Episode 47

Craig Fuller

Content: To Build or To Buy?

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In this episode, Adam and Carlton are joined by Craig Fuller, the founder and CEO at FreightWaves and CEO at FLYING. Craig talks about how he got into the media industry, everything that’s going on at FLYING, and whether you should build or buy your way into content creation.

Highlights from the conversation:

  • Craig’s background and career journey (7:07)
  • Fly-In Luxury Resort (12:47)
  • Building vs. buying content (25:32)


Keep up with Craig:

  • Twitter: https://twitter.com/FreightAlley


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Transcription generated by Otter.ai

Adam Vazquez 0:06
Alright, we’re back. Another episode of Content Is for Closers, Carlton. What’s going on?

Carlton Riffel 0:09
It’s going good man. We’re recording early this morning. Adam’s got his nice deep bass voice on.

Adam Vazquez 0:16
8 am voice. Yeah, it’s a little earlier than normal.

Carlton Riffel 0:19
Yeah. So today we got an episode with Craig Fuller, super interesting businesses that he runs for the one that we were messing with first is called FreightWaves. We’ve had a few guests that have talked about that business as well. But really, he’s he’s mastered the art of turning these massive media business. They’re making these massive media businesses on kind of interesting niche areas. So Adam, you know a little bit more once you explain who he is.

Adam Vazquez 0:46
Yeah, I want to go even a little bit deeper because Craig deserves all due respect and has earned everything that he has built with FreightWaves. And now, what he really came on to talk about was FLYING Media and FLYING Magazine. But I was just doing a little digging a little research when I was preparing for this and their family is so fascinating. The fuller family and Craig’s done interviews about their family. If you are in the trucking or logistics space, you’re probably familiar with that name. They’re kind of like the, like the Rothschilds or the like Vanderbilts or something like that of the trucking logistics space. So Craig’s grandfather, Clyde, Kent, comes to Chattanooga and starts a logistics trucking logistics company, his set his boys, Max, and then stepbrother, David Parker, they then start what are now us express and covenant transport, which again, if you’re in the space, if you’re in Chattanooga, you know, pillars of the community. If you’re in the trucking logistics space, you’re familiar with both of those names, both very strong players. And so Max Craig’s father starts us express, Craig works in and around that business for a long time, realizes he needs to go start his own thing and so does a few different things with varying levels of success until he comes to the idea that he needs to be the data kind of center and the data brokerage, essentially, for the trucking logistics space. So he starts FreightWaves, which, again, we’ve talked about on this show before Craig has come on back, when we were doing the startup show and talked about FreightWaves, they’ve collectively raised $92.4 million for that business, and are kind of doing a dual-sided media business for consumers, as well as the data side that they’re selling into the industry. So huge success in everything that’s going on. beautiful building, beautiful space, beautiful team, everything. Craig though, during COVID decides I need to do another project, because 92.4 with FreightWaves is nice and everything, but like, I like to do other stuff. So it’s been an aviator has been a pilot his entire life, goes and buys the media source in that industry, FLYING Media and FLYING Magazine, and has now become CEO of that. And so that’s what he comes on to talk about specifically today. But it’s just like this crazy. You hear about legacy in business you hear about to me that this family is a modern dynasty in this very small niche of transportation. It’s just super fascinating.

Carlton Riffel 3:29
Yeah, that really is interesting. And I love he makes the point in the episode, but he talks about how he didn’t start FreightWaves as a media company, he started to as this data and logistics firm, essentially. And then kind of discovered that media was the best way to deliver that. And so I think that’s really fascinating. And then he’s kind of taking that knowledge about how you leverage media to have a successful business, and apply that to FLYING Magazine. He makes a great point about owning your audience. We live in such an era right now where owning your audience is kind of difficult, we’ve kind of given away that ability to several platforms, whether that’s social media platforms, or that’s to some degree, even different software platforms that we use, and we’ve kind of given that away. So he talks about having it owning it, being able to use it for whatever purpose and in this case, they do some really cool with it, which is starting entire community.

Adam Vazquez 4:30
That part to me is the most fascinating it’s like when you find someone who is a true to the core entrepreneur who has to continue reinventing and recreating, it’s not about selling one product or one type of business. Craig is a perfect example. We’ve just gone through several and now land development in real estate has become the newest venture and it’s been pretty cool for anyone who is in the content space in the media space to see what the opportunities for leveraging content media are to then pivot into the real world and leverage other things that are physical or analog. So I thought that was really exciting, too.

Carlton Riffel 5:11
Yeah, absolutely. And I’ve heard people say it before where they’re talking about the only reason that person was able to do that is because they have an audience. And we kind of use that as like a way of saying, like, well, they’re already famous. But we can’t negate the fact that it takes a lot of work a lot of time to build that. And you can do it intentionally. And for those of you that are in a business, and thinking about how does this all apply to me, I’m not gonna buy a magazine for an entire industry. Well, there are different plays that are similar to that, whether that’s buying an experience or finding a way to offer that experience, through content to your customers that can help you leverage your business. So great. A lot of takeaways in this episode, but let’s jump in.

Craig Fuller 5:56
Put that content down. Content. The close is over. What’s your name? Content. That’s my name. You know why, mister? Because you drove a Hyundai to get here tonight. I drove an $80,000 BMW. That’s my name. Content Is for Closers.

Adam Vazquez 6:18
All right, we are back yet again. Another episode of Content Is for Closers. And we have someone who has been on this podcast feed before although I believe that the show was titled differently at the time, Craig Fuller, CEO of FLYING or actually, I’ll let you introduce yourself, because I don’t know your titles, but appreciate you coming on the show.

Craig Fuller 6:37
Yeah, thanks, Adam. So I am the CEO FLYING Magazine. I’m also the founder and CEO of FreightWaves, which is a data and media company that serves the global supply chain. And then I also recently got into a real estate project that took a spin-off of FLYING Magazine, which is a residential fly-in luxury resort in East Tennessee.

Adam Vazquez 6:58
Yeah. So that’s what I’m really excited to talk to you about and sort of the merger between the first two into this last one. But before we get there, I wanted to lay some context. I’ve seen in some of the articles that you started flying at 13 or 14. I’m completely out of the pilot world, but how is that even possible? You can’t drive a car ’till 16. So how did your flying experience happen?

Craig Fuller 7:22
Well, you can fly with an instructor until you’re 16. So that’s what I did was I started learning to fly with an instructor when I was 13, I think sort of inspired by Top Gun, Microsoft Flight Simulator, I’ve always been enamored with airplanes, and the ticket flying lessons at 13 years old. And it really, aviation has always been stuff that I’ve been interested in. And so last year, I had the opportunity to buy fly magazine. And I did that and looked at ways to sort of monetize that business, outside of media, and outside of advertising. And this opportunity to become to build a resort and build a community really became apparent to me.

Adam Vazquez 8:03
Yeah, I’ve seen you refer to that being able to buy that magazine as the opportunity to buy the Yankees, if you’re a flying enthusiast, or a pilot enthusiast. How did that come about? Like, why did you buy it? How did you even discover that it was something that could be bought? All of that story.

Craig Fuller 8:24
Yeah, so the magazine is something that I grew up with, I think it’s probably for folks that are into sports, sort of like Sports Illustrated, but for pilots. So it was something that I was familiar with as a media executive, someone who’s been around media. I think I look at things a little different when I’m reading magazines or consuming content, because it’s not so much a I’m reading his article, and this article is really engaging, how could I potentially do it better, I think anyone who’s ever done anything, and then goes out and experiences that, from an observer standpoint, probably experiences the same sort of perspective on how things operate. And for me, it was, as I sort of got back into aviation, I started reading and consuming the content that was brought to buy the magazine in the media outlet, and felt like, there was a lot of opportunities to upgrade it and a lot of opportunities to build onto it. And that’s what I’ve been doing.

Adam Vazquez 9:23
Yeah, you sort of just slid in there that you had been in the media space and operating as media executive. But that’s not always the case. Right? You used to work in tech, then you came into media, now you’re doing media of a different sort, and also land development. How are you able to, or what’s your process when you’re coming into a new industry, to be able to sort of get up to speed seamlessly integrate, and then you go aggressive when you start doing something? So what’s your process for getting into that stuff?

Craig Fuller 9:56
Yeah, well, I’m not a media executive by trade. I wasn’t trained. I have zero formal training and media, I discovered it at through FreightWaves is essentially, when we first started the business, we had trouble getting adoption of our data because people didn’t understand it. And people didn’t understand the need for real-time information, there was no equivalent media business that was focused on the real-time, sort of business of, of supply chain. And so we ended up creating our own media outlet. And I think we found that that was pretty successful as a playbook to do that. And as I looked at FLYING, it was taking a magazine, which had predominantly been print-focused and hadn’t really made a significant transition to digital. And it was an opportunity to bring those my experience together and building FreightWaves with this new magazine asset that I had just purchased.

Adam Vazquez 10:52
And what about the tactical steps around that? When you buy something that’s new, are you hiring a whole new team? are you leveraging the teammates that you already had from FreightWaves? And things like that? Or is there any of that infrastructure carryover that helped you push FLYING out so quickly?

Craig Fuller 11:11
Well, no. I brought on a whole new team to FLYING. It’s a completely separate business. But I think one of the sort of features of being a founder and entrepreneur and having both successes and failures along the way is, you start to understand what makes a team click, you understand who are the people that you want to bring on. So I look for people that are highly energy ambitious, or intellectually curious. And I would prioritize all of those things over experience. In fact, I would, in some ways discount experience as a sort of a feature of when I go hire people is because experience. One of the challenges of hiring somebody with experience is that you get a lot of bias in their sort of approach to problems. Whereas if you hire someone who’s intellectually curious and ambitious, they will try to figure it out. So when I’ve looked at FLYING, what I’ve tried to do typically for management wise is, is bring on leadership that’s intellectually curious that can help drive the business, and then surround them with with more tactician folks that may be experienced in their particular area. But I think for really what has made FLYING successful in the transition is the fact that we’ve looked at it completely fresh and sort of taking on an entirely fresh approach to it.

Adam Vazquez 12:32
Yeah. So I mean, when you talk about a fresh approach, like very few people buy magazines, and then announced shortly after they’re going to— I mean, you’ve only owned it for a year and a half.

Craig Fuller 12:41
Well, actually less than a year.

Adam Vazquez 12:43
Less than a year. Okay. Yeah. So super short window of time. And already have announced a bunch of new stuff: a redesign magazine, more print editions (you recently talked about). But then the big one is a billion-dollar land development in Sequatchie Valley. Where did that idea come from? How did that come to you? From buying a magazine to developing this community?

Craig Fuller 13:10
Well, we knew that we had the audience. So I think one of the things that’s commonly misunderstood about audiences, is that you can either rent your audience through Facebook or Google or you can own your audience through your own organic content. One of the nice things about owning a leading media brand, and whatever vertical you’re in is you essentially own that audience. And so that audience is yours. You’re not renting it from Google and Facebook, if you think about how audience works in terms of acquisition, you can go spend a lot of money to acquire traffic from Google and Facebook and a lot of businesses that sort of what they do, it’s easy to operate sort of lean into it, you can accelerate your budgets, you can pull them back. And you can mathematically figure out well, if I spend X number of dollars, I’ll get wide number of deals closed. The challenge is that you don’t actually own that audience, that audience is something you’re essentially renting for as long as you’re paying. So it is it’s a challenge, because what you’re actually doing is not building something long-term. And I think in some ways, it’s made marketers inherently lazy, because they can get access to audience without having to work very hard, because as long as they figure out how to use the algorithms now, I would suggest that you still need that strategy. But you should also have organic content, but we knew we had the audience. And I think it was what are we what can we do? Or what should we do to help sort of monetize that in ways outside of just advertising and subscriptions, which is really the sort of lifeblood of magazines. And really what we identified were a couple of problems that exist in the aviation space predominantly around aviation real estate or where do you park your airplane? So we’re going to put it in a hangar and what we realized is, there wasn’t really a lot of the airports around the country are owned by municipalities. Municipalities are not eager to add real estate functions for aircraft storage, if you will, or aircraft hangers. Typically for small general aviation aircraft, they tend to focus more on large corporate jets, we see this orange Chattanooga, where the city and the airport will optimize for jobs. And provide land and save land for potential job expansions and projects for when it comes to providing places to store aircraft. They just weren’t willing or able to do that. And so one of the problems that every pilot exist or contends with is where do you store your aircraft, and often that’s much more difficult than acquiring an aircraft. And so one of the things we identified is that there’s this massive shortage of hangar space across the country that isn’t easily sort of dealt with people are not building new airports, a lot of new airports are not coming in. It’s not as if hangar space is easy to come by, because these are municipal airports, they’re not willing to sort of provide it for us. So you have to sort of build on to that. And we went and looked at opportunities to go out and construct that. And one of the things that we felt was if we take the Blackberry resort model and create an aviation fly-in community that you could have homes at a spa and a hotel all sort of connected in this sort of outdoor lifestyle element?

Adam Vazquez 16:29
Yes, it’s such a unique idea. I mean, you see it in tons of other lifestyle? Well, I shouldn’t say that. I guess there is there are a few I’ve seen you mentioned the airport park or airport field is near outwest camp near Jackson Hole or something like it’s the Alpine airport in Wyoming Alpine airport. Okay. But you see it in lots of other lifestyle things like golf or whatever, but not typically around something as specific as flying. How does a deal like that come together? Is that something that like? Do you just go buy the land? Do you start selling this vision to potential owners prior to making that? How do you go about doing that?

Craig Fuller 17:12
Yeah, so we purchased the land is 1,500 acres in East Tennessee, and we have not yet broke ground. We’ve not constructed anything, nor have we planted the property. So essentially, we’ve acquired the land that we own the land. And that we announced that we’re doing this airport, we announced that we’re doing this luxury flying community in East Tennessee. And we announced that through the magazine, so just sort of a demonstration of the power of owning your own audience. Since we announced that we announced that in February, very first part of February, it is now May, so we’re mid-May, at this point, we have in that, really that sick three and a half months, since we’ve announced it, we have sold 85 lots, so we paid 3.6 5 million for the land, we paid 2400 an acre, we are selling the acres at 600,000 an acre and we’ve sold 85 Quarter acres, or would be roughly equivalent to 21 acres or is 21 acres. And so right at about $14 million, and land is what we’ve actually sold, and then is simply taking one ad out and are now two ads out. And our own magazines we’re essentially paying ourselves to, to advertise this air part. And that’s what made it really, really powerful.

Adam Vazquez 18:38
That’s awesome. So what’s the response been—aside from obviously the 85 people who have have sold that—from the community? Are they shocked by this? Are they excited by it? Obviously, it’s got to be something pretty pretty novel for them.

Craig Fuller 18:51
Are you talking about the community in the area?

Adam Vazquez 18:54
No, just the—

Craig Fuller 18:54
Maybe so I would say I would characterize it to the aviation community. The FLYING Magazine community is incredibly excited about it. It’s it’s a destination is a dream. It is something that I think a lot of people conceptualize, one of the sort of surprising things that we found was that the demographic of pilots are predominantly dudes, men, that are really they tend to skew a little bit older than sort of the average. A lot of it has to do with the fact that aviation, when it was sort of growing up, was a lot of the people who are currently pilots, are our former military, had been in Vietnam, or had been in the Gulf War, and so there’s an older audience, but it tends to be sort of mid 50s I would say the audience that is purchased at that the fields has sort of meets that standard is sort of empty nesters that are high net worth individuals that are looking for the benefits of living in Tennessee without you The right capital gains tax or income tax, but also very low real estate taxes and low regulation, but are also want to live in a place where it’s sort of aviation thing. I think pilots are much like, if you’ve ever known anyone that has a hobby, maybe it’s boating, they want to live near the marina, maybe it’s rock climbing, and they want to be near the rocks, and you’re the mountains, you have all these sort of communities, these lifestyle communities, where it’s sort of, I have a theme, or I have a hobby, and I want to be in around that. And that’s the same thing with pilots. I think most people who aren’t pilots, just sort of look at pilots. Aviation is, hey, I’ll fly in and out of a location. But the last place I want to be as near an airport, if I think for pilots is quite different pilots actually want to be near their airplane, they want to go up and get in there and an aircraft and fly around for, say, an hour or two without having to drive to the airport for 45 minutes. And so one of the things we’ve tried to do is build a location where it really appeals to the pilots, because you have the runway there, you have the access there. But it also appeals to the family and appeals to the wife predominantly. And so we built these resort activities, which makes our property incredibly unique versus any of the other sort of aviation thing properties that are out there. And there are approximately 600, what we call air parks, the United States, these are aviation themed, they have an airport and you can live near your airplane dotted around the US. And of those a very small portion of them would be what we call high end sort of properties. And probably the most high end property is this place called Alpine, Wyoming, which is outside of Jackson Hole. The challenge is the weather isn’t great. Or a portion of the year right. And the activities are limited. Yes, it’s outside of Jackson Hole. But the town itself Alpine is quite small. There isn’t a lot to do except come in there and fly and ski. We tried to do is build something and are building something that has fishing it has outdoor hiking that has mountain biking that has just all these outdoor recreational activities that we want to incorporate in into the experience.

Adam Vazquez 22:15
Yeah, it’s such a great, great concept. We have a playground here at the private airport. I think they call it airport park or airplane park. Actually, have you ever flown here? To Greenville, South Carolina?

Craig Fuller 22:27
I have not flown there. But I probably know you have triple train, the new triple train, then you have the other at the Greenville area.

Adam Vazquez 22:35
Yep. So this is the downtown one. And every Saturday morning, you can go over there. And they have we can go over there any day. But Saturday mornings, the runway is packed with exactly your demo who you’re talking about 50 plus year olds, and they smartly put a little cafe there. Or you can just get like eggs and coffee and whatever. And that place is packed every single Saturday. And that’s just a cafe at the end of a net like there’s nothing to see there’s nothing really to do but they just want to be together and talk and share their their passion which is which is flying. So I could totally see how that extended and inviting the family because there’s no family. It’s the pilots themselves kind of doing their thing so totally could see how it’s—

Craig Fuller 23:19
But it’s a community. It’s no different than these bicycle. If you’ve ever known anyone who is in bicycling or even motorcycles, is if you’ve had a friend that has a Harley or something, they go on these sort of like Harley runs where they’ll they’ll take a drive through, yeah, some part of the country. And so they do these things. And so sending with aviation is the pilots have a common sort of interest, that want to be near, they want to be near each other. It’s a community in itself. And I think what we’re trying to do is sort of double down on that and unite this community and use this resort as a way to do that.

Adam Vazquez 23:57
So with that in mind, and just the way that your your brain works, you now are going to have this cluster of high net worth individuals who all have this shared passion in this specific area that you know because you’re putting them there. Are there other things that you’re already thinking about that you can offer or curate for that specific group?

Craig Fuller 24:20
Well, this piece of property as for year-round streams. You’ve got your own streams with waterfalls that come down the mountain, you’ve got rock climbing capabilities, see 1000 feet off the ground, it’s on the collarbone plateau. Scott river this kwacha river runs through the middle of the property. So you have 41 acres that are 4,000-foot of riverfront in addition to the mountain so it really it’s anything sort of outdoors and stuff that we’re not focused on his golf. He just thinks there’s a lot of short of the golf markets quite crowded. The economics of it don’t make sense. So we’re trying to really sort of double down or lean into sort of outdoor record mediational activities that Questrom is another one that were sort of focused on a vineyard and a spa, all of that as part of what we’re talking about here.

Adam Vazquez 25:10
Cool. And then what about for you like, if you just look at your track record, you’ve taken to areas of great personal interest (supply chain being one, now flying being a second) and built very successful media companies. Are there other habits or hobbies that Craig has that people should be like buying stock in? Because you’re gonna launch an entirely new media company around?

Craig Fuller 25:31
No, look, I think generally that everything in business is QCon, I think we’re going to enter into a new sort of generation of— Sort of look at the evolution advertising. We went from the old days, or the madmen Studio, newspapers, and TV and radio, then we sort of entered the early days of the Internet magazines were still a really sort of successful part of the media landscape and advertising landscape. Then we saw what the internet did to newspapers and magazines, and it sort of disrupted that whole model, the vast majority of dollars ended up in the coffers of Facebook and Google in terms of advertising spend, I think we’re in this sort of later generation and sort of new generation where content is everything. And I think, really choices as a content producer, as someone that’s sort of creating a business, and you want to drive interest around it is your choice is you can either rent your audience. So it’s Google and Facebook. And that becomes your sort of way to get top of the funnel, you can own your audience, which is you produce content that people seek out, because it has something interesting and as well produced and is not viewed as an advertisement per se, but more as something engaging that people can sort of draw into. And the choices there, you can either buy your way into that, which is by an existing asset, which I did with FLYING, or you can build it, the way I did with FreightWaves is has built an entire media business around it. I think the question that you have to ask yourself is, if you are thinking about going down this content journey, is it a buy or build situation? And they’re not mutually exclusive. I mean, if you sort of look at it, FreightWaves was largely a built operation. But we also acquired a media business along the way American shepherd, and then sort of integrated into our content. And then we went from sort of a trucking publication, and media business sort of broader global supply chain business that’s been very successful transitioning, but FLYING was a purchased and acquired media business. But we’ve also staff from three people to now 18. So it’s a situation where you’re expanding it, it’s a buyer build to get started. And the question is, what do you end up doing? So the way I see this is, it’s not so much about me, but it’s about generally, if you’re sort of going down this journey, is it a buy or build situation? I often think you can buy something cheaper than you can build it, particularly when it comes to content because the audiences are really hard to get. To build an audience organically is a long slog. It takes a lot of effort to build an audience and one of the nice things about magazine assets is they tend to already have those audiences built into.

Adam Vazquez 28:23
So having done both now—seeing pros and cons, etc—is there one that you favor as a tactic between buying and building?

Craig Fuller 28:30
I think Freightways would not exist, if we hadn’t gone and built it, there was nothing equivalent to it. I think, frankly, depending on what you’re trying to do if your business is not core to so FLYING Magazine, we could have been a real estate developer and develop this property without the magazine, I think your question would be, what’s the chances of success if we had done that? I think buying is a lot easier. And I think there’s the nice thing on buying media businesses is you can get them for a couple times EBITA, right. And so you don’t have to. These are relatively inexpensive assets to pick up. They can be cash for creative, and then you can actually, after you if you own them, then you can sort of scale it up and build other types of businesses out of it.

Adam Vazquez 29:16
Awesome. Well, thank you so much, Craig, for spending time with us. Thanks for letting us peek under the hood of what you all are doing at FLYING and what’s coming with the land development. If folks want to check-in specifically on FLYING you what’s going on with this quasi valatie property? How can they keep tabs on all of it?

Craig Fuller 29:30
The best way to reach me is on Twitter, @freightalley is the best way to reach me.

Adam Vazquez 29:36
Cool. We’ll link that below and appreciate you coming on.

Craig Fuller 29:38
Thanks, Adam.

Carlton Riffel 29:39
And that’s a wrap. Thank you for listening to this episode of Content Is for Closers. We hope you find this show really helpful as you grow your business with content. Maybe you know of other people who would find this show helpful as well. How about you send them our way? If you didn’t like this show and you want to tell us that, then you can head over to contentisforclosers.com where you can send us a message, give us some feedback, ask questions, or find detailed notes for every episode. Until next time, keep creating and keep closing.