Dave Will | Eating Culture for Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner  (Episode 4)

Dave Will | Eating Culture for Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner (Episode 4)

Dave Will (@propsdave) is a serial entrepreneur, and started a new company, PropFuel (focused on employee recognition and feedback). While working for SAP, a multi-billion dollar software company, nearly 20 years ago, he was advised to “walk faster and smile less, because perception is reality”. He took this to heart and started a business based around the antithesis of this advice. In 2001, he started what became Peach, a Learning Platform software company, and sold his to AKKR, a private equity firm. He’s serving on EO (Entrepreneurs’ Organization) Boston’s 2016-2017 board of directors as learning chair.

I had no problem by the way selling the business, I hear from a lot of people it’s a sad thing. It’s a personal thing for me. It was like dropping a kid off a college; you know there’s some sadness, but there is a tremendous feeling of joy and accomplishment.” Dave Will

“Culture is the way people make decisions when you’re not in the room. So, culture is this guiding force that helps people behave the way they should. Dave Will

We’re always trying to impress our fathers. My father was a great Dad, he is a great Dad and there is nothing in particular he did that warrants me having to prove myself to him but it’s just something that that I think we as young men and adults always strive to do.Dave Will

“I felt like I had let other people down. I felt exposed. All of a sudden I’m not who I always said I would be. Dave Will

“Purpose is the thing that drives you. It’s the reason you get up in the morning.” -Dave Will

The Cheat Sheet:

  • Learn how you can build a company you are proud of you, maximize the chance of being successful (click here to get the scoop on how to get your employees to love their job and even care)
  • What makes the difference in getting many more multiples when you sell your business? (hint it’s not on the balance sheet)
  • Get the details on a transformational planning process that Dave loves
  • What questions to ask during your weekly check-ins with employees? (click here to get the list)
  • How to give out employee of the week awards? (click here to get the plan)
  • Learn how to leverage employee feedback and put it back into the business
  • Why culture is your strategic advantage? (And because lack of employee engagement is at 70% in the US)
  • Learn how to plan and when to sell your business?
  • Get the inside scoop on when/how to buy out a co-founder
  • Recognize the early warning signs of a poor culture, and take specific steps to improve it before it’s too late
  • Improve your communication style and behavior as a leader, without alienating your employees or trying to be someone you’re not.
  • And so much more…

Scroll down more for a summary, show transcription, resources and more.

“So, I remember very clearly 10:30 in the morning 2001. I remember walking to the Pier in Boston waiting for the ferry as to downtown Boston. I called my wife from the pier to let her know I was coming home. And I remember as soon as I heard her voice I don’t think I said anything I just burst into tears. I imagined her and I could even hear our first born son is who’s 16 now, almost 17 and he was in her arms I could hear him cooing. And she answered the phone and I thought we had just moved into this new home. And if someone affluent part of the South Shore of Boston, she wasn’t working and we have this baby. Shit! I just got fired and so you know in a heartbeat, my whole plan crumbled.”

Learning how to use setbacks and pivot is the key to success. Dave shares his rock bottom moments and shares what he did (and how you can leverage this lessons).

He also shares his insights into culture building, company planning, working with co-founders, selling your company, and so much more. He shares his breakthroughs, breakdowns and lessons you can walk away using on your journey. Listen, learn, laugh, and enjoy!

Show Full Transcript

[Start of Transcript]

Interviewer: I have a fantastic Guest on the show today Dave Will, a serial Entrepreneur starting a new company ‘Prop Fuel’ which will get into a later and he’s been an EO and building relationships is what he does well and it’s I’ve researched you a lot and found amazing things and great insights and I’ve actually learned quite a bit about being an Entrepreneur and living in a startup world and exiting; So thanks for coming on the show.

Dave Will: Sure of course thanks, it’s actually nice.

Interviewer: Tell us a little bit about your background, where you grew up, your family because I think it’s great to give people insights where you came from so they can really understand your journey.

Dave Will: Yeah I wish I had a story about growing up in the plains of Africa or in school all there and you know living homeless and the thing that Tony Robbins he’s got some great stories. I don’t have a great grow-up story. Oh! let me rephrase that I actually do have a great grow-up story, it’s something I really enjoyed, my childhood was awesome you know we were lower-middle class, I grew up in kind of a nondescript part of Connecticut always going to New England boy and my Parents were married for a very long time until my Mother passed.

Interviewer: What do your parents do for a living?

Dave Will: My Mother was a Teacher; my Father was an Engineer OK My Father is still, is a really smart guy, like really smart guy and then he.


It’s for I must get a generation is my kids are really smart too my brother and I, we you know we get Celebes in school.

Interviewer: When you were going to school, is there anything that you loved or passionate about like studying or figuring things out?

Dave Will: I love the big cheese, that’s what we call that on the recess and assisting at look like a saddle and I don’t even know how to describe it I could probably of oblique drop picture there was this weird geometrical shape, it’s called The Big Cheese that’s what I loved in school. So, when it comes to what I loved in school, it was not the reading, it was not the writing and it wasn’t the Arithmetic.

Interviewer: How’s that?

Dave Will: So, that’s yeah I’m not an academic, which is a funny because at one point. I think it was it when I was actually so I left college and I went back to pretty traditional path and left college worked for a couple years a big Fortune 500 companies and then…

Interviewer: Why do you start on that path just work because it was like it seemed to be the natural way has things to do right?

Dave Will: Exactly! when your Mom’s a Teacher and your Dad’s an Engineer; Yeah and you grew up with this dream of one day making a hundred thousand dollars you know like if I could make a hundred thousand dollars in a career, that I’d look at that and I think my God that’s the talk about shooting for the stars, you know yeah I did not have great aspirations of walking on the moon. You know I grew up in it everything about my life growing up it was again it was a phenomenal childhood my Parents or family was wonderful what a great vacations now when I say that we I didn’t find an airplane till late high school I think and that was a school trip and you know I was in the Boy Scouts, I was in the marching band, I was in a great athlete, I developed late in life and I was an average student. So, I took an average path in life you know I worked for the big company.

Interviewer: And that’s S.A.P?

Dave Will: Not yet there was a label there so I went to college I got a job at the Fortune five hundred I got my M.B.A. and I know at that point interesting Lee enough I thought maybe I should be a professor because now I’m Gallo cocky and think I went to Penn State you know which is a top 25 Business school. Will it is it’s I say I like better because it’s funny you see that I thought…

Interviewer: What about teaching turned you on or excited you?

Dave Will: Access to the gym, access to the larking around campus just at the freedom that you have being a Professor on campus kind of defining your own career path, it wasn’t the reading, writing, arithmetic that turned me on, it’s so it is just you know I was young, I had all these strange per perspectives of how to create a career path you know, so my career path was focused on what can I get out of it as opposed to what can I dive into? You know is a totally different mentality and I went down that path from me.

Interviewer: What changed your perspective and what Seminole pivotal event or person real only made it all shift because obviously you’ve shifted gears in a big way from that thinking to where you are today?

Dave Will: It wasn’t necessarily a person as much as it was an event and the event was I got fired, so I worked. So, again I worked for Nilson Craft General Foods, MBA and Pricewaterhouse Coopers traveling nonstop to a good job, I had really good jobs and am making pretty good money. And then I didn’t want to travel as much so I found a niche boutique doing systems integration stuff and by the way, I worked for SAP for a very short period of time as an intern, a summer intern in between my M.B.A. And working for the small boutique, it just so happened that small boutiques don’t do so well when the bubble burst; Yes and so this is back in 2001 when technocrats you bubble burst and so now they’re not getting the business they need and so they look and figure out where is their greatest return. I was making a little more money than I should for what I was bringing into the business, they did the absolute right thing, and they fired me. So, I remember very clearly 10:30 in the morning 2001, in the spring was actually so it was actually in April. I remember walking to the Pier in Boston waiting for the ferry as I took the ferry and to downtown Boston from where I live and I called my wife from the pier to let her know I was coming home. And I remember as soon as I heard her voice I don’t think I said anything I just burst into tears. I imagined her and I could even hear our first born son is who’s 16 now, almost 17 and he was in her arms I could hear him cooing, blabbering talking about stuff. And she answered the phone and I thought we had just moved into this new home. And if someone affluent part of the South Shore of Boston, she wasn’t working and we have this baby. Shit! I just got fired and so you know in a heartbeat, my whole plan crumbled.

Interviewer: How were you feeling?

Dave Will: Oh Jesus! I was in tears, but what cause I mean the letting people down, did you think or hope no one ever expects that’s a great question so you know they say that you feel like you’re letting your wife down like every like son so I my 9months old son, my Wife, my Father.

Interviewer: Why your Father?

Dave Will: Well, they say that we’re always trying to please our fathers you know that’s something I read when I was, when we had three boys and as a raising Will I actually wrote this book called Raising Boys and so I was reasonably is one of the things I read which run through with me, no matter what stage of life around we’re always trying to impress our fathers. My father was a great Dad, he is a great Dad and there is nothing in particular he did that warrants me having to prove myself to him but it’s just something that that I think we as young men and adults always strive to do. Whether you come from an abusive relationship with your father wanted to prove to him that you’re a value or come from of a loving relationship with your father, you want to prove on that he was right. The latter is more true for me but regardless you know I felt like I had let other people down I felt like I’d been exposed like people need a little fraud now all of a sudden you know I’m not when I when I always said it was a being I’m not a not valuable to this company.

Interviewer: And you feel like an impostor or just being exposed to people just saw that you really couldn’t do? What you thought you could do?

Dave Will: I never felt like work was a part of who I was, very work was a place I went to, work was something I did, work was something I tried to get out of, and work is something I wasn’t very good at. So, did I feel like an impostor? I don’t know I felt like I lived for before 9 in the morning and after 5pm, it kind of it you know and even though I was 30years old, I wasn’t a kid you know, I was 30years old, you’d think by then I would have figured it out. Will I think most people do actually…

Interviewer: But as a people reinventing themselves now and you know way later on different stages of their lives, I think it’s challenging because everything changes different points and what you want or your things mattered to you from my experience yet in life and had it

Dave Will: It’s also possible that I mean I had lived a very comfortable life, I didn’t have a lot of hardship you know. We didn’t have a lot of wealth compared to a lot of people I knew either. But we had a very solid family I had great experiences in life, I was well educated. So, you know I needed something jarring

Interviewer: And this was something jarring. So, what did you do from this moment one of this moment propelled?

Dave Will: Yes, so I went home and I trimmed the edges so that’s And naturally as what anyone would do when you’re fired so it’s about noon, I’m home and not really hungry. So, no sandwich so what am I to do so? I trim the edges; so I remember that it’s are going out and I got my weed whacker and my wife, she doesn’t know what to do she’s just kind of trying to be as positive as possible and so I get the weed whacker and I think it was like 3-4minutes it and I sliced my finger open just like my mind was not there I was in a haze and weed whack in and that wasn’t weed whacker, it was like a edges, trimming the edges and in the blade from this is the thing trimming the edges, slices my finger and I got blown to look at a bone on my finger granted I could lose the finger and that would have been the greatest hardship my life or the point so but we did you know so I asked my wife, I said, I think we need to go to the hospital, so we get a car and again we’re new to town so I said. I know there’s a South Shore Hospital that’s like 20minutes away, let’s just go to this one I saw but it’s not that big a deal to is small hospitals fine so we go to this place that we don’t have to get on the highway just kind of around town never seen the sign for this hospital and so we take a left at the Dunkin Donuts and we’re going on the other 120yards or so and then on the left there’s this hospital and she goes into emergency just enough and I go in like this and like this and I cut my finger and might need some stages of some of this he says Will that’s that looks bad, you should go to a hospital like Oh Where am I And she says you were in a psychiatric hospital. So, that was my experience so that’s what I did that’s what I did when I got fired is I ended up going to a psychiatric hospital for the wrong reason but maybe it was the right place. So, ultimately I got a little scar that’s about it. To really answer your question I tried to get another job and I did actually, I got another job offer and I remember this feeling this is really dark feeling, it’s a feeling that I own that I have this feeling inside my head for the rest of my life but in my heart to remember thinking about this job and to commute into Cambridge Massachusetts and Tech company cool company cool job creator making about the same was making in my last job. The offer came through like within 2weeks of getting fired; sweet so I’ve even had a little severance and I mean perfect right yeah I should take. That I just didn’t want to it is just another whose is this point where I have hit this realization. That it’s just doing the wrong things and a friend of mine had come to me recently.

Interviewer: How do you figure that? I mean he just was just not passionate your dislike to after just do this another ‘9-5’ job all over again and like because…

Dave Will: You know there was a lot of fear knowing that that they thought I was much more capable at doing what they needed done than I actually confidence in, so going on the first day of the job I mean I sure I could probably learn it. But I His didn’t want to have a similar experience where you go into something with these people having expectations of something that you can deliver and you just got to figure it out

Interviewer: You’re just getting sick and tired of having to live up to these new expectations and you’re going to talk?

Dave Will: I’m a great chameleon, I did what I have a blended into what I was supposed to have the chameleon and so, I want to see him get dark feeling that the finances give you start feeling we have a dark feeling about something generally you don’t want to do it right? But we got to put food on the table and we did not have a big savings account.

Interviewer: So, what do you?

Dave Will: So, a friend of mine came to me with this is like with right around the same period of time for him I came to me with his name is Rick came to me with this thing called Web conferencing and that was back in 2001 OK So, he came to his web conferencing and said look I have a relationship so I think you can get us in licenses and I know a ton of people that need this stuff so, we actually had this acronym here and over the acronym but it stood for that tired old sales executive. That was exactly what it was but that was the person we’re going after not to be negative we weren’t necessarily insulting this person that was our persona, that was our target audience was the person that’s tired old and generally in the sales area and it did and by the way relative but somebody was late in their career now because you know typing with tons and fingers and this is a pre- phone from two and we wanted to hold their hand through this process so they weren’t going to just go by wed-X.. go to meeting didn’t exist yet. And didn’t go to meeting that we didn’t exist yet I don’t think so wetbacks was the only major player out there but we had licenses and we just started selling these things, reselling them and that over time evolved into the business that I sold 14years later to private equity, massive transition, massively pivoted

Interviewer: But you started out from nothing and got up to make these phone calls that mean [oh yeah a lot oh my God] that must have been the difficult if you had never done anything like that.

Interviewer: Oh my God! No for the first time ever, I made $40,000 my first year so I was making enough just to support a company I mean it’s making enough for the family in a new or at a fairly affluent area but when I got fired, then I come down making $40,000 a year which is really difficult to live on and again yet in this neighborhood with a baby and the word wife is not working not to mention debt from my M.B.A. and I’m sure we had a car loan and all this other stuff that we had to pay so you know I was making $40,000 in the first year and that was even debatable whether or not we could and that was $40,000 year that wasn’t like $40,000 profit that was $40,000 in revenue. I think we made the first year

Interviewer: Between you and your partner?

Dave Will: Yes So he had a full time job so he wasn’t getting there about an hour if you know that it was it was 50-50, I never thought about actually selling that business and I didn’t really sell that business and evolved the room turned into a different business but this was the start and the start was all about food on the table. we just needed some money to put on the table and I didn’t know how to run a business but to it wasn’t hard in the way that it was something that I’d never done before, it was the most amazing feeling because I would go down to my basement where I had a desk and a little window you know when I was basement windows and there’s a door going out to a backyard slope and I would I go down that basement I wouldn’t come up unless I had to go to the bathroom, I was hungry or it was dark. I loved it I just loved it like immediately I just found you found something found your thing loved to do and I don’t know why really because I didn’t have this you know this and have you seen Silicon Valley?

Interviewer: I’ve seen it a few times

Dave Will: A lot of the show Silicon Valley sort of a joke in Silicon Valley it’s all about changing the world and what this technology can do to change the world and I didn’t have any perspective of how selling Web conferencing the tired old sales executives was going to change the world I didn’t care for me it was more like again we’re just having fun you know it’s picking up the phone as a cop who conversations with cool people trying to get them to buy something or someone or some fun and it was paying and some of the bills and I remember saying this for like 7-8 years that one day I might have to get a real job but I said that for several years before I finally accepted I guess this is a real job like I guess I got a job here. And so anyway no it wasn’t that there of course there are a lot of hard things in growing the business

Interviewer: How do you tell the next learn because you’re making 40grand in and how did you get it from there? people Dave Will: Overnight success now is just a completely opposite it was extremely. I mean really.


Interviewer: Slow it was a pivotal moment that kind of put you on a tenant to the next level did you sell it was a big deal to you sell orders or something.

Dave Will: There are a lot of transitions right, so in one of the things…

Interviewer: I’ve heard you talk about is pivoting in the business here right there you were able to pivot the business and change it over time in order make it to what you eventually sold the company.

Dave Will: So, I think that’s the important thing whether it’s a pivot or an adjustment or taking advantage of opportunities, I don’t know whatever you want to call it I like the word pivot which may be overused especially in the tech and Silicon Valley, but instead of it going to move in one direction deciding that this is not at all who we are and switching to something else that’s a real pivot but I use the pivot in more of a 450  angle yet again but I have all 900 or 1800. It was constant come through so there are two things I was constantly looking at in hindsight and one was how do I make this more valuable? There’s more leader in the business I should say it was an early on where I was thinking about the value of the business but how do I make this more valuable? Was something alternately that I asked myself just about every day and there wasn’t always an obvious answer is a mindset but the thing I thought about with especially early on, is what do I need to do to make sure that I’m here tomorrow? In other words what do I need to do? What demons are chasing me? And what I’m I chasing? So, looking over my shoulder. What are the competitors doing? I’ve always. like looking at competitors I know there’s a lot of people say don’t look at your competition. I was a competitive Archer growing up and I remember telling me and I’d ask what the closest guy’s name is Duncan was always real close to me and poured on to every one though and even then I remember asking what was and was Duncan going to score my sore don’t worry about it I’m not one of the it’s guys and so ultimately I figured out found out what Duncan had in knowing that I really liked it so I like keeping an eye on the competition so. I don’t always be watching the competition figuring out you know how can I stay just ahead of them and so that led to a lot of pivots; so one point of one more than a Milestone was when we went from Web conferencing and helping organizations run successful meetings, to creating an alliance and say because of Wal-Mart didn’t become our customer, Wal-Mart was kind of a strategic partner of ours where we would reach out to their supplier base a 50,000 suppliers so supplier being people that put stuff on their shelves so of the manufacturers of paper of equipment of glasses, pencils of anything you see in this room that they sell Wal-Mart those justifiers and so Procter and Gamble and Polaroid notions prey and all of these organizations that sell stuff at Wal-Mart those became our customer base because they were the ones interested in learning more about Wal-Mart’s. Inventory management software called retailing and so, we created the on line version of something that already existed which was retail user group and again this is I’m some my partner Rick brought to the table he had experience he was working in that industry and knowledge of this so Rick brought us into this world of the creating and the digital version of this learning community All right so that concept of creating these courses on line for 50,000 suppliers.

Interviewer: Because they were having a problem utilizing the system or had they couldn’t figure it out.

Dave Will: Wal-Mart was horrible at training they did zero training they said look take the software, this is how you save money now you don’t need to buy in the aisles and dater or idea take our software and give you all the data for free, for free which is millions of dollars worth of data so Wal-Mart gives that to their suppliers as good now you have this data now to make it less expensive for us and so but nobody knew how to do that or how to manage a system so they were experts in the industry, we tapped into their knowledge put it into courses and started selling it [interesting] so then we had a couple other organizations pop up this said he would come want to create a community like that a community that we can create and sell content to so I hired a developer, contracted didn’t hire contracted developer to build a learning site very similar the one we built with retailing and then another one so we got 3-4-6months each to build these things out is incredibly slow not scalable at all yeah. And that’s when ultimately we discovered the world of associations. So, we went from consumer goods tired old sales executive we realized that that’s fine we’re doing some business and we’re growing gradually but the opportunity for us now lay in the association world and so we found associations which are these organizations of members that have thousands of members and belong to an association and they are all craving knowledge about a certain subject area so instead of building these one sites I found another organization in the space that we partnered with and ultimately merged with to creative learning management system so that with the flick of a switch instead of 6months with a flick of a switch we could take what we’re doing earlier and make it scale so now, we had a learning manager system and we got up to about 20-50customers a fairly short period of time and I’d say if there was a hockey stick.


It’s more a field hockey stick I think but anyway it was if it was a it was a hockey stick that’s the whole myth where we really found who we were we found niche which another real key to doing things Well it’s finding a niche and of focusing on that niche.

Interviewer: But you’re determining perseverant and you pivoted along the way and because you eventually stayed the course you eventually found your hockey stick

Dave Will: Yeah it was a relentless forward motion is Montreal I subscribe to and then you find that with a lot I mean last year I don’t do relentless for emotional and mental.

Interviewer: And that seems to be a separating point for a lot of people is that relentless forward motion is what allows them of Benchley to break through and stay the course yeah and find their you know because most Entrepreneurs like it’s not like the you know maybe some people get lucky and they do within the first or two but most people when you talk of the journey it’s you know 5-10-15 or more years where they’re having their big moment

Dave Will:  Yeah people get tired and they desire and they just give up but I think you found your passion in your purpose and you also knew that if this didn’t work you have to go back to that tired old 9-5 job part of a to do sometimes the fuels around us get a sense it was never question of giving up the leg and I don’t even think of it as giving up what I know but other always will might look at it like that but for most people I think what happens is they get to a point where it’s so tiring that they think you know I’m going to get much more personal reward of going to work for State Street or this by itself ours or this other guy, they’re going to find more reward in that than they are doing this you know I so over the course of 14years a two different partners both of which a lot of us are playing my first partner, Rick I recall I mentioned him many times he’s still a very good friend.

Interviewer: And how did you decide to buy then out and approach them is just it when its course and they were not interested anymore?

Dave Will: So each one so with Rick and it got to a point where it was no longer just battling trying something you know with this $40,000 bringing in we were 2-3years into it finding some traction, we got to work read that you know if we’re going to go forward with this if this is something that we’re going to pursue got be all, we’ve got it we’ve really got to be all in and so I asked him to join me I actually quite the opposite of what happened I asked him to come and be all in with me or not, one or the other it was a goner let’s not meet him saying what we’ve got to be in or out and he understandably had a great career and he’s a little bit older than me and had you know he’s looking at his pension, he’s thinking about his future, he’s making good money, is going to steady job he’s enjoying it this is a hobby for him and so he said you know I think I think I’m out, I got a daughter going to college so we came up with a result phrase a bottom out for in hindsight I laughed at that time it was the writing on the bottom up for $17,000 in the laptop so I let him keep the laptop which I think he gave to his daughter going to college and the $17,000 to help pay for the first year of college and he was happy and I was happy so now on the sole owner of the business at the time. Then I mentioned that we found another company and did that company that that point.


We’re both about the same size at the time and We had an advisor that we trusted value to businesses and because mine was valued a little more profitable, I got the majority of the shares so which is relevant to the story so I got I think I was at 68% my partner was at 32% and so three or four years in to that relationship. He came to me at a conference I remember we were in the middle of a conference in D.C. for associations and he came to me really surprised me when he says you know you know what I’m tired and I have to be honest, I’m not a majority shareholder, we’re an equal shareholder and I just want to do some fun for me again. So, he was he stopped having fun for you so again he didn’t quit he what happened is he just found a greater return doing something different so and maybe some antics, I don’t consider that quitting I consider that a personal feeling right? So, he decided to leave it and we found a mutually agreeable value for his shares and I bought him out no. I didn’t expect I had every intent of selling the business at some point as that he neither one of us expected it to happen that soon but I created a 5year plan from that point with my executive team and said Here’s where it when I say I created it, we had some help from the outside it was a phenomenal process, but we created this vision, it’s actually a 3year vision without the Prometheans Yes you get Promethean. So, it’s called and we used a gentleman named Kyle HoWill and what is that probably to only you know he’s with the core group by the way so it’s and he was incredibly helpful. So, back to second so we created a 3year vision a very, very clear vision of where we wanted to be as an executive team and then we thought you know when we hit that goal we hit that room where there were meant that the vision were going to essentially open our minds the thought of selling to what that meant I didn’t really know yet but we’re going to prepare the business for sale and then we’re going to sell so that was very, very I was very transparent with my executive team about the selling part I don’t think I was as transparent with their employees about our goal to sell. Because there’s a lot of options that could have presented price of you know at that point but it happened much quicker so we ended up selling 2years into that 3years vision so instead of 5years as 2years later?

Interviewer: Do you think that having that vision held Do you sell the business better still

Dave Will: Oh my God! Absolutely!

Interviewer: Because I was I keep piece of it was actually having a crystal clear picture of where he want to go and then what happened is you sped up the process because everyone was aligned to where you were headed together and wanted to so…

Dave Will: So, at this point, I’m all in a culture like culture to me is incredibly important part of

Interviewer: what does culture mean to you?

Dave Will: Because people do say that and it was so culture I am a still isn’t buying it Brian Helegan and who is the founder of spot one of the two founders of the Hub Spot and Spot is a marketing automation and platform, they’ve gone in the past 12-13, years 12years I think to a $2b valuation, they’re public company so he’s done a great job one of his mentors described culture as the way people make decisions when you’re not in the room. So, culture is this guiding force that helps people behave the way they should…

Interviewer: And how did you create that guiding force? What concrete steps did you take in order?

Dave Will: So there are 3-elements to creating a great culture OK 1. is good motivation, finding the right motivation for your people and it’s actually pretty generic formula I think, second thing is trust that’s really the really hard. Because you’re bringing people in you don’t know yes and now you’re trust them. That’s hard and then you have a cadence and cadence is a word I like to use because I think cadence leads to habit. Habit is good or bad but cadence is something you actually can do to maintain a good habits so that’s why I like the word cadence better than forming habits or patterns. So looking at motivation if you can create an environment a culture I’m not talking about ads. So, I’m not talking about hats with the prop you a logo, I’m not talking about pens and pads actually there’s a let me put it put a little interlude in you’re. One of the few people that ever left my company. And I say that purposely and sounds a little arrogant but not a lot of people after company are very, very, low attrition but one of the people that left, left because she wasn’t injure a career she was into making money so she could pay for school. Her passion and I know this because she came to me and said I’m struggling I like it here, I love the people I work with. But I need to make more money and so while it’s going on because I need to pay for school that’s where I want to go and she said and can my but the last company work for inviting me back and pay me more my ass and encourages you. Because you’re not here to form a career and I here create a great life for yourself you’re here to make money to pay for college go take that career, bank it and go to college as quickly as you can. And so she called me back 2-3months later she sent me an e-mail saying so can you tell me where you get your hats and pens and belts and bags and all that stuff because I’m trying to teach my Bosses how to create great culture. And I think you know where to start it was so I wrote her back in this email saying, I can give you those links and those phone numbers but the perks that you’re talking about are not going to create the great culture. So, going back to motivation will creates motivation is not the extrinsic stuff right sedan Pink has its great video on what motivates people and I subscribe to a lot of what he says for me motivation often is confused with money. So, how much money do we need today to learn from the people or are carrots even a trip somewhere you know giving people a trip or bonuses and they’re nice, they really are nice but science proves it History shows that it doesn’t dry it’s about what happens inside it doesn’t drive greater it doesn’t drive her to success so there are greater results. So, it’s about the intrinsic

Interviewer: So how did you create that intrinsic?

Dave Will: Purpose and values so vision purpose and values are what drive people far more than money, people need money right but vision purpose and values are what drive people to come to work you’ve done it sure a nerd I think I hope I said his name right is the Patagonia founder is great quote this book ‘Let my people go surfing’ so in the 60s in the early 70s it was building Patagonia and they made parts and pieces for climbing gear that’s all they made. He actually fell into clothing. He didn’t love it but he fell into clothing because that’s when paid the bills so you will climb more than his book called ‘Let my people go surfing’. And he described as they were finding success, as they were getting bigger he said and I knew we needed to get bigger and I knew we needed to grow but he still knew how important it was for his people to come to work on the walls their feet climbing the stairs two at a time. So that the passion that’s the motivation how do you get people coming to work on the balls of the feet climbing the stairs two at a time and I get chills every time I said I just got this little chill saying it but. To me, that’s what drives that’s a big part of what drives a growing a business and so, the way to get people to come to work on the balls of their feet climbing the stairs two at a time, is from the inside and if you can create a vision and that’s where Prometheus for us came into play Prometheus was just the name of the process that Kyle HoWill and from the courtroom brought us through and I can describe that in a little bit of detail

Interviewer: Put links in the shell Nels for people?

Dave Will: So, they can figure out and take a look at sort of the core group is I think probably a quarter of dot com I get we can figure that out but. But Promethean is what helps create is crystal clear vision crystal clear with 12descriptors is what they call it all away from yes finance you want to talk about your financial goals, that is far from the vision. Too many people say oh we want to get to a 100m or we want to get to 50m, we want to get to 20m in profit. That’s cool that’s a great metric [Yeah] but it’s not going to drive people from the inside. So it’s all the finance is a part of it there’s there is the corporate citizenship there is the [flambé 40:01] to be there’s the outsider perspective the insider perspective there’s twelve of these elements that define what you really looks like now in the 3years and now and then how you get there so it’s very selective tractions similar Rockefeller happens you know so there’s all these methodology is that hell yes see something and then figure out a path to get there so vision and then whatever when you use a school you know whether it’s a core group or traction or Rockefeller have it doesn’t matter really as we found great success with Kyle. The second piece of that is good is the mission. So, this is where purpose comes into play, I actually prefer the word purpose but purpose is the thing that drives you it’s the reason you get up in the morning and that that comes for stories that comes from taking what you do and how it’s actually changing people’s lives because everything we do, every business we’re in the matter what it is you are improving people’s lives or else there’s no value to what you’re going and there’s probably some exceptions to that rule, but for the most part even when I mention Wal-Mart earlier a lot of people love to hate Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart is actually reducing the average income of the average spend the groceries by a couple thousand dollars in like $1,800-$22,000 per year for the grocery household income you know how important that is to middle America? to save $2000 a year on groceries that’s a huge impact not only that but they’re doing it when there’s a major World events like a hurricane they are there on the scene with us and they actually know what supplies their stores run out of first so boom they give the Red Cross the water, the toilet paper, the Band-Aids whatever people need in a major issue there on it far before any nonprofit or any governmental organization. So, my little soapbox and people like the bash Wal-Mart as I bring those two things up. So, having said that, every organization has a purpose and it’s our job as leaders of those organizations to be that they get funding.

Interviewer: Is that a statement that you gave people?

Dave Will: Yeah we did it was it wasn’t as important as the stories that got it where did it to the story of service statement if you just sicker of a statement it kind of sounds of bullshit it sounds like.

Interviewer: You’ve got the stories behind it to may have a little bit about that what about the values because away

Dave Will: And then there’s the values piece of it, which again alone can seem like bullshit it’s if to live it the Valley has to live in not just lives you need to constantly talk about it and to constantly bring it into your stories, you need to iterate and a great passion for me, the values didn’t come from me the values came from our employees we had a process probably not worth going into here we had a process how we developed and came up with our values by looking at the employees that epitomized our company and by describing them we created who we all wanted to be to.

Interviewer: How did you do the trust part of it quick?

Dave Will: So the trust piece of it is not about I trust you to pay me back for that lunch I bought you the other day, the trust piece of it comes from as a leader or a manager for that part, it comes from trusting that you’re going to deliver on something that I asked you to deliver on that may be more specific. Oftentimes you give somebody an important job the more important it is, the more we look over their shoulder the more important is more likely we are actually kind of take what they’re doing now we grab the pen for a second and we’re just marking things up when we get to pen back but then we take the pen and the paper an hour now they’re watching us do it and oftentimes we want to get involved in the most important piece of our business; trust comes from you getting things to people that are really important to the business and letting them run with it got and here’s the key and this is the really hard part is how do you let them run with it even though they’re doing it differently than you would do it? The only rule I had for myself and our executive team was, we can only interfere with people’s processes and their methodologies and what they’re doing if it’s going to hurt the business it’s not going to hurt business just because we think we can do a better. That’s not for us to mess with we need to trust that people are taking where they need to take another doesn’t mean you don’t help people improve, doesn’t mean you don’t coach your employees, what it means you trust your employees to do the job.

Interviewer: OK I want to talk about exiting the business how did you ultimately And how would you advise someone to figure out how do you exit of business Well, that’s a question people often says will wonder why sell or a like how do you come to that conclusion, or how would you advise someone else to do it?

Dave Will: Often times, I don’t tell you about my experience as opposed to telling other people how to how they should do it because I don’t know there’s so many scenarios and how people want to exit business whether you’re retiring or whether it’s a family business or whether you’re sick or whether the business is failing or whether the business is skyrocketing it’s just so many different scenarios I can only tell you about my OK My experience was one where I belong to a space where a great technology company that was doing Well it wasn’t it wasn’t like off the charts making hundreds of millions

Interviewer: I heard you say that you saw you saw the future and you figure at that point there wasn’t as much upside or you didn’t see it happening and growing at the rate that it had been was it?

Dave Will: No I actually on the contrary I think our business was it was really healthy like we could have taken our business and great heights I believe OK In fact we made a bunch of transitions where we went from being a services oriented business to assess software into business we became there was that we went from being project oriented revenue to being a recurring revenue, monthly recurring revenue yes we had it long term contracts as Well as a long term monthly recurring revenue contracts of them boy with our customers. So, we were creating We had recurring standardized processes, we’re incredibly scalable at this point we could double the business with very few additional people so we had to really, really we had a bright future very, very bright future for the business which actually put in a great position is health for yes so if so what happened is the industry we were in was becoming noticed by many. So, now private equity is coming into our space and I noticed they bought up a couple companies not a lot but there’s a little activity going on in their space and so what’s happening is a lot of the bigger entities are seeing an opportunity in a small community associations to get a niche if you have a niche in a specific area, you’re going to be strong in that area, we weren’t trying to be everything to corporations we were focused on associations so when money was coming in, I started to get more and more phone calls where I was getting phone calls every now and then from people just fishing or businesses. Them but I started get some phone calls a problem private equity firms that knew the businesses in our space and truly knew us which surprised me because most of the phone calls claimed to know you know we’ve been watching we’ve seen your site. But these guys actually knew the businesses and talked to the businesses in our space so I knew there was something going on so I entertain some conversations with multiple private equity firms in a certain point with a couple offers for business. Now, the offers it became very clear that we had good software but what attracted the private equity firms was the culture of our businesses, the way our customers talked about us and it was the way the reputation. The repetition of mark which becomes the big part comes from the culture of the organization. So, they confronted me now at this point I had the choice of finding a broker. Management of my own or working with a Lawyer we had I had a lawyer that I worked with for quite some time and I had a great deal of faith in Him I still do he saw me with Prop fuel or new company as Well. And so he became interested in buys or I had debated bringing in a broker to help her divestment banker to help navigate and help us benefit from the deal more but there was no point where I felt I wasn’t getting what we needed. So, I turned down the first couple offers because they simply weren’t what I felt they didn’t match the future of the business like I said business doing awesome, we’re doing great so but they kept coming back with more for sort of a certain point there’s a there becomes this point where the amount of money you’re being offered and the opportunity for your people and the opportunity for the entity the organization is of far better under that management than it is under our management [got it] so money was a piece of it a big piece of it don’t get me wrong but a requirement was a bright future for our customers, a bright future for plays and therefore a bright future for the business. So that’s how I made the decision and then you sold the business and I want to get the story quickly give few minutes remaining is that

Interviewer: you sold the business and you know how did you get to Prop fuel from there?

Dave Will: Yes I saw this I worked for the company the quire and company for a period of time and I think I got to a point were both I was grateful to step out and I think the company was probably grateful to have me step out. Because there are bumps along the way you know you know no matter how good a cultural fit it is it’s never the same culture as the one you’ve created in your organization that’s the difficult. I had no problem by the way selling the business, I hear from a lot of people it’s a sad thing, it’s a personal thing for me it was like dropping a kid off a college; you know there’s some sentiment it’s not like I’m a robot some sentiment but it’s like this joy of seeing yourself Yes a gated thrive so that’s how I felt about it so then. We were talking of this earlier on when we were setting up for this but then I left the company and I just started saying yes to everything because I thought I’m free, like I can do everything I’ve always wanted to do the first thing I did as I watched ‘The Godfather’ which is a movie I’ve never seen and that’s a long movie three parts lots of lots of downtime on the couch took me like three weeks to watch those 10hours. That was the first thing I did. I’m still working on reading and Rand Atlas Shrugged there was nothing I want to do after I sell the business. And I want to clean my basement, I haven’t got today yet either but I said yes to everything somehow I got really busy. What I was going to like I don’t know I didn’t have that purpose and I was no longer focused on that one major goal and so I just come running around like a chicken with my head cut off and I was OK with it, I wasn’t sad, I wasn’t depressed or anything.

Interviewer: But you didn’t have that one thing like you had in the past so you needed to have that one thing that’s yeah again so how did you come up with this?

Dave Will: So I think there were a bunch of ideas you know I went from I surely never had interest in writing. Book and a lot of people talk about writing a book another but people talk about consulting or coaching, didn’t want to do that either I thought about the incubator idea of creating fun is there a missionary thought about doing it with kids in high school and I thought about doing it with kid in college and then I thought about maybe just organizing a collection of the investors of creating a fund and again none of those got me as excited as when I’d be sitting down with a buddy over a beer or talking about an idea and bringing it to market. So, it can concluded that I needed to grow another business for two reasons 1.It will get it’s all got me turned on number one, number two it’s a cow wanted to prove myself that the first one wasn’t a hoax that it wasn’t I wasn’t clear yet I wanted to I still need to prove myself that that the first sell wasn’t just an accident so I struggle in calling myself a serial Entrepreneur, I don’t know I don’t use that term to describe myself oftentimes because I have yet to become a serial entrepreneur. So, ultimately after a lot of different ideas, I’m mean tons of ideas and how it rate them down in Evernote and I so I have lists in Evernote business ideas and I take what I’m playing with it for a month and then and either most of them just some point you know wall every business hits a wall with the idea and some of them I feel like what on earth there are and some I could which is Prop Fuel came from this concept of creating a great culture and it’s what we did really Will at my last company and what it really enjoyed a glass company was the culture piece of it one of the things we did in that culture piece to true so that I could understand what was going on the heads of my employees and so that I could get that feedback from them on a regular routine and cadence this is one of the things that having the builds a great culture is creating cadence reaching out to my employees giving him an opportunity pat each other on the back No1,is recognition a number two. Nothing to give me some feedback on what’s going on out there in the field what’s going on we’re talking your customers so we have this weekly survey for lack of a better word that went out for a customer to or to our employees asking them those two things are you happy in your job? And what I mean generally opening the door to what can we do that support you better job, number two is who do you want to give you give recognition to and who do you want to nominate with this feature the leaders employee of the week and so who do you want to nominate for that role, so every week in our company meeting we take the last 5minutes we go through the stuff if somebody wanted a what he acts or size ball to say we buy an exercise ball on Amazon, so we want to stand up that’s the kind of stand-up desk and those are the kind of things people wanted to make their job get better. So, this is the feedback and this is the recognition that drove the impetus behind Prop Fuel So now think about events quote people coming to work on the balls of the feet climbing Yes there’s to a time think about this other stat I learned that only 13% of the people in the world love their job. 13% ,the 87% B.S. before I got fired definitely and as soon as I figured out what I really enjoyed and became part of the thirteen percent I wanted people working for me to be a part of that 13% of people that love their job in the first step to doing that second step first step is, creating a vision purpose and values the second step is allowing them a chance to reward and recognize each other Intrinsically and then the other part is figuring out what’s going on their heads what are they doing? So, that we do at  Prop Fuel you’ll prop bills a super inexpensive way for Entrepreneurs of small businesses ten to one hundred employees to understand what’s going on in in the heads of their employees and give them a chance on weekly basis to get recognition because it’s a great super, super, simple easy to use where and it’s like fifty or one hundred bucks that thing on the site you think that’s awesome yeah it’s cool

Interviewer: so where can people find more about you and the business?

Dave Will: www.propfuel.com P-R-O P-F-U-E-L, propfuel.com You can find me at dave@propfuel.com That’s probably the best way to reach me is the mail.

Interviewer: OK Beautiful Will thanks a lot for joining us on another show of executive breakthroughs it’s been fantastic having Dave your show this year with his all his insights and things that happen in all of a lot of things in the show notes and probably some fun surprises as Well so watch out for that fun surprises, thanks for having me on the show.

[End of Transcript]

In This Episode:

  • How to persevere through tough times, and those rock bottom moments
  • The things that will make you the happiest and most effective have nothing to do with materialism
  • How to conduct your planning process
  • How to keep going when all hope seems lost
  • When it is time to sell your company
  • How to buy out your co-founder
  • How to get feedback from your employees
  • Why building a great culture will increase the multiples people will pay for your business
  • Why do people work hard?
  • Company perks – how do they help (and hurt) culture?
  • How do you communicate as a leader?
  • Creating a positive work environment
  • And more!


“There becomes this point where the amount of money you’re being offered and the opportunity for your people and the opportunity for the entity the organization is of far better under that management than it is under our management.”

“Vision, purpose and values is what drives people to come to work, not money.”

“Trust is that you’re going to deliver on something that I asked you to deliver on.”

“The only rule I had for myself and our executive team was, we can only interfere with people’s processes and their methodologies and what they’re doing if it’s going to hurt the business. It is NOT going to hurt business just because we think we can do a better.’”

“Building a great culture is creating cadence, in part, by reaching out to my employees giving them an opportunity pat each other on the back.”

“Only 13% of the people in the world love their job. I wanted people working for me to be a part of that 13% of people that love their job.”

“Creating culture is one of the key pillars in creating a successful company. It cannot be overstated in importance.”


3 Elements to Build a Great Culture & Dan Pink (on Motivation):
Dave discusses in the interview the insights he has found on culture building and how you can use in your organization.

Motivation – Finding the right motivation for each person
Trust – Absolutely critical, and the hardest element.
Cadence – Leads to great habits

Dave loves this video by Dan Pink and recommends people to watch it:


If you enjoyed this session with Dave Will, let him know by clicking on the link below and sending her a quick shout out at Twitter:

Click here to thank Dave Will at Twitter!

Click here to let Jason know about your number one takeaway from this episode!

References Mentioned:



In February of 2015, private equity firm, AKKR acquired my company, Peach New Media, a learning platform software company I started in 2001. As CEO and Founder of the SaaS software and service business, with a strong emphasis on scalability, customer experience and company culture, Peach grew to 40 employees and 200+ clients. Since then, I’ve been building a new software company called PropFuel (www.propfuel.com) focused on helping small businesses build a great culture through employee recognition and feedback.

I began my technologically oriented career in the Consumer Packaged Goods industry working with Sales Planning software for several companies including Kraft, Nielsen, Gillette, Ocean Spray, and Polaroid. Having received my MBA from The Pennsylvania State University, I applied my analysis software knowledge to enterprise applications consulting with PriceWaterhouseCoopers, where I worked with several other consumer product and technology firms.

I’ve found fulfillment working as a board member to both The Boys and Girls Club as well as the Boston Entrepreneurs’ Organization. I’m the acting podcast host for the Entrepreneurs’ Organization Virtual Learning Podcast  I’m a coach, a Boy Scout Leader and a Race Director involved in three road races raising funds for local community charities.

I have a Bachelors from UConn and an MBA from Penn State. I live with my beautiful wife, Nicole, and three boys on the south shore of Boston. As part of my passion for endurance sports, I’ve run 51 marathons, ultra runs and 2 Ironman Triathlons. When I’m not traversing the land by foot, I’ll likely be found sailing with my family around the old seaports of New England.  

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Jason Treu is an executive coach. He has "in the trenches experience" helping build a billion dollar company and working with many Fortune 100 companies. He's worked alongside well-known CEOs such as Steve Jobs, Mark Hurd (at HP), Mark Cuban, and many others. Through his coaching, his clients have met industry titans such as Tim Cook, Bill Gates, Richard Branson, Peter Diamandis, Chris Anderson, and many others. He's also helped his clients create more than $1 billion dollars in wealth over the past three years and secure seats on influential boards such as TED and xPrize. His bestselling book, Social Wealth, the how-to-guide on building extraordinary business relationships that influence others, has sold more than 45,000 copies. He's been a featured guest on 500+ podcasts, radio and TV shows. Jason has his law degree and masters in communications from Syracuse University

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