Phil Dorroll grew up in the fuel industry and remembers the time – not so long ago – when all retail transactions at Go Gas stations, which his father owns, were in cash. Fleet fuel sales were written up on paper tickets.
He knew there had to be a better way of managing and tracking sales to commercial customers, and that conviction has borne results. Go Energies, the company that 38-year-old Dorroll founded five years ago, landed at No. 10 on this year’s Inc. 5000 list of the fastest-growing private companies in the U.S. It came in as the fastest-growing company in North Carolina and the second-fastest-growing private energy firm in the country.
In the past three years, Go Energies ballooned from practically nothing to a multi-million dollar company, growing 16,000 percent.
It posted revenues in 2013 of $32.8 million, compared with just under $204,000 in 2010.
Go Energies’ concept of using proprietary software to cull data and create a platform for users took a while to evolve. And the venture isn’t Dorroll’s first.
In 2004, just a few years out of N.C. State University, Dorroll built on his knowledge of the industry and started Go Gas Universal, which provided fuel cards for fleet drivers that could be used anywhere.
Five years into that successful business, Dorroll, the company’s president, and his staff started playing with his concept of a software system geared for municipalities and other commercial fuel customers that would take the mystery out of buying fuel. He explained that these so-called end-stream users often did not know how much fuel they needed to buy and had only a hazy idea of how much they were paying for it compared to going rates.
Dorroll also knew that the fuel purchasing system invites potential price gouging from suppliers and theft at the pump, but there was no way for most customers to identify problems and perpetrators.
“I saw lots of problems that could be solved at the end stream with technology,” Dorroll said.
When he sold 80 percent of Go Gas Universal to U.S. Bank in 2011, Dorroll said, he could have retired in his mid-30s. Instead, he and his team turned their energies full time to their new software-powered enterprise, which they named Go Energies.
Go Energies, in essence, gives its customers the tools and know-how to manage their fuel purchases.
It provides data and software that enable customers to project fuel costs, map and manage purchases and track use of fuel. Each customer organization is issued fuel cards that drivers can use either at the employer’s fueling site or at any commercial gas station.
That little electronic strip on fuel cards allows Go Energies’ software to map every place a customer’s driver has fueled, how much fuel was purchased in that transaction and at what price. If a driver has bought fuel at a retail dealer, the map shows how far that service station is from a company fueling site, which could prompt a company to ask a driver why he bypassed the spot for a retailer 10 miles away. It also could allow a company to see if a driver bought 50 gallons of fuel but put only 40 gallons into the company vehicle.
In the process of getting the company’s software up and running, the Go Energies team developed what it calls the Fair Fuel Index: the current cost of fuel at the applicable fuel source, plus ancillary costs such as transportation.
While it may not sound groundbreaking, Dorroll said, the idea of a price index is new to the fuel industry, where it has traditionally been difficult for purchasers to gauge whether or not they are getting a good price.
“There was not even a web tool available to look up prices,” he said. “We are making [pricing] transparent so our customers have the same tools as the big boys. Codes on the [customers’ online] dashboard tell them whether to buy or hold off.”
Dorroll said one of Go Energies’ customers saved $2 million in a year using the Fair Fuel Index information. Another, who insisted that she was consistently buying at attractive rates, learned she was actually paying 13 cents above the Fair Fuel Index rate when Go Energies first mapped her previous year’s purchases.
“This is not rocket science,” Dorroll said. “We are using old school principles and new technology.”
Go Energies has also designed a mobile fuel station that can be transported anywhere, Dorroll said. The units are manufactured in Greensboro.
“Pender County just bought three,” he said. “They will have the best fuel infrastructure in terms of disaster recovery and business continuity in the U.S. The three locations are networked and all managed through our software.”
While technology has been the “accelerator” of his business, Dorroll said, what has really driven Go Energies’ success is its people and its strategies. The people were already in place with Go Gas Universal; Dorroll says he just “repurposed” them.
“It was like a reorganization. The key thing you need is people,” he said. “I credit a lot of our success to our advance strategic planning, which allowed us to exit one business as we were advancing the other one.”
Dorroll said his company’s biggest challenge is to educate potential customers on the value of Go Energies’ software.
“I don’t feel we have direct competition; we have fragmented competition,” he said, acknowledging that other companies offer some aspects of Go Energies’ products and service.
Dorroll recognizes the company probably will not make the same splash on the next Inc. fastest-growing list but expects the Wilmington-based firm to keep growing.
“Will we grow 16,000 percent this year? No,” he said. “But what’s more important, we’re hiring in Wilmington. We can code and write software anywhere, and we don’t need private servers here anymore because of the cloud. I almost moved the company to Houston but decided to stay here.”
Not only is Wilmington the place Dorroll grew up, and where his family still resides; he sees a technology environment developing in the area and wants to be part of it.
Currently, Go Energies employs 15 at its Burnt Mill Drive headquarters – mostly programmers – and is still hiring. Dorroll expects he will have 20 people on his payroll by the end of the year.
“We have 150 different organizations using our software. Our cash flow is positive, and we have no debt because the sale of Go Gas Universal to U.S. Bank funded our start up,” he said. “Investors are calling, but I don’t know if we want them.”