This is a follow up story for Diesel Laptops. If you're interested in reading how they got started, published about 1 year ago, check it out here.
Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.
I am the Founder and CEO of Diesel Laptops. We are a business to business company that specializes in shop efficiency solutions for commercial truck repair. Diesel Laptops have only existed for less than 5 years, but in that time we’ve landed on the Inc 500 list, been in the Top 5 Fastest-Growing for South Carolina the last 2 years and have swelled to over 200 employees. We’ve done this by cash flow, and had no initial seed or investment money past the $1,000 I personally put in to start it. Our company now has a 3-year goal to hit $100 million in annual revenue.
While we started originally by selling a diagnostic tool, we’ve now come to realize that it is just one piece of the puzzle. In order to really move a commercial truck through the repair process, you need to have several things:
- A great diagnostic tool
- Repair information on how to repair the truck
- Access to live people to talk with that can give you advice and assistance
- Training on both the diagnostic software and technical diagnostics
While selling the diagnostic tool got us here, what is going to get us to the next level is surrounding it will all those other needs. That is how we get to the next level!
Tell us about what you’ve been up to! Has the business been growing?
Over the last 12-months, we’ve had significant growth and changes. At a high level:
- Moved from a 20,000 sq/ft building to a 40,000 sq/ft building.
- Started 2019 with no Vice Presidents, and we’ll end the year with 4.
- We had another record sales year.
- We launched a TON of new products and services.
- We are learning how to be leaders, not managers.
- We set a 3-year goal and are working on the business plan.
On the marketing side, our team continues to kill it with generating sales leads. Our email list has over 100k subscribers, we did more than 40 trade shows, and they generated tens of thousands of sales leads. One of the most exciting things is that we launched a podcast series called “The DL”, which isn’t quite released yet but will shortly. We’ll be pushing them, everyone, that podcasts are played, along with YouTube. As visitors come to our HQ, I’ve been cutting episodes. We have around 12 queued up ready to go now.
We also launched a brand new DieselLaptops.com, added a message forum, and posting a ton of content on our blog. We’ve added more people to our marketing team, and are now getting focused on selling support packages to clients that purchased a year ago. We’ve grown that revenue from around $20k/month to over $300k/month.
Where we have really slipped this year is selling commodity goods on Amazon and eBay. We just didn’t put the attention on it as it needs, so we’ll probably be around $2 million off from where we should have been. I’m really not sure if those platforms are good for our company long-term, and they are low margin, so it doesn’t bother us too much.
I used to be non-Instagram for our B2B play, but I can say the engagement on IG is really picking up. Facebook still does well, and LinkedIn does great for me personally. LinkedIn Business pages are still horrible. We also launched our own online advertising network. We already have a bunch of mobile apps, websites, and desktop applications that clients use every day. We decided to put our own ads up on these networks, which now delivers close to 100 million ad views a year, to my exact target market.
Earlier this year we found that our managers were really struggling. A lot of them were a department of one person a year or two ago, now some have over 30 employees. We never gave them the training to be effective leaders, so we are all engaged with that now (Including myself!). We are “growing up” as a company, and learning about process mapping, strategic planning, goal-setting, managing time, and all those other things that we all need to learn if we want to get to that $100 million/year revenue number. We are now using data and analytics to help make better business decisions, instead of our “gut feel”. It's great watching the evolution of our company and employees at the same time.
What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?
We’ve made a ton of mistakes and learned a lot this year. I honestly feel this is the best way to learn, so here is a couple.
- 1) Large Companies Need an Ask. We met with a LOT of large companies this year. These are companies doing north of $1 billion/year in revenue. We explained what we did, what we plan to do, and where we are going. A lot of this is new to our industry, and they are very excited. However, we didn’t have a clear ask. We just would say “What would you guys like to do?”. They didn’t know. They also had a lot of players on their side that would need to get together and talk about it. Most of these larger companies need a lot of people to come together, talk strategy, and come up with a plan. It rarely happens, they are focused on their day-to-day business.
What we found out was that we need to have an “ask”. We would still be sitting here talking to these companies waiting for them to figure out what worked for them. It has worked much better, and moved things along quicker, when we slid that piece of paper over the desk with what we want to do, and just ask them for a “no” or “yes”.
- 2) Find Great Strategic Partners. Mainly through LinkedIn and trade shows, we found a lot of terrific strategic partners in the last year. I met Tim Spurlock, with American Diesel Training Centers. His company does entry-level diesel technician training, and we do continuing education. We are able to use his facilities across the country, with his trainers, to offer our curriculum. This has allowed us to scale up our diesel technician training across the country. I met Steve Hoke, from Redline Emission Services. They sell these emission filters for trucks, and the equipment to test them. Each time a filter is installed on a truck, you need a diagnostic tool to run a command. We partnered together, since its a logical fit and we promote each other's business. I could go on and on, but the short story is that finding other businesses that we can align with has been a huge thing for us in 2019.
- 3) It's Hard to Trust Employees (And customers). This year, we terminated an employee who was one of my first 10 hires. She was in charge of our HR department, and we came to find out she was committing fraud and stealing from our company. We terminated her immediately when we found out, and then filed police reports, they investigated, and then arrested her. She is awaiting trial now, but she got quite a bit of money through the scheme.
We had another one where a client asked for wiring instructions for payment. This wasn’t unusual, and then they called back several days later asking if the money arrived. Our accounting department verified it had, customer picked up the equipment ($20,000 worth), and then 2 days later the money was reversed out of the account. The customer actually sent an ACH, and our untrained accounting department didn’t realize the difference.
Some of those things are hard pills to swallow, but that is business. You have good days, and you have bad days. We’ve really shored up our HR department now, with a great VP of HR that has fixed a lot of the holes we had. Our team is working hard on putting proper processes and procedures in place, but when you have a fast-growing company, you are going to have a lot of untrained employees. It comes with the territory, and you just need to be able to handle it.
What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?
We talked about doing a 5-year plan, but then we realized our company hasn’t even existed for that long. We settled on a 3-year plan, and the main bullet point is that we want to be doing $100 million in revenue in 3 years. We also need around $20 million of that to come from product lines that generate zero dollars today.
Make a point each day to do one little thing to make your business better.
What is exciting about this, is that the plan is not coming 100% from me. It is working with our various teams, talking about looking out for 3 years, and setting objectives and goals with timelines.
As a business owner, I had a choice to make the last couple of years. I could take money out of the company and use it for personal use, or I could leave it and keep re-investing. I’ve chosen to keep reinvesting that money into the company. So while it seems like a stretch when I tell people we have business segments that will generate $20 million/year revenue in the near future, the truth is we’ve spent millions creating those products over the last couple years.
I don’t feel that Diesel Laptops can exist by “just selling” diagnostic tools. We need to become a company that provides a variety of solutions to companies so they can operate more efficiently and be more profitable. Their success is our success.
Have you read any good books in the last year?
I haven’t read a book for several years, but I do listen to a ton of audiobooks. Some of my favorites this year:
The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek - There is no championship game in business, there is no season. The game goes on forever. You are either behind or ahead of your competitors.
The Ride of a Lifetime by Robert Iger - Great business lessons from the CEO of Walt Disney.
How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie - Everyone should read this book every year. Learn to listen, learn to ask the right questions.
Building A StoryBrand by Donald Miller - Learn how to make a powerful impact in your marketing messages, and learn how to structure them. Hint: You & your product aren’t the heroes. Your customer is.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?
Every day, and every week, figure out a way to “Be Better”. Make a point each day to do one little thing to make your business better. Tweak a product listing. Make a blog post. Listen to a business audiobook. Post on social media about your business. Spend 30 minutes and reach out to some potential new strategic partners to set up an introductory call. Sit with an employee and ask them what you can do to help them in their job.
Just get out ahead of the day-to-day grind. If you find yourself working on today, and not the future, you aren’t going to make progress and grow your company. If you’ve been trying something for a while and it isn’t working, that is OK. Just tweak it or try something else, and see what results in you get there. You win by failing, not by succeeding.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We are always hiring! Most of what we need now are local employees, but we do have off-site positions for software engineering, sales, and some other areas as well. Applicants can head to DieselLaptops Jobs to learn more.
Where can we go to learn more?
Personally, I’m very active on LinkedIn. Just make sure to leave me a message on why you want to connect, otherwise, it probably won’t happen!
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