Dave Will of PropFuel

Founder Coffee episode 050

I’m Jeroen from Salesflare and this is Founder Coffee.

Every few weeks I have coffee with a different founder. We discuss life, passions, learnings, … in an intimate talk, getting to know the person behind the company.

For this fiftieth episode, I talked to Dave Will, Co-Founder of PropFuel, a platform that helps associations better engage with their members.

Dave started off his career in the corporate world, working at PwC on systems integration of big corporate systems like Siebel and SAP. The moments that changed everything for him were when his boss told him to walk faster and smile less when moving through the hallways… and when he got fired for lacking a sense of urgency.

That’s when he decided he didn’t want to work for other people, and he started a small reseller business. From there, he rolled from the one thing in the other. Today he’s focusing on building out PropFuel, pushing boundaries one step at a time while enjoying the journey.

We talk about walking slow and smiling more, focusing on controlled growth instead of building a high risk high growth business, why we don’t like the sitcom Silicon Valley, and the importance of the little things.

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Jeroen:

Hi Dave, it's great to have you on Founder Coffee.

Dave:

Jeroen, thanks for having me. I appreciate it.

Jeroen:

You're the co-founder of PropFuel, for those who don't know yet, what do you guys do?

Dave:

Did you say I'm a cool founder or the co-founder? Because I'd like to think of myself as both. I'm the cool founder of PropFuel and also the co-founder. Yeah.

Jeroen:

Yeah, okay.

Dave:

So what does PropFuel do? PropFuel is a SaaS software of course. I wouldn't be here if it wasn't. It's a conversational engagement platform and so we're very, very focused on member based organizations. The idea is that we're trying to help them go from broadcasting stuff to their members to engaging members in a conversation instead.

Dave:

And of course when there are 30,000 or 50,000 or 100,000 members of an association for example, it's very, very difficult to have a conversation with that many. So the software allows the staff of this association to automate the process of engaging with them back and forth.

Jeroen:

Just to be a bit more concrete, what sort of associations are we talking about?

Dave:

We've got 75 associations we're working with right now. There are associations anywhere from Air Force Association – the big one to some smaller associations like Contemporary Ceramic Society of America. So there's the Mushroom Growers Association, I mean you name it, there's a Tipping Goats Association, there's an association for just about anything you can imagine. If there's a group of people interested in something, there's an association for it.

Dave:

So most of the associations that we're working with are either professional associations or trade associations. We just started working with associations – gosh I want to say about a year and a half ago. We realized we found this product market fit. Since COVID kind of came to a close, we were just seeing it skyrocket. Every quarter is killing the quarter. Anyway yeah, those are the associations we're working with, professional trade associations.

Jeroen:

Nice and you say that it's about engagement with members. It's about having a conversation sort of at scale but when you sell this to these associations, what are really the underlying issues they're having? What are they trying to solve?

Dave:

Well, I have yet to meet an association that is satisfied with the level at which they're engaging their members. And so that raises the questions, what does it mean to engage a member, what does an engaged member look like. An engaged member is a member that's doing stuff, it's really that simple. Engaged member is one that's reading things, participating, getting involved, maybe volunteering to be a part of something, going to events, whether they're virtual or in person. So an engaged member is a member that actually dedicates some mindspace to this organization, but also opens their wallet to the association.

Dave:

So it's not just a time investment that an engaged member is giving but it's a financial investment too. And so associations, and any business for that matter, associations really aren't much different from any other business, you want engaged customers, right? It doesn't matter what you're selling, you want engaged customers and that's what we're trying to do. Specifically our focus is on associations to help them get their customers, members, doing stuff with them.

Dave:

And we do that through this super, super simple process – ask, capture, act. Everything we do, starts with a question; right now everything's over email but SMS is a potential, bots on websites are potential. But we ask a question, we capture input and we take action on it. And what's so cool about that simple process of "ask, capture, act", is it mimics human behavior. So when you're walking down the street, or you're walking your bike down your street because you're on cobblestones, in Brussels or in Bruges. I see the bike over your shoulder.

Jeroen:

It's not that prehistoric here but yeah, we do still have cobblestones at some places but that's mostly in historic centers here.

Dave:

We got cobblestones and there's a whole wailing island here in the northeast of the US called Nantucket, and there's plenty of cobblestones there so when you're walking your bike, or somewhere in a city, somebody might walk up and say, "Man, that's a beautiful bike. What kind of bike is that?" And that's what I asked you actually when we got on this podcast, I said, "What kind of bike is that?" And you're like, "Oh, it's a racing bike, it's a meta combo." I can't remember what you said. And, I say, "Oh, that's cool. I've got a bike like that too."

Dave:

So what we're doing here is, it's a conversation, it's an exchange. But most conversations start with a question. I hear your input, I take action on it. That action may be a physical action, that action might be verbal or it might be emotional. There's all kinds of actions that come out of me hearing what you just said. And so we're taking that human exchange, we're taking that process, we're putting it into a system, and we're putting it out there for people to scale, so that they can actually have that exchange with 30, 50, 100,000 people.

Jeroen:

So it sounds like associations have been very one way, not really conversational.

Dave:

Oh, yeah.

Jeroen:

They communicate towards their members but their members don't communicate back, and you want to make it a conversation again, right?

Dave:

Yeah, totally. They're talking at their members, that's what I like to say – you're talking at your members. In fact, oftentimes we're guessing as to what it is that members want or need. Again, just when I say the word members, you can replace the word with 'customer'. We're guessing as to what our customers need. But if you start with a question, you're going to have a little more context to deliver a really relevant message. In fact, it turns it into a dialogue. Oftentimes our clients are hearing from their customers or members, "Oh my god, I had no idea there was actually a person behind this email."

Dave:

A lot of people think it's like everything's automated through marketing automation and systems. And although it starts that way, what we're doing is allowing this exchange so that we know who to actually talk to, like a human, when to talk to them and what to talk to them about. So it's a really, really cool process. This is what I love about entrepreneurship. This idea of creation. You get to create these new things and push the boundaries to where people haven't gone before.

Jeroen:

Yeah, definitely. I love that part as well and that's personally what gets me up in the morning. That creation process for you, where did that start? Where did you get the spark for PropFuel?

Dave:

Oh I was fired from my job. Actually, that's how I got the spark for entrepreneurship. That happened when I was 30. So I'm 50 right now and that happened when I was 30. I got fired from my job, and I was working with PricewaterhouseCoopers doing systems integration, Siebel, SAP software. I was always in the software process work. I'm not a developer, I'm the guy that takes software, and puts the business process around it. So I always did that and then I got fired from my job and I realized that I really didn't enjoy working for people. And so I created some shitty little business reselling something back in 2001.

Dave:

But the bug, you know what here is the moment that I think changed everything for me. I was working for SAP, big German enterprise ERP system. I was working for one of the big US offices for SAP. And my boss at the time, his name's Mark, Mark walked me out the door, he put his arm around me and which he can't do any more but back then you could; so he put his arm around me, and he's like, "You know Dave" – I was an intern at the time I was getting my business degree from MBA. He put his arm around me, said, "So, Dave. Great job this summer. One piece of advice, I encourage you when you're walking through the halls, to walk faster and smile less because perception is reality."

Dave:

And at the time I thought, that's phenomenal advice. Like this is really, really good advice because you don't have to be smart to do that. You don't have to be like really knowledgeable about something in particular. You don't have to have a long set of skills to walk faster and smile less. You just got to walk faster and smile less. Like super easy, anybody can do that, right?

Jeroen:

Yeah.

Dave:

I couldn't do it. So, needless to say my next job, I got fired for lacking a sense of urgency, and I went on to build a business around the antithesis of that advice. So, the first business I built was built around this idea of walking slow, smiling more, which essentially just means – enjoy the journey. Who knows if I'm ever going to be a billionaire, it'd be cool, right? But, I better enjoy the process in order to get there and if you don't enjoy the process, for me, there's no point just getting to that point. I want to really enjoy the journey and I've been enjoying the journey for the past 20 years.

Jeroen:

Yeah. I was actually smiling a lot when you were explaining that because, in my first corporate job, and I was at a big pharma company.

Dave:

Yeah, same thing. Big pharma, big software.

Jeroen:

My boss at Baxter, she gave me a similar piece of advice. She said, "Jeroen, you're doing very well and all, but the thing is, you have to act more like a product manager because you want to become a product manager. You need to act like one and you cannot hang indoors anymore and stuff." And I was like, "How is that relevant, I'm just comfortable here." And at the time it was sort of like, "Yeah, okay that makes sense". And it makes sense within a corporate, but once you exit that and then you go into entrepreneurship, it just doesn't matter anymore.

Dave:

Yeah, yeah. I remember the day I got fired though. Didn't feel like it didn't matter. It felt like a big punch in the gut.

Dave:

When I got fired, there was a tech bubble and everything was blowing up and imploding. It was a good time to get rid of people too, so I can't take all of the credit for getting fired. But it still is a punch in the gut. I remember calling my wife. I took a ferry from Boston to the south shore of Boston, Massachusetts.

Dave:

Then I remember standing at the pier, 10:30 in the morning, calling my wife on my Nokia phone like Keanu Reeves phone from the Matrix, if you ever saw the Matrix. I was sitting there with my Nokia phone and called my wife and I remember the minute I heard her voice, and I heard my baby, who is in college now; I heard my baby cooing in her arms. She's sitting in the kitchen of our house that we had mortgaged beyond our means, in a fairly affluent area and I just immediately broke into tears.

Dave:

It was a very, very tough nut to swallow. It was a really, really hard thing to accept that this company didn't want me. But it was, I remember my brother telling me at the time, "Dave, one door closes, many more open." I was just like, can I swear in this podcast?

Jeroen:

You can. This is not an American podcast, so.

Dave:

No? Okay! I was like, "Fuck you Ed, I don't want to hear that." Like that's my reaction to 'many more open' like, "Fuck you, many more open." I just lost my job, no idea how I'm going to pay my mortgage, let alone put food on the table. So, needless to say he was right and the next 20 years have been such a fun journey. Not always, not like every day you wake up and it's awesome every day.

Dave:

There's still really, really hard periods and days that you feel like you got hit by a truck but man generally speaking the stimulation, the ability you're going to be who you are, hang in doors, when you want to hang in a door, whatever that means. I don't even know what that means but I want to do it.

Dave:

And I want to smile and I want to walk slowly and if I want to go outside and walk around my pool for a little bit while I'm on the phone, I want to be able to do that. And it's the freedom and not to mention, not just the freedom but the potential to earn a shit ton of money too. Not all entrepreneurs make a lot of money but many do.

Jeroen:

Yeah, that's something to understand of course in entrepreneurship.

Dave:

I don't even know your question.

Jeroen:

It does make you rich or it does not.

Jeroen:

But it's fun.

Dave:

Yeah.

Jeroen:

And that's the most important thing because if you don't enjoy the journey then it will also never make you rich I think, because you'll give up somewhere along the way towards that money that you're trying to go after which is not exactly the point.

Dave:

But that's true with anything I think. If you really don't enjoy the journey, you're dependent on willpower.

Jeroen:

Yeah.

Dave:

Right? Like I think that's why people suck at diets and losing weight. Because it's not enjoyable to not eat the cake. It's not enjoyable to eat less. And so if you're going to be successful at losing weight, it's either willpower, which rarely works for a period of time, or you've got to find enjoyment in eating and cooking vegetables in a way that they're tasty. And so that's why I think the people that are successful in fitness and in losing weight, are the ones that have found joy in riding or running in an exercise and then eating well. They're the ones that find that joy. But if you don't find the joy in the stuff you're doing, you're never going to succeed at it. That's my philosophy. You might for the short term. You might for a few weeks or a few months but it's not going to last.

Jeroen:

No, no, that's totally true. Actually I recently changed to a whole foods plant based diet as well. This year, in January, and I really enjoy it. And I don't feel like there's any real reason to go back. I never had to diet or anything.

Dave:

Tell me what that is. What is a whole foods diet?

Jeroen:

Oh, it's basically eating whole foods that are not processed and plant based. They cut down on all the meat and the eggs and the milk and the old skin stuff.

Dave:

You cut down or eliminated it?

Jeroen:

Well I mostly eliminated it but my wife still wants to eat it now and then, so.

Dave:

Yeah.

Jeroen:

I'm not, let's say, extreme about it so it's fine to still sometimes eat it.

Dave:

Yeah. Yeah.

Jeroen:

But that's really nice as well. Gives you some extra energy, which is very handy when you're trying to build a business.

Dave:

Well, I think just enjoying what you're doing gives you extra energy and again, I want to emphasize this, it always drives me nuts when people say, "Oh my god, I love what I do, I wake up every day with a smile on my face." Because that's bullshit like there are days that's not the case. In my last company, which also evolved into a SaaS software company as well, I remember the day I got the phone call from my lead developer that we had been hacked. And that was not fun. That was not a day that I enjoyed. That was the day I actually thought the business was going to go down in flames. So there's shit that happens, but there's a lot of really good stuff too.

Jeroen:

What are some of the coolest stuff you've been able to do while running all these businesses?

Dave:

Oh man, that's a great question, and this might be a long answer, so I'll just at some point have to cut it off. One of the things I really enjoy the most I think, it's funny, I really enjoy building a place where people can grow, personally and professionally. And I put this under the umbrella of culture. I think I did a good job at my last company, this one we're still pretty darn small, we're in startup mode, but I want to build this company where people just, they never want to leave.

Dave:

I don't mean they don't want to go home and sleep. I mean like, no matter what they were offered from a competitor or from another company, they're not going to leave because they really like what they're doing and where they're doing it. They feel passion for it and excitement around coming into work. So that's the thing that I enjoy. I've really liked seeing the passion and the smiles and the friendships and the marriages that came out of my last company.

Dave:

Another thing I really like is what we already talked about, which is being able to push the boundaries on what the market is used to doing. So looking at what the market is doing and figuring out where there is a gap, where there is something that needs to get better. And of course we're all on these little niches, so we're laser focused on a very small piece of the market. But there's always enough and the more focus you get, the more opportunity you can see to improve. And so that's another thing I love, then of course, gosh, I'd be remiss if I didn't say I love winning, right?

Dave:

I really, really like to win. I'm super competitive, and so by winning I mean winning new business. I love building a company to the point where, yes, you can sell it, that's like the ultimate win for an entrepreneur, right? Is successfully selling a business and what I love about selling is that for the first time it quantifies the value you've created. Until that point you're like yeah, I create a lot of value like we sell a product for X dollars and people are paying X amount for it and we got X number of customers and there's valuation. Or maybe we raised money, which is a major pain in the ass, by the way, raising money. Have you ever raised money before?

Jeroen:

We have raised money from angels but not so much from institutional money.

Dave:

Same thing man. I think that is a brutal process. I'm going through it right now and it's just way, way more brutal than I thought it would be.

Jeroen:

What do you think is so brutal about it?

Dave:

Oh my God. So here's the thing that I think is the most interesting. So we've put this deck together, and changed it a million times. The process of putting the deck together is that alone, is really valuable. Because it helps you really understand who you are and where you are in the market, even if you never show it to anybody. It's an amazing process. Did you have that experience too?

Jeroen:

Yeah, actually the first thing we did when creating the company was creating a deck.

Dave:

Right.

Jeroen:

To make it a short story, we figured like okay we're going to do this thing, there's a whole lot of potential but we need to be able to create time for it because creating such a system is not going to happen overnight. We won't create this in a week or something. We need actual time.

Dave:

Yeah.

Jeroen:

So we saw this thing online from Kima Ventures, which was called Kima15 and they said in 15 days we'll come back to you. You can get 150k for 15% of your company. Just need to send us a deck. You need to follow this book and stuff. So the first thing we did was create a deck. That was me, and then my co-founder created a prototype. And then obviously we sent that in and they said, "You're a bit too early stage." But…

Dave:

We'd like a customer. Yeah.

Jeroen:

Yeah, we had nothing. Like we had a prototype. It was just you clicking on stuff and that was it. Like it didn't do anything. There was a deck, but there was nothing else behind it.

Dave:

Yeah. So the exercise of creating the deck I think is really, really valuable. And if you're familiar with EOS, Entrepreneurial Operating System, Gino Wickman’s “Traction”, or Verne Harnish’s “Scaling Up”, if you're familiar with any of these processes, the strategic planning processes, that's essentially what you're doing when you're creating this vision. And you're documenting it. That's what the deck does. But that's not the hard part. Although it was hard to create this deck, that was not the hard part. The part that I find the most challenging is, you go out to 30, 50, 100 investors over time, you're constantly knocking on doors of friends and family, angels depending on what stage you're at, some VCs.

Dave:

And I would say just round numbers, half of them are actually interested in learning about the business. They're asking you questions about the business, they want to understand the business. And that's what you know, I think, that's when you know a true investor. Then the other half wants to critique your pitch, and your tech, and they're like, "Do you want some feedback?" And of course there's only one answer to that, of course you want the feedback and in the beginning you really do. In the first 10 or 15, yeah you really want the feedback. It gets to a point where the feedback you get here has some consistency.

Dave:

So you make those changes and then all the feedback is just conflicting feedback. Like some people think that you should do X and then other people think you should do Y. And so you're constantly getting this feedback and pretending to take notes and write it all down and you're going to make changes, and then ultimately you have to get to that question, "Okay, so thanks for the feedback, but are you interested?" Like, "Are you interested in actually investing? Do you have any questions about the business, forget about the deck." So I think that's a really hard part – going through this process over and over and over and over and over again. Getting a vast number of No's, because you're simply not a fit, which is totally rational. It doesn't mean you're not a good business. It just means you're not fit for the kind of investments that they do.

Dave:

That's hard, man, really hard. And then you get all the terms, and everybody wants different terms like some people want a board seat. Some people want equity. Some people don't care if it's equity or convertible note. So like there's this, "Yeah, it's hard". Oh, let's not forget about the time involved, right? Forget about CEO-ing or forget about working with clients, because the vast majority of your job right now is pitching and raising. That's what your job becomes, forget about hiring people. So if you got to do those other things that's going to be after hours. So yeah, it's hard. I do not look forward to the next time we're raising money.

Jeroen:

Yeah, I think we were actually quite lucky with it. I got some contacts through people I knew, other startups, which is a really great way of finding good business angels. And then a few I knew already through our people, and then we basically made convertible notes with standard terms, and it was that, or nothing.

Dave:

Was it a safe, or was it your own convertible note?

Jeroen:

It was our own convertible note. It even stated terms like all the angels sign the same thing. So as soon as the first one signed, there was no discussion possible anymore with the others, because all of them signed the same thing, right?

Dave:

Yeah.

Jeroen:

So that saved us an enormous amount of time.

Dave:

Awesome.

Jeroen:

Definitely recommend it to everyone but of course you need to check whether these terms are good in all circumstances.

Dave:

Yeah. Yeah, right.

Jeroen:

It is a sales process and it's real. But I think this extends to entrepreneurship in general, right? If you're really in it to succeed, then you need to be able to take this feedback from investors, but also from customers. Like I remember customer interviews being extremely brutal and there was so much feedback in so many different directions, that we didn't know at the time very well how to condense it. So we went through this period when we did the customer interviews, because all of a sudden there was so much that people said, and it went in all these directions and everything became this really fuzzy cloud until we brought it back to the essence. We figured like, "Okay, why did we start this?" and then sort of took the feedback as a secondary thing.

Dave:

I think when it comes to feedback the natural inclination is to make yourself completely open to all feedback, right? And I think that's good to be open to all feedback. The trick is then in how you process it, and what I've learned from my partner, so I tend to be client facing, my partner is product facing like he works on a platform, I work with the clients. When I go to him and say, "Hey, look here's a couple things I just heard today that might be cool features for the platform." His reaction generally speaking is 'no', right? Because I think he says no more often than yes. Are you more a developer or more the process guy?

Jeroen:

I'm more on the customer side.

Dave:

Okay, so you're probably like me where you're hearing a lot of the things people want, but I think a good developer or CTO will say, "Good to know and I need to put that into perspective as to where we're taking the platform. Because if you start throwing all these bells and whistles and features into it, it just becomes this ugly pile of bells and whistles and features, as opposed to keeping this really simple approach to completing a task." And so that's what I think we've done really well. Thanks to my partner, something we hear from a lot of people is, "Man this is just so easy." It wouldn't be easy if we said yes to every single thing people wanted. And so it's a really hard thing to do but you gotta know when to say no.

Jeroen:

Yeah. What we do I think and that's the easiest way of keeping it under control is you just add it to a list, and we tell people "thanks for the feedback we've noted it". On our list, we group things by issues. And then we just say okay this person also asked for it and this person also asks for it but their specific way of asking, and what's behind it and stuff, it sits there. But you very quickly can see what's recurring and why and then you go analyze further, ask these people more questions and then actually work on it.

Jeroen:

And that's, to your point, the only way of keeping a system easy. I think, like for instance if you take a company like SAP, the way they've started dealing with it, is they've built a system where everybody can build whatever they like as long as you get SAP consultants to do it for you. But then there's also lots of other software companies where it completely went wrong because sales was leading the process and was always telling development, "Make this, make this, make this, make this" and at some point it becomes a total mess. And nobody really has the overview of what needs to be built and then, yeah in most cases, software companies start imploding.

Dave:

Just to take that thought a little bit further. If you like the idea, you put these things on what you're hearing into a list. For me I just pass it on to my partner. The way he works is he organizes things into a list and he structures them based on certain categories. He doesn't work on features as much as he works on these categories and so what he'll do is he'll redesign an element of the platform in a way so that he's adding and removing and rebuilding all at the same time to release a more sophisticated version of that component of the platform. Being very vague here but the point is rather than just fixing and adding one thing, he's improving the process completely.

Jeroen:

And these categories are like jobs, jobs to be done? If you know the framework, is it that direction, or?

Dave:

I'll give you an example. On our platform, like a lot of marketing automation type things, we have campaigns that go out. These questions that we send out, they go out in the form of a campaign. And so we have this campaign manager for creating them. Instead of just adding a feature or removing a feature at some point, and he's doing some of that but at some point, he's just going to rebuild the campaign manager to bring it back to simplicity, get rid of these outliers. Anything that's kind of become lumpy and ugly, he's going to smooth it all out by rebuilding the campaign manager so that's what I mean by that.

Jeroen:

Yeah.

Dave:

So there's a great book by the way that I just read called The Mom Test. I can't remember who wrote it, just Google The Mom Test you'll find it. But have you heard of this?

Jeroen:

I've heard of it. Yeah.

Dave:

It's basically how to get customer feedback primarily at the startup stage. Before you even have a product like, or maybe right in the beta version. But how do you get feedback without forcing people into giving you positive feedback that is not really helpful or accurate. So The Mom Test, I thought that was a really nicely done book.

Jeroen:

Yeah, true. It's super essential to get good feedback that is constructive and then you can do something with it, where you also understand what's behind it. That's a bit of the core of getting that feedback I think.

Dave:

Yeah. Yeah, right.

Jeroen:

So you're raising money now. That's angel money, right? Is this with the intention of raising VC money in the long run?

Dave:

To be determined, we're not, I don't think we're going to angel. I think we're going to stick with friends and family. I think VCs and even angels are interested in businesses that have this unicorn vision. And we actually, contrary to the popular way of building a company, we're kind of focused on a very particular niche, and we want to nail this niche. That's it, we just want to nail this niche.

Dave:

As we're heading down that path we will then make the decision as to what it looks like in another five years. We're not going to be a unicorn in five years, and that's not what a VC or even an angel wants to hear. They want to hear that you really have every intent of turning this into a unicorn. And so for that reason we're focusing on friends and family right now. It's a smaller raise. We're raising a million, not five or ten, just raising a million.

Dave:

Which is really an awkward number to raise actually because a lot of friends and families have little less than that. But VCs don't want to get involved for that small an amount. So anyway, we're raising a million and that's all. I describe it almost like taking a five hour energy shot. So it's like shooting a five hour energy for the business that's what it is. It's a way of helping us ramp up sales and marketing and client support a little bit faster and better than we would if we're at grassroots.

Jeroen:

It also doesn't sound like VC money would be a fit to what you were saying earlier, that you really enjoyed growing a team and making it a company where people don't want to leave and all.

Dave:

Yeah.

Jeroen:

It doesn't sound like a VC backed company, right?

Dave:

I refer to it as controlled growth, right? It's not quite a lifestyle business, but it's also not a high risk, high growth business. It's highly unlikely at this point we're going anywhere. We're not going to disappear, that's highly unlikely. You can't say that with most VC funded businesses. There's still a good probability they're going to dissolve. So they're going for the moon, right? We're going for the atmosphere, and I'm not embarrassed to say that. I think there's a lot of really cool businesses. Now once we hit the atmosphere, or we're halfway up there, we may make the decision. You know that the moon's not too far away, maybe we should make a jump for it, and it won't be too late.

Jeroen:

You need to escape velocity at that point then.

Jeroen:

To say it with a Reid Hoffman quote, he's always pushing startups to go to the moon like the former LinkedIn founder who has a podcast.

Jeroen:

Masters of Scale. If you listen to this podcast all of what you need to do is raise VC money and speak philosophy and whatever.

Dave:

Yeah. I get that. That's why I say it's contrary to popular philosophy. I think there's a lot of businesses going out there that haven't even gotten a customer yet but they're telling you how they're going to be a billion dollar business.

Jeroen:

Mm-hmm.

Dave:

I just, to be honest, my philosophy, my approach is a little bit different, and a lot of other entrepreneurs don't subscribe to this and they think I'm doing it wrong and that's okay. That's fine. My approach is to focus on doing something really, really right for a niche, and then we can take it from there. That's what I'm focused on.

Jeroen:

Yeah, you were just saying that you consider PropFuel to be quite stable right now. But when you think about what keeps you up at night lately, what is the first thing that pops in mind?

Dave:

Usually it's pretty granular. It's like that next prospect and I tend to be so competitive and focused on the next prospect always. It's usually the stuff in the weeds that keeps me up at night. Like it's the thing I was working on last that keeps me annoyed but that's literally keeps me up at night. I think what you're asking is different. I think what you're asking, maybe, is what are the longer term issues in the industry that you're seeing now? No?

Jeroen:

Both! I'm interested in both.

Dave:

So it's the little shit. It's the little shit that keeps me up to be honest.

Jeroen:

So that means really that you enjoy the journey, right?

Dave:

Yeah. It really is. It's the little stuff. It's the squabble I got in with my partner, or it's the client that had a bad experience today. Like those are the things that keep me up. Those are the things I dwell on. We have a process for managing the bigger things. We do have a big vision of where we're going but we take that with a grain of salt. We understand that the vision changes over time. So that doesn't really keep me up. Want to change a vision? Fucking change the vision. There you go, it's easy.

Dave:

But yeah, it's the stuff in the weeds that keeps me up. And so for a long time, so I mentioned I'm 50, that's not old, but it's certainly "I'm not a spring chicken". So the first 30 or 40 years, I did what I was supposed to do in business, in my career or what I thought I was supposed to. So, if I were to equate that to what I'm doing now, yeah, Reid Hoffman says you got to shoot for the moon so I better fucking shoot for the moon. I'm not going to do it because Reid Hoffman, that's good for you Reid Hoffman – that's why you're a billionaire. Like that's awesome for you. But if I tried to do what Reid Hoffman does, I'm going to fail. I don't know, I might or I might not but I'm much more likely to succeed if I do the things that I envision doing.

Dave:

And so, I have to stay true to my philosophy. I have to stay true to the things I believe in and the things that I'm doing and I'll learn from my own mistakes. But that's the way I'm going to be the best version of me. And so along those lines I'm not shooting for the moon man. I'm not going to do it right now. I'm going to focus on doing a really good job for the clients that we're focused on right now, and along the way I'm going to make adjustments to get to the next year, and then more adjustments to get to the next year. And that's my philosophy.

Jeroen:

Yeah.

Dave:

Great respect for Reid Hoffman, by the way.

Jeroen:

I also have a lot of respect for Reid Hoffman, but I also don't agree with his way of thinking. I mean it works for a very, very small subset of companies but it's like he wants to promote it to everyone, which doesn't make a lot of sense.

Dave:

Yeah. No, another one that I hear, right, is go against the stream a little bit. I'm a Gen-Xer, nobody remembers the Gen-Xers. There's the Boomers, right? Everybody likes to make fun of the Boomers now but then you go right to the Millennials. But there's us too! Don't forget about us, we're the Gen-Xers. Gen-Xers, the Millennials, in theory, if you buy into all this generation stuff right. The Millennials want to change the world.

Dave:

I am going against the stream a little bit on this. I like to change things, but I'm not going to take that big bite in changing the world. I'm going to focus, which is not a popular comment like everybody wants. Everybody wants to change the world. My focus is on changing the environment that I'm closest to.

Dave:

So I'm working with associations, and I'm going to change something for the better in our little space in the association world right now. And then maybe into nonprofits and then maybe into member based organizations. So like, we're going to make some change into things that are closest to us but I'm not, there's a lot of things that need fixing in the world and I'm not focused on all of them.

Jeroen:

Yeah, I can get that. It's the fault of the Boomers again. They have been teaching us Millennials that everything is going well and you need to shoot for the moon and change the world. We live with that but I think many of us are growing up and are starting to think like you.

Dave:

It is a pendulum, right? 10 years ago, everybody wanted to change the world. In fact if you ever watched Silicon Valley, the HBO sitcom.

Jeroen:

A part of it, it made me sick after some time. It's an unpopular opinion but it made me like, I don't know.

Dave:

It's annoying, sounds like.

Jeroen:

Yeah.

Dave:

Yeah. In Silicon Valley they did this, the classic pitch which was like Y Combinator sort of thing, and everybody started off with making the world a better place. That was 10-15 years ago. Everybody wants to make the world a better place. Now I think the pendulum is swinging back a little bit to where we're acknowledging that maybe the perspective I have is becoming a little more popular. Which is like, we may not be changing the world, but I'm going to change my little space inside of the world.

Jeroen:

Mm-hmm. Yeah, I think that's certainly a specific group and then there's also the group that like the Elon Musk vision.

Dave:

Oh my gosh. He is going to change the universe.

Jeroen:

This guy is changing the world. I'm actually going to be myself on the TV program, like it's recording in a month, and literally the tagline, it's called 'The Social Movement', and the tagline is 'Four Days to Change the World'.

Dave:

That's awesome. I love it, I really do. It's just not me.

Jeroen:

Yeah.

Dave:

I'll watch it. I'm going to watch that show and I'm going to subscribe to it. I'm going to push my kids to be world changing entrepreneurs. For me, I'm going to focus on my space though.

Jeroen:

Sounds good. Going quickly into, because we don't have a lot of time anymore, into learnings. What is the latest good book you've read, and why did you choose to read it?

Dave:

Oh, geez, the one I just finished for obvious reasons, is the Secrets of Sand Hill Road. Basically, I needed a rush education. I'm raising money, but let's see what else is on my list here. Oh gos,h I love Guy Raz, How I Built This. So I listen to books on audible but I read that one.

Jeroen:

That's a podcast, no?

Dave:

It is a podcast but he wrote a book out of it too. To be honest if you listen to podcasts you don't need the book. The book is just a summary of all the podcasts. The book Measure What Matters by John Doerr, I enjoyed the philosophy but it was just too long and too detailed for me. I got what I needed out of it in the first chapter, but that was an interesting book. And then the other book on my list is the sales acceleration formula, so I'm undetermined on that one but those are a bunch of books I'm into. I mentioned The Mom Test, that was pretty good.

Dave:

I'm always trying to consume as much as I can in terms of the books and then, of course I listen to a ton of podcasts. You got a great podcast. My podcast is, EO 360, Entrepreneurs Organization 360, little plug for that. SaaStr has some really good podcasts too.

Dave:

Yea Man!, That's What I Meant, How I Built This, Tim Ferriss… who doesn't like Tim Ferriss.

Jeroen:

Tim Ferriss, yeah I just read his book, which is also sort of a summary of his book. Tools of Titans.

Dave:

Yeah.

Jeroen:

You gave us a ton of good advice. Is there any last piece of advice you want to give to the listeners that you think they should really hear about?

Dave:

Yeah, I don't know, man. I think it took me too long to learn, and this is just I'm iterating something that I've tried to focus on here.

Dave:

Waited too long to learn this. I don't want to tell you what you're going to do, but it took me a while to learn that I was going to thrive If I allowed myself to do things my own way, as opposed to doing things the way my parents thought would be best for me when I was younger, or the way the industry suggests or academics think you're supposed to do or what your peers think you're supposed to do.

Dave:

And that's why I talk about things like, shooting to the moon and everybody trying to change the world and stuff. That's cool… but is that you speaking or is that somebody else planting seeds because the trick is to figure out what it is you really believe in. My philosophy of walking slow, smile more, once I embraced that, that's when I started to thrive because I finally accepted that, hey it's okay not to walk fast and smile less. It's okay.

Dave:

So anyway, that's my philosophy. If you can really, really get comfortable enough with yourself so that you help yourself make decisions instead of turning to your peers and other people for what you should be doing, that's when you are really, really going to thrive. When I say you, I mean me, that's just what I've learned about myself honestly. I don't know if that's true for everyone, that's what I've learned about myself.

Jeroen:

I do appreciate the advice. I think it's a very hard thing to do but definitely something important.

Dave:

It is hard.

Jeroen:

True to yourself.

Dave:

I don't know how you learn that. I just kind of fumbled across it over the years. Jeroen, thank you so much for having me. It has been really, really fun to talk through this stuff. It's nice to have a peer that loves the same things.

Jeroen:

Yeah, thank you for being on Founder Coffee. It was really great to have you as well.

Dave:

Thank you.


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