Dave DuPont | Crain's Denver

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Dave DuPont

Background:  

TeamSnap, a software company based in Boulder, Colorado, offers its software and native mobile applications to help teams and small groups coordinate. Dave DuPont was named a finalist for the EY Entrepreneur of the Year award in the Mountain Desert region in 2016.

The Mistake:

I thought I could do it alone.

Before I went to business school, I worked as a field engineer for an oil field services company. I was performing surveys and blowing things up in oil wells in northwest Africa.

I was the equivalent of a second lieutenant in a military organization. I was the college educated person who knew about the electronics of the tools we were using, what the survey results were showing, and whether the equipment was working properly. I had a crew of local personnel working as laborers and technicians. In retrospect, I think I would have been more productive and encountered fewer issues if I had worked more on building relationships with those people and not tried to do everything myself.

When I was doing these surveys, I was on exploration rig sites. That means I was looking for oil. And when I was doing my work, everyone else would be standing by. These people were generally highly paid experts and they were idle, so there was pressure on me to complete my work as soon as possible.

It was very typical for me to be called out to start one of these in the middle of the night and they could last for days.

One of these surveys lasted 92 hours. After that much work and no sleep, you are not in good shape and you make mistakes. You literally start hallucinating. I remember the geologist saying that the data looked wrong. I told him, “I can’t tell you if it’s right or wrong at this point.” I wasn’t being professional, and it turned out he was right. We ended up having to redo the survey, which was expensive for the company.

Part of the reason we went long was because the team wasn’t committed to me. I wasn’t utilizing their expertise as much as I could have.

I thought I could do it alone.

The Lesson:

A lot of my current practices are based on the principle that I have a lot to gain from other people.

It’s a two-sided thing. First, getting more people involved early on can get you better answers and help you to anticipate challenges. Second, it gets you more buy-in up front.

This plays out in a number of different ways. One is the way I work with my senior management team. I expect one of them to behave like a general manager, not just to represent their department. I want them to imagine that they are co-running the business so it’s more participatory.

I try to do something similar with my board. A lot of CEOs treat a board and board meetings in particular as obstacles to overcome and events to survive. I don’t think about them that way at all. They are my partners in running the business. I share information with them all. I meet with them all outside the board meetings. When the board does meet, we structure it to maximize discussion.

It’s a different way of looking at things, and it works extremely well.

TeamSnap is on Twitter at @teamsnap.

Photo courtesy of TeamSnap.

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