Grit, The Most Overlooked Ingredient of Success: “Lead by example” With Skyler Ditchfield CEO of GeoLinks and Phil Laboon
It’s imperative to never forget that you’re only as great as the team you’re surrounded by. Thus, lead by example. Meet with your team as much as you can and tailor how you communicate to each person individually. Become a leader they can believe in, and always make them feel valued.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Skyler Ditchfield. Skyler Ditchfield, Co-Founder and CEO of GeoLinks, the Fastest Growing Internet and Phone Provider in America. Within his company, Ditchfield is passionate about cultivating the best company culture around — one that combines respect, collaboration and a “best idea wins mantra.” His dedication and work ethic have earned him various accolades in including “Top Innovator in Diversity and Inclusion”, “World’s Top 5 Best Businessmen of 2017”, and 2018 “Entrepreneur of the Year”.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what events have drawn you to this specific career path
My “entrepreneurial roots” began at the age of six selling food, video games, lemonade, and basically anything else I thought people might buy, door-to-door and on the side of the road. One of my favorite stories to look back on was when I was about 7 or 8 and my elementary school decided to band candy. While other kids at school complained, I looked at this as an opportunity. I proceeded to buy candy off premise and sell it to my fellow students at a 1000% markup — I ended up bringing in about $30 a day, which in the early 90s was a lot! The school did eventually catch me, and I had to stop.
I first really dove into the world of technology at the age of 13 when I set up a bulletin board system (BBS) with my cousin, and no co-founder and CTO Ryan Hauf, to service 200 members of our local community with dial-up Internet. Throughout my childhood, I became increasingly fascinated with long-distance communications and computer networking. Directly after high school, I accepted a Network Engineer II job at the Private Network Management Center (PNMC) of MCI Worldcom in Silicon Valley servicing high-level clients such as JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs, Quotron, Reuters, and more. Although I was the youngest technician at the maximum-security PNMC, I was quickly promoted to Network Engineer III after exceeding the entire staff in router reprogramming. When the company relocated to the East Coast, I was one of two employees offered a transfer. Ultimately, I declined the offer and returned to Ojai where I proceeded to build a network business from scratch with $550 in startup capital.
While there were bumps along the road, my path was a natural progression to eventually starting my own ISP.
Can you share your story of Grit and Success? First can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
Hard times have occurred all along the way, both personally and professionally. From a professional standpoint, when you first start a company, money is one of your biggest problems. You have to be able to have enough money to get your company off the ground while simultaneously supporting your family. As you get bigger, so do your challenges. Every time you hit new benchmarks, you have to reinvent yourself. This can be painful at times, such as outgrowing certain team members, completely overhauling a system or process, changing your direction etc. Some people have a hard time keeping up with that.
Luckily life experiences have enabled me to adapt quickly to change. From surviving multiple business failures that left me facing massive debt and ruined credit, to battling severe life-long health issues, each chapter in my life has taught me how to fight back harder and ultimately have the confidence to overcome anything. Being an entrepreneur undoubtedly requires grit — but if you can learn to own that, you will become successful.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
I have always believed in myself and listened to my intuition. For example, we reached a point about two years after starting our company, where we were literally just weeks away from being completely out of money. In my gut, however, I knew that there had to be a game-changing deal coming through any day; mind you, until you have a signed document in your hand, nothing’s real. Thus, I decided to follow my intuition and push the business ahead as usual, so we wouldn’t kill our fast-growing momentum. It turned out my gut was right, and we had a massive business-saving deal come through just days before we would have completely been out of all cash. When I find my back is against the wall, I feel empowered, because I know I have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
So how did Grit lead to your eventual success? How did Grit turn things around?
In addition to everything I’ve mentioned thus far, to be successful you have to be willing to do anything and everything to get your company off the ground. For example, when GeoLinks first started, I did everything from sales, to technical support, to helping built the network, to physically deploying installs. I was never afraid of the number of hours or work it took to accomplish something. Nonetheless, there are certain things you have to sacrifice that can be tough to stomach, such as time away from family. There has to be grit and determination in you to overcome that, or you’re not going to make it. There will always be challenges in businesses. Successful people fail many times over– those failures, however, become part of the growth of your business. You have to have grit to stomach those many storms and weather them.
So, how are things going today? :-)
Busy! But everything I’m working on is very exciting.
Based on your experience, can you share 5 pieces of advice about how one can develop Grit? (Please share a story or example for each)
- Look at Past Successes — Look back on a time, no matter how small, where you thought things looked bleak and grim, yet you found your way out of it. Then build upon that as you embark on bigger challenges moving forward. For example, if I’m sitting here and looking at a 2 million budget shortfall with only a week to figure it out, I could view it as incredibly daunting. However, if I reflect back to when I was in a similar position but with only $200,000, and I remember how I overcame that challenge, I can use that to give me the confidence I need to solve this new problem.
- Do Research — The Internet is an amazing resource; read articles; search for case studies; see how people before you overcame challenges. Knowledge is power.
- Get Outside Opinions – This is something I consistently do, even if I don’t ultimately agree, other’s opinions can give you new perspective. I like to gather as much knowledge and feedback as I possibly can to ultimately shape and form my own stance — then, I make a decision, and own it.
- Get Physical — Not with others, but with yourself. When I push myself physically in the gym, for example, I mean truly wear myself down, I am forced to clear my mind and find a way to push through. This is a great reminder of the power of the mind, and that with enough concentration and grit, I am capable of pushing through anything.
- Own Your Mindset — Take a position that you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Own that mindset, and you will find a path out or way to success.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped you when things were tough? Can you share a story about that?
Our first investor that came in, Tom Krause, built a very successful company from scratch. While I believe I could have gotten here on my own eventually, his expertise and guidance have greatly accelerated my success. His innate ability to mentor objectively allowed me to bypass most entrepreneur’s steep learning curves. I am incredibly grateful for that.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Absolutely! GeoLinks has officially partnered with CENIC, AlertWildfire, WIFIRE, and others to deploy wildfire detection, prevention and situational awareness systems across California. Statewide expansion of this proven system would offer strategic advantages for early fire detection, situational awareness for first responders, fire mapping, predictive simulations, and evacuation planning. Rapid investment in this shovel-ready system would soon save lives, property, habitat, and infrastructure across California, and the state would see an almost immediate return on its investment. Additional partners that would benefit from this effort and so might be approached for financial support are the insurance industry, technology accelerators, and local community organizations. While we are deploying this system as we speak, we need further investment to take it state wide as quickly as possible.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Everything GeoLinks sets out to do — from closing the digital divide, to helping deploy wildfire detection, prevention ,and situational awareness systems, to offering pro-bono circuits to Red Cross shelters during times of disaster — is aimed at ultimately bringing goodness to the world. Yes, we are a business, so we must earn capital, but the way I see it, the more we grow, the more resources we have to help and give back.
What advice would you give to other executives or founders to help their employees to thrive?
In today’s modern workplace, culture is paramount in attracting and retaining top talent, thus it’s imperative to never forget that you’re only as great as the team you’re surrounded by. Thus, lead by example. Meet with your team as much as you can and tailor how you communicate to each person individually. Become a leader they can believe in, and always make them feel valued.
You are a person of great influence. 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. :-)
I founded GeoLinks with the mission to close the U.S. Digital Divide. I am determined to bring connectivity to every unconnected Anchor Institution in America over the next 7 years. To accomplish this goal, I am aggressively looking to change the landscape of Internet across America by influencing the reform of broadband funding and spectrum policy on both a state and federal level.
Outside of work, I would say help people better understand one another. I find that whenever it comes to politically charged debates, from republicans vs democrats, to gun control, to immigration, many times if you get the rhetoric and anger out of the way, people want the same thing, just want to go about it in different ways. Today’s media and climate has created such a charged environment, that we either shy away from topics or come across in an aggressive manner. Both of these are unproductive, and create a continuing divide among people. We need to come together, open our minds, and get a better understanding of one another.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Appreciate your mistakes for what they are: precious life lessons that can only be learned the hard way. Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Life is inherently risky. There is only one big risk you should avoid at all costs, and that is the risk of doing nothing.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
On twitter at @SkylerJesseD — or follow GeoLinks @GeoLinks_USA. You can also find me on LinkedIn.
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.