Today I had the pleasure of interviewing Kurt Goodjohn, Co-founder and CEO of Dvele, the leader in building modern, customizable, pre-fabricated smart homes. Kurt and his brother Kris previously co-founded Karoleena, Canada’s preeminent and most well known designer prefab home companies, which was acquired in 2016. Kurt’s founding principles are to deploy homes that have a positive impact on the world-at-large, and they have done this by steering efforts against three philosophical mandates: technology, efficiency, sustainability and health. publications.
Thank you for joining us Kurt! Can you tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
My Brother and I went through more ups and downs with our previous company than most people could bear. However, we persevered through all of it. When that company was eventually acquired, and we were able to take a step back to reflect on what we had accomplished, we realized that there weren’t many people on the planet with as much direct experience and vision in the space as the two of us. We also realized we had not even come close to finishing what started. So, we took our knowledge, experience and the capital from that exit and decided to start Dvele. We then purchased an existing, yet struggling modular factory, and worked to improve its culture and product manufacturing abilities. We began building a team, developed an initial product line and started to test it in the market. With some initial sales and the ability to produce a unique product, we went out to raise capital. We put together a strong vision and a compelling product, and were able to raise a substantial amount of capital that allowed us to grow an even stronger team, increase our product development, improve our production capabilities and start to build a brand. We’ve grown 300% in the last year and increased our pipeline by tenfold while developing some real IP and are just starting to really pick up steam. But, it was the journey and hard road that prepared us and positioned us for what’s to come…
Can you share one of the major challenges you encountered when first leading the company? What lesson did you learn from that?
In our past company, we were making everything up for the very first time and we made a lot of mistakes along the way. We even made a few enemies, but for every one of those we had 100 supporters and we accomplished a lot of great things. I’ve never met someone successful who hasn’t had to develop a thick skin formed through tough mistakes, betrayal and overcoming seemingly endless adversity. Even when you think you’ve learned enough hard lessons to stop making mistakes, you turn the corner and have to learn another one. I guess if you’re not making mistakes, you’re not growing. So far, in this company, the biggest mistakes we’ve made are keeping the wrong people on the bus for too long. We’ve learned (again) that every time there seems to be an issue, it is better to deal with it sooner than later.
What are some of the factors that you believe led to your eventual success?
We have an obsessive commitment to achieving our goal. The last thing I think about, as I’m falling asleep, and the first thing I think of when I wake up in the morning, is this business. There’s absolutely nothing we’d rather be doing than building this company. We passionately believe that what we are doing will have a positive impact on the world and we have an unwavering determination to lead the change necessary in the new home space.
If you aren’t passionate about what you do, if it isn’t focused on a greater purpose, then why you would do it in the first place? Without the above, it’s hard to see how anyone can do what is required to grow a company let alone find a path to greatness.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO”?
- There’s no such thing as an overnight success. Things will take twice as long and cost you twice as much as you originally thought, so plan accordingly and keep your focus on the long-term vision.
- You’re going to make mistakes. Some people turn out to be the wrong fit. Move on from bad apples and fix mistakes as soon as possible. You’re never going to wish you took more time to deal with a mistake.
- It’s great to get buy in from everyone, but not every decision can be made as a democracy. You may have to make some unpopular calls and some people might not like you for it.
- You’re going to doubt yourself all the time; every founder does. Give yourself more credit.
- Learn ways to sleep when you can’t shut your mind off. When you’re half asleep, anything that seems like an emergency in the moment will likely seem less drastic in the morning.
What advice would you give to your colleagues to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Starting and trying to grow a meaningful business is exhausting, complete with the highest of highs and lowest of lows. The only thing that keeps you from burning out is that obsessive belief in what you are trying to accomplish. If you are working towards something that is important enough to you, there’s very little that can stop you.
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 get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
My wife is my greatest supporter and confidant and I’d probably have died off a while ago if I didn’t have her to keep me grounded. Additionally, my brother and I couldn’t have done what we did without one another. I have a ton of amazingly successful advisors and supporters. I have a great family, wonderful friends and past clients who have become friends as well. If I had to pick one person who helped us the most along the way, I’d have to say it is Mogens Smed. Mogens was instrumental in guiding us towards developing our first brand and helped us through one of the most difficult times of our lives, by sharing his similar experience and reminding us to put on our big boy pants and push forward even harder.
What are some of the goals you still have and are working to accomplish, both personally and professionally?
I’m personally trying to take better care of myself physically, so that I can be the best father, husband and leader I can be. For a long time, I put most other things above my personal health, but I need to reverse that before I’m 40. I think anyone that tells you to find better work life balance has never done what it takes to start and run your own business. Perfect work life balance does not exist, so it’s more about prioritizing the things that matter most. I really let my focus go on the health aspect, so now I’m just choosing to think about it more while removing non-essential activities to make more room for health.
Professionally, we are on the path to creating a category-defining brand that positively impacts the world at large. We’re focusing on the long game and it will require me to adapt and change over time as our company grows and matures. Right now, I’m paying a lot of attention to ways to be a better manager and leader. To date, I think our natural leadership abilities have been enough to inspire others to want to join our cause. As we grow in size, we need to be more proactive in developing the skills to improve what comes to us naturally, but also get better at managing and coaching, so we can develop a company with great culture and enough structure to sustain itself regardless of the changes we face.
What do you hope to leave as your lasting legacy?
We want to leave the world better than we found it, for our children and following generations. We’re breaking down a lot of walls, and hopefully setting the right example for our children, so they can rebuild a future that is brighter for everyone.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would enhance people’s lives in some way, what would it be? You never know what your idea can trigger!
We believe housing plays a substantial role in maintaining a well functioning society. Unfortunately, the majority of homes function to meet only the bare minimum basic need of shelter. As a result, they provide little inspiration to their inhabitants and our society, or the world at large. In many ways, the world is struggling and we think the home, when done properly, can stand for a greater message. Our purpose is to create a new generation of self-powered, healthy homes that will inspire society’s transition to a clean energy future.
We’re going to be focusing a lot on our ability to produce/provide these self powered homes, but the deeper reason as to why we can do this, when others can’t, is due to the way we’ve redesigned the home from the ground up. Our approach not only results in ultra efficient living environments, that can generate more energy than it takes to operate, it also ensures the health and wellness of its occupants as well as their safety.
Society is inundated with advancements in technology around almost every aspect of life, except homes. The cars we drive have more intelligence and safety systems in their seatbelts than an entire community has in the homes that make them up. Health and wellness products pop up every day, but the majority of homes in America make their inhabitants sick. You can have the healthiest mattress in the world, but if the room you sleep is full of nasty air particulates, because your home is dumber than your automatic toothbrush, then your health is not going to improve. From the materials we choose, to the systems we produce and install in our homes, every choice has been made with your health in mind and we verify it, in real time, for the life of the home.
Did you know that the building code sets the bar only so high that in an earthquake your home needs to stand, but doesn’t mean you can safely live in it after? How about fire? The code is designed to give you an extra 5 minutes to escape, not to ensure the home doesn’t burn. Our approach to the way our bits and pieces go together to create the home go well beyond current code, to ensure your home can be safely occupied after an earthquake. The assemblies of specific materials that make up the home take into consideration urban fires, so your house stands a better chance of not catching fire in the first place.
And then there is the fact that a group can build the most fantastic, technologically advanced, healthiest, safest home on the planet using traditional building techniques, but to build one home to this level will nearly bankrupt you, take several years and be damn near impossible to repeat. So, we’re not only developing the technology to ensure highly performing, healthy and safe homes, but also the technology to ensure our homes can be reproduced, consistently at scale, for the masses. We’re setting up the technology to make obtaining one of these homes the most enjoyable experience of your life.
In doing all of this, by including all of these essential home needs, which have been sorely lacking in homes over the last two centuries, we are focusing the attention on demanding better in life. If the homes we live in stood for health and wellness for their occupants and the planet, if they nurtured the mindset of safety and represented elegance in living, imagine what that mindset would start to demand on the rest of the society. All great movements for a better future should start at home.