Stuzo has spent the last 9 years quietly building technologies and customer relationships that seem to have suddenly thrust the company into something of a spotlight. At some point in most companies’ growth curves they are going to reach a threshold that makes anonymity impractical. Stuzo looks to have reached that point.
I had a chance to sit down with Gunter Pfau, Stuzo’s Founder and CEO, to talk about their 9-year road to “sudden” success – as evidenced by the recent announcement of their work with Chevron USA.
To understand Stuzo’s offerings and the value that they represent to some of the largest players in the C-store / fuel space, you need to understand their unique approach to engagement technology and to understand that, you almost need to understand the history of the company, and in particular, the history of its founder. Gunter Pfau and his father immigrated from Eastern Europe when Gunter was 11 years old. As he tells it, their country was becoming increasingly dangerous and difficult for them so, at tremendous personal risk, and through a series of hopscotch moves into and through several friendlier countries, they landed in the U.S. with a small savings and enough discipline and energy to chase the American dream. Every penny was dear and accounted for. Every success was hard-fought and won. Debt was to be avoided at all costs. And as Gunter ventured into entrepreneurship, a question guided him and his teams: “How can we take the status quo, do it differently and better?”
Look hard enough and it’s not difficult to see those values at work in Stuzo.
Can you talk about Stuzo’s structured, disciplined approach to the business? It seems to me that this is foundational to what you have been able to pull off.
We are very disciplined to remain within the things we do well – and we spend a lot of time thinking about things that are strategic – that deliver actual value – business outcomes.
We have this categorization mechanism internally where we ask – is this capability something that we deem as strategic? Is it something that we deem as table stakes? Or is it something that we deem as a commodity? And we then we have really critical, strategic debates around how much we invest depending on where something fits within those three areas. Those are the three buckets for us.
We go deep on strategic – really deep. Our intent is to go deeper than others on our strategic priorities. On the other hand, if we think something is a commodity, our attempt is to commoditize it over time. And if it’s something we consider to be table stakes, then there are debates to determine, do we really need that? Or can we partner on that?
We’re big believers in the partner concept – excel at the very few things that we can be the best at and partner with best-in-class suppliers on the rest.
Talk to me, as much as you can without divulging anything proprietary, about the Chevron deal.
We’re lucky to be working with a customer with a very strong drive for innovation. That makes a huge difference to us as we’re working with them to develop solutions. That then gives us an opportunity as a company to really bring ideas to bear that may not have been thought of and could be adding value to Chevron’s business, to its stakeholders, which are the dealers that operate Chevron and Texaco branded fuel retail sites, and to Chevron’s retail consumers.
A lot of marketing technology providers have either spun off their consulting and services divisions or never offered them in the first place, choosing instead to focus on licensing their SAAS platforms and outsourcing human expertise. But Stuzo has a different approach. Can you talk about that?
That’s actually one of our biggest advantages. We’re not driven by VC money toward “growth at all costs”. We’re solid financially and have the resources and expertise internally to fully support all of our customer initiatives. That means one phone number for support. That means that every customer interaction is driven by longer term goals than simply deal-making. And it means that we get to choose the customers that we feel we can best add value to.
That comes directly from how I was raised. I was 15 and my dad got me a credit card and said, “Now you’re going to get a job and you’re going to learn how to manage money and pay your own way.” Those lessons from my teenage years inform so much of how we, as a company, behave.
I’ve followed the Stuzo’s journey from the sidelines for the past few years and, from my perspective, things are just now getting interesting. You’ve succesfully served one of the biggest customer relationships in this space for nearly three years and counting and the market is just now starting to become aware of what you can do with your technology.
Gunter, thanks for the perspective, thinking and time. I’m looking forward to the next time we can do this.
Same here, Mike.