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Damon Pistulka, Noah Brandenburger, Curt Anderson, Gautam Gundiah
Damon Pistulka 00:06
All right, everyone, welcome once again, it’s Friday and it is manufacturing ecommerce success. I’m one of your co hosts Damon Pistulka. And man, am I excited today to things this Fourth of July weekend, we’re rolling into that it’s gonna be a great we got a Monday Holiday, everybody enjoy it
Curt Anderson 00:24
Damon Pistulka 00:25
all that good stuff. But we’re really happy today because we’re talking about partnering with IMEC for manufacturing ecommerce success. So I’m gonna turn it over to my co host right over here, brother from another mother, Kurt Anderson. Take it away my friend.
Curt Anderson 00:45
Hey, dude, how about this handsome guy over here. So Damon, thank you so much, man. Appreciate you. Happy Fourth of July weekend. What an amazing, wonderful weekend. What a great way to get the end the week here. Kick off July 1 with our dear friends, man, we have a hot and heavy conversation.
So out there today. drop us a note. Let us know you’re there. Let us know where you’re coming from. But I’m going to do a couple of quick intros here man we got Dan bigger in the house. Dan, welcome happy to happy July first brother. So we have my dear friend got him got him. How are you brother? What’s happening, man
Gautam Gundiah 01:17
doing wonderful looking, looking forward to the session. Also looking forward to the long weekend. So I hope everybody’s sort of relaxed getting into the weekend mode and sort of ready to ready to have a fun three days
Curt Anderson 01:32
trial ready to rock and roll. So guys we have Mr. So I know he kept saying that don’t say doctor so but it is doctor but god I’m gonna die. Right. But I’m saying that correctly. President of APL engineered right in the backyard of University of Illinois, if I’m not mistaken. So big fight in the late night conversation today. So we have a hot and heavy conversation and digging a guy to his background. We have my dear friend No. No. How are you? Brother? What’s happening dude?
Noah Brandenburger 01:57
Hello, everyone. Hello. It’s a beautiful day here in Southern Illinois. And seems like the whole community is, is raring to go for this independence weekend. That’s for sure.
Curt Anderson 02:11
That’s right. We certainly deserve it. And it’s been, you know, a lot of other things going on this year. A lot of craziness. But this is a nice time to just click with friends, family, and just celebrate our countries, you know, birthday, if you will, God, how many years? We have to it’s quite a few. Right.
So no, you’re with an organization called iMatch? Yeah. Is the M E P Manufacturing Extension Partnership of the great state of Illinois. Could you please enlighten for anybody out there? It’s not familiar with IMEC or the MEP network? What? Give us a little insight there what’s going on there?
Noah Brandenburger 02:42
Yeah, everyone loves a good acronym. Right? It they always explain so much. So the MEP is a nationwide organization under the Department of Commerce, the Manufacturing Extension Partnership. And every state has a subsidiary group. Underneath that, so in Illinois, it is IMEC, the Illinois Manufacturing Excellence center. And so all the other states they have different names, and different acronyms, obviously.
And so, so we are here to promote and to assist and provide solutions to manufacturers throughout our state. And we cover everything from the front door to the back door. Whether it’s administrative type solutions, workforce, human resources, safety, workforce development, websites, work and things like that all the way through your shop, lean five s OSHA safety and towards the back where they like to hide the maintenance guys, we have maintenance programs and, and, and things like that, too.
And we’ve and we even have some experts that can help people with, you know, some of the high end solutions, you know, training for vice presidents to be or, or new CEOs and things like that. Acquisitions mergers and so we have, we have access to like 50, some technicians within our state that all have their own area of expertise. And so I try to visit with companies and learn about maybe what their struggles are and then I’ll try to grab our best expert to come in and offer some solutions for that particular subject matter.
And then we also partner with many other subcontractors to that we can dive into if our team is too full on their schedule or if it’s an area where you know we’re maybe not the best solution for with team up with somebody else. cuz at the end of the day, we just want to help manufacturing. And you know, who does it and how it gets done. As long as it’s helpful and offers a measurable solution, then, you know, that’s what we’re here for.
Curt Anderson 05:13
Man. That is awesome. No, thank you, you know and again, guys, please connect with Noah connect with God, I’m here so great. We’re going to dig deep into this conversation. As Noah just said, you know, I met his 50 strong if the experts strong, supporting passionately helping manufacturers.
Now Damon, we had a great time on Monday, man, we interviewed Michelle Fasset from IMEC what a rockstar, she, you know, she is we had a great conversation. Now we interviewed Amanda, you know, she was, you know, bachelor’s master’s degree.
You know, hi, YouTubers athletic director last Friday. We were here at the New York MEP. We had a gentleman with he had his PhD. He’s a manufacturer of ball bearing manufacturer. Now we keep getting PhDs. We keep getting the smartest guys in the zoom. Like what’s going on here? Yeah, I’m not sure what’s happening.
So I don’t know. We’re just lucky. We’re just blessed. So now they have now when you and I were in college, we went after our PhD in chemical engineering. Yes, our chemicals ever liked the coolers in the back of the convenience store, right? Yes, we’re we had a little different type of chemical engineering, guide them talk a little bit I want to I’d love to hear how does you know a little guide them growing up? What and who inspired you to pursue your PhD in chemical engineering? Or was a chemistry right?
Gautam Gundiah 06:31
Chemistry, chemistry, right,
Curt Anderson 06:32
who inspired you to go that route.
Gautam Gundiah 06:35
So I’m originally from India, I grew up in a small sleepy town called Pune, which is in the western part of India. Pune was a small town by Indian standards. While I was growing up in the 80s, and 90s, there were probably about two, two and a half million people. It’s blossomed to be a large, big city. But I grew up in a fairly protected and wonderful environment. My father was a scientist in a national lab in India, he worked in a chemical facility, so there was a lot of sort of influence from him and other colleagues that I grew up around.
At the time, when I grew up, and I’m probably dating myself here, the internet was just sort of getting started in India. So the two sort of career routes that most people who had technical inclinations went down were either engineering or sciences. And it takes me a long time to put together an Ikea furniture. So I realized very quickly that engineering is not my cup of tea. And I had a wonderful set of teachers during my high school.
So I sort of gravitated more with the influence from my father, all his colleagues, growing up in the setting where we saw a lot of students sort of move through, through the scientific world, it was fairly natural for me to gravitate towards chemistry. So I did my undergrad in chemistry. And then I was I got into one of these gifted programs for gifted PhD programs. So in India, you typically do a bachelor’s, which is a three year program, unlike the US where which is a four year program, then you move on to a master’s, and then you move into grad school or a PhD program. But the grift gifted programs sort of let me go directly from an undergrad into a Ph. D program.
This was great, because I sort of did not have to spend too much time on the courses, but it was more staggered towards the research part. And I loved spending time in the lab. So it was I took this up very, very quickly. And it was also fortunate that I got to work with one of the most well known scientists in India, a gentleman called Professor CNR. Rao, who still sort of continues to be one of the most well known scientists that the country has produced.
I worked on nanomaterials and porous materials, sort of the early days of nanomaterials as well. So we were figuring out how to make all these fascinating materials were very sort of fundamental. And we imagined there to be a bunch of applications for them. But we sort of more stuck to the fundamental side, where we just figured out how to make these materials on a small scale, develop new routes to make them, characterize them study their properties and so on. So it was very, very it was a lot of fun. I published a lot of For many publications in good journals, I got a lot of exposure to different materials, chemistry, and I got to work with a wonderful set of people.
After my PhD I, I moved to the US for a postdoc, and I’ve sort of stayed here ever since. So this was in 2005, that I moved to UC Santa Barbara, where I joined a group of a collaborator, a wonderful man called Professor Tony Cheatham. Now, sir Tony Cheatham. So UCSB in those days was, was doing a lot of activity in the area of solid state lighting, or LED lighting. They had just hired a professor called Shuji Nakamura, who won the Nobel Prize a couple of years ago for, for making the first blue LED.
So a lot of our research was sort of built around solid state lighting. So since I’m sort of talking about why I moved into manufacturing, I should probably take a breath here and then mentioned that once I moved to the US that the very first week and I remember this, I met a friend from who was working at Intel. And he asked me, So what was your PhD topic? And what did you work on? And I said, Hey, we developed all these cool nanomaterials. And, you know, we think that’s going to revolutionize electronics and all of that. And I said, How do you at Intel see all of this. And he presented a very different picture. He said, you know, what, what, what you guys do is wonderful.
But there’s a lot of steps that go in from when you discover something, too, when it reaches an Intel. And Intel was already probably at 100, to 200 nanometers in terms of their patterning. So all the sorts of fun things that we were doing and publishing papers, which we thought were getting into the next generation of devices, but very far from there, and that this was a bit of an eye opener for me. And that’s when I sort of learned this important lesson that that innovation sort of has two very essential components to it, the discovery part, and the commercialization.
So while doing my PhD, while I was well exposed to the discovery part, the commercialization part was something that I had sort of not been exposed to at all. So while I was at UCSB, thankfully, I got to work on this project on solid state lighting, developing new materials that can go into the LEDs, that touched on a bit, a lot of the discovery part, but also sort of exposed me to the commercialization of these materials as well. The project was funded by a chemical company called Mitsubishi chemicals. It was now in retrospect, it was a project where they sort of let us do the higher the high risk sort of things, which they didn’t want to be doing themselves.
But we got to interact with them and, and sort of see this whole steps of discovery, intellectual property, sort of pilot scale, commercialization, and so on. So even though none of the materials or none of the projects that I worked on, reached commercialization, but we still sort of got through the motions of filing for intellectual properties, trying to start a what’s useful, getting it tested by people real time in actual entities, etc, to see if it was useful. So that sort of got me interested more in the applied research side of things.
So moving from fundamental to, this is fun for me, but it may be useful to somebody kind of categories as well. Now, I was a postdoc at UC Santa Barbara for three and a half years. And then I moved to the Bay Area to join a national lab called the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, where I was a research scientist for many years now. While I was at UCSB, while I enjoyed the applied research part of things, I was still not very clear in my mind if I wanted to work on it from through an industry or join a faculty or some such a university or one of these non for profit organizations and sort of continue to move this forward.
That the National Lab sort of gave me a space in between where I could work on applied things, but at the same time, it was more alongside scientists and researchers as opposed to students and teaching and stuff like that. So I basically I got introduced to the area of scintillator materials simulators are materials that can detect ionizing radiation. So they can detect x rays, they can detect gamma rays, and so on. Now, this is a fairly matured field. But at the time when I started off there in 2008, also, there were a bunch of new discoveries that had happened.
And the Homeland Security in the US was very enthusiastic to fund a lot of new materials research. Now, I started off there in a wonderful group, it was a very multidisciplinary group, where we had a bunch of scientists, engineers, managers, postdocs all working together. And we discovered in the six, seven years I was there, we, we discovered a lot of wonderful new materials. We got to dabble a bit with small companies that were looking to commercialize these.
So I sort of got a bit more involved with what does it take to commercialize once you reach the what your, your punch of discovered something new, after filing for an intellectual property, etc? What does it take to commercialize it? So that was something that was beginning to get excited about. Now, at the same time, the National Lab is a fairly sort of it was turning out to be fairly difficult for a young scientists like me to, to, to make my career there. It was a large organization, so growth was very slow. A lot of growth was tied to grants and soft money positions. So that’s sort of a constant strain, where you really don’t know what is going to happen after three years.
And importantly, our lab was sort of getting to a point where I began to realize that to commercialize these materials, the raw materials are the feedstock that go into this is what determines if the product is good. Kind of like in a crude industries term. These are garbage in garbage out processes, good quality stuff, you get out good qualities. But the direction my lab was, Are my supervisors is etc. Wanted to go was trying to go a bit more fundamental and trying to understand the reasons, study the physics, etc, and more details, because this is what the funding sort of demands at that point of time.
While I was trying to figure out what to do next. I was approached by this company, which I now I’m at APL engineered materials, telling me that Hey, there, we are supplying the feedstock that go into the sort of applications that you’re working on. Do you think you would be interested in taking us in that direction? Now? This was I knew nothing about APL, I had lived in California for 10 years. So I was I said, you know, thank you. But no, thank you.
This is not what I wanted to do. But they said just come over, take a look and see what do you have to lose. So once I once I came here, I was very impressed with what APL had to offer. It had a stable revenue stream coming in from other products. And they were looking to move sort of in different directions, a bunch of unique chemical capabilities that I thought had a lot of potential. Of course my wife would tell you, it’s probably an early midlife crisis.
But all said and done we ended up moving to the Midwest. This was in 2015. And MDL was sort of an interesting at an interesting stage of its evolution. And I should probably pause and tell you a bit about APL. APL was started almost 7078 years ago in 1944. ABL has sort of a fascinating history. It was started by a gentleman called Scott Anderson who founded it. Dr. Scott Anderson oh okay go ahead with no relation to Kurt Anderson but yes
Curt Anderson 19:13
do we can we just tell David tell Damon and no I think no you were as a call Do you remember your first call together when I said
Noah Brandenburger 19:21
I don’t remember exactly.
Gautam Gundiah 19:25
Got caught was very quick to sort of claim relation to Yeah.
Curt Anderson 19:31
I said I got my first call with God am I go? Well, I just want just for full disclosure, my great, great, great grandfather, Scott Anderson is the founder of APL. And he had like a look like for like split second. Like Is he serious? No, I’m just kidding. We’ve always had a good with forever. Ever since that day, we always call him uncle Scott. So I’m, I’m sorry, go ahead. Got him.
Gautam Gundiah 19:55
So, Scott, Scott had finished his PhD in chemistry at the University of Illinois. He had worked for, for a company, maybe one or two small companies. Then he was a part of the Manhattan Project. And after the end of the world war, he was sort of figuring out what he wanted to do. He wanted to be a bit more independent. And he wanted to be close to his family and to a library. So he started off APL engineering materials at Urbana.
It was of course called Anderson physical robot laboratory at that time, he started off doing fun sort of what nowadays, we would call contract r&d. So companies came to him and said, we have this problem, help us solve it. And he came up with solutions. Sometime in maybe the early 60s, he had a grant from the Atomic Energy Commission, which is now the Department of Energy to purify this chemical called sodium iodide, which is used to grow scintillator crystals.
So they were looking for something that is pure and dry, there was nobody who was able to make it sufficiently pure and dry. And Scott and his team started off working on this, they came up with a process to make it pure and dry. And this was coincidentally around the same time that General Electric with metal halide lamps. So these are lamps that need pure and dry highlight chemicals. Now, for those of you who are not chemists, highlights are materials that contain either chloride, bromide, iodide, or fluoride. So these are fairly thought of common salt.
Common salt is sort of fairly easy to make, which is sodium chloride. But once you leave it, once you open it and leave it in your, in your cabinet for long enough, it sort of turns into a rock. That’s because you have a lot of moisture that gets collected. Now, if you’re trying to remove all the moisture, it is not always an easy task, because when you heating it, then it tends to react and found other undesirable chemicals. Now, sodium chloride is much easier to handle.
But when you work with many of the other highlights in the periodic table, there are a lot more tricky. So Scott and his team came up with a way to purify this General Electric and Sylvania are looking for somebody who can do this. So they sort of connect, they go through a bunch of joint developments and all sorts of fun collaborations. And APL comes up with a product that can be used by these companies. It’s fairly unique, it is very customized. So at some point of time, these companies sort of decide that we’ll ditch our internal effort to make these and we’ll just work with ABM.
And as the lamps grow, we grow with them. Now, as we start working with these companies, they come to us and say, Hey, we have other problems. So can you help us supply materials to solve that. So we sort of grow with them, we add more and more new products. And we have become a business with products all of a sudden, over the 1020 30 years, that they work very hard. Now, in the mid 80s, as Scott was looking to retire, he sort of was looking to hand over the company and maintain its culture. And he found this then tiny company called Venture lighting, which is based out of Ohio to sort of move the move ATL into. So venture lighting makes the lamps.
APL makes the pills that go into the labs. And we continue to supply the pills to all the other competitors as well. So you’re fairly in the sort of unique position where you’re supplying these very critical, small volumes, high value highlight materials, to all the sort of companies that have. So APL was doing very well, APL grew. Then over time, we moved into Japan, where we set up sales there, we moved into China, where we did the same thing. We had joint ventures with various companies where we spun off parts of the thing, etc.
So everything was going wonderfully until the LEDs came and sort of started displacing the technologies where our products are going. So in maybe the between 2010 and 2015 is when APL and all the other sort of companies involved in lighting decided that they needed to do something different. So everybody started looking for something new. And as a part of that, since we had a backbone and manufacturing these Ayleid materials that were free of moisture. We started sort of turning in that direction.
So people like me were brought on to help turn the company around, move in different directions, add new products, and sort of grow our business. So that’s where APL came from. And I sort of came from a very different background. But once I started off here, we started building on our sort of backbone, we knew how to make things on a small scale. Now we were focused on high value, low volume sort of chemicals, and the directions that we started to go. These are similar chemicals similar and chemistry, but different scales. So instead of selling a few kgs a year, we’re selling hundreds or 1000s of kgs, a year kind of components, instead of saying, selling 1000 sk use a year.
Now we’ve gone on to selling 50 sk use a year, but in much larger volumes. So developing these products, getting them through sort of qualifications for our customers, scaling up the chemistries and maintaining quality, and getting to the sort of price and quality targets that they need. This is what I’ve been involved for the last many years. So along the way, the some of the compounds that we have added, for example, this chemical called cesium iodide, which is used for X ray imaging.
So the customers that we work with the Bucha cesium iodide, which is one chemical, and Panama died, which is another chemical, and they sort of growth and films out of these, which is at the heart of all your X ray imaging technologies. So for example, if you go into get a CT scan, a CT scan, or a dental scan, then the material that detects the X rays that come out and then convert it into light is something that is done by this thin film. So these are sort of customers that we work with. And these are sort of products that we make.
Now, this process of this is the product side of things we but it took a lot of organizational changes and changes in strategy for us to sort of steer the ship from the direction that we were going to do a different direction. So for example, we, in the past, our r&d and product development was more focused on what I would call product, product driven product development. So you do something because you think you want to do it. And then you sort of look for customers. But we sort of changed that and became more of a customer driven new product development focus.
So we go to the customers and say, what, what is the problem that you have incurred? How can we help you, and then you come up and say, I’m looking for something that does this, but doesn’t do it well enough. And then we work on that, that was a big sort of change in strategy, because for our lighting products, we were the leaders so to speak, so we could choose which direction the field could go. But now we are the followers, we are coming and trying to work with you.
So adding those collaborations in working with our customers more closely, then developing supply chains to help us get into these newer areas, getting our workforce trained on all these changes, right? Because the many years ago, we sort of, we have a wonderful set of employees who have worked very hard to sort of help us grow for all these years. But all of a sudden, you also have to learn new skill sets and you want to do it fast and efficient.
Curt Anderson 28:35
So alright, let’s touch on a couple of
Damon Pistulka 28:38
manufacturing terms. In manufacturing terms. It’s amazing what you’ve done because you went from a high mix low volume, so a low mix, high volume type of manufacturing, and those are so different. So different. I mean, it’s didn’t chemicals, I can’t even imagine in the kind of products you’re making. That’s crazy. That’s a crazy change to have to navigate a ship through.
Gautam Gundiah 29:04
It has been the source of our challenges, of course, like any other manufacturing companies, right? We are value driven companies, right? Oui, oui, oui oui, oui try and give you the same returns your over your regardless of what happens. The reason why people want to invest in 100 Different companies, right? But how do you maintain the same or similar rates of return with changing product lines. And strap strategies have to be different.
So for example, when this to give you a couple of examples when we scale up products, for example, in the past the attitude more was let’s, let’s do it ourselves. Let’s move on if you’re going from 100 grams to 10 kgs or 100 kgs. Let’s bring all the equipment, bring everything that all the capex is through picking out the regulatory safety parts and do it ourselves. But now we have started opening ourselves to the idea that Time is of essence.
So rather than us doing everything ourselves, can we work with some of our key partners suppliers, saying that Damon, you may be an expert in ABC chemical, so we’ll just work with you keep you in the loop. And then once we scale up, you scale up so that way it moves faster, all the capital that we would have, and time that we would have invested is same sort of trusting people upstream and downstream from us. We’ve developed a bunch of really good sort of supply chain, companies that we work with, and so on.
But the sort of part that I did not want to leave out the digital part of things, which is, which is sort of the big focus of this first specialty, the way I see it, for specialty chemical manufacturers, these are niche, sort of small, small markets, we typically tend to know most of the players. If you look for highlight, dry highlight producers in the world, there are probably like 10, or 20 of us. And the number of people who use us are proportionally fewer as well. So a lot of the A lot, a lot of the business that we do is just by reputation.
But over time, what has happened is it’s become important for us to also grow with that even though we haven’t reached a level where we’re sort of at the pinnacle of E commerce and things are being bought and sold on the web, that rarely happens in our business. Because these are more performance chemicals or specialty chemicals, where, where we sort of work with users to show that it works in their product. Unlike general chemicals, which are governed by specifications, there, if you go and buy common salt from anyplace it looks feels exactly the same.
But if you’re looking for something that you need, specially for your application that is catered in a certain size, or packaged in a volume that typical, typically large companies won’t do, then you come to people like us. So our main focus, our main strategy for e Commerce has sort of been to drive people to your website. And once they’re in your website, talking to a person, then you sort of try hard to keep them in there by supplying good products by being price competitive by, by quality, by delivery timelines, and so on.
So that’s where I think we were sort of a bit slow on this. I think we sort of had a website with all the information there. But we were not very proactive in trying to try to monitor and see what how effective the audit trying to do all of this. So I think that’s where I think working with Kurt and his team and I mechanist team has been really helpful for us, because that has sort of helped us develop some sort of processes and systems in place that would hopefully help grow our business further in the direction that we are going, but also in other directions that we need to go.
Curt Anderson 33:35
Right. So a couple of quick things. So as we come in, I think we’re I lost track of time. Where are we top of the hour, maybe we’re over top of the hour. So we got a couple I want to give a couple of shout outs here. So we’ve got Bonnie in the house. Val den bigger. Whitney joined us today. A couple other folks. So guys, happy Friday to everybody. Happy Fourth of July weekend. Thank you for joining us today, guys. You want to absolutely connect with God.
I’m here. President of APL engineered do an amazing job with a chemistry company in Urbana, Illinois. We’ve got Noah here from iMac. So let’s I want to hit on, man, you just covered a ton there. Yeah, well, one thing that is awesome. So for anybody out there, that’s boy, I’m in academia, you know, I’d love for you to talk about like that, that how your track your transition personally, going from academia into entrepreneurship.
You know, say if somebody out there, they’ve been an employee, you know, like, no, i Dude, you’re a serial entrepreneur. You know, you totally get it. But if you’ve been a civil servant, or you’ve been in academia, you’ve been an employee for your whole career, and like this whole little entrepreneurial dream has been tugging at you. What advice or like, what was that transition like for you going from academia to entrepreneurship, in any advice that you would share that you think would be helpful for somebody making that transition?
Gautam Gundiah 34:58
That’s a tough question, but I think for me what was helpful was, I mean, a lot of these things, the processes, etc, are very similar, but trying to map things to terminologies and things that you’re used to is what is challenging. So for example, let me just sort of give you an example.
While we were in academia, we the big costed projects, by the way, we sort of went down the road of saying, if you want to do a project, you need these resources, right? You go down the road of saying, if you if I want to do a project with God, then we need so many labor hours from God, we need so many awesome so much, we need so many so much time on computers, etc.
And you come up with a project cost. Now translating that into industry or manufacturing standards. Right? And when you go and meet when I went came and met professionals at APL, they would throw all these terminologies at me saying this is how your p&l statement looks. And I would be like, what is the p&l state? But once you have an open mind, and you say, Okay, I’m willing to learn, and you say, Okay, how does this, how does Kurt’s one hour time to this whole thing here. And so once you sort of make the mapping, for me, that is what helped me.
So in my mind, I’m able to toggle these very effectively. The other thing is, the timelines in manufacturing companies are very slow. If you’re in an academic setting, if you want to try something, you just go and try it. Right? If you’re in a manufacturing setting, you have a lot more at stake, because somebody else is using the product at the other end. So you can’t really be making process changes, etc, willy nilly, you need to go through the sort of rules. Once you sort of get used to these things, then it becomes easier.
Curt Anderson 36:49
Right? And what I love is, you know, Damon, we talked about this all the time, you know, as entrepreneurs, you know, it gets lonely out there at times, you know, yeah. And, you know, you know, it’s a vulnerability say like, Hey, raise your hand, I need help. And what’s great guide them, you’re talking about, like bringing in other subject matter, matter experts, what is a p&l statement? What is SEO? You know, what are these little acronyms, you know?
And so what I’d like to slide into let’s, let’s start chatting about iMac. Okay. Well, how did I make come on your radar? And what inspired you to raise your hand and say, Hey, I need some help? I’m going to reach out to these folks. Can you talk about how did I met them on your radar, and what inspired you to reach out to them?
Gautam Gundiah 37:28
So we, the digital part was part of our strategy early on, where we knew that we had to change content on our website, we had to do these things. But I think where we fell short is we just develop the content and sort of left it as placeholders on the website. Nobody really monitors it all the time.
And call me a skeptic here. But manufacturers we are generally quite conservative and how we operate, right. That’s why we are value driven companies. So we have our strategy was to work with several sorts of companies, sales representatives, and other sort of well wishers in helping draw those new inquiries to us. But at some point of time, we, we, it was, I think, through either the Illinois Manufacturing Association, or some of the publicity that I make does, it sort of reached me and our, our systems administrator, who knows who you have interacted with God.
And we said, hey, this is something that is sort of, we’ve been talking about passively doing it, but we have never really, because we have some, as a small company, you have too many things on your list. And we said, to even screen out the right professionals takes you a lot more time than doing the project. Right. So and also being sort of in Urbana in the small place, and not being a part of larger organizations, etc. takes you a lot longer.
So when it came to iMac because of course, we knew a bit about what I met does. And the fact that it was paid for really helped. So all of these sort of held in the right direction once we had the initial discussions with you. And no, it was a very easy sell when you guys were good at what you do. We knew that iMac was sort of looking and working hard to help manufacturers like us. So the implementing pot, you guys did all the heavy lifting for us. It was mainly just being around and doing the small sort of homework assignments that you had.
Curt Anderson 39:38
Yeah, that’s awesome. So I want to give a shout out to our dear buddy low if you haven’t out there, if you catch us on replay, man low is absolutely awesome. He attended a bunch of our workshops. So no, let’s do this. I want to get you in the game here a little bit. So you know, again, guys, if you’re chiming in Happy Fourth of July weekend. Thank you for joining us. We’re having an awesome conversation. President of APL engineered my Your friend guide them.
We have Noah here from iMac the Illinois MEP no like to dig into a little bit of your background dude, you have a fascinating background, Damon you and I have the honor blessing, we interviewed tons of folks from the MEP network. And we are never, it never ceases the blows away of the amount of talent, the passion, the skills, that MEP, recruit the experience and the experience to Yeah, it’s crazy. Oh, man. So Noah is a serial entrepreneur, he is a real estate investor, a dad of five, his daughter is a wonderfully successful entrepreneur, Samantha’s just crushing it with her business, his son is heading off to college to play football in the fall.
So don’t know, uh, you have a lot of exciting things going on. But you’ve brought your talent, your skills, your gifts, to the MEP network, just I’d like to just share with everybody a little bit on your background, and just, you know, and you, your father and your brother, you guys had a machine shop. So you’re a manufacturer, yourself, just I gave away a lot. But just a little bit about your background, and your passion. What excites you about iMac in the MEP network?
Noah Brandenburger 41:08
Well, what excites me before I forget that topic is you know, we’re a non for profit. And, and a lot of times, you know, and we lead with our acronym iMac. And so, oftentimes, it’s kind of a turn off. But I haven’t met anyone yet in our organization that hasn’t been in manufacturing at some point in their career. And that is so incredibly important. Too often, like in my past experiences with different businesses and stuff, consultants would come in and try to help me with something that they have never done before.
They’ve never dealt with before, they’ve never had to make payroll, they’ve never had this and let somebody go, or they’re trying to tell me how to do it. Right. And I haven’t met anyone and I met yet or any of the MEPs that hasn’t been in manufacturing at some point, right. And that’s what really excites me about it and drew me to it, because it was a way for me to, to channel all of my experiences. And not only in manufacturing, but my other business settings and things that I’ve dealt with in my life, and even fit, you know, family business stuff.
And, and then share those stories and share those struggles and successes with anybody that they might be able to find something that will help their situation. Yeah. And so, so yeah, I you know, grew up in a machine shop, my dad started a machine shop and he was pole barn in the country, nice. One man show fixing tractors and combines for the neighbors. And, you know, he had a Bridgeport mill, and I don’t, what was the late I forget what it was and in a welder and, and I’d sit out there, I mean, my brother would sit on bales of hay and put our goggles on, and just watch him weld all night long and nice.
So just grew up in that environment worked, you know, part time job at the machine shop, you know, through grade school in high school, and, and so it just always kind of had that vocabulary. And, you know, my father and my brother, my brother was always with me. They were the engineering mechanical guys. You know, they understood that way more than I did. But I just like being around people and new things. And so, you know, how it went, my brother called me up one day, he was full time with the machine shop and, and him and dad needed help in the office.
They didn’t want to do any paperwork. So that’s how they got me to come on board full time after I left college and they turned over all administrative to me. And so I just started out cold turkey teaching everything I could about the business world Yeah, or anybody I could call for help. You know, taught myself accounting taught myself what a p&l statement was put in, put in the first computer in the in the business so that you know back in 1997 Yeah, yeah, no hard wired the whole place with Ethernet. Got a network going, got a website up, you know, all that good stuff, right? instituted QuickBooks and bought an ERP system.
So I, you know, I got to do all kinds of investigative work with the ERP people. And, and so yeah, that was a great experience for me to kind of self teach with that manufacturing background. And then the family dynamics to just working in a family business. And then which led to me and my brother ultimately buying out our father and our mother to, you know, at a certain point of somebody’s career, when they win their business, they’re kind of on cruise control. You know, my brother and I were still young and dumb, we wanted to do all kinds of crazy stuff.
And my dad was always like, Hold on guys, you know, grabbing the reins on us. And so finally we sat down, and we said, hey, you know, we want to go this way. And if, you know, we understand that you don’t want to you already mortgaged your house twice. And you don’t want to do that again. So why don’t you sell us the joint and let us run? Right? And that’s what happened. Mom and Dad graciously stepped aside and let us buy it and, and we grew it four times, from went from about 10 employees to over 30 In about a seven year period. And it was really, really successful, and they had a great time doing it. Right.
Curt Anderson 45:56
That’s, that’s phenomenal. And that’s what’s great is like, you just hit it right on the head know it time and time again. Daymond these are the types of conversations we have of you know, that vast experience, look at all the experience that you learned, you know, by school of hard knocks right there, and know how you know, for all of us, and it doesn’t matter what age but you know, as a young entrepreneur coming out of college, you’re teaching yourself things you know, someone you have that mentor when you have that trusted guide that resource that you can lean on count on for these things that you don’t know, for iMac comes in.
Noah Brandenburger 46:27
It saved a lot of time and headache if I knew it. Yeah, exactly.
Curt Anderson 46:33
So let’s Alright, so let’s get right into this. So no, you guys I met you launch us an exciting, wonderful program called Grow your future. For manufacturers, you guys helped over 125 manufacturers throughout the state of Illinois, from Chicago all the way down to southern tip talk, just share with the folks what was the screw your future project, and then I want to guide them I want to tie come back to like, what your experience was with this program, but how did this program come about?
Noah Brandenburger 47:00
Yeah, so this is an initiative that I make does, you know, once maybe sometimes twice a year, and where they’ll choose a segment to concentrate on and, specifically for small businesses, generally, you know, less than 50 employees. And so, so this go around the segment was, it was draw your future with a concentration on like, you know, website social media, SEO, customer acquisition, you know, those kinds of things.
And it was a free program, any and the cost savings range, I’ve seen anywhere from 4000 up to $8,000 that, that our customers are realized in this solution for you know, whatever problem that they had, and this was a small window to sign up in and then a small window to get this project done. And you know, it was starting to stop was probably less than 90 days. And we partnered up with a lot of companies to help make this happen. And you know, Kirk was on a couple of the projects I know too and so that’s what it was just a big swath of help across the state all in one condensed format.
Curt Anderson 48:23
Yeah, it was fast and furious and Damon we’ve got a nice comment I don’t know if I’m gonna pronounce this right is that Peter? Peter judgment about so much passion coming from so no, you’re bringing the heat today brother appreciate it. So got it let’s talk about it. So you have different options to choose from and that you chose it was a little bit of stopping the best kept secret right?
How do we get a little SEO What is this whole SEO thing so you and I would law we had a great time we dug into some different strategies now there was a term that you now you kicked around it was called the Rick’s you remember those risks remember that what you want to everybody what the risk Stanford which is ri K stands for
Gautam Gundiah 48:59
the really important or ridiculously important keywords
Curt Anderson 49:03
ridiculously important keywords. So what are some of these you talked about earlier, but I’d like to take a little dive here again, we’re Damon we’re back in chemistry class. College, right? What you said earlier guys, what are some of these? What are some of the chemicals that you guys provide in cell at APL?
Gautam Gundiah 49:20
So we make these dry multicomponent halide salts we make different chemicals like cesium iodide lanthanum bromide, dynamite died. These are sort of I’m just throwing chemical names at you. But essentially these are raw material feedstock that our customers use to grow single crystals that can be used for medical imaging national security oil well logging or other applications.
Curt Anderson 49:54
Yeah, in you gave me a whole masterclass like Damon I was stumbling on like trying to pronounce any of these Yeah. And guy that was like so patient and so gracious and he typed in the chat box how to say these things. So here we go. Got me ready? Cesium iodide. How’s that? How did they? Perfect? Alright, so I think that we talked about looked at so taught me all sorts of things. Now you gave me a really fun pasta analogy. Do you remember your pasta analogy? I did. Let’s just enlighten everybody, what’s his past analogy What did past they have to do with chemistry. So the
Gautam Gundiah 50:28
ones that have again, a strategy for us to grow and stay profitable and competent, be these elders to chemical chemicals to our customers who use it and almost 70 to 90% of which is not converted into the final form. So it is essentially disposed off by them as hazardous waste.
So they have figured out a way to convert that back into the initial raw materials. So the analogy that I was getting Kurt was that, imagine that you make a very fine pasta on this warm summer evening, and you use, you use some nice spaghetti and you use some nice pesto or sun dried tomatoes, right? The spaghetti is fairly sort of inexpensive and easy to get. And there are many, many of quite a few people who can sell it to you. But the pesto and others are right tomatoes are equally important.
And the cost per unit volume is really high. And you buy a really tiny amount of now once you’re done, God looking at him and how fit he is he probably eats very little. And what does he do with the 70 to 90% that is left. So rather than him tossing it out, they’ve come up with a process that he can split it back into the pasta, and the sun dried tomatoes are the best. There you go. We do it more as a service. So as a result, the raw materials sort of stay in play all the time. Sustainability point of view, you’re not gonna You’re not disposing of hazardous chemicals, through appropriate means and so on. But you’re converting them back into its original form.
Damon Pistulka 52:22
So they can actually be converted into final product, then know that you
Gautam Gundiah 52:27
can get it back into the raw materials which they again get converted into the final product. From a sustainability and environmental point of view. It is wonderful. Yeah, from a business point of view, it is wonderful because once God figures out a way to reuse his pasture, he’s never going to go back to Trader Joe’s to buy some more. He is going to be sort of doing the same thing in his house, which is exactly what we want. So that way customers stay with us forever.
Curt Anderson 52:55
Right? Yeah. Don’t you love how garden just like really simplified it like he dumbed it down for this guy. Right? You just made it so nice and simple. So got him to understand. That was awesome. So let’s, let’s, man I got man, we get. We’re running out of time here. I know, we could probably go like an hour. And so yeah, I did pronounce that correctly. It’s Peter. So Peter, thanks for joining us today. Thanks
Damon Pistulka 53:16
for them. Pull it. I think he said he is in Poland. Yeah.
Curt Anderson 53:19
So hey, thank you for joining us today. So I got him. Let’s talk about your relationship with IMEC. Was it a rewarding experience? Do you recommend for other manufacturers? Do you suggest Hey, I’m a manufacturer in another state man, you really perked my ears up? Do you recommend your experience with iMac that was a rewarding experience for other manufacturers to consider with MEPs?
Gautam Gundiah 53:41
For sure, for sure. It was something that was very beneficial for us. I mean, I think in addition to the RX, I think what I learned specifically was in the past, we would tend to sort of try and be very broad with appealing to people.
So we would try and spread out more rather than be more focused. So I think that was something that was a bit of a useful learning experience for me. They will continue to sort of go down this road and try and see how it influences our business. So I’m hoping that maybe in some time period, quarters or half years or a year, we can go back and sort of say that these are the sort of the end summary that Noah had at the end of the program, what what is the actual impact?
I’m hoping to try and quantify that better because in my mind it’s important for us to know what works so that as manufacturers and as sort of leaders leading business, we need to see if this becomes an integral part of the strategy, or it’s a fun exercise paid for by law and done very hard by God. So I think this is something that we will sort of come back and get back to you guys, at least. But I would definitely recommend I’m an iMac. And after initial interactions are also sort of, I’m hoping to see what else is they have to offer and count on them if we need some guidance in the future for other aspects.
Curt Anderson 55:17
Absolutely. And just to kind of recap a few things there. I mean, we had a great time. So you know, you chose to go through SEO, if you’re like, hey, what does SEO search engine optimization and kind of tech like, you know, what are people searching for? And we had a great time. And so Dave, and I brought in our dear friend, Wes, lean and got him you got a chance to meet Wesleyan, she’s a b2b sales guru. And we took a deep dive and understanding like, Who is that ideal customer?
You know, and that’s the thing is like, so often we’re trying to be everything to everybody, we become, you know, jack of all trades, master of none, right? From a marketing standpoint, how do we narrow that down? How do we niche down right, got him I was used that line, let’s niche down till it hurts, right. And so I felt that was a real rewarding experience of like, going through that process, and just kind of getting a deep understanding. Because, you know, for you guys, you know, share with everybody a vast majority of your product, if I’m not mistaken, is not domestic. Is that correct? Like you are a true international company?
Gautam Gundiah 56:13
Yes, we have almost maybe three fourths of our revenue comes from outside the US.
Curt Anderson 56:20
5% Ma’am, that’s, you know, so when you hear like, you know, boy, that, you know, it’s, you know, here’s a case where here’s a great American company, right in the heart of America, exporting 75% of their business is going to other countries, you know, and they’re just doing an amazing job. So again, guys, let’s as we start winding down, and we’ve got Emily here today. Hey, Emily, Happy Fourth of July to you. And it’s a dear friend of ours. She’s been on our we need to have her back again. Oh, good. Yeah. So alright, guys, let’s just recap a couple of things. So again, you’re an entrepreneur out there, your manufacturer out there, you are not alone.
Boy, there are great resources out there. And today we’re talking with Noah from iMac the Manufacturing Center in partnership in Illinois, Illinois. And they cover all sorts of different services and know what I’d like to do as we wind down, I’d love for you to give another quick recap on you know if anybody missed it earlier, and what you guys provide. But what got him took advantage of was a great program, that MEPs do a lot of work with grant funding. So when they tapped when they attacked, attract those funds, those grant funding opportunities, boy, they’re just boots on the street, helping manufacturers move the needle on different capacities of their business.
And so what got him took advantage of is trying to stop being the best kept secret, and let’s start attracting those new ideal customers, folks that are you know, get our keyword strategy head on right? Now guide them once Gadem starts crushing it on SEO analysis. And he’s like, overwhelmed with new leads. You guys can help with all sorts of other functions from operational excellence, lean, helping with capacity, you talked about like exit strategy and planning, which is demons expertise. But just again, just do a recap for everybody out there. What are some of the services that you guys provide an iMac?
Noah Brandenburger 58:03
Okay. Oh, wow. I mean, there’s just, there’s just so many, you know, and for example, right now, you know, the, one of the biggest struggles that manufacturers are dealing with is workforce related, right, yeah. And so we have a couple of different programs and solutions for recruiting and retention, which are really popular at the moment. And then, in addition to that, the retention piece often includes training for existing employees, there’s been a very, very strong uptick in manufacturers concentrating more on training their supervisors, on how to be better leaders, and how to better communicate with their, with their team.
And so that the team, you know, feels more like that they’re a part of the organization and a part of the process, and a part of, you know, making that customer you know, happy. You know, too many times during exit interviews, you know, companies learn too late that, you know, you know, hey, you know, I didn’t really get anything out of my supervisor and didn’t really know what he was supposed to be doing today. And, you know, that kind of stuff. And so there’s been a really strong uptick in that training of Supervisors, in manufacturing companies as a piece of retention.
And then, you know, you know, five s program is always in really strong helping companies, either that want to get into a five s type environment, or maybe just learn more about it and to see if that’s something they want to get into. And even companies that instituted five s maybe five years ago and it’s kind of fallen apart a little bit, you know, through turnover of personnel or just got so busy with, with sales that some of the strategies of five s kind of fell by the wayside and We can come back in and clean it up a little bit, do some retraining, and, and reorganizing their safety assessments are always popular. Right?
You know, we’re, you know, companies, you know, hopefully they haven’t had an incident but maybe they’ve had a couple upticks in their incident rate. And we can come in before you know, their auditor, and kind of do an assessment and say, hey, you know, these are some areas you might want to look at, before you, you know, bring in, you know, your insurance people. And so, you know, those are some of the, you know, quick hidden things, you know, off the top my head that are really important at the moment. Yeah.
Damon Pistulka 1:00:39
And I think Kurt, you mentioned one thing, and no, I’m sure you agree with us is that manufacturers should be familiar with their local MEP, their local MEP should be familiar with them and their challenges, because these grant opportunities come up different ones all the time, right. And so the MVP might get a grant. But if they don’t know you’re looking to do Lean training, or more digital, you know, the digital transformation, right? You don’t know who to talk to. And you could miss out on it because this girl, your future program with an iMac? Did it hit a lot of people, but I’m sure there’s manufacturers who said, Wow, I wish I could have gotten on that.
Well, if they would have been if they would have reached out to their the iMac and get with their local representative and talk to them about their company, just talk to him about it. Because they got people like know, that are out in the field talking to manufacturers every day, to learn more about the challenges. And like Noah said, they’re out there to help. They can’t help today, they’re still going to be thinking about you tomorrow. And when these grant opportunities come up, you might be able to take advantage. It’s just there’s so much help there. I can’t not stress that.
Curt Anderson 1:01:49
It just and I’d be remiss, no we need to get a shout out to your team. And you know, I would be upset with myself if we didn’t get you know, like, Melissa is just absolutely phenomenal that your director, Dr. David belay, you know, another PhD, Damon, great leader, and just very passionate manufacturing. I was on a call with Simone and Paula yesterday, they’ve actually hired a diversity Paula is their diversity person. And so now they’re not only are they trying to help being more, you know, focused on inclusion and diversity within an iMac.
They are now pushing out initiatives. So we’re we’ve we’re rolling out a whole webinar series through the fall, and it’s a lot of heavy duty b2b marketing. And that’s our that’s my, my jam, if you will, but we have a whole webinar series Daymond, you’ve got a great program coming up. We’ve got Wes lean, we’ve got all sorts of Rockstar speakers, Nicole Donnelly. Allison to Ford razor guy, no man, all sorts of folks, Sharon, who you and I did a podcast with this week.
So we’ve lined up a whole webinar series at iMac, and they’re also focusing on diversity. They’re doing a supply chain webinar was Snia. Sarah’s a sculptor, and D, our dear friend, DC. So lots of exciting things going on. You’ve got Christie Johns, you’ve gotten the shell Fossett. You’ve got you know, we could go on and on with all the rock stars at IMAX. So again, we want to give a shout out to the whole team. So I will wind down guys. We’re heading over and I know we could go on and on for an hour. Yeah, we’re over an hour. Got it. Let’s close out on this my friend.
So first off, thank you, man, thank you. I just thoroughly just cherished our friendship relationship. Working with you has been nothing short of an honor. I’ve learned a ton on little chemistry terms that I never knew even existed. My last question for you today. Who and What inspires you? You’re a great leader of President of APL, you know, you’ve had some great life changes you’ve gone from your living in India came to the United States lived on the West Coast. You’re now in middle America. Whoo. And what inspires you every day as you’re leading the ship at APL?
Gautam Gundiah 1:03:54
That’s, that’s a tough question. Another tough question. You don’t need to be throwing softballs.
Curt Anderson 1:04:00
Should we talk about your sister?
Gautam Gundiah 1:04:02
No. No. I think what sort of helps me on day to day basis is my family. I think that’s, that’s something that sort of me, ground grounded keeps me a bit more focused on longer term things because there are a lot of stresses in in this job as in any other job. And sort of going back home and forgetting about it every now and then is wonderful.
So the family is important. Friends are important. I think what sort of also helps me go through this because like you mentioned, I come from very different backgrounds. So having a good set of mentors is been very helpful to me. People who are just looking at your well being if you may and success without having without expecting a whole lot in return, I’ve been fortunate to have a wonderful set of them.
So reaching out to just somebody and saying, Hey, you don’t have been, how would you handle something like this? Or what? Have you done this before? And what are the potential ways in which this could go right or wrong? I’ve been blessed to have wonderful mentors and even supervisors and bosses to work with who, who I can bounce these ideas off. And last but not least, I think in terms of sort of leaders that I look up to, the one that has been very influencing in the last year or two is this lady called Indra Nooyi, the former CEO and chairman of PepsiCo. I’m not sure if you’ve heard or followed her.
But she is sort of credited with steering Pepsi away from the fast food chains into more of the healthier choices like Tropicana, and Quaker Oats and stuff like that. So the role of strategy and implementing that growing companies sustainably, not only environmentally, but like, inclusive of all employees, and remaining profitable at the end of the day. So if you have not read a book, I would highly advise it. And of course, I know Got your podcast person. So there she has been on the lecture circuit. So you’ll, you’ll show
Curt Anderson 1:06:40
me Hey, we need to get her on the show. Right? And then we can I know you’re a big guy, right res fan because we’re always talking about this book. And so right so she’s
Gautam Gundiah 1:06:51
with him and she talks about things like work life balance, she talks about things like you know, multiple careers in the family and taking care of like elders and children while you do this. But sort of coming back to the bank. Thank you very much. It’s been wonderful. Working with you folks. Thank you for IMEC for supporting and thank you for having me on this.
Curt Anderson 1:07:15
This has been awesome. So I knew we’d have a great time and I think Damon we just set a record for time. Everybody out there. Join us today. I want to thank you for joining us we do this we’re here David and I are here every Friday we have an absolute blast we deeply value appreciate your time we know how busy all of you are.
So we tried to bring out you know we tried to find amazing Rockstar guests just like Noah and got him here today. So again, thank you for joining us every Friday so please connect with guide them on LinkedIn connect with Noah on LinkedIn check out their websites check out APL engineer they have a lot of fun things going on check out IMEC know any parting thoughts any words of wisdom that you want to share with everybody as we close things out?
Noah Brandenburger 1:07:59
I don’t have anything Have a great weekend everybody I try to do our there’s more to life than your all your hard work take a cold one
Curt Anderson 1:08:10
that’s right yeah well yourself he’s you know data five right here we wish your son amazing success. He’s off to playing college football on Iowa next month. And so God bless him. God bless your family. Thank you for joining us today we appreciate your passion Noah everything you’re doing guide him thank you for joining us guys have a wonderful safe amazing Fourth of July let’s be patriotic we’re all Americans this weekend and just you know have a good time be safe. Just spread a little love with each other right Damon stay safe stay away from those fireworks Damon Alright, so hey good away and let’s close it out.
Damon Pistulka 1:08:44
All right, thanks everyone. For being here once again the manufacturing ecommerce success Yes Have an awesome Fourth of July weekend want to say God them thank no I thank everyone for listening when you got Peter you’ve got Dan, you’ve got Valerie and Whitney and everyone else that listening. Thanks so much Emily and thanks so much. Big hi to have to Bert. Today has number two. Yes. Thanks so much everyone. And we will be back again next week with another interesting guests or guests. Oh, to talk about manufacturing ecommerce. You
Curt Anderson 1:09:15
know, you’re gonna love this. We have a woman Janelle Lee from the Cleveland MEP. It’s called magnet MVP. It’s Janelle Lee, and the title of our program next Friday. Janelle Lee is bringing sexy back to manufacturing. So this is she’s like bringing sexy back to manufacture. She’s like we’re making manufacturing cool again. So you want to catch up next Friday. So Alright guys, thank you. Thank you.
Damon Pistulka 1:09:41
Thanks, everyone. We’re out. Talk to you later.