mobile refueling. And we, when we were, in the early beginnings or early stage of the business, I was the first driver. I was the Salesforce sales person mechanic. I touched pretty much every aspect of business early on. And by doing that, I was able to see just how. Inefficient things where, , what’s out the technology aspect. And so given our background in technology, we were able to implement, you know, I-phones mobile apps, , you know, GPS, technology, Bluetooth technology, et cetera, to basically really implement the technology technological foundation to the business process.
And that’s allowed us to become extremely efficient way efficient than these legacy businesses. , and it’s allowed us, it’s actually allowed us to facilitate that growth over the last few years without it. I don’t think we would’ve been able to scale the way we have.
Gene Hammett: And it sounds like when you have something different than what the technology is because I imagine that that business is a little bit stale in their approach to investing in technology. And so you came in with a better mousetrap, but you’ve been able to probably build a foundation that is hard for them to catch up on.
Nour Baki: Correct. Correct. And something that our technology also lets us do is we’re able to go after a specific market, market segment. So, right. So our legacy fuelers and their legacy businesses, go after full fuel delivery, big tanks, gas stations. We go after very small customers. So, you know, a landscape that has 10 trucks or delivery service that has 15. And our technology allows us to be very nimble and very accurate to the way we can fill these legacy businesses just can not physically do it. It’s a big truck of technology that can keep track of where every single gallon going. we’re able to do that very well.
Gene Hammett: Well, as interesting as this is, we came here to really talk about what are the foundational elements that are driving the business. And I know that when we talked the other day doing a little bit of research, that you have a different approach to hiring the most companies you like to select people that have not had experience in your industry, they don’t come in with a bad habit. , tell us a little bit about more, why you like to hire from the outside.
Nour Baki: So it’s a great question, actually. So we first started the business. That’s what we originally did, and we just won’t look at drivers that were in competing businesses and we try to get them on board. And what we found was our businesses was a lot different than that. So we had different types of trucks, different types of fueling, procedures, different types of safety procedures. And what we found was that these guys that were coming from these other businesses just had a bunch of bad habits. And they were just very much stuck in their ways of how they, how they would like to live. There was their job and it just would not apply with what we were trying to build. And so that’s number one, number two, it was just, we couldn’t find guys from that side of the business that fit in our culture. , we’re a young company. Very much a progressive company, transit technology, dictation. We just do things differently. And these guys were very much stuck in their ways and they didn’t want to change. And so we made a conscious decision early on in the business team to say, you know what? We don’t want guys like that, but let’s bring our own guys, and let’s find some good quality candidates that fit our culture. We’re willing to learn new things out of new, different things. And let’s, let’s invest in that. Let’s get them certified with their CDLs, with their has medication. I’m going to train them the Instafuel way. And what we found was not only did those guys, stick longer, they were there. You know, some of our drivers that we have five years ago are still with us today. , but we have a very much, we have a very high, retention, I would say around the 80%, even, even in today’s, you know, drivers, shortage, condition, market conditions, right now, we’re still very much able to hold on to our, our drivers. And we’re still able to find decent drivers to jump on board with us. And so that’s kind of been our mantra and that’s what we’re looking to keep going with in the future.
Commentary: Hold on for a second, Nour, talked about fit for our culture. You may be wondering what that means, but I ask a lot of questions with the guests I have on the show. One of the questions I ask is what’s the biggest mistake you’ve made about 50 to 60% of the time. The one biggest mistake that they’ve made is they’ve hired people for skill fit, not a cultural fit, and culture fit really is an understanding of the values of the company. Making sure you’re selecting people based on those values first and then training them for skills that they need to be trained because they won’t learn the values in training, they come naturally to them and you want to make sure you’re bringing in people that are a good fit to collaborate together. Trust each other. You don’t have that you really are missing the opportunity. In fact, later in the interview, he talks about people that are bad apples or cancer to the organization. You want to make sure that you have the right processes to figure out what the fit of the culture means inside your hiring process. And then you want to make sure that you weed out those people, that aren’t a fit back to the interview.
Gene Hammett: You said something really interesting there Nour, train the Instafuel way. I know that that’s a pretty big phase, a phrase there. What is the Instafuel way?
Nour Baki: It’s, it’s, it’s kind of based on what myself, my business partner did back early on in our Instafuel, , go opening up the company, which was we’re we’re we’re everything in the company. Like I mentioned, where the first drivers or the salespeople were the first accountants, the mechanics. And so every employee that we hire that we bring on board, we want them to kind of, , learn it that way. So our whole business revolves around our customer, but also revolves around what is it like to be a driver? So if we hire a new salesperson, we want him to spend the night, you know, driving around with driver. The fueler and see what it’s like delivery fuel. , the same thing with anyone from the admin side or even new drivers that would bring on board. We asked you to do a ride along with us before we even hire them. Hey, here’s what the job’s about. Here’s what we’re expected from you. Is this a good fit for you? And that’s kind of how we lead out guys who are not looking for something like this. And so we’d like to give everyone a taste of what the Instafuel way is before we bring them on board. That’s kind of been our way to weed out some of the people that we don’t want the company
Gene Hammett: I’m assuming that saves you some, some money and heartache in the long run
Nour Baki: Of course, definitely we learned that the hard way. So especially early on hiring guys, that we didn’t, that were just, we were just desperate to find drivers and ended up being a huge, , net negative for us in the long run
Gene Hammett: Nour, you have, if you hire people from the outside, Of your industry. That means they don’t come in with the certificates and certifications that are necessary for them to do some of their job functions. And so you guys do a good bit on investing in your people. What does that include? ,
Nour Baki: So, kind of give you an example. So the first driver that we ever hired, he is now our regional head of operations. So he’s managing all of the operations right now in the state of Texas for us. , we’ve seen his growth development, see, not community. For most of the job I’ve seen how he was able to demonstrate management skills, you know, brief little flashes of skills like that. And we thought the best way to have somebody manage the operations in some way that came from the, from the beginning, learned of these Instafuel ways to apply that same mentality and culture. Moving forward as we scale. And so, , we love to hide from the inside. So we want our drivers, wherever it is to grow with us as a company, literally every single branch management, we have pretty much our entire branch operation management team is all former drivers. , we don’t, and that’s what we want. They, they know who the way we’d like to run the business and they can, bring that out and find guys to do to grow the business that way.
Gene Hammett: So what I’m hearing there is you’re not just investing in the licensing. Safety certifications that are necessary to drive a truck. You’re investing in them in other ways, to help them move into, , you know, management, leadership positions within the company.
Nour Baki: And again, we’re not looking for guys to be used to the theater again, they don’t know how to use the gear. We’ll show them how to use the computer programs and that stuff we can use. But it’s a matter of them truly understanding the core of our values as a company, what we’re expected from our drivers, our customer service. And our quality of service. , that’s the hard part that takes a lot of time to develop and these employees. So again, we’ll train wherever we want to train as long as we believe that that guy or that girl is the right fit for us.
Gene Hammett: What other strategies have you seen as important that drive the growth of the business.
Nour Baki: So number one is definitely a, , a good hiring process. Being able to truly understand what you’re looking for. It was gonna be a good fit and make those decisions constantly, the right decisions, possibly number two, on a big believer, like I mentioned earlier, technology adaptation, I think technology, allows for a much, much more efficient operation. At the end of the day. You can’t replace a good driver, but at the, at the same time, you can make them realize a lot easier. And that helps with retention and overall morale and satisfaction from the driver’s point. , number three at one of our key mantras as impedance, if there’s a customer. We are extremely customer-focused. We have the highest, not only we have the highest customer retention rate. I think we have a lot of 90% customer retention, right? So we don’t lose customers. , and that’s because of the dedication that we have to provide as best quality service possible. Our customers every morning, when they are, when their fleets, about to leave, they feel they can rest assured that those vehicles are filled and ready to go.
And so costs potentially customer detail, customer satisfaction, hiring, right guys, those are, those are our four pillars.
Gene Hammett: I say this with a smile, but it’s easy to maintain growth and keep growing when you have a 98% customer retention rate.
Nour Baki: Yeah. I mean, it’s not easy. I’ll say that it’s not easy, but you know, that’s, that’s what keeps us extremely happy. And that’s what that’s, that is the biggest selling point to me is knowing that our customers, , you know, since our first customer that we suppose that 2015 is still with us today, that, that, that says something I believe.
Gene Hammett: So I want to turn the spotlight on you for a second. You have a co-founder in this, you have someone that you can bounce ideas off of, but have you ever made any mistakes in this journey that you’re willing to share with us?
Nour Baki: Oh, definitely. I mean, like I mentioned earlier, you know, we were so desperate to like this find drivers and the growth of the business, and we hire some very, very bad apples, that at the time we didn’t realize the mistake that we made, but we saw very, very quickly that, those guys were somewhat, maybe cancer is not the right term, but they were just spreading bad vibes. If you will, across the entire operation, you know, they would say something and it would cause other guys to say something and it would, it was just. The circuits almost. So you can see the cracks beginning to form. And then, and that was the kind of switch that we’ve made in our mind where let’s take our time. Let’s find the right guys. And that’s not just bringing in anybody with a pulse to come to this. You know, they come and join our team. You’ve got to find the right people. That was one of the big, big mistakes that we learned early on. And I would say, the second mistake is hitting on customers that you shouldn’t be taking off.
, sometimes again, desperate, early on in business is desperate to really be, to have success. , we were taking anybody that would give us an opportunity to fuel them up. And again, early on in the business, we learned that not every single customer is not created equal in a way. So we were, we had customers who never paid their bills that went out of business as soon as we started dealing with them. And they just essentially sold fuel, again, learning curves. And we learned to like, you know, you got to have a process to vouch for customers, put them through, back on chasing customers and those mistakes. Even though there were mistakes were extremely valuable and allowed us to grow at the rate that we wanted to grow and sustain that growth.
Gene Hammett: Well, I appreciate you having the courage to share with us that you’ve made mistakes. Typically, when I asked a similar question, everyone has to pause. It’s like, well, which mistake do you want? Cause there are so many in the journey when you’re innovating, mistakes are just part of that path. So thank you for sharing that with us,
keeping on the theme of looking at you personally, you’ve we’ve all been through inflection points or defining moments in our own leadership. What would you say? One is that you could share with us today?
Nour Baki: Well, it’s a funny story actually. , I’d mentioned our first driver that we were hired, Roy. , this is back in 2015, I think. And, we were still learning the business. He was our first hire. We’re trying to figure everything out. And he was out in the field doing fields one side and he was actually attacked by a wild dog or something like that. Some weird animal came up in that, tried to bite him. He injured. , and I went out there and I went out there, you know, midnight one, and I’m getting an ambulance and sending him to the hospital and getting all this stuff taken care of. And it was a huge wake-up call where it’s like, you know, these are your employees. You’re responsible for them. What happens to them after you’re at your office or what happens to the customer locations on the field? And, it made me, it made the entire management team very, very cognizant and conscious of, you know, we got to make sure we take care of this guys. That’s where the technology is very important, but also safety procedures. And, you know, we’re not gonna, we’re not willing to do everything. The customer asks if it puts our guys in danger. And that was kind of another learning event for us where it’s, you know, we’ll do our best, but at the end of the day, safety comes first and we’re not going to jump through these crazy hoops to try to fill up a, , a piece of equipment that’s unreachable. If that makes sense. But Hey, you know, Troy worked out and he’s running the whole operation for us right now. So, but it was very much an eye-opening experience for us.
Commentary: Nour, talked about it’s your responsibility to take care of employees? Well, a lot of leaders don’t have that same thinking that they think that, that they hire someone, they need to get the job done. And then that’s it. But I will find that great leaders, people that really do care about their employees have a sense of empathy and understand it’s really important for them to feel understood. It’s very important for them to feel like they’re being taken care of. Why does that matter? Well, if you really want people to stick around and you want a sense of loyalty, you want to make sure that they are rising to the occasion when necessary, then they’ve got to feel taken care of. And your job as a leader is to create that. Now you may want to also think about how your frontline leaders and managers are treating employees. They’re not just talking about how to get the work done. Managing the work is actually pretty easy. Leading the people is the hard part, and that’s the most important piece to you. Being a stronger leader, stronger culture, and creating the kind of company that you love to go to work to. All of this wraps up with you being the best leader you can be. We create content to help you do. If you have any questions, make sure you reach out, back to Nour.
Gene Hammett: Now I’ve had so many interviews on the podcast that, , a lot of leaders understand the importance of their employees, that they would actually say that employees are the number one factor for their own focus. Given that the company has to focus on the customer, but leaders focus on the safety of employees and a space for them to grow. You guys investing in people. You’ve got a lot of the things that are just working well. Is there anything I’ve left out that has contributed to the success of the company?
Nour Baki: That’s a good question. I don’t say off the top of my head. I can’t recall anything again. I mean, my personally for me, I make sure in our drivers, like from out, they leave the yard at three or four o’clock in the afternoon. They don’t at the yard at like [3:00] AM and I’m usually up at [2:30] and making sure that those guys are okay, I’m checking the, our group chats and they and make sure every single driver, every single city is doing well with the, no, it’s no issues because I’ve in a day I don’t sleep well. If I know that our guys are having issues, I feel that’s just the way. , and that goes not just for me, but I think that entire management executive management. And so, , employees are the key. I cannot stress this enough are the key to our roles and our success without them. It’s, it’s, it’s meaningless. So our job is to make sure that we provide the best safety, the safe environment for them to work and provide the permission of the job is as easy as it possibly can. It’s guys and girls,
Gene Hammett: Nour, you’ve given us a lot to think about. We all evolve as leaders. I really appreciate you being here on the show, sharing your wisdom.
Nour Baki: It was a pleasure, man. Thank you very much for having me.
Gene Hammett: So I just want to wrap up what I take away from today’s interview is so that you have this quick summary that you can figure out what you can do next. As you evolve as a leader, you want to make sure you have the right hiring processes because getting the right people in will help you avoid those bad apples than really important for you to create a place where people love to come to work. They’re going to stay with you for a while. They have a sense of loyalty and that they really are contributing to the overall mission of the company. You want to make sure you’re investing in your people the right way.
That doesn’t mean just the technology courses or just the project management courses or whatever it is in your industry. There are many other aspects to investing in people, and that is the key to you keeping people growing and moving up, just like the example of the first employee, it goes from driver to, being, , you know, contributing into the management and leadership of the company that is important for all of us.
And third, you want to make sure that you have a space for moving people up. People want opportunity. People want, to see that they’re coming into one role, but there’s a chance to move to the next, with more skills, more value that is creating for themselves. That gives them a sense of ownership. All of these things wrapped up together. Make this a place where people really have to think hard about leaving, and they’re really attracted to come to us. If you’re having trouble hiring mixture, you think about all these factors and if you’re not sure what your next step is evolving as a leader, we have a community of founders and CEOs of fast growth companies.
You don’t have to be on the Inc 5,000 to apply, but we’d love for you to check that out. If you think you’re interested, it’s fastgrowthboardroom.com. We do a lot of fun stuff. We expand our capacity to lead, and it really is a great way for you to evolve as a leader. Just check out. fastgrowthboardroom.com as always lead with courage. Will see you next time.
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