Revisiting the Big Ass Fans story and what happened next – Interview with Carey Smith of Unorthodox Ventures


Share on LinkedIn

telephone 3594206 1280

Today’s interview is with Carey Smith, who is Founding Contrarian at Unorthodox Ventures. Carey is a returning guest and was first on the podcast back in October 2014, where along with his colleague Dave Waltz, they shared with me the story of how their customer service strategy was central to growing the Big Ass Fans business five-fold over a five year period. That was nine years ago! Nine years! So, I thought it would be great to invite Carey back onto the podcast to find out what happened next.

This interview follows on from my recent interview – New shoes, a surprising but delightful musical collaboration, the autonomous enterprise, gen AI and getting personalisation right – Interview with James Dodkins and Tara DeZao of Pega – and is number 476 in the series of interviews with authors and business leaders that are doing great things, providing valuable insights, helping businesses innovate and delivering great service and experience to both their customers and their employees.

Here are the highlights of my chat with Carey:

  • Carey was originally on the podcast back in October 2014.
  • We were proactively calling people and asking them to tell us about their experience with a focus on what could we do better? What did we do wrong?
  • It didn’t matter how small that problem was because it gave us something to work on and to make better.
  • Some of the things we find the hardest to do are the things that require us to behaviourally change or adopt new habits, because that requires us do things outside of our comfort zone.
  • I’d like to see founders and leaders do more of these two things:
    • One is do your product and market research. Make sure that you’re solving a problem and you’re not creating a solution that’s looking for a problem to solve.
    • The second one is to make sure you have a business plan. A solid business plan that’s built from the ground up, not from the top down and not from some aspirational set of goals. Something that’s based on reality and about what is achievable.
  • The biggest lesson is get out from behind your laptop and be out in the world and see how your employees work and how you can help them and what your customers want, need and desire.
  • You should always try to take advantage of a crisis.
  • Carey’s best advice: Call your customers on the telephone. Go and visit them if you have the opportunity and understand how they’re using the product.
  • The experience of the customer is based on things that you may think are silly.
  • Carey’s Punk CX word(s): Real conversations.
  • Carey’s Punk XL brand: Kohler

About Carey

Portrait Carey Smith 1Carey Smith is Founding Contrarian at Unorthodox Ventures.

A career entrepreneur, Carey Smith founded Big Ass Fans in 1999 and served as its CEO, or Chief Big Ass as he preferred, for 18 years. While other companies made and lost their fortunes, Carey’s contrarian business practices and relentless pursuit of new markets and high-quality products led to sustained, rapid growth. By 2017, Carey had grown the fan and light manufacturer to nearly $300 million in annual revenue and more than a thousand employees. And he’d done it without any outside investors. Ready for a new challenge, he sold Big Ass Fans for $500 million. The company’s stock appreciation rights program paid out $50 million to more than 100 loyal employees who shared Carey’s work ethic with 15 becoming overnight millionaires. Following the sale, Carey founded Unorthodox Ventures, his Austin-based investment company that seeks to provide everything venture capitalists lacked when they approached him near daily at Big Ass Fans. Carey’s team consists of experts who help founders become serial entrepreneurs by providing support for everything from engineering and marketing to customer service and logistics.

Find out more at, say Hi to them on Twitter/X ? @UnorthodoxVent1 and feel free to connect with Carey on LinkedIn here.

Credit: Image by Alexa from Pixabay

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Adrian Swinscoe
Adrian Swinscoe brings over 25 years experience to focusing on helping companies large and small develop and implement customer focused, sustainable growth strategies.


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here