Dave Dickert Of Branded Bills: Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading My Company
Just keep going. Try, fail, learn, innovate, and keep going.
As part of our series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading My Company” I had the pleasure of interviewing Dave Dickert.
Born and raised in Arizona, Dave sharpened his operational skills in the restaurant industry for 15 years in Southern California prior to co-founding Branded Bills in 2016. He is driven by a passion for building companies that leave a memorable experience with the customer, and by the unique opportunity to build a brand that is disrupting the standards of premium customized apparel. Dave is an avid traveler and outdoorsman and best enjoys these activities alongside his wife and two young kiddos.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
I was born and raised in Tucson and am the oldest of three kids. I always wanted to be on the go, so my brother and I spent a lot of time in the desert behind our house building forts and trying to dodge rattlesnakes. My dad played college football, so I developed a love for the sport as well as all athletics. I think getting kids involved in sports at a young age is incredibly valuable for their character development. Working as a team, winning and losing, and responding to criticism are things you will deal with through your life — and something sports aptly teach you in various different ways.
I feel very fortunate that these teams also gave me lifelong friends that I’m still very close with today. Not only are they my friends, but I am now in business with some of these guys, and I’m grateful we have maintained a successful partnership, too.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My dad had a quote on my wall when I was a kid: “Success is knowing you did your best.” Now, I don’t agree with this 100 percent, because my gauge of success is dependent on accomplishing the set goal. With that being said, I think it’s much easier to walk away from something or be at peace with the result knowing that you gave it your all and feeling confident that you did your best.
Recently, the verse “strength for today, and this too shall pass” has been resonating with me. Life can be crazy good or bad, and it’s important to remember that “this too shall pass.” Be present in the moment.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
My friends and wife laugh at me because I’m not a movie guy at all. But I will say, I was always a Saved By The Bell fan. Zack Morris was fascinating — charismatic, could control time and various situations by taking a time out, a step back. My takeaway from that show was the value of influence and when needed, taking a step back to evaluate what’s really going on.
I love the idea that we are the lead actor, director, and producer of our own movie. I think I first heard it from Joe Rogan — we can change the movie at any time, re-write the script if we don’t like the direction the plot is going.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. There is no shortage of good ideas out there. Many people have good ideas all the time. But people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. Can you share a few ideas from your experience about how to overcome this challenge?
The biggest thing that prevents people from doing something is actually doing it. We had no idea when we started our company what this could turn into. My partner, Sam, started by putting a leather patch on a hat for a brewery he was working with, and some of the guys started wearing the hats out. People started getting excited and really interested in the hats, and we thought, “maybe there’s something here. Let’s keep going.” And we actually did it.
I think too many times, and I see it even when we’re launching new products, you can be paralyzed by perfection and wanting everything to be great. I question myself, thinking there’s a design that might not do well — and then it absolutely kills with the consumer. Or I’ll think, “man, this is going to be a hit,” and it doesn’t land. You really need that consumer feedback and people telling you why it’s great or why it doesn’t work. At the end of the day, you can’t do that without launching the product and getting it out there. You just have to go for it. You may launch 10 things, and none of them work, but at least you’re getting it out there and learning why it doesn’t work. And then you’re applying that to the next product, and the next — you’re actually doing it.
For the benefit of our readers, can you outline the steps one has to go through, from when they think of the idea, until it finally lands in a customer’s hands? In particular, we’d love to hear about how to file a patent, how to source a good manufacturer, and how to find a retailer to distribute it.
At the outset, we knew we were not in a position, nor did we have the volume, to warrant making blank hats ourselves, but we wanted to prove that our product (the leather patch on a hat) worked. We would source from different companies here in the U.S. to find our favorite hats. After a while, we started putting our BB on the side of the hat. That was us saying we’re going to be a brand, not a manufacturer, which was a big thing that we set out to do from the beginning. We weren’t just going to make hats and compete with screen printers and embroiderers.
We were building a brand, so the next question was what backs up that brand? We started looking at the quality of our headwear, and what we could do to improve it. It became clear that to improve it, we needed to go out and make it ourselves. So, we started working on that process and getting everything private labeled. To this day, we’re constantly making tweaks to those existing base headwear silhouettes. Is this the most comfortable hat someone can wear? If not, how can we change that hat? Do we need to come out with a different silhouette that best fits that type of head, or that type of lifestyle, or that kind of requirement?
From there, we look to the application of the patches: how do we do it faster, better? What else can we offer? That led us to expand into other colors of leather, refining the actual process of attaching patch to the hat.
Traditionally, leather patches have been done with stitching, but that takes a long time. The counter to that was simply gluing a patch, but the glue doesn’t stay on the hat. So, we went out and found an engineering firm who developed a film that can be applied faster, and it actually stays on the hat. This was a huge step for us.
All these steps that could be perceived as roadblocks, but I see them as a big, blinking green light of opportunity. You keep your issues list and your opportunities list. You pay attention to them both because they’re equally important. You must fix things when they aren’t going well, but you also can’t go into cruise control when things are going smoothly — stay sharp, ready, and excited for everything to come.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Started Leading My Company” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Be aggressive. If the opportunity is there, go for it. The first couple of years, we were trying to prove the model. We just wanted to make sure everything worked. However, I look back on advertising rates then versus now — advertising was so much cheaper. Labor was easier to come by, too. Now I think, why didn’t we just go for it? You don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow, so once you see that opening, be aggressive and go for it.
- The people are going be the success of your company. There’s a lot of automation now, which is absolutely a part of the equation. But at the end of the day, you’re going to have to bring in the right people, and those investments will quickly pay for themselves — especially when you need to hire for crucial roles. You might wince at the prices, but when you hire right your life becomes significantly easier. You won’t have to hold their hand, and they’ll teach you instead of you teaching them. It’s organic and magnetic — and something I’m really proud of when it comes to my team at Branded Bills.
- Invest in networking and relationships outside of your business. There’s been a lot of times where I’m stuck, trying to figure out if I’m on an island by myself and wondering if I am the only one thinking about a certain issue or situation. In those times, and countless others, being able to reach out to fellow business owners is a true gift — and one you need to utilize to find success. To be able to ask, “Hey, here’s the issue. How do you guys handle this?” is priceless.
- Don’t worry about the competition or if they going to steal ideas, because the truth is they just might, and sometimes they even will. If they were thinking of doing it, they’ll likely do it. Why not pull some information from them and try to go for it yourself? I’ve had people that I’ve gone to with new business opportunities for partnership and collaboration. We turn around and a year later, they’re ripping us off. But they’re not doing it faster than us, or at higher quality than us, because they are not Branded Bills. I’m not worried about it, because I’m focused on, and confident in, what we are doing.
- Just keep going. Try, fail, learn, innovate, and keep going.
Let’s imagine that a reader reading this interview has an idea for a product that they would like to invent. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?
Make the simplest version that you can and give it to five people for feedback. A fresh sets of eyes is imperative, and still applies to all of us today. I’m always telling and showing people how I’m an open book. I want everyone to feel comfortable coming to me, whether that’s employees, management, or anyone walking through the warehouse. Everyone is going to see something differently, and they may not see it the way I do. Try to get that group of people — and it doesn’t have to be someone who used to be in product development or used to be in marketing — and just let people beat up your product. Sounds crazy? Maybe, but that’s how you’re going to learn. You’ve got to have some thick skin and let people tell you what you don’t want to hear. You can decide what feedback to take and incorporate but hear all of it.
You can’t have an emotional attachment in business. Put it out there, have them tear it apart, and then you can correct it or decide that you don’t want to change it. Either way, you have the feedback on the product and you can start to address it. Don’t blindly going through with tunnel vision on thinking you’re the only one that knows what this product should be. A lot of people feel that way, and they can be very successful with it, but I think having that input from the outside can really help you along the way.
There are many invention development consultants. Would you recommend that a person with a new idea hire such a consultant, or should they try to strike out on their own?
Get as much advice as you can afford, but be careful — they only put gasoline on what you’ve already got going.
We’ve found it invaluable to have experienced individuals come in and coach our team and business. We work with Cullen Talley from Exit Momentum, and he comes in quarterly for business coaching — and I can confidently say he has brought our small business into a full-fledged company. We were plugging along, but we didn’t have things in place like one-year, three-year, five-year goals, or sophisticated measurement tools. It was a “wild west” approach, and things were good. Now that there is a more strategic vision, things are great, and running even more efficiently. We’re hitting numbers that we once couldn’t imagine hitting, and we now have a strategic approachs to hiring, filling departments, and hitting revenue to help further grow the business.
Now, on the other side with agencies for advertising or marketing, you need to be careful. It has to be the right fit at the right time, otherwise you can sink a lot of time and resources into campaigns that don’t go anywhere. Don’t think anyone is going to be able to take the time to know your product or care about your product as much as you do. If you’re going to bring this agency on for a couple of weeks, couple months, pull some things out and figure out how they do it. At the end of the day, just keep in mind that you’re one of many, and they’re not going to know and match the passion you have for your product at the same level as you do.
What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?
It’s hard for me to say concretely one way or the other. What I am used to is always operating a profitable business. From day one, our four founders put in $1,000. It was kind of that bakery model: sell a cookie, take the profits, and make two more. Take those, make four. That’s how we always start out.
At some point we could have taken some outside investment and possibly grown faster, but there’s a lot of strings attached to that level of investment. Branded Bills ran a profitable but extremely skinny business in the first few years.
Our focus was best customer acquisition practices, and we realized that if you try to get as much of the market as you can, there’s not going to be much money left over at the end of the year. But you’re building the brand and your customer base.
Now, fast forwarding to when there’s iOS updates that are making advertising on social more expensive, we have this customer base that we’re able to tap into through newsletters or organic social media, so we don’t have to depend on necessarily targeting or acquiring new customers. When those changes come up, you know, the easiest customer to get is the one you already have.
Our approach worked out for us. We stayed away from outside investment and narrowly focused on a specific set of goals.
Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
What we’ve really seen in the last year or so is the impact we’ve had on our team members and their lives. I was talking with one of our sales managers the other day about compensation and what was needed to keep our employees supported and secure. Our key has been bringing in people and developing them, and then putting them into position they likely wouldn’t be in with other companies. Today, we’re seeing the direct impact of investing in and growing our employees — they’re taking family vacations to Mexico, or even buying homes in this crazy housing market. Four years ago, when they came on, that probably wasn’t an option for them.
I don’t know if we changed the world, but we changed opportunities for our employees. That’s been more than encouraging — it’s further driven our passion to grow our company. The question then becomes, how do we continue on this trajectory and bring more people into our ecosystem? How can we ensure that through Branded Bills, the people here are better off — more comfortable, secure, confident — than when they started with us?
Of course, we don’t expect every employee to stay with us forever, but we’re grateful for their contributions to this the company. It’s like a symbiotic relationship — we’ve grown each other mutually, and now they’re able to leave Branded Bills for new, exciting opportunities because they’ve grown with us. Having these kinds of relationships with my team brings me sincere joy.
You are an inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Education on nutrition. I come from the restaurant business and it’s a double-edged sword. Obviously, as a restauranter, I benefited from people going out to eat, but at the end of the day it’s expensive and not always the right nutritional choice. There is so much opportunity for people to develop cooking skills at home, and a movement I think could bring a lot of good to a lot of people.
I’d love to spearhead a program that, instead of simply offering cash to folks who need assistance, we provide ingredients, recipes, support to learn better skills and save money in the long run. A box with chicken, grains, spices, veggies that is $100 and can make delicious, healthy meals a family can enjoy for a whole week, with the right allocations and skills. That’s always something that’s been in the back of my mind — how do we break a cycle through education and support?
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Mark Cuban. I’d really like to dive into what he’s done and how he evaluates each opportunity. I am a big fan of Shark Tank and I think Mark is always two steps ahead of the other investors. He is strategically aggressive and seems to have a wealth of knowledge on various industries.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!