Sales Funnels and Scaling Beyond Choke Points

After 10 years in the music industry, Dustin Ray started to hear about entrepreneurs in the tech space and felt the pull towards the flexibility that the online entrepreneurial field had to offer. As Dustin points out, there is no ceiling in the industry – as long you can build something scalable, you can take it as far as you want. The notion that you can create a value and see return relatively quickly was also an intriguing concept to Dustin.

Dustin’s company IncFile, specializes in the formation of business entities. Since starting, they have assisted more than 150,000 entrepreneurs and small business owners form their businesses. When Dustin got his start with the company they were not thriving but he and his team managed to grow it into an 8-figure company in a relatively brief amount of time. Today he’s here discussing how modifying funnels and honing customer acquisition strategies allowed for that growth. We also touch on the challenges of scaling a team to that size in a short time span and navigating the growing pains that inevitably pop up.

Episode Highlights:

  • How Dustin got into IncFile.
  • The processes that Dustin and his partner put into place to ensure the rapid growth of the company.
  • How IncFile is filling a gap and taking care of the stuff that no entrepreneurs want to deal with.
  • Through streamlined tactics and low costs, IncFile has become the leader in the industry and has continued to grow despite increasing competition.
  • Dustin shares the key elements to a good sales funnel and the tools his the team uses to work and refine their funnel.
  • Dustin shares his a 3-point strategy for finding a good starting point to getting into entrepreneurial tech.
  • How Dustin’s company was able to pass those pivotal “choke points” that many growing companies experience.
  • Scaling doesn’t necessarily equate with hiring. Hire slow and get the right people.
  • The importance of worrying about what you’re good at and building on that rather than trying to improve what you are not good at. Double down on your strengths.
  • Buyers who are often the most successful in their acquisitions are those who hone in on what they are good at.

Transcription:

Joe: So it amazes me, Mark, the people that we meet at these different events and that are just laid back casual seem like just good guys you want to go hunting or fishing with … not that I hunt or fish, it’s been a long time. I live in a lake but I haven’t gone fishing for a while or I haven’t caught anything for a while. Anyway, Dustin Ray strikes me as one of those people. I met him at Rhodium a few years back; totally laid back. I think you introduced him to me and surprised me later when you start talking about the numbers and what this guy is doing and so humble yet doing such incredible numbers. You had a chance to have him on the podcast recently.

Mark: Yeah I did and Dustin is one of those guys whenever he and I talk on the phone and you know it’s not as frequently as maybe I would like but whenever we talk it ends up being like an hour and a half conversation. Rest assured this is not an hour and a half long podcast but it could have been because he’s got a ton of information. His background is fascinating. He started out in the music industry promoting some of the biggest artists that we know. He was telling me that when he was driving down through Las Vegas and seeing some of the artist’s stuff on the board that are coming in, I mean these are … he knows who’s behind these things. This was his industry for a long time but he decided to leave that industry and was really drawn to the internet world and got his start with a company that was not doing that great at the time. He didn’t know it at the time but didn’t know at the time and he’s now a partner of that company. And really under his guidance and some of the other work his team has done they’ve grown it into an eight figure company relatively quickly. And really just through being able to modify their funnels, understand better customer acquisition strategies, and get that conversion rate as high as it can and really make it a product that works well for his customers. A really cool discussion about modifying those funnels, modifying your customer acquisition process but also we touched on and I want to have him back on again. I say this with a lot of guests but I definitely want to have him back on again about some of the challenges as well of scaling a team when you go from this one million in revenue up to five million in revenue, up to ten million in revenue and then beyond that as well. There’s always this natural choke points where it’s not as easy to scale that team and they’ve been going through that. They’ve been going through some of those growing pains but doing it really really well. So we talked about a little bit of that as well in this episode.

Joe: Well Dustin’s much more interesting than the both of us so let’s jump right to the podcast.

Mark: Sounds great.

Mark: All right Dustin hey thanks so much for joining me on the podcast.

Dustin: Hey thanks for having me, Mark.

Mark: I know you’re a loyal listener like you don’t miss a single episode of this thing so you know what we do. We know that we’d like you to introduce yourself. Why don’t you give just kind of a quick background on yourself?

Dustin: Sure my name is Dustin Ray and I’m a co-owner at the IncFile.com. We’re an incorporation service that services all 50 states. We help people form LOCs incorporations. We’ve been in business for a little over 15 years now and we’ve helped over 150,000 entrepreneurs get their business launched.

Mark: You didn’t start in this though, I mean this is … you have a background beyond that and you … full disclosure you and I met at Rhodium. What was it three years ago now I think?

Dustin: Yeah.

Mark: Yeah and we talked over dinner a little bit and you shared some of your background. You have a background in the music industry as well.

Dustin: That’s right so I kind of accidentally fell onto the tech space I guess you could say. So I grew up playing sports, going to school. I kind of grew up in the music scene and that meant recording stuff with friends and then throwing parties and club promoting and working at eventually a managing company, a record label, and then I went over and launched the hip-hop division for music marketing nationally for Monster Energy Corporation. So I was in the music business for about 10 years and it was ironic that we’re here talking on the podcast because literally as I’m in the music business I kind of stumbled upon entrepreneurship in a podcast about it and that was kind of how I got introduced to the whole tech space. And when I was listening to just the different entrepreneurs … you know I didn’t have any friends around me in the tech space. I didn’t grow up coding. I’m not a coder. I’m not a technical person. So it was very much like an outer space experience when someone mentioned something tech. And so for me, it opened up a whole new world for me and it started speaking to every existence in my body about it. I love the fact that it was flexible. It’s not like a physical store that you’re at every single day. You need your laptop, you need your phone and you could be anywhere in the world. So I like that flexibility and I like the fact there wasn’t a ceiling. As long as you can build something scalable you could take it as far as you want. And then the other thing, of course, is the trading was I mean the value creation right? It was like you would read an article and it was like how in the world would somebody build something in 18 months and then they’re selling it or it’s getting acquired for millions of dollars. Like how is that even possible? That was like a foreign concept to me. I thought you got work hard, put in the time, be a savvy investor and when you have a lot of white hair then you have your money. So that was kind of how I got introduced to the tech space and then I’ll let you take it from there if I’m not rambling on but that was my introduction into the tech space. And then I found my way in through Incfile.

Mark: Cool. Yeah, I want to get into that but I just made a quick observation and something I’ve noticed over the years is that people who come from outside of the tech world depending on your background it’s fascinating to watch what you’re able to bring in. The music industry and the entertainment industry in general and you can correct me if I’m wrong but I’m pretty sure this is accurate; crazy competitive space right? You’ve got to be top of your game if you’re going to be promoting artists and I mean everybody wants to be a music star of some sort. So if you’re in that promotions game you’ve got to be on top of your game there. I mean-

Dustin: Yeah just like a lot of businesses I mean competition is fierce. You got a singer or a rapper or something on every corner and just like really in any other businesses it’s how are you going to stand out? How are you going to break through? It’s not always just talent. That’s where it starts but it’s really the first events that really … it’s what separates an entrepreneur, a musician, an artist, a rapper from the next. So yeah it’s completely … and it’s not a pretty industry either. I mean you hear some of the horror stories. I mean you’ve got to fight and claw your way to just get the money that’s even owed to you. It’s not like we have this automatic draft where if you owe me it’s got to be paid or this automated payments like we do in the tech space where it’s automatically … an invoice comes in and it’s paid. I mean in the music industry you have to have some fight in you. You have to know how to do all of that. Navigate and fight your way through to survive. And that does translate into any business but in tech space too I mean super competitive. Anybody can come in and make you either irrelevant with new technology or they could come in with more resources and push you out. So you still have to have that the same perseverance inside.

Mark: That’s fantastic and I have a story to tell but I’m not going to tell it right now. Maybe you and I can talk about this another time or anyone that’s listening if you meet up with me at a conference I’ll tell you the story about the time I sat on an airplane and sat next to a multiple gold album recording artist who was sitting back in coach and had made millions and millions of dollars at the music industry and had almost none of it to his name because of managers and stuff like that that were taking the money from him. A fascinating conversation, a spoiler alert he was crying by the end of the conversation. So fun story but we would definitely go down a rabbit hole I don’t want to get into right now. I want to talk about Incfile. I want to talk about kind of your background there, how you got into it and also the scalability and some of the challenges that come along with scaling a business like you have with Incfile. So that’s about 15 years old, how did you get into Incfile in the first place?

Dustin: So I’ve been with Incfile now for 4 ½ years in all in perspective. So the way I got in was a good friend of mine and business partner for a time; we had a graphic design company. And parlaying into the music conversation we were working with record labels in designing all the marketing packages for some of these artists that they have. You know the album covers, [inaudible 00:09:31.3], mind spaces at the time, anything graphic design wise. And ironically through a mutual friend, my business partner now at Incfile who grabbed me in, co-founder Nick he liked for what he saw out there as far as one of the designs we have put out. And by way of a mutual friend, I got introduced to him and we started working in a design capacity for Incfile. And at the time Incfile was much smaller than it is today and so there was ups and downs and I started kind of building rapport and Nick and I shared a lot of the same philosophies on business and perspective. It was interesting for me at the time because just like I mentioned I was listening to podcast and super fascinated with this world at that time and this is back in 2009 probably. You know we started working, Nick was open to new ideas and I didn’t have experience but I was just kind of sharing thoughts and experience because when you think about design you think about user experience at that time. I didn’t have any training but a lot of it is just psychology. It’s human behavior, human nature, kind of how people operate. And so Nick and I would collaborate on these efforts and be speaking late until the night and then into the early morning building that rapport. So at the time Incfile really needed to kind of turn a corner and so I started consulting with Nick. He asked me to help him to kind of redefine our sales funnel and our work process. And at the time it was a big deal, I didn’t realize how big of a project it was for Incfile it was … there wasn’t a lot of business coming in at the time so it was a kind of critical moment but I didn’t know that at the time or there would have been more pressure. So I started helping Nick and we started collaborating on redefining the order process and it really was our big sling at trying to turn a corner. And luckily enough through the efforts and months that we put in doing that it started to turn a corner and things started getting better and Incfile started growing. And we kind of continued helping each other out over the course of the next few years and it just finally got into a point where we’re saying look what we could do part time what could we accomplish together if we are both all in? And then that’s when I’d left Monster Energy and jumped in all in with Incfile at the time. And that was in 2014.

Mark: That was in 2014. I don’t want to get into specific numbers and ask you to be sharing numbers but you guys have been growing pretty much consistently since 2014 right?

Dustin: Yeah. We’ve been steadily growing year over year. Our business has been growing at a healthy rate as well. So anywhere between 50% to 80% year over year and that’s both top line and bottom line. And so we really are at this point we’re focused on growth. We’re a growth company. And we’re just constantly trying to redefine and push the anvil up to continue that growth.

Mark: Yeah. So let’s talk about the funnel work that you did when you first came on. Did Incfile have funnels in place before that or did you come in and tweak what was already existing or did you have to kind of rewrite that book?

Dustin: Now we had to rewrite the book. And I mean, to be frank, this is both from Nick who’s at Incfile and started the company and then myself coming in and helping. You know these are two guys that are just figuring out at how to go. He didn’t have previous experience in the tech world or building an online business and neither did I. So it’s literally just two guys figuring it out. So there wasn’t any specific processes in place or any sort of funnel analyzation or anything like that going on because again it’s back in ’08, ’09. Things are a lot more sophisticated now in terms of analytics and marketing and tools and things like that. But we were literally just figuring it out. We didn’t … we weren’t … at the time we didn’t have a lot of data to kind of drive some of the decision makings. So we just figured it out as we went and that’s why I think I said luckily we did something right and it started turning around. And to be frank and to be honest I mean we’re still figuring out as we go. We’ve been growing and I guess part of that is intuition with part of the strategy that we’re deploying. The other half is having a phenomenal team. We have great team members to help. I mean everybody is … it’s an understatement to say everybody is working hard because it’s beyond working hard. Everybody is really pushing a full play and we’ve been able to grow but literally, we’re starting to figure it out and getting a little bit more pieces in place to be more strategic and more structured. But up until really recently I mean we’ve just been figuring out as we go.

Mark: One of the things that I love every time that we talk you’re always talking about tweaking and finding other things of that sales funnel that you missed before. I absolutely love that because I tend to set and forget. A lot of times I’d get a sense from you guys that you’re always looking, always experimenting with your funnels.

Dustin: Yeah and that’s a good point to touch on because one characteristic too that Nick and I share is that we have this obsession with a fish in sea and process. And so tweaking it is really the game that we like to play. So we like to be building the product. We like to be refining it. We take pride in trying to be innovative and have the best product in the industry. Not even as a strategy but just more of a personality and characteristics traits. That’s what we’ve been doing since day one. It’s just constantly keeping our head down focusing on the product and making it better every single day.

Mark: Yeah and obviously having a good product helps quite a bit. And we’ve talked a little bit about your product privately and what it does. I mean some of the services you guys offer are phenomenal. Making sure things are kept up to date and having that subscription portion of it as well. People can literally not worry at all about their filings. It’s a really cool service because I know I had to file actually in Texas for a company of mine and I started getting these notices and I’ll tell you as a business owner and entrepreneur you get all these things from the government all the time and you’re like I don’t want to deal with this. I don’t want to have to spend an afternoon trying to decipher all of this. And so you guys are really committed to filling that gap which is cool.

Dustin: Yeah and I’m sitting in the same seat as you. Having private companies to even working at Incfile same thing, I didn’t know even what a registered agent was or what a franchise tax report was for the state of Texas. Somehow I must have put myself or something down for it but it wasn’t until I got to Incfile where I actually even understood it. And that’s where I think we fill a big void in the entrepreneurial journey. It’s just taking care of that stuff that really no entrepreneur wants to take care of. It’s not a sexy business in terms of like the way we might talk about the music industry or celebrities but it’s a fundamental core piece of running a business. If you’re going to be an entrepreneur and you’re going to be in business you’re going to have to take care of these things that we offer. So we try to make it … we streamline the process and make it easy. So we’re constantly innovating to make things faster and at the same time, we’re the low cost leader in the industry so we drive the price down. So where most people that may go to … historically speaking it’s a little bit more out there now because a lot of people are comfortable with doing business online now versus 10 years ago. But it really was the kind of fundamentals where people would know that they need to have a registered agent. There’s this state mandate that’s saying you have to do these things. But like I said it just frankly isn’t fun or people don’t want to deal with it. When you’re starting a business you’ve got 15 hats you’re wearing and you’re putting out fires, and you’re worried about sales, and doing all these other things. So we’ve really drove down the prices well to make it convenient and affordable to where a lot more entrepreneurs these days. It’s just part of starting a business nowadays. Nowadays it’s like okay I know I don’t want to worry about that it’s only going to cost me this much money so let them worry about it and they can deal with it for as long as I’m in business.

Mark: Yeah, that’s cool. I want to go back over to the funnel stuff and ask you kind of a basic question. What in your opinion makes up the key elements to developing a funnel, a good sales funnel?

Dustin: One is always … I mean some of this stuff may sound rudimentary but simplicity, right? Because in an industry like ours where things are very technical, you’ve got secretary of state, you’ve got government agencies, and the IRS and a lot of formalities with these bureaucracies that it could become intimidating and cumbersome when you think about legal services in general. So us not being attorneys for one has kind of served and helped us in a lot of ways as well. We are entrepreneurs our self so we can put our own hand on and think about how would we want this to work and simplicity is number one. I mean don’t make me think is the philosophy. If I had to think about something it’s already too difficult, too hard, and our sales funnel isn’t as fast as like selling a t-shirt. I mean you still … even though we’ve simplified and streamlined it you’re still going through in some cases depending on which package you have you may go up to 15 pages to get through the end of the funnel. So it’s very important to be fast. Just ask me the basics of what we need and in some cases, we’ll [inaudible 00:19:15.7] process where we will gather additional details that may be needed. But if you frontload your funnel that’s a recipe for disaster because people get exhausted and if you get in too many decisions you give them too many chances to change their mind. And really they want to get it done that’s why they came there. So if you can make it a simple process to go through and then worry about making the connection and introducing yourself and working one on one if need be to solve the rest of the information gaps. But we see a lot of our competitors … I mean it is very word heavy and very cumbersome to go through their cellphone. So we just try to streamline that.

Mark: Yeah, keep it all simple. When you say front loaded you mean asking all the questions on that page one and somebody sees this big huge form and they have to get through that he would form it with complex language?

Dustin: That is one but also I mean front loaded just meaning the entire funnel. So if once you get to the back end of our system, if there’s additional information or if there’s something that is unique to your business that we may need additional information on those are emails and conversations that we can gather afterwards. But I mentioned we may have a funnel that could be 15 pages but if we put everything into the funnel they may need … it could be much longer and people don’t want that. They want to get in, they want to pay, they want to have information; know that we are taking care of it and if you need something let me know but I’m already … once I click pay if you’re handling it and I’m off to the next thing.

Mark: What are some of the tools that you use to really work and refine that funnel? I mean it sounds like you’re trying to gather some intelligence from your customers and watch their behavior to see where is the sticky points, where people are tripping up, do you guys use different tools to be able to collect some of that information and figure out hey you know what this is just not working?

Dustin: We do not. Like I said we were just figuring it out and working along intuition for years. It’s kind of how you are where any business is focused on sales, you’re focused on sales and then you’re focused on servicing those sales. So years go by and business grows and at some point, we’re like man it’s a lot harder to implement these processes now that the train is moving at 120 miles an hour to implement the process. So that’s been an extreme challenge for us for the past couple of years. But we’re at the point now to answer your question about tools where we now have complete tracking setup for all engagement. So a lot of it goes through GA but we’re using a lot of different … whether it’s a UDM code or whether it’s an event tracking code on the website to understand where people are coming in and coming out. We’re using user testing on the back end so things like VWL for user testing and constantly refining that. Just tinkering with every page or basically not everybody married to anything on the page. So it’s kind of a philosophy where hey just because we’ve stared at it so many times for so long don’t get stuck in it. Everything is fair game, anything can go. And now we’re using VWL and Google Analytics and a lot more tracking into Google Analytics to tell us some of that data behind what’s happening in there. And we just started doing live user testing as well. So besides the quantitative data we’re using web services that actually have live users coming in that aren’t familiar with your page and then going through and giving you kind of like we are with this podcast a stream recording with their … they’re speaking while they’re going through it and giving you all the pitfalls and challenges and get things that they like and don’t like about it. So marrying that quantitative data with qualitative has really helped us just in this year alone.

Mark: Yeah and just to be clear GWL being Google Web Optimizer I would assume right?

Dustin: Yeah we use that as well, the search console but VWL is a—

Mark: Oh VWL.

Dustin: VWL.

Mark: Okay.

Dustin: In other words, it’s a Visual Website Optimizer; VWL.com for user testing. There are other competitors for that but that’s worked for us so far.

Mark: If you can answer this … don’t feel like you have to but how many experiments would you say that you guys run in any given month?

Dustin: Not that many. Because we were running at least … or I should say we wanted to run five to 10 in a week and just kind of push it up, push it up, push it up. But now we’re content having more patience and so we want to get it right. So we’re not being short sighted with it and now we’re really trying to really just run things that don’t interfere. It may just be one test a week, two tests a week at the most that we’re introducing only because we want to compare apples to apples. So if we make too many variable changes then the numbers and the statistical significance get kind of skewed and then assumptions come into play. So we limit it to one to two now.

Mark: All right so you’re throwing around words statistical significance and you’re looking at biases and you’re looking at all these different assumptions that are coming into it but you started off on this without really any background in CRO and kind of this funnel optimization. Somebody listening to this that they just bought a business or maybe they’re looking to do something similar on their own, what’s a good starting point in your opinion for somebody that is just starting out in this area? Or maybe somebody that’s intermediate and knows a little bit about it but hasn’t really seen the returns yet from focusing on this continual tweaking and improvement?

Dustin: Yeah I mean and you’re right I didn’t know anything coming in. So for me literally not having friends in the industry, peers of any sort, nobody around me locally, I rely heavily on podcast. You know podcast people speak freely, it’s a casual environment, people want to help other people, like minded individuals and I benefited tremendously from podcasting just from learning. And of course now with hands on training, being … working in an environment in the tech space you’re learning things every day. So one, learn by doing. Two, reach out for the resources like podcasting. And then the third thing I would say too that is when you reach a point when you could come up for air I would encourage to try to go to different networking events and meet other individuals and just get their perspective outside of your own that they might share that maybe you wouldn’t hear at podcasts. It might be more frank or direct or they might have encountered a situation that they can actually help you … give you advice for a scenario where as a podcast it’s more educational and you’re listening but you can’t just jump in and ask the questions so to speak. So those are the three areas that I would focus on.

Mark: Okay, cool. I’m going to change gears completely here and spend our last 10 minutes or so. I want to talk about the growth with your company. And in my experience, because I watched a lot of companies grow, you know people that I’m just friends with and we talk about the challenges. But then also people that I have been advising as well. And I tend to find that there is this … there are certain choke points with companies where they have troubles turning certain corners. You know when you’re first starting up a company oftentimes that’s when your revenues start hitting 250 300,000 and then there’s another choke point once you get to about seven figures and trying to get up to the higher seven figure range so on and so forth. What’s been your experience? You came on at a critical point with this company when you guys weren’t really sure about the future and then you’ve been able to grow it since. What has been your experience with some of these choke points within the company’s growth, the company’s culture and I guess I should probably ask instead of assuming I mean have you guys experienced that?

Dustin: Absolutely. You know it’s funny because… and this is a great topic. We should spend some time on this. As an entrepreneur or as a small business owner on the startup of a small company and I kind of am speaking more in the vein of like bootstrapping because we’ve been self-funded from the beginning. We’ve never taken any rounds of funding so I don’t have experience to speak on there. But as far as doing it yourself one thing I can say is focusing on … or I usually think that hiring people right is going to solve your problems. And it does … that comes into play later but it comes in very strategically later but what I figured out was that … like for example our biggest our advantages when we were smaller became our biggest challenges as we try to turn corners. And I’ll elaborate a little bit on that and so for example in our industry we were bootstrapped, we’re a small team, we’re still a small team. We’re competing side by side with companies that are Goliath’s in the industry that have either been acquired or have raised funds and are billion dollar companies. And we’re competing with these guys directly and we’re a very small team. So we’re probably 15 people in our office and then additional people in terms of remote resources outside of that. But what I’m getting at is that that worked into our advantage when we were small. So when you think about it we were able to think about it and have a conversation today and then we could start building it tomorrow. And we could … we were very efficient and we push and we work hard so we could roll things out at tremendous speed. And that kind of led some of the innovation that we now have that’s really industry leading now at this point because we were small and we can move fast. We’re still small but now that we’ve grown in size it’s … you face new challenges right? And so the challenge for us now is now it’s our disadvantage being this small. Because now we need to accelerate growth beyond where we are and our capacity is limited in terms of what our team could do beyond what they’re doing now. Because as I mentioned earlier everybody is pushing, everybody is already at capacity. And so even though you feel like conceptually okay well I … we’re managing the advertising so to speak, all the PPC and all that stuff. It’s been self-managed all the way up until this year. We had to bring on a team to help manage that. We’ve had to bring on team members to help us in different areas from SEO, content marketing, we’ve expanded our dev team. So the other things that we’re doing now to help turn the corner but what you realize is that you could keep iterating and moving but when your smaller you can solve problems quickly. Because the problems you have are generally something that can be solved quickly. When you grow, the challenge has become not overnight fixes. So you’re going to spend a longer time fixing it and then for your growth, there’s a reason why not everybody grows to be giant companies it’s because it gets harder, it doesn’t get easier. And so what we’ve realized too is we could see an opportunity and seize it and go take that hill so to speak and then we experience growth. We open up a new channel and we experience growth. Where we are now is we actually have to have a strategy and team to forecast ahead six months or more so we can invest in that today and then experience that growth hopefully six months, 12 months from now. So that’s one area that we have certainly run into a wall on and had to figure out how to maneuver around it. Because you get used to thinking that your core strength and your competitive advantage is always your competitive advantage. So it’s something like we’ve got to always be objective and look in the mirror and say oh wait a second is that now [inaudible 00:31:10.2] is this now the one thing that’s holding us back? Maybe it’s not so great. I need to think that was like what we hang our hat on but now you really got to think how to move forward and you have to remain objective about it.

Mark: Why do you think that is? I mean why do you think that as companies grow … and this sounds actually by the way very similar to the same conversation I had with Rob Walling from Drip because they were the same sort of environment. A few dabs working together and they had an idea for something, they rolled it out and coded it out and pushed it out within a day and that was it. They were able to do that and then as they grew the same sort of challenges. Why do you think that is that as you grow it’s not as easy to just flip out new solutions? Is it because there’s more people involved or is it because the growth and the changes that you need to make are more sophisticated or … I mean what’s going on there?

Dustin: I think it’s competition. Because once you kind of turn corners or try to go to the next level it’s a new game. You’re playing against different competitors and their strengths and what they do best and why they were in the top positions that you’re taking market share away from is because they’re doing something really well. And so you have to be able to then compete directly with them and do what they did well and take market share from them. So you have to constantly evolve. It’s not just internally what’s happening but just in the industry for competition, nothing in business is just standstill. So you’re in the gaining realm or losing realm and when you reach new heights or next levels the competition gets more fierce and you have to have even deeper strategies. You have to be thinking future, you have to have more of a focus because we could cover a lot of ground and a lot of places and growth but it might be more short sighted. It might be just low hanging fruit and we’re catching that. But at some point, you’re going to run out of low hanging fruit. And so once you run out of low hanging fruit it becomes all about strategy and long term strategy because you have to build things that are scalable and you have to compete against these guys in the course of six to 12 months and beyond. So it really takes a different mindset to turn the corners. I mean you can operate in the same manner as the same culture and the same type of people and teammates but the game and the rules become more fierce.

Mark: You said something a little bit ago about you used to think that the scale you just hired or something to that effect but then you kind of learned that that wasn’t the case. Why is that? I mean obviously you need to hire to scale at some point but—

Dustin: I think a lot of people try to scale too fast and I don’t … I mean some people can do it and some people are that experience so they can pull it off. For us, if we could have hired earlier then we potentially could have got further faster. We were reluctant to hire rapidly because we knew we were growing but we didn’t want to take the growth for granted. Expecting the growth to come so we would make sure that we had the business, captured the business and then when the need was dire we bring somebody in. But honestly, if we would have brought somebody in and forecasted at six months in advance we might have been able to keep the momentum going faster. But looking back in hindsight I do think there was some benefits of not hiring faster because again we focused on product and we focused on our customers. And so the product was constantly improving and essentially when you think about scaling what are you really scaling right? You’ve got to have a strong foundation to scale or build on top of it. So not hiring people at that time … I mean the last several years and the investments we’ve made and you know we weren’t … in our industry we were known but outside our industry, it’s not like we’re flying on anybody’s radar. And that’s because we have our head down and we were just building the product. And now that the product and the machine and so on is really strong in terms of foundation now we’re hiring rapidly in a sense. We’re really trying to accelerate it and bring on very strategic hires to fill specific niches or voids that we need to fill in terms of areas of expertise. And so it’s working for us now in terms of hiring for your right and not to hire to scale but at the same time if we wouldn’t have focused so much on the product and building the foundation that is … you know everything innovative and automated that we have it could be the death of us.  We could grow too fast and then if the machine doesn’t work then you got sizable problems and when you’re talking about thousands of users and thousands of people on your platform, it’s not just two people calling and saying [inaudible 00:36:02.9] we’re talking about your phones ringing by the thousands and people trying to get those needs resolved.

Mark: It’s fascinating. With culture and when you’re growing a company like that and you’re bringing on people and hiring quickly after a certain amount of time because you need to be able to support that growth. Have you guys been able to keep that kind of grinder spirit that you seem to exude with every time I talk to you? You know it’s that classic entrepreneur hustle. Have you been able to keep that culture with your company?

Dustin: We have. So that’s a big deal for us too. I mean the people that you worked alongside with and the people that you entrust in helping to make decisions and contribute they kind of have to be in line with your philosophy and with the rest of the team. Otherwise, they’re searching between team or there’s a conflict of philosophies. And it’s a lot easier if there’s a culture fit to be able to rally everybody together for the common good and push forward. So in a lot of ways … in our case we certainly want people who are capable but if we had a scale of one to 10 and the most talented person was a ten we would still rather work with eight. Let him come on to the team out work everybody, fit with the culture and then we’re not going to have the kind of pitfalls or speed bumps that we may have if we have friction with somebody. So we definitely identify and work better with those types of folks and at the same time, I think that they appreciate that about us as well. Because depending on what environment they came from if they had the same spirit or they’re a fit for our culture generally it’s a place they like to work and with an environment people that they want to invest their time with. So I think that’s been huge for us and up until this point it’s work and as we continue to scale and grow it becomes more of a challenge to try to keep everybody in the same culture fit. But it’s important to hire slow and make sure you get the right people than to hire fast and then be reverse engineering that and figuring out how to let them go and get somebody else then. It’s counterproductive.

Mark: Right we’ve gone a little bit over time but mainly because it has been a fascinating conversation so any last bits that you would want to put in or if anyone wants to reach out to you are they able to do so?

Dustin: Yeah, absolutely my e-mail address is [email protected] I’m on LinkedIn, Facebook, my name is Dustin Ray or my handle on Instagram or anywhere else would be drayonline. But if I was going to leave any other nugget of information with folks just from our experience or my experience one thing that people kind of find interesting but I think is very important is that a lot of people in our society try to focus on self-improvement. We all work on self-improvement but I think it kind of gets lost in transition with entrepreneurs because we’re constantly … we’re builders and we want to improve but society kind of teaches us in a way to work on our weaknesses. If you’re already good at something don’t worry about that, you’ve got to worry on what you’re not good at and improve in that area. And really just through experience life not just business, I kind of think it’s more important to focus on your strengths as for a self-improvement and be self-aware to say this is the area that I’m good at let me build you, fill gaps, and bring on people to help me execute whatever the task at hand is. But I think too many people focus on improving on what they’re not good at. Like for example, we ran a graphic design business for a while, okay I was interested in design. I like design. If I stuck there and invested my time into getting better at design and using Photoshop yeah I’m going to improve. I’m going to get better. But at the end of the day, my best is going to be mediocre. So I’m never going to be able to compete with the guy who’s a phenomenal designer. So rather than focusing on your weaknesses just be mediocre at them, I think you got to double down on your strengths. Be self-aware and know what you’re good at. And I think it kind of encompasses more of a positive mindset when you’re focusing with confidence on what you’re good at. You know even when you’re trying to improve on what you’re not good at it’s kind of a negative feeling right? It’s kind of you know you’re not good at it and you’re kind of getting down about it because that’s human nature but if you … you know the entrepreneur journey is tough so if you focus on your strengths and bring people on to help you where you need I think you could get further faster.

Mark: Well, don’t tell my kids that because I keep telling them to work on the stuff that they’re struggling with in school. But I think when you are applying it where you’re applied it you’re 100% right.

Dustin: Your kids they’re learning right so they don’t know exactly what they’re good at and what they’re not so I do the same for my kids.

Mark: Right.

Dustin: You’re teaching them to work through the problems. More problem solving than self-improvement at this point.

Mark: Right. Exactly and also if you want to become an all-around good person work on finding those things. But you’re right as far as with your business and entrepreneurs and we see this with buyers all the time. Buyers that just kill it are the buyers who come in and they know their strengths. They might be CRO gurus, they might be SEO gurus, they might be really really good at just setting up operations or what have you and they look for the businesses that are deficient in those areas so that they can take them. And those are the guys that come back with two X, three X, five X businesses in a few years because they’ve taken their strengths and they’re not going to bother trying to work on the stuff that they’re bad at. They’re going to outsource that if they have to, make sure that somebody else is taking care of it and they won’t deal with it and it works.

Dustin: That is so true. I gave up Mark … I gave up on trying to be smarter. I said well I’m going to self-improve but I’m not going to get any smarter so now I tend to focus more of my time on becoming a better leader than trying to get smarter. And so you can only build a company so big on your own so if you want to get smarter you’re only going to get it so big, you’re going to have to work with more people and bring in people to grow a sizeable company. So for myself today I try to focus on being a better leader and working with people and empowering them to be the smartest person in the room. Because their areas of expertise, they are always going to be smarter and better than I would be in that space. So I just try to focus on becoming a better leader and I gave up on trying to be smarter.

Mark: I love it. That sounds like a great way to end this episode of you on the podcast. Thank you so much for coming on this has been awesome.

Dustin: No, I can’t thank you enough for inviting me. I hope your audience gets something from it and I’m looking forward to catching up with you soon.

Mark: Sounds good.

Links and Resources:

IncFile

Dustin’s Instagram

Dustin’s LinkedIn

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