Show Notes: Interview with David Long
David Long is no stranger to taking strategic risks. His company, MyEmployees, is currently worth $10.5 million, and ranks among the top 1% of employee recognition companies in the US. It has a gross margin of 87.5%, exhibiting massive growth. Like so many fellow entrepreneurs, David’s company grew out of a spark of an idea, and not much more.
“MyEmployees really started 28 years ago in my mom and dad’s garage after losing my job,” he says. “I took a risk. The very first sales person that I hired, it was all expense, for weeks and weeks. But eventually, it paid off. I scaled that. And I’ve scaled it continuously over the years.”
When David became a fellow at our Birthing of Giants program this spring, he had one new risk on his mind. His company, known primarily for producing employee recognition plaques, had recently expanded to offer engagement survey software. David realized this required a big change to how they sold, but he wasn’t sure what the change should be.
“We wanted to combine [our offerings] because in our minds, they are the exact same thing,” he told me. “But they are done differently. They are sold differently. It’s like oil and water—they’re not mixing. And that has been the frustrating thing. So we’re […] going to split the company into two,” he said.
Dividing His Company to Conquer Growth
This decision to create a sister company to MyEmployees was not easy. With such a high gross margin at stake, many CEOs wouldn’t tamper with the business model. But this wasn’t enough of a deterrent for David.
“Every business person out there has to plant seeds if they want crops,” he says. “Yes, you might not have the profitability that I have now, but you know, I didn’t have it then either. If I had never planted that first seed, I would have never had crops. You have to take a chance.”
A large part of David’s decision to split the company was the effect the alternative would have on his staff. Being in the business of employee recognition, David has a keen eye for spotting what his staff needs to be successful. When the innovative new offering was rolled out, he quickly realized his staff was being stretched too thin.
“We tried to have our engagement coaches, roughly 11 people, handle both things,” he admits. “They were scared and intimidated by that. Even after all the training and getting to know what’s what, they just weren’t comfortable with it. It was starting to cause a little bit of a conflict because our people were uncomfortable with the decision. So that’s one of the reasons we’re splitting it.”
The threat of burning out is something David is careful to avoid—for both his employees and himself. An enthusiastic proponent of taking time off to refresh his vision, David took an epic 30 weeks of vacation in 2016.
His week at Birthing of Giants this year was a break of another kind, allowing him to step away from the company to strategize the growth of the expansion initiative. Luckily, even in his absence, his company runs like a finely oiled machine.
“It wasn’t always that way,” he reflects. “It’s just that we’ve practiced efficiency and manufacturing and constantly optimizing everything we do. Everything is systematized. Every training program, every position, every interaction that we have with our clients are all systematized and improved on a constant basis.”
Turn Your Company into a Well-Oiled Machine
David says this process of constant improvement and systematization is what has led the company to achieve such a high gross margin, bolstered by repeat business. MyEmployees’ clients include retail giants like Walmart, Home Depot, and Lowes, and national restaurant chains, including Applebee’s and The Cheesecake Factory.
“We spend so much of our money as business people getting clients, but here’s the problem—you can’t grow….if you get a client but you lose a client,” he says. “You’re not going to grow if you don’t keep what you have. So that’s why we’re able to have such a high gross margin: we have so many clients who have been with us for many many years.”
David is hoping to repeat this success with the new sister company to MyEmployees. Six months after completing the Birthing of Giants fellowship, he’s standing by the decisions he made, risks and all. After all, without taking that first leap, he wouldn’t have one company, let alone two.
The Birthing of Giants Fellowship program is a week-long mastery program for entrepreneurs and small business owners. We bring rising entrepreneurs together with proven successful business leaders from around the nation to foster camaraderie, discuss goals, troubleshoot challenges, and help you reach your business goals quicker. For more details and to apply to this game changing program, click here.
Check out my extended interview with David Long on Forbes.com.
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