Mentoring Is Its Own Reward

I recently attended the award event for INC Magazine’s 5000 fastest growing companies. As a guest, of course, not as someone with a company on that list. (After 30 years, that kind of accelerated growth is a lot tougher!)

It was an amazing group of entrepreneurs, and the energy at the event was inspiring.  The company that topped the list, Loot Crate, grew at a phenomenal 66,789% over three years.  That number is not a typo, by the way.  And their last year’s revenue was $116 million. Not bad.

Chris Davis, CEO of Loot Crate, and me at the INC 5000 gala.

Chris Davis, CEO of Loot Crate, and me at the INC 5000 gala.

But there were many other businesspeople with amazing growth as well. I knew two of them, DentalPost.net and eAssist, both in the dental industry and coincidentally both with female founders.  DentalPost is a sophisticated job site, and eAssist outsources dental billing for practices. In fact, they were both in the top 2000.  And for DentalPost it was their second year in a row.  Impressive.

A very interesting thing happened to me when I was there. I walked up and introduced myself to the CEO and founder of Loot Crate, Chris Davis, and to my surprise he immediately recognized me. Not as the 1-800-DENTIST guy, but because I had mentored him seven years ago as part of a startup class for new entrepreneurs.

I honestly didn’t remember him, but he was effusive in his praise of me as one of his mentors, and explained that after the class he launched his first company and it didn’t take off, so he moved on after two years, but then he started Loot Crate and it succeeded. Spectacularly.

I can’t tell you how gratifying it was to know that he had taken his entrepreneurial drive and  ran with it. Now, I’m not taking any credit for his remarkable success. (Okay, maybe I’m taking a little!)  My point is that I did those mentor sessions and still do because I want to help young businesspeople avoid some of the mistakes I made, and inspire them to chase their dreams, no matter how difficult.

I have a personal rule: I’m never going to discourage anyone from pursuing their idea. I will coach them as to how to do it better, or caution them as to some of the risks they aren’t considering, but I know that plenty of other people will try to discourage them along the way, including friends and family, and I’m not going to be one of those voices.

Back in 1986, several people told me 1-800-DENTIST would never work.  My partner Gary and I used it as motivation. And that’s what I tell young entrepreneurs to do as well.  Proving your detractors wrong can be very satisfying.  And Chris Davis didn’t succeed on his first try.  But he told me that everything he learned with the first business made it possible to turn Loot Crate into a major success.

And that’s my second rule: persistence and determination will get you further than you ever imagined. Chris is living proof. We may not all achieve such stratospheric results, but we can all reach our dreams by showing up every day and giving it our absolute best.

There won’t be any financial reward for me because of my mentoring of Chris.  And I could care  less.  The joy I experienced seeing his marvelous success, knowing that I played some part in it, however tiny, is more than enough for me.

You can read more about Chris’s story and the INC 5000 by clicking here.

Mentoring Is Its Own Reward

I recently attended the award event for INC Magazine’s 5000 fastest growing companies. As a guest, of course, not as someone with a company on that list. (After 30 years, that kind of accelerated growth is a lot tougher!)

It was an amazing group of entrepreneurs, and the energy at the event was inspiring.  The company that topped the list, Loot Crate, grew at a phenomenal 66,789% over three years.  That number is not a typo, by the way.  And their last year’s revenue was $116 million. Not bad.

But there were many other businesspeople with amazing growth as well. I knew two of them, DentalPost.net and eAssist, both in the dental industry and coincidentally both with female founders.  DentalPost is a sophisticated job site, and eAssist outsources dental billing for practices. In fact, they were both in the top 2000.  And for DentalPost it was their second year in a row.  Impressive.

A very interesting thing happened to me when I was there. I walked up and introduced myself to the CEO and founder of Loot Crate, Chris Davis, and to my surprise he immediately recognized me. Not as the 1-800-DENTIST guy, but because I had mentored him seven years ago as part of a startup class for new entrepreneurs.

I honestly didn’t remember him, but he was effusive in his praise of me as one of his mentors, and explained that after the class he launched his first company and it didn’t take off, so he moved on after two years, but then he started Loot Crate and it succeeded. Spectacularly.

Chris Davis, CEO of Loot Crate, and me at the INC 5000 gala.

Chris Davis, CEO of Loot Crate, and me at the INC 5000 gala.

I can’t tell you how gratifying it was to know that he had taken his entrepreneurial drive and  ran with it. Now, I’m not taking any credit for his remarkable success. (Okay, maybe I’m taking a little!)  My point is that I did those mentor sessions and still do because I want to help young businesspeople avoid some of the mistakes I made, and inspire them to chase their dreams, no matter how difficult.

I have a personal rule: I’m never going to discourage anyone from pursuing their idea. I will coach them as to how to do it better, or caution them as to some of the risks they aren’t considering, but I know that plenty of other people will try to discourage them along the way, including friends and family, and I’m not going to be one of those voices.

Back in 1986, several people told me 1-800-DENTIST would never work.  My partner Gary and I used it as motivation. And that’s what I tell young entrepreneurs to do as well.  Proving your detractors wrong can be very satisfying.  And Chris Davis didn’t succeed on his first try.  But he told me that everything he learned with the first business made it possible to turn Loot Crate into a major success.

And that’s my second rule: persistence and determination will get you further than you ever imagined. Chris is living proof. We may not all achieve such stratospheric results, but we can all reach our dreams by showing up every day and giving it our absolute best.

There won’t be any financial reward for me because of my mentoring of Chris.  And I could care  less.  The joy I experienced seeing his marvelous success, knowing that I played some part in it, however tiny, is more than enough for me.

You can read more about Chris’s story and the INC 5000 by clicking here.

The Night I Slept with a Knight

Last week I completed what was definitely the most physically challenging experience of my life.  I signed up for part of the Strive Challenge, a 27-day fund-raising event that is still taking place. It involves a five-day hike, a 1350 mile bike ride, swimming from Italy to Sicily and then a half marathon up Mount Aetna.  I just did the hike segment, which had over 100 participants.

I call it a hike, but it was more like mountaineering, which I did not know ahead of time.  On the longest day we covered 11.4 miles, ascended 5400 feet and descended 5900 feet, and took almost 45,000 steps. Virtually none of it was level and little of it was smooth, and large portions of it were simply climbing over rock slides like the one below.

This is not my idea of a trail!!

This is not my idea of a trail!!

Because I thought it was basically like a normal hike, I foolishly did not train for this.  Oh, and we also were carrying packs weighing 25 pounds.  In other words, this damn near killed me. I was so trashed after the first day I could hardly summon the strength to feed myself!

And we also stayed primarily in “refugios”, which are essentially eating and sleeping lodges for hikers. The first was the most spartan, with no showers, cold water to wash, toilets that were essentially open troughs, meals that were the equivalent of prison food, and rooms with bunk beds.

Though my childhood was fairly simple and spare, I’ve certainly grown accustomed to creature comforts over the years.  But what was perhaps the most striking aspect of this adventure is that Sir Richard Branson was also doing the hike right along with us.  In fact, he’s doing all 27 days.  And did he sneak off to somewhere luxurious, or even comfortable? No. The first night he was in the same room with me in one of the lower bunks, ate the same food, and walked the same routes. (He’s the knight in the blog title, of course). I know few millionaires who would put themselves through all that, never mind billionaires.

I also took two Ambien that night, which makes me snore, and I pretty much kept everyone else awake for the four hours it allowed me to sleep.  (I think Sir Richard has forgiven me by now!)

My admiration for this man grows with every encounter.

My admiration for this man grows with every encounter.

This was called a challenge, and it was meant to be, and for me it really showed me how much difficulty I could endure, how much will I could summon, and how much harder I could push myself than I ever imagined.  Finally, at the end of the fourth day, I crumbled.  My 62-year-old joints and untrained muscles rebelled to a point where I couldn’t be cheerful, and that was a hard lesson.  But I also learned that being comfortable isn’t anywhere near as important as I thought, and that I’ve been way too easy on myself in the past ten or twenty years.

And perhaps most impressive to me was that a billionaire, who could have had a helicopter take him to the nearest Ritz Carlton, not only did every step of the hike, but did it with a sense of humor, an amiable nature and not a hint of entitlement behavior the entire time. (By the way, he wasn’t the only billionaire with us.  Hartley Richardson, who I believe is the second richest man in Canada and recently beat throat cancer, also did the hike.)

I have been both humbled and inspired by this experience, more deeply than I could have imagined.  I can’t count the number of times that I felt like giving up, except that I had no other option but to keep going, and I had my hike mates toughing it out with me, and encouraging me, and cheering me up and cheering me on.  It was grueling, unpleasant, tedious, and painful.  And I already miss it.

I saw beautiful sights that I would never have seen any other way.  And I saw myself laid bare.  And I spent time with a remarkable group of people.  The whole experience was filled with unexpected gifts.  At one point on the fourth day we stopped at a little inn and I had one of the most memorable snacks of my life: an orange popsicle.

fred-popsicle-strive-2016

My lesson from this was simple and powerful, and I give it as advice to you: Do something hard. Harder than you think you can do.  It doesn’t have to be physical. It can be learning a new technique or new technology, instead of coasting along on your current skills.  It can be learning a musical instrument, or a language, or getting a degree. Whatever it is, get way out of your comfort zone, and you will amaze yourself.  And if you can, do it with other people.

The charity that this was for, by the way, is called Big Change.  It leverages the money raised to create programs that encourage young people to learn about the possibilities of business, and how they can make a good living and a better world.The last time they did this, in 2015, they raised $800,000, and leveraged it to get over $40 million in government support around the globe for their programs.  If you would like to donate for my efforts, I welcome that, and you can do so by clicking here.

I’ll end with the motto of the Strive Challenge: “Growth begins when you get out of your comfort zone; magic happens when you do it with others.”

My Siroworld Video

This is the video I showed at Siroworld 2016 for the first time.  It’s a comedic take on what it would be like if I became a dentist (and why it would not be a good idea!) The actors in it are my operators from the call center at 1-800-DENTIST, and they did a fantastic job. Hope you enjoy it.  And no, it can’t be downloaded, because I don’t really want it distributed to the non-dental public. You’ll be able to figure out why!

7 Things I Learned from Sir Richard Branson

Richard, book and me

If you don’t know who Richard Branson is, I’ll explain that he is the creator of the Virgin brand, which started as a record company, then an airline, and now has over 400 different companies under that banner.  He’s a multi-billionaire who is now also pioneering commercial space travel with Virgin Galactic.  In other words, he’s a wild and fearless pioneer and entrepreneur.  And he’s a knight.

I had the occasion to spend five days on a business retreat at his island in the British Virgin Islands.  It was a spectacular experience, both from a business and a personal perspective.  I admire Sir Richard as much for the way he lives his life as I do for his achievements in business and philanthropy, and here are seven things I’ve learned from him that I think are very relevant to dental practices and to business in general, and I wish I learned them a lot sooner.

1. Offer an exceptional product with exceptional service. This is the only way to defend yourself long term against the competition.  He told us that the times he failed to do this were the times the endeavor failed.  If you can’t do that, in your own way, in your own neighborhood, to some group of patients, then you will be at risk.

2. Sweat the small stuff.  It’s all about the details. This is what people notice, and what people remember, and what makes you distinct as a person, a business and a brand. And in this world where your reputation is being created in the digital world every day, whether you like it or not, your brand is everything.  You will distinguish yourself by the smallest of details, and by not neglecting anything that the patient experiences.

3. Infuse playfulness into your business and your workday.  You may say that you are in health care, and there is no place for that.  I totally disagree. Even at its best, dental care is an anxiety-inducing experience.  Lighten up the atmosphere in your practice, and encourage your team to do the same, and you’ll see patients respond positively.

Why lets kids have all the fun? Play!

Why lets kids have all the fun? Play!

Remember, it’s about the experience of being a patient, not your clinical skills, that make the biggest impression on your patients.  Bring fun into your practice. For me, I realized how much I had let that slip away in my personal life as well.

4. You can’t change the world until you get your own business right.  All of us would like, I think, to have some positive impact on the world around us, and perhaps create a legacy.  But your first legacy is to have a solid, sustainable business, providing good, secure jobs, or as a team member contributing your best so that the business thrives. Then you can go out and change the world.

5. Take care of your body and your health.  You cannot be a good leader or good team member in the long term if you let your health fail.  And it won’t matter what level of success you achieve if you can’t enjoy it because you’ve let your body go.  Dentistry is a very physical profession, but when you maintain yourself you can do it comfortably into your 70’s and even 80’s (if you choose to!)

6. Turn your disadvantages into advantages.  Sir Richard is dyslexic.  Also a high-school dropout. This has allowed him to approach the world differently, to extraordinary success. Your disadvantages, either physical or mental, can serve as a motivator to you and also give you a different perspective on the world.  It’s a choice to let your disadvantages limit you, rather than discover the new pathways they provide.

7. To get great at something, get great coaching. He plays tennis almost every day with a tennis pro.  Whatever he undertakes, he finds the best coaches or advisors to help him.  I was not wise enough in my younger years to do this, but now I have remarkable people as resources, advisors and coaches in every area of my life.  It saves me money and time in reaching my goals.

I’ve learned a whole lot more from Sir Richard, much of it on a personal level.  I highly recommend reading his book, The Virgin Way, if you want more insight into how he has shaped his success.  He is also the keynote speaker at SiroWorld this summer, which is going to be an amazing and unprecedented event in August hosted by DentsplySirona. I wouldn’t miss it if I were you!

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