A Story to Watch...
Bravery. Courage. Vulnerability.
2017 'people to watch'
I Made It
ALIVE ...and grateful
If you read only one story about me (through July 2017), this is it.
The author of the profile naming me to the 2017 class of 'People to Watch,' Columbus ALIVE journalist Joel Oliphint, masterfully tees up the climb-dive-climb narrative of my life with grace. And closes with a powerful vision:
If you keep reading, you're going to see an ongoing infographic of my story, "The Shape of My Story."
As I started this autobiographical book several years ago in my favorite coffee shop, I knew then that my story -- my life -- was destined to follow that of a Hero's Journey, one of the most widely used narrative structures.
It had to; my story was in the depths at that time -- starting from scratch, rebuilding my career and life in my hometown.
The ALIVE article helps affirm the work I have done to make this epic a reality. All the work that 'no one' noticed: community-building, building an opioid recovery clinic, giving all I can for the good of Columbus and our community. And perhaps most importantly, being a principled leader willing to walk away from a $5m company.
You are catching this story at the exact moment that you need it. Beyond the value it has given me personally, I love hearing from people (email me) about any personal growth it might inspire.
You and I, we are co-creating one big story, and fortunately, different characters choosing different paths. All for one, one for all.
Shape of My Story
A Storyteller finding his own story
When I was first starting out as an entrepreneur making waves in D.C., I was offered a $100,000 book deal by a publishing house. I passed on it having neither the time nor the story.
(I knew it wasn't my last shot but the seed was planted.)
After years of grappling with blogs, bios, social media profiles, search rankings, and changing my own physical path and place more than 15 times, I realized that the story -- my own story -- was lost.
I was a storyteller without a story.
I thought others would just know what I had done in DC or SF, or at least what I was capable of doing again. Or why I made drastic transformations that changed my career path and life or why I walked away from everything. And especially, why I came home.
But that wasn't the case; no one knew any of it. And maybe I hadn't shared the piece of the story I needed to tell.
Knowing that I am my own best storyteller, I simply started writing. And haven't stopped. Indeed, my story is this place. It is ongoing; growing here and there.
My story is growing deeper and taller, more honest and a lot more vulnerability.
The experiences of my life ripen with self-awareness, unlocking insights or renewed perspectives worth sharing. Now, in real-time.
By writing this story now, when and how I can, I'm writing a more complete story and increasing the likelihood that the story gets out to you, dear reader, when you need it.
And the goal is no longer a book deal... it is to own my story. To be it. To celebrate my personal growth and development. And to share it to help others in a way that only my story might.
Feel free to email me with questions, your story, or high-fives. (Seriously.)
Let's dig in...
Let's keep this going.
(This is a sign up up for my every-once-in-a-while email newsletter)
Journey To Authentic Leadership
I was an entrepreneur before I knew what that word meant
From slinging candy on the playground to building a highly
profitable lemon shakeup stand, I caught the entrepreneurial bug early.
I have formally founded or co-founded seven "startups" using many structures: five LLC's, two C-Corp's, and a Political Action Committee (PAC).
- David All Group, LLC
- Slatecard.com PAC
- Crumbly Inc. (fmr. LLC)
- MADE I/O LLC
- CivicHacks LLC
- WellHQ, LLC (was Inc.)
- OneNineNinety LLC
All of these startups worked to solve a significant challenge and have been expressions of my creativity as an entrepreneur. In fact, I believe entrepreneurs like me who create something entirely new in the world are artists.
Some of these "startups" have been more successful than others in monetary terms. But, then again, money was never the primary objective for any of these startups.
I am an impact entrepreneur. I look for opportunities where I can make the biggest impact on all levels, and do it. All of my work fits into this definition, though my own definition of impact continues to evolve over time.
In September 2017, impact to OneNineNinety means building a meaningful, profitable business that has the resources to take care of and nurture its team. It turns out that also means doing great work for brands, including non-profits, out to make their own definition of impact.
You gain important experiences and opportunities as you succeed, but 'failure' (or stopping as is most often the case for me) is just as much a teacher as 'success.'
And when you jump from industry to industry as I have, you learn just how hard it is to create anything successful let alone starting from 'scratch.' Yet opportunity abounds.
In business, I am a 'Pioneer' and 'Visionary' that is constantly seeking to invent entirely new ways of solving problems and doing business. I see things that don't exist, picture systems in my head to solve the challenge immediately, and have a lot of courage and experience to try efficiently.
My brain works differently than most people. What I said above about picturing massive systems in my head immediately is something I can't explain. I think about all of the parts of something and have had so much experience that I generally know how to navigate a system immediately.
My experience working as an 'employee' in a 'job' has been far less rewarding to me than doing it on my own as an entrepreneur. I'm certainly grateful to the folks that have brought me on their team, but inevitably I am drawn to my own creative pursuits and the ability to make a meaningful impact. I would not say that doing it My Way of following my heart is the easy route in life, but it's the only road I ever take.
My community matters to me. In the classic children's book The Giving Tree, I have learned the lessons of the boy, and now strive to be the tree.
I am a prolific social connector, even called an Ultimate Connector by my community. I not only connect people who should know each other, but also connect the connectors with other connectors.
For some reason you are here in this moment. I am honored.
Welcome: This is my story now.
I am grateful that you are taking the time to experience it with me. It is never more than a few months out of sync with what has happened in my life. This is a living autobiography.
And I hope you'll co-create the next chapter with me.
I needed to turn over a new leaf.
Since elementary school, I had always been a class clown. The teachers called me 'David Hall' because I was sitting in the hall so often for being disruptive in class. I liked to make people laugh and be popular.
Doubtless, I yearned for attention growing up, but as I've realized over the years (now writing this at 37), I was trying to soothe a not-so-great family life. And, I was really good at making people laugh and causing trouble.
This pattern of being a class clown continued until I found diversions like sports, girlfriends, driving a jeep and at work bagging groceries. I never studied once; graduated Upper Arlington High School with a 2.7 GPA.
I went through a challenging period, really the first time I remember being sad in my life, breaking up with a girlfriend my senior year of high school. I tried everything to woo her back, even wrote a bound book of poetry to her, to no avail. High school was rough.
College for me was the life pivot I needed. I knew I was much more capable than my grades had demonstrated and I was anxious to get away from a pretty mean crew of folks that made me feel bad for writing poems. (This pattern of bullying me for my poetry will continue later in the story.)
I chose a public school in Northwest Ohio called Bowling Green State University because almost none of my classmates were going there and because we had visited the school and had fun.
In college I started to mold into the person most folks know today. I was asked as a freshman to run for Vice President of the student body with the current Vice President running on the ticket as President.
I spent most of my time in the library studying political science, history and constitutional law. I bored of Bowling Green, fraternity partisanship, sports and a mono-culture, but realized I needed to stay and graduate with high marks.
I had my heart set on being a Prosecutor.
I've known my whole life the ability to enroll people into my vision and wanted to use this superpower to help my community. I worked hard on the books -- getting mostly A's -- and even led as President of the Law Society.
Fortunately, at the end of my senior year I interned for the Wood County Prosecutor and realized how dark that work would have been. My heart was broken.
Being in public service as a prosecutor, serving my community, became the last thing I would ever want to do with my career.
After Graduation, I returned to Columbus, Ohio, where I grew up, with no idea what I would do for a career.
With luck my brother introduced me to a really sharply dressed guy named Chris Vaughan who was a lobbyist. Chris didn't look like most 'Republicans' I had seen on TV (Bob Dole) or running around campus wearing blue suits, white shirts and red ties.
Over that steak meal, Chris communicated with me about politics and the differences between Republicans and Democrats. That encounter changed me from being a Democrat to realizing I had been a Republican my entire life.
This kernel of truth -- that Republicans had never communicated this fact to me -- ultimately became a deep motivator. I was different than Republicans I saw on TV.
Doublethink covered the story...
All wasn’t always a die-hard Republican. As a college student at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, he considered himself a Democrat, dismissing the Republicans as “dorks,” corrupt, and money-driven: “Nothing I wanted to be a part of.”
It took a conversation with a Republican friend of his brother’s “who wears pink and dresses well” to bring out the Republican within. “I didn’t even realize that kind of person existed. I thought everyone wore these red ties and white shirts and blue suits and really bad shoes.” But that’s not David All, who finds comfort in jeans, T-shirts, and sneakers. Even at the office, he sports a casual white button-down shirt, no tie. The friend explained to All that the principles he admired, like free trade, were really Republican ideas. All decided that he must be a Republican, too, and the “sad thing” was he had been one his entire life.
“The single most important reason why I am a Republican is because of personal responsibility, through and through. It’s not because I remembered Ronald Reagan when I was nine years old, doing cannonballs and back flips and kick flips [at the public pool].”
Politics 101: Work hard. Really hard. Become Known, liked.
Once I accepted my first political job as an administrative aide to State Rep. Ann Womer Benjamin, I quickly realized I was on the right track. Ann was an incredible boss and mentor -- always taking notes when she talked with people to remember follow-up actions (a tactic I've used since) and judging her effort by the growing work of 'Atta Girl' letters that came in supporting her.
'Politics' is ultimately about a very small group of people having relationships with you and one another and being liked. I was great at this work and managed to learn at the side of many of Ohio's greatest political advisors because I was liked. You become well-liked when you volunteer to do work, show up and get a reputation for being competent.
When Ann ran briefly for Secretary of State and then Congress, I was very grateful to be selected by her and these advisors as her Campaign Manager.
What a gig. I learn best from trial-and-error and a political campaign is the best place to do that. Without much financial resources, we ended up focusing most of our efforts on 'earned media.' And I was really good at getting media excited about this race.
All that hard work paid off.
We lost the race on election day but the work I put in was noticed by Sen. Voinovich's communication director and it wasn't long before I got the call that would change the course of my life forever.
Mr. All Goes to
Hollywood for ugly people.
At least that's what everyone says about, DC.
A place to become famous because you're the president of your debate club and write great speeches.
I found it to be a magical place where people recognized my work ethic and 'climbing the ladder' was acceptable and supported. Boy, did I climb.
The Honorable George V. Voinovich.
In this history of Ohio, no politician has ever secured more votes; he shined his own shoes.
At the age of 22 I was in Washington, D.C. working on the staff of the late Ohio Sen. George Voinovich. What an honor to work for this legend.
As 'deputy communication director,' I wrote nearly every public-facing document for our communication director, Scott Milburn. Scott was then, and I'm sure still is, an amazing strategist, editor and writer.
He cared about and for everything, especially his team.
POTUS v Voinovich.
In 2004, I was offered a 'National TV Booker' for the Bush-Cheney campaign.
Having my sights set on working in the White House since day one of arriving to Washington, I wanted to take this position.
Don't get me wrong, I loved Senator Voinovich, but there was no doubt he'd crush his re-election, and I knew I could do more good for BC04. This was my shot.
Protocol required the campaign to seek permission from Sen. Voinovich. I learned later that Ken Mehlman had called personally to advocate for me but was denied. I wasn't going anywhere.
Alas, I was able to volunteer back home in Columbus for both GVV and George W. Bush.
Senator Voinovich made history that year:
"In his 2004 re-election to the U.S. Senate, Voinovich garnered more than 3.4 million votes, nearly 64 percent. No other candidate in Ohio’s recorded history has received as many votes as Senator Voinovich did in 2004. Also in 2004, Senator Voinovich won all 88 of Ohio’s counties, a feat accomplished only once before – more than 100 years before."
Source: "George Voinovich." Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 22 July 2004
I NEVER Wrote a PERFECT SPEECH.
But boy did I try!
No matter how much effort went into it, Senator Voinovich always marked up the speech I wrote for him with a red pen.
I had been promoted to speechwriter in 2005.
Doing this work as a communicator is formative. You learn the art and science of writing a speech -- a story which moves to action or inaction.
Every speech started with a checklist to ensure all the information was collected and ends with Sen. Voinovich's copious notes in the delivered document.
To me, it was art. My goal was to write that perfect speech, yet it never happened.
And I'm a better communicator for it.
Looking back, Senator Voinovich was not only my-kind-of-Republican (moderate and authentic) but is where I made my career.
In the spring of 2005, a communications director role opened for the then vice-chairman of the House Republican Conference, U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston of Savannah, GA.
I remember being interviewed by Jack and his chief-of-staff, Bill Johnson, and being asked how I felt about technology (a foreign concept on Capitol Hill at the time). I think he mentioned an 'iPod,' specifically.
I told Jack that I had been a subscriber to Wired Magazine for years, and that our future relied in taking the innovation in Wired and blending it with the policies of National Review, a conservative rag.
I got the gig.
LET'S ROCK 'N ROLL
Front of House
Finally, Out in front.
Now in the driver's seat for the first time in my career, I started moving fast.
Kingston was the Chairman of the Theme Team, a relatively small group of Republican Members of Congress that gathered regularly to align on messaging, swap stories, and hear from high-level speakers.
I was the primary lead on this group first established by Newt Gingrich responsible for writing messaging, organizing, and identifying speakers.
So many interesting speakers came to speak to Theme Team. It was very 'insidery,' nestled deep in the annals of the Capitol Building, and I soaked in every minute.
Jack's leadership position, and a willingness to let me try, provided space for me to bring innovation to Capitol Hill by building and engaging a network of bloggers, building one of the first blogs for a Member of Congress, learning and using YouTube to communicate, and holding workshops to teach others.
I knew then that I was different. I had one foot authentically in culture, and the other in strategic communications.
For example, I stopped Ali G, a.k.a. Borat, from making a fool out of House Republicans.
And I even had a man I definitely consider a friend, Stephen Colbert, crash one of our workshops.
Era before smartphones
BEFORE barack OBAMA made social media famous
Through this work, Kingston earned the moniker "King of the Blogosphere" as well as an award for "Online politician of the year."
Remember, this was pre-Obama. We laid the ground work. No one did more for evolving online political communications in 2005-2006 than we did.
After a few years, I was anxious to try out this new communication strategy on the campaign trail and was asked by the National Republican Senatorial Committee to be communications director for Mike Bouchard's Senate race in Michigan.
There wasn't much of a budget. They thought my approach to communication was the perfect fit.
There we built the first campaign site on an open-source, WordPress platform, built and managed communities in social media platforms, and raised money through grassroots donors online. We had so much fun with YouTube.
Again, no one was doing what we were doing online.
On that race I realized that I needed to push out -- become the entrepreneur -- to further evolve political communications.
We lost that race, but so did nearly every Republican throughout the country. It was a complete pounding by the Democrats. Republicans lost their majority in both the House and Senate.
DAVID ALL GROUP
My entrepreneurial career took off when I pioneered the use of social media in politics and took the LEAP to found my first company, David All Group (DAG).
It wasn't easy or immediately embraced.
I had about $10,000 in the bank, a good friend, Matt Scantland back in Columbus, who had a team that could build websites, and a message.
Power of the Internet
I first created a company website / blog and started writing. I went back through races like George Allan's "Macaca" moment and detailed how he should have responded.
I created a YouTube video for my company of me talking to the camera detailing that Republicans had lost all of the races that cost them the majority by less than 1% in every race.
A mere 82,000 votes.
The point, I said, was that it wasn't the message that was wrong, it was the fact that the message was no longer reaching voters because Republicans weren't embracing the Internet.
My Secret weapon
PRESS DRIVES MY MESSAGE
The Situation Room
Today may be a new beginning for Democrats on Capitol Hill. But it could also mean a fresh start for Republicans online. Some in the GOP say they have lost ground to Democrats when it comes to Internet outreach. And now they’re working to try to catch up.
Let’s check in with our Internet reporter, Jacki Schechner — Jacki.
CNN INTERNET REPORTER
Wolf, this here is David All. He is the former communications director for Georgia Republican Congressman Jack Kingston.
He helped his former boss set up a popular blog. And now he’s leaving the Hill to help other Republicans harness the power of the Internet. He says, if Republicans were more Internet savvy and knew how to use sites like YouTube and MySpace, they would have a better chance of reaching constituents.
He uses George Allen’s campaign as an example, saying, if they had a better sense of how the Internet worked, they would have had better damage control.
Though none of my colleagues (or potential clients) had any idea what I was doing or talking about, and even made jokes behind my back, the media validation was wind in my sails.
I organized and created a group blog, TechRepublican, to further drive the message.
The Washington Post reported on our launch in a front-page, above-the-fold article.
“Today our Revolution begins. Tomorrow we fight.”
— David All wrote in TechRepublican as quoted by the Washington Post
I was quoted in hundreds of articles reacting to the Presidential election.
As a talking head, I appeared on every major news channel reacting to anything political.
My talk with NPR was quite popular. (Perhaps my greatest 'hit.')
A ROCKET SHIP
Success has its price
The 'business-side' of leading a 'Revolution' took off.
Our growth was organic and rapid, bringing in more than $1m revenue in our second year of business -- a 10x growth from the first year.
Once we ventured in to working with big corporate clients, I took on a minority business partner thinking I needed resources to more swiftly accelerate my growth. I loved solving communication challenges for our forward-thinking non-political clients, but I knew the blind spots in my organization needed to be filled to grow.
With resources and cash-flow, DAG grew swiftly with offices in multiple cities. We were doing global work, even helping David Cameron win his first campaign for Prime Minister in the UK.
And having fun.
We made some really great hires; and some not so great. As a leader, I am extremely strong on vision, team, recruiting and everything growth related, however, when it comes to spreadsheets and project management, I have to fill those gaps with strong leaders.
Throughout my tenure at DAG, I failed the most at hiring senior level executives who were both competent and loyal. On the other hand, our junior staff, creatives and those who worked with me from the beginning exceeded every expectation. I now trust my instincts.
And yet, our work was excellent. Award-winning, in fact, taking home a dozen trophies for things we were able to pull off for our clients.
At DAG, we created a beautiful headquarters that told an amazing story. Bennett Richardson wrote up a great article on the space. And the architects who designed our space won a pretty cool award:
- IIDA The Silver Award: David All Group, Washington, DC
Some things we did to move the industry forward:
DAGPad: Our Startup Incubator.
Capitol Hill Tweet Watch Report: A daily snapshot of Tweets from Capitol Hill.
AMP Summit: Annual event bringing together the ecosystem.
act.ivi.st: Applying gaming mechanics to advocacy campaigns.
DirectConnect: A tool that made it easier for people to connect with Congress.
And several social media guides that we gifted to the community.
It took a 'Revolution' to convince Washington the power of people empowered by technology.
But it worked.
We worked for Senators, Governors, Members of Congress, and even helped elect David Cameron in the UK using our leading edge technology platform, act.iv.ist.
They were calling me Karl Rove 2.0.
After raising millions online over a weekend re-framing with social media a national political crisis where Congressman Joe Wilson screamed 'You Lie!' at President Obama, politicians were approaching me asking how to create moments of national crisis.
Consultants who understand TV were everywhere working to block me out. And young folks who I had trained were under every rock.
My credibility was at its peak after this moment.
I was at the top.
All doors were open.
I chose to leave politics.
Ever heard of that movie
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
Frankly, I was disappointed with every politician I worked with as a consultant.
As a campaign manager, speechwriter, communications director, etc. my task was to use organizing tactics and messages to reach supporters and build winning coalitions. As a consultant, my task was much different: Raise money online and tear down the opponent.
Our work which is my creativity -- was being used to tear down the opponent and to pilfer donors for dollars to line the pockets of ruthless, overpaid TV consultants. This was not why I was an entrepreneur, so I made the choice.
Not one dollar more. We wouldn't take another dollar and the consultants would not get another dollar.
But there was something else.
I've never told anyone this part, but philosophically, I was moved by John Brady's book, "Bad Boy: The Life and Politics of Lee Atwater."
My worn copy still sits on my bookshelf.
Though I've been called 'Karl Rove 2.0,' and certainly was flattered because of his strategic mind, I always wanted to be the much cooler sidekick, Lee Atwater.
I even got into the blues.
What moved me the most from that book was that on his death bed, struck by a brain tumor at the age of 39, Atwater regretted everything he had done in politics.
All of the dirty tricks.
He also shared this deep insight:
I was heading down the path to be one of the top political strategists, and it was clear to me that I didn't want to regret becoming Lee Atwater.
My name was a brand.
I was a social media expert and a Republican operative.
So many in D.C. dream to have half of what I had created in just a few years.
And with this one decision, the game was up.
I didn't even take phone calls from the press about politics.
I promised my team a new vision.
"An entrepreneur is someone who jumps off a cliff and builds a plane on the way down."
Trust in the work
How Can I Help?
That's when the phone rang.
It was Intel, the world's 7th largest brand in the world, and they needed to better reach creative consumers through their campaign with the YouTube Play contest.
The campaign was a partnership between YouTube and the Guggenheim Museum to find the world's top 25 video artists.
I explained that I had always loved video art because it's such a visually engaging medium, but through all of my encounters, I had never had met a video artist to hear their story.
On the phone, in the moment, I articulated a strategy for a new Facebook community called '247Creative' which would be open to the community, and tell the stories of the video artists and how they are empowered by technology to create.
They loved the idea; we were up and running within a week.
That one phone call changed my life.
We were now working with the world's 7th largest brand.
What I had learned in politics -- basically always having to build and engage communities without resources -- proved interesting in consumer markets. Intel loved the idea that our strategy didn't even mention advertising.
The key insight I built out to take to consumer clients was the notion that every brand could reach, engage, and activate their 'Brand Activists' -- their most loyal supporters -- to build and protect their brand online.
Telling them the story about the 1-9-90 Principle which informed our thinking sealed the deal.
We did it. Our agency had made the shift to consumer clients with a clear path.
But there was one more shift that needed to occur.
Those that lie down with dogs, get up with fleas.
After 10 years, it was time to get out of Washington, D.C.
It was a city built around an industry, which is why I went there, but also why I wanted out. I hated people knowing and referring to me as 'David All,' the conservative social media expert. This sort of recognition is fuel for many, it felt divisive and uninteresting to me.
D.C. is a much healthier city than when I was there, but for me it was heavy meals and late nights. My body needed a healthier lifestyle.
The lushest greens and bluest blues
Our work with Intel led me to San Francisco and ultimately, to move west to focus on building our consumer practice. (And transforming physically and spiritually.)
Everyone should live in San Francisco at least once in their life. I remember before the plane landed, I looked out the window and saw lush nature everywhere and blue skies. I knew before we were 'Wheels Down' (a POTUS advance term) that I would move here.
Ever inspired by art, technology, culture, a healthy lifestyle, and a refreshing attitude that welcomes creators, I felt at home in San Francisco. Growing up in Ohio, I was upset that this was the first time I had been to San Francisco. It was, paradise found.
I loved all the strange. The strange people that are self-expressive, the opposite of stuff D.C. People just being themselves in all of their strange.
The agency was working with amazing clients like Intel, HP, Google, Lenovo, and Burning Man.
For someone who hated to run, I ran the San Francisco Marathon with a mere nine-weeks of training. (03:51:42) It was 'easy,' without injury, yet too lonely to ever do again.
I was eating light and healthy, shedding weight and staying active. Creativity was flowing, new challenges were identified, and then it happened.
Entrepreneurial Bug Bites Again
When you're in San Francisco, you start a startup. Or, in my case, another startup.
I was bored creatively and was ready to take on a new challenge. I caught a wave of creativity and co-founded Crumbly, a mobile application inspired by the story of Hansel and Gretel that helps people find places they'll love.
The basic gist is that we have so much interesting instagram, foursquare, and facebook data tagged with locations that is seemingly lost in the moment, but would be highly relevant when you're in that exact location.
So next time you are in San Francisco, you would see all of my favorite spots based only on my Instagram photos that I "dropped." Like a crumb.
For me, the story was powerful enough to solve the "location" challenge in consumer tech.
UNPUBLISHED BLOG POST IN MY DRAFTS FOLDER...
I spent two years of my life building a company because of a story. And while neither the company nor the product remains, our story is one I hope others find useful.
Let’s Start With My Story
When I moved to San Francisco, I was overwhelmed by all of the amazing, unique, and independent restaurants and stores. But this story isn’t about places, it is about people (and the places they love.)
Everyone I talked to in San Francisco, it seemed, had a great place to share that I had to check out. And, I would. Or at least I would intend to do so.
I started keeping a list of places both in Evernote and in a notebook. I would try and spell the place correctly. Jot down which neighborhood or cross-streets to find it. And then I would go to that place.
Sometimes, I would remember who had told me about the place. I would send them a photo of me enjoying a cup of coffee, eating grub, or just being silly. (If you have never followed-up with someone after a recommendation, do it. It is the nice thing to do, and it helps you strengthen your relationship with that person.)
What I realized was that this experience of collecting recommendations and then following up on them could be improved through technology.
As a classically trained communications professional and marketer, I started focusing on the story for a technology solution.
Hansel & Gretel...
An App to enlightenment
But the truth is: I learned that with technology startups, a good story is not enough. Even an app that people like is competing with mega-companies for downloads who have much more talent and resources to develop and move to ship a product that meets the needs of their customers.
I realized that my passion was in the product and driving the vision. I failed to see the value in pitching investors, which of course meant we never had the resources to keep building.
Though it cost me personally a significant amount of resources, it was a valuable exercise and helped me learn an entirely new industry.
And interestingly enough, walking among so many holistic entrepreneurs, deep thinkers and new mentors opened my eyes to what really matters in life.
I took copious notes when people told me their story or gave me advice. I was learning again.
I listened well and read more books than ever before.
Philosophically, I was transforming, opening up to what is -- becoming more self-aware.
A Fundamental shift: enough of what matters
One final stand for what was right
Exit without a Net
My agency was successful, propelling me into the 1 percent income bracket, which gives you a unique perspective on "things" and "stuff."
I realized that to get DAG, my first company to $10m in annual revenue, I'd have to do even more work with companies that were only motivated by scarcity.
We had already worked with big tobacco, big pharma, big defense and war-suppliers... It had given me everything I thought I wanted in my life from a material perspective. And yet, I had become aware to what really mattered in my life. That I wanted a family of my own. That all the stuff was not doing anything for my soul. And, there was this horrible idea that I was trying to manage my company and all its staff from San Francisco, a 4-hour time difference but always a mindset shift away.
In mid-2012, my renewed principles were tested. A bioengineered food company who competes with Monsanto wanted to hire us for our signature product, a Strategic Blueprint. This work was powerful having been used by Lenovo to completely re-align their consumer brand and then become the #1 PC manufacturer in the world. Burning Man had deployed the work to help it understand how best to communicate its global mission to the world through every available channel. And it was working.
I feared for our planet. I feared for our food systems. I feared that once again, Karl Rove 2.0 would creatively and strategically solve epic challenges and help this horrendous company make any sort of gains in the world.
My 'Jerry McGuire Moment': I refused to work with the bioengineered food company causing an impasse in the company. Specifically, with my business partner. Here's the backstory.
The story I thought I'd never tell
My business partner was a big PR firm in Washington, DC with offices everywhere around the world. Over a nice meal, they tried to hire me on their team within days of me announcing DAG.
"No thanks, we're going to try and make this work."
Over the next year or so, they would sub-contract with my company to do basic blocking-and-tackling of online advocacy work, e.g., blogger outreach. When it seemed like more than a few contracts, the relationship was clearly going to change.
"Hey David, let's have lunch. We want to talk about how we can grow both of our businesses faster."
We talked over that lunch about them investing in DAG and taking an 85% ownership stake. I laughed and said I'd be open to 50/50. Before I left, I said 51/49 to ensure I have creative control and ownership.
"David, we are prepared to make you an offer for 49% equity. The funds will be used for the reasons we've established including hiring senior staff ahead of revenue."
I've never been more excited in my life. As a First-Generation entrepreneur, I had no one to ask advice from and didn't even know what I was up against. I was naive and stoked to get the funding, but more importantly, I figured they would build up my company instead of focusing on their online division.
In the beginning, the relationship was great. I was able to tap into their top staff for counsel and advice and generally felt like I had a great partner. Unfortunately, my personal connection at the PR firm took an extended leave of absence due to a family emergency. This left us without anyone supporting us or paying attention.
I remember feeling genuine concern for their business portfolio knowing they wouldn't have an executive running the book of business. I offered to help in anyway I could.
Looking back several years later, I see this action as being a splinter between the two parties. What was designed as being helpful was misunderstood to be trying to take his place.
Upon his return to duty we resumed our meetings. However, having just gone a year without, I asked my CFO to show me the lifetime revenue -- their help versus clients I brought in on my own. The results were telling.
When they weren't handing us clients, I would drive the business. For that past year when he was out, we had our biggest year yet, nearly $5m in annual revenue. I pressed the 'Go' button and never let up.
Needless to say, I had decided with this data that solely I was the best decision-maker for the growth of the business.
When I made the decision to move to San Francisco and grow the consumer business, my business partner supported me. It wasn't just the distance making things difficult; we drifted and drifted and drifted further apart on vision and strategy.
"David, you are incorrigible."
I had asked my senior staff to write me a one-page memo to convince me that the bioengineered food company wasn't the worst company on the planet. They couldn't do it.
So I did what I think anyone with principles and a backbone would do, I responded that we would not be pursuing the business. It didn't take long for my business partner to call me about the client with hopes of changing my mind.
I stuck to my guns.
"David, you are incorrigible."
"We're going to wrap this up now."
The relationship was bad before, but now it was unworkable. The business in D.C. wasn't performing as well without me and I really didn't want to go back to build the business there. I was over it.
In July 2012, I raised the idea of 'changing the partner dynamic' with my business partner. I was uninterested in the D.C. business and wanted to pursue consumer clients on the West Coast. They could buy me out, or I buy them out -- but it wasn't sustainable at 51/49.
They played me like a fiddle from this point on. 🎻
While I thought we were negotiating around their lowball offer, they were secretly working with my own staff to take the roster of clients and refused to pay the accounts receivable which we had to run through them due to the size of our account. And since most of our financials were tied up with our partner anyway, they had far too much leverage and no way for me to break free.
"Hi David, I'm the General Counsel, you'll be dealing with me from now on. We're going to wrap this up now."
"What?" I rarely raise my voice to a scream, but on this call I did.
I was sad, but not emotionally. I was so far removed from my emotional core throughout this process. I was sad because there was only one thing left to do.
As the creator, I went with my heart and caught a flight back to DC. I walked into an empty office -- my entire staff already working at my partner's office next door.
I shut it down with grace; walked away head high.
David All Group
October 15, 2012
After a career as a successful entrepreneur who demonstrated how to innovate an industry, I moved to Chicago to get my MBA at Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management.
They said they care about innovation; I thought I'd be embraced.
The application required essays, letters of recommendation and an interview. No test scores needed (Phew! I test poorly), and I graduated college with honors. I didn't receive a single substantive question in my interview.
I didn't make the cut. I received a form rejection letter. I wasn't crushed, but surprised.
I tried to launch an agency for 'Storytelling for Good,' to help brands reach millennials.
But I can't say it had much of a chance.
I relied on the research-backed message and the story I could tell; no network of potential clients.
Looking back, I'm glad that agency didn't work out for a number of reasons.
Chicago was a lonely place; not the city for me.
I made the move back to my hometown.
My friends at CoverMyMeds -- one of the fastest growing startups in Ohio -- brought me on to the marketing team where I loved learning about all the challenges in the health care space.
When a Startup Weekend opportunity came up, I jumped at the shot, and took first place with a team motivated by the idea of building a social media command center for pharmaceutical companies.
That idea, WellHQ, continued to take off and was my first taste of a startup based on "rocket fuel" -- a highly-profitable endeavor.
But ultimately, based both on some advice from smart people in the industry, and my general concern that it would be a "money-motivated" startup, I shut it down.
It was hard to trust anyone that wanted to work on this project.
When the President once again promoted the "National Day of Civic Hacking," I answered the call and started organizing what would have been Columbus' first event.
But, unfortunately, that event had to be cancelled. Too much, too quick.
I then decided to work on CivicHacks full-time and started organizing two events tobring startups together to swap stories with public officials, and make wearable technology to address civic challenges.
After those events, I realized that I needed to find a job and started working with a technology consultancy that I thought was authentically committed to doing good in the world.
After the sold out spring 2015 Startup Storytellers, I decided to work on CivicHacks full-time.
I was finally a 'Social Entrepreneur.' But not just another, a 'Pioneer' in the industry.
CivicHacks has helped me re-discover a love for public service; something that was lost in the divisive trenches of politics.
It is also a platform for me to express my unique, and highly valuable skill-set solving communication challenges for our partners through storytelling and building community.
And unlike the first agency I tried to launch; we're not limited to only reaching millennials through cause-based storytelling.
The intention of CivicHacks, and why we're doing this work, is to garner the resources, talent, and make time available to co-create a better Columbus.
For example, here's a project we're working on that we hope to fund for 2016.
BUT THE STRANGEST THING HAPPENED IN THE
SUMMER OF 2015
I got back into the political game.
On my terms. With my experience. Being who I am with my principles.
For a short period I consulted for the Super PAC supporting fmr. three-term New York Governor George Pataki.
His ideology, in many ways, mirrors mine. I'm back to the middle, where I started.
Republican. Equality. Choice. Science is real in Climate Change. Supply-Side Economics. Good Government. Work Across Party Lines. Entrepreneurship. Strong on National Defense and at Home. Commonsense.
I'll continue to be honest with you: My participation in politics is not about 'winning the election today' as a sign I had made which adorned the wall of my office used to proclaim.
It's simply about the best way forward. To me, that means bringing people together.
Pataki bowed out of the race for President. That's a shame, his moderate, thoughtful message would have resonated widely just as it did in New York. Few others carry his message.
And for me, I've learned all I can learn from politics. It was good to know my seat was still warm.
Being Vulnerable in Business
I'm writing this piece of the story on New Years Eve 2015.
My new French Bulldog pup, Stella Frankie, is snoozing at my feet.
The truth is, I feel for the first time that I can be vulnerable in business once again.
The DAG crucible -- the pain of deceit and abandonment -- has made me stronger. It hurt every piece of me. My mother still points out my mistakes and what it cost her and our family. But maybe my ego need realignment to my truth.
Being denied by Northwestern, failing my agency for good in Chicago, fumbling around in Columbus being disappointed working for others, fearing launching the health care startup... all caused by being in the well of that crucible.
And yet, I write. My story continues. And I own it.
Starting In December 2015 to mid-January 2016 at the age of 36, I found freedom, power and bliss
I experienced authentic transformation.
I signed up and participated in Next Level Columbus. I went into this emotional intelligence leadership training one way and came out the way I really wanted to be with nothing holding me back.
No drugs ('medicine'), hocus-pocus, religion, or higher power were necessary in this transformation. Just experiences designed to make you dig deep, confront reality and learn the tools to pivot and carry on. Powerful is how I'd start to describe it; life-altering is the outcome.
This section is filled with chapters I directly attribute to my transformation and beyond.
A week ago today I called my dad on the phone as part of our assignment in an emotional intelligence leadership training program called Next Level Columbus .
I let fear go, found courage, understood the benefit of authentic forgiveness, and focused on my desire to have a loving family with the foundation of a present father.
MEET JACKSON & STELLA
TELL ME YOUR STORY