This is a follow up story for Diesel Laptops. If you're interested in reading how they got started, published almost 5 years 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. Our company provides repair efficiency solutions for the commercial truck and equipment market. This includes diagnostic tools, repair information, parts information, diesel technician training, and a call center.
I started this business 7 years ago with less than $500 at my dining room table and garage. We’ve grown it by bootstrapping to over $50 million a year in revenue with now 200 employees. The video below sums up every well how we help clients save time and money!
Work on your business, not in your business. If you find yourself working on putting out fires and dealing with the day-to-day operations, you won’t make progress.
Tell us about what you’ve been up to! Has the business been growing?
This has been a great year for us, and our company is transforming. As our company has grown, we’ve had to change who we are. The first big change is the migration we are still making from this entrepreneurship, shoot-from-the-hip company to a more professionally managed one. It’s involved finding experienced, proven executives to bring in along with training up our current managers and leaders to be better.
This chart explains it more clearly. In 2019 we were essentially flat through the year, and this is when we started the management training. You can see the upward trend that happened after that point.
The other significant change is how much more we are looking like a software company. I’m from the truck repair industry, not the software side. I had no idea what a software company should look like, how it should be organized, or how it should function. We brought in some great talent and I’ve learned this year about Kanban boards, SCRUM Masters, PMOs, AGILE methods, DevOps, and much more. It's been a great learning experience for me personally, and the results for 2021 have been off the charts.
We were able to successfully grow our business about the same amount as last year, which is crazy. The amount we grew in 2021 is equivalent to the total amount of sales we did in our first three years combined. It just shows how the snowball effect really works.
One of the largest products we launched in 2021 was our first true-play SaaS product called Diesel Repair. We killed off half a dozen individual websites and brand names and consolidated them all under one umbrella. That platform has contributed several millions in revenue to our bottom line in 2021.
The biggest struggle we have right now is that our entire sales staff can hardly keep up with our core business (hardware) and selling software is different from hardware. Our leadership teams are working hard to find the right solution to make our sales team the most effective.
Screenshot of Diesel Repair
The other product we launched in 2021 was Diesel Decoder. This is a piece of hardware that plugs into the diagnostic port on commercial trucks and you use your Android or Apple device to perform diagnostics and repairs. We connected it to our Diesel Repair platform as well. Since we don’t have distribution (We are direct with customers), we partnered with Dorman Products. They went to market with the product and sold out in less than 90 days. A great start!
What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?
I made a huge mistake in 2019 & 2020 by not hiring the right people. I needed experienced executives, but I couldn’t get out of my own way to hire them. I felt that I could do it myself and they would be expensive. I had to get out of my own way, and I’m glad that I did. While they do come with a very large expense to the company, the ROI has been outstanding. They’ve been able to move the needle more in the short several months they’ve been here compared to how we were going about it over the last 2 years.
The other great side effect has been how it's helped me both professionally and personally. I now have confidence in the leadership team at Diesel Laptops, and I know that I can step away for days or weeks at a time and they are going to execute. I couldn’t say that before, so it allowed me to spend more time with my family and also freed up my business time to work on things CEOs should be working on.
I’m also trying very hard to spend time with my Dad before time catches up to all of us, so I was super excited to be able to take a vacation with him in Costa Rica doing some fishing and exploring!
The other challenge has been the supply chain. Our company is now placing orders for products up to a year in advance, and we are ordering more than we need. We fully expect to see a whiplash happen in 2022 where we have an oversupply of products, but right now it's unavoidable and we can afford it.
For example, the Diesel Decoder mentioned above has over $1 million in purchase orders, but we can’t ship due to no product. Our team has been able to drive down the delivery time from 12 months to 4 months, but it is still frustrating. We should have ordered more the first time around.
What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?
We still have our plan to get to $100 million/year in revenue, and we are right on track. We need to execute several strategies to make this happen. The largest is getting over $20 million/year in revenue from products that don’t exist today. We’ve been working on these products for several years and are just now starting to monetize them.
We also strongly believe we can change the way the entire market operates when it comes to sourcing replacement parts. It is a $34 billion/year industry that still operates the same way -- Make phone calls or drive to a retailer to find the part you need. Our company has invested millions into solving this problem, and we continue to do so. Customers should be able to find pricing and availability for parts they need to repair their truck, but this marketplace doesn’t exist online. We are fully intended to create this, and we are currently in a pilot program proving the concept.
We also will continue to expand our physical presence across the country. We do that through our technical training centers. These are facilities where students come in for various technical training classes. In 2020 we opened Dallas, Chicago in 2021, and we just signed a lease for Atlanta. These facilities are where diesel technicians can perform continuing education, and we are partnering with another company to provide new technician training as well.
Dallas Training Facility
Have you read any good books in the last year?
I haven’t read as much as I’d like in 2021, but it was a busy year both personally and professionally! However, a couple of key ones did help me in 2021.
The Phoenix Project is a book about DevOps and Software Development. It really helped me understand where I was as a company and where our potential could take us.
Traffic Secrets by Russell Brunson really got me focused with the marketing team to continue to push them to find us more and more traffic. Internet eyeballs are really the fuel that drives Diesel Laptops, and we can do better here. It led me to hiring a full time Social Media Manager, developing new sales funnels for our team, and reorganizing our websites and digital content to encourage viewers to engage.
I also have my own podcast, which in truth has been the best learning experience for me in 2021. I get the opportunity to sit down with entrepreneurs, CEOs, executives, founders, and experts across our industry. Our podcast, called The DL, is mainly focused in our niche but has quickly received a strong following.
While hiring executives comes with a very large expense to the company, the ROI has been outstanding.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?
For us, the Internet has been the best place to grow our business. It really comes down to making sure you do several things correctly.
Number one, find the right traffic. This can be paid or organic (SEO) traffic that comes from Internet searches, YouTube, social media, forums, or wherever else your audience is. You need to find where they are, and then find a way to bring them to your website. You often need to think outside the box a bit, but it is possible in every industry. Just keep trying different marketing strategies until you find one that works.
That brings up the second point. You need to convert that traffic. Our DieselLaptops.com page gets around 500,000 unique visitors a year. If our marketing team can develop new strategies to convert just 1% more of that traffic to potential customers, it is another 5,000 sales leads for our team. Considering our average order size is over $1,000, that represents a very large income stream waiting for us.
The last piece of advice is to continue to work on your business, not in your business. If you find yourself working on putting out fires and dealing with the day-to-day operations, you won’t make progress. You must find a way to create time for yourself to work on improving your business.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We are always hiring! We’ve moved away from Indeed for 2022 and are now posting all open job positions on LinkedIn. We offer insurance (Health, Dental, Vision, Life, Disability), HSAs, 401k with matching, subsidized professional development, plenty of PTO, and much more.
Where can we go to learn more?
You can learn more about Diesel Laptops on our website. I am also very active on LinkedIn in sharing our journey, so make sure to connect with me on there (Just make sure you mention you found me on Starter Story so I accept the invite!).
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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