Darien Dash’s track record of entrepreneurial success is well-known. He is the creator and CEO of The Movement Management consultancy, a company that advises clients in sports, entertainment, hedge funds and venture capital, banking, and cannabis. At the age of 28, he was also tapped as an advisor to President Clinton.
For over 25 years, Dash has been invested in promoting the success of minority business people, career made possible through connections. While Darien Dash was still a student at the University of Southern California in the mid-1990s, he collaborated with his cousin and founded Roc-A-Bloc Records. Recognizing the Internet as a megatrend when many did not, he founded a company to give African-Americans an alternative to dial-up connections, DME Interactive Holdings. With the help of an investment banker who took an interest in him and engineered a shrewd business deal, he acquired an auto-leasing company through a reverse takeover to become the first CEO of a company publicly traded on Wall Street. And in the last decade, Darien Dash has applied his experience of success to help those who have achieved success to transform it in ways that stabilize their financial futures and provide uplift to the community.
What’s the secret of Darien Dash’s success with his own start-ups? There is no doubt he had connections. He took an active role in the Black Student Union at USC. He had relatives in the record business who could use his negotiating skills. He was an adviser to a President.
But Darien Dash never forgot growing up around poor people. He never abandoned his childhood faith. And he organizes each day around his opportunities to create wealth and empowerment for people who don’t come by it naturally.
Fill A Need
Darien Dash became the go-to guy for expanding the Internet in the 1990s by recognizing and acting on a simple reality: At the time, 17 percent of white households were connected to the Internet, and only 8 percent of Black and Hispanic households were connected to the Internet. And the one in twelve African-American and Latinx homes that did have a connection usually had dial-up. Dash also recognized the paucity of connectivity for rural people.
Or at least that was the way the public at large understood Dash’s commitment to filling a need for Internet services. With Dash himself, the recognition of need ran a lot deeper.
As Dash told CNN, his first job was doing marketing for Digital Music Express. It was a 30-channel cable music service. (Younger readers may need the explanation that in 1994, cable connectivity was distributed through “boxes.” Homeowners bought a “box” and the cable guy came out to install it and turn on the service.) Dash saw this as a way to distribute the music he loved, rap and hits by Black and Hispanic performers.
But Digital Music Express had different ideas about who would want to listen to their music. They weren’t interested in making music available to poorer households. So the day after he got married, Dash quit his job. His wife encouraged him to do what he loved, which resulted in the creation of DME Interactive.
Don’t Be Afraid If Your Competitors Consider You To Be Small
In the current day, Darien Dash is fond of saying that his consulting firm gives all of its clients the same level of service, regardless of net worth. But when Dash was running his own start-up, his efforts were labeled “small.”
CNN Money pointed out that after six years of operation, in 2000, Dash’s start-up DME Interactive, although exchange-traded, had a “relatively small” market of capitalization of just $20 million. In that year, the company had revenues of just $500,000. DME Interactive was providing employment to website designers and e-commerce system programmers, and by providing backend support to a few companies at a time backend support was not particularly prized.
His clients? HBO Home Video, Motown Records, and Def Jam Records.
The reality is that Dash’s first company was to go out of business as faster Internet became much more widely available. His “small” startup became obsolete But his business connections did not.
Be Patient for Profits
Darien Dash didn’t begin his business with a substantial bankroll. He and his wife had just enough savings to cover their bills for two weeks. Their oldest son was then two.
Dash’s wife got a job for $9 an hour that covered their living expenses. It was over six months before Dash had any clients. Dash borrows the Biblical metaphor to describe that time in his life as walking by faith, not by sight.
Without his wife’s help, Dash believes, he could never have achieved his dream. But Dash does not believe that every business start-up needs a venture capitalist.
Don’t Be Afraid To Go Into Business Even When You Can’t Find Venture Capital
Many great business ideas die for lack of venture capital. But Darien Dash didn’t let the lack of venture capital thwart his ambitions.
As Dash recounted his experience, some of his family and friends helped him get started, but their assistance didn’t total to a “round.” So Dash took the approach of capital-as-needed. If DME Interactive got a contract for, say, $20,000, he would use half of the proceeds to hire three or four freelancers to deliver the work and use the other half for overhead and living expenses. Dash needed two years before he could hire anyone full-time. He self-financed his company for the first four-and-one-half years.
Although Dash’s family and friends might have been described as “angel investors,” he didn’t think, in retrospect, that anyone would have financed his business plan.
Darien Dash Has Had His Own Struggles
When Dash looked for funding in 1998, he got a lukewarm-to-icy reception. Bridging the digital divide was not seen as a market opportunity. The stock market valued his company at $20 million, but venture capitalists were giving him an evaluation of just $5 million. Dash had invested so much of his own cash and energy that he wasn’t willing to take a markdown on his efforts. He looked into an initial public offering, but he didn’t have the resources to hire the lawyers to make it happen.
Then, after a lot of rejections, Dash met with an investment bank called Mason Hill. They came up with the idea of a reverse merger. They paired DME Interactive with Pride Automotive Group, a car-leasing company, that no longer wanted to be publicly traded. Dash’s company took over Pride Automotive, getting out of the auto-leasing business but getting onto the OTC for public trading. Dash got a new source of capital and a much higher profile as the first CEO of a Black-owned Internet company.
Monetize Your Mission
Another way of putting this principle is: If your customers need your service, and want your service, but can’t access your service, give them a way to access it. it didn’t take Dash long to realize that if he was going to sell an Internet service that connected people of color to the music they loved, his customers would need the Internet. And computers.
To create a market for his service, Dash organized part of his business to sell quality-certified pre-owned computers for $150. Dash could get hardware into households for the price of a pair of high-end sneakers.
Citing the principle that people need to crawl before they walk, Dash created a partnership with AOL to offer the new computer owners free dial-up service. Dash created a plan to migrate his customers to other services as they became more aware of the things they could do with the Internet. Then he would sell them broadband and wireless devices like a then-revolutionary web-enabled cell phone.
Dash also integrated charity into his business plan. He created a program to give computers to inner-city public schools. When users of public computers logged into his music service and found that it was a unique source of music they enjoyed, he expected that they would tell their friends and create a market both for his service and for upgraded hardware. Dash found a way to do good in the community while doing well in his business.
When Events Interfere With Your Plans, Make Course Corrections
Dash’s business plan was successful, but his business soon experienced extreme duress. The tech stock correction of 2000 drove the value of his shares from $12 to $1. Instead of letting the disruption of his hard-earned sources of financing kill his dreams, he realized he needed to make some changes.
In April of 2000, DME had 106 people. By October of 2000, the company had trimmed its staff to 45. It was a painful experience, but necessary for meeting revenue targets. Dash retained a core cadre of “Green-Beret like mercenaries” to make his business cash-flow positive.
The streamlined DME got a reprieve from disaster. Ultimately, technological advances forced Dash to move on, but by that time he had laid the foundations for The Movement Management. Now consulting to ultra-high worth individuals, Dash gives essential advice that still applies to every start-up investor.
Put Others First
Sustainable profits require sustainable relationships. Darien Dash sustains the business relationships essential to his success by putting others first. Although Dash achieves work-life balance by not being available 24/7, he often answers the phone from 7 a.m. in the morning to 9 or 10 p.m. at night when his help is needed.
How does that play out in Dash’s life? Here is an example.
One of Dash’s friends is Jack Brewer, former team captain of the Minnesota Vikings, Philadelphia Eagles, and New York Giants. Says Jack Brewer of his relationship with Dash:
“Darien is one of my closest mentors in business and life.“He’s the first call that I make when I am trying to find a solution, and he gets it done!”
What does Brewer do for Dash? Brewer gives Dash opportunities to fulfill a mission in life, such as helping him get a seat on the board of JBF, a foundation that “focuses on the empowerment of women and children living within impoverished and underdeveloped communities through the implementation of initiatives that enable food security; provide access to educational resources; assist in disaster relief and medical aid; and promote cultural exchange, peace and conflict resolution.”
Not all connections pay off in profits. Some connections provide opportunities for service. For Dash, both profitability and community service are key to success.
When you find something that makes you more successful, make it a habit.
Interviewer Stephen Callahan asked Darien Dash what habit was key to his success as an entrepreneur. Dash answered “repetition.” As Dash puts it: “Repetition. I’m constantly trying to retrace my steps and repeat processes that work. I’m very diligent about making sure that I’m revisiting processes over and over with what our execution strategy is and sticking to that process. I attempt to find a balance between being flexible with my clients’ needs, but sticking to a process that works and repeating it in a dogged way.”
Entrepreneurs need to recognize when they are no longer arriving and they have arrived. But as Dash’s experience with the stock market crash of 2000 illustrates, unforeseen events can force changes in plans. Owners of start-ups need to perfect their processes but they do not need the exact same strategy in every situation.
Keep Your Eye On Your Balance Sheet
Among the ultra-high net earning individuals, Darien Dash counsels are professional athletes.
Most professional athletes earn millions for a few years of their careers. Most professional athletes experience severe financial distress within just a few months after retirement, and many go bankrupt.
Dash’s advice to athletes, people who have achieved wealth, and people on a trajectory for wealth is to keep their eyes on their balance sheets.
On a financial level, everyone needs to know how much cash they have at any given moment. It is a necessity to make sure accounts are not hit by fraudulent charges. It is essential to know whether a business or a job, is resulting in enough income to cover the outflow of financial resources.
But it is also important to keep track of inflowing and outgoing influence, contacts, and time. Start-up owners need to know what takes up their time and what frees up their time. They need to know which business connections help them, and which business connections drain them. Dash does not advise a take-no-prisoners approach to networking, but he advises awareness of the impact of connectivity on every level of an entrepreneur’s life.
Have A Thick Skin And A Short Memory
Dash often says that he believes that hearing “no” is part of the path of success. Start-up owners need to accept rejection and move on to new opportunities.
Dash notes the oddness of feeling the same way about short-term success and short-term failure. Both are part of the process of personal and entrepreneurial growth. It is important to live out commitments and to be true to a founding vision.
Dash Also Has A Few Words On The Best Money He Has Ever Spent
In a 2019 interview, Darien Dash was asked about the best feeling he ever got from spending his hard-earned money. During what turned out to be the last few months before the COVID-19 pandemic, Dash took a vacation with his wife and kids. The memories, Dash says, will be priceless.
What about doing business during the pandemic? What does Darien Dash say about meeting the unprecedented challenges of the restrictions on doing business in 2020?
Dash has some succinct advice for business owners:
• Communicate with your employees. Be empathetic, transparent, and quick to respond. Do everything you can to reduce their stress. Give them clear guidance on the best ways to comply with government restrictions as they do their jobs.
• Embrace technology. If you don’t already use them, consider conducting your business over Skype, Zoom, and Periscope. Add a remote business platform to your digital arsenal, software that can interface with your billing and booking systems.
• Take time to review the fine print. This is a time you will need to be sure of your exact responsibility to your customers, vendors, and suppliers and their exact responsibilities to you. Then be as flexible as you can. Your suppliers and your customers will remember how you behaved during this crisis.
• And be innovative with your clients and customers. Find new ways to deliver your products and your services. Your customers still need you. They just need extra help connecting with you.
Darien Dash offers solid advice for doing business during the pandemic. Embrace the virtual world, keep your employees safe, and weigh unprecedented actions for dealing with unprecedented times.
You can follow Darien Dash on Facebook, as well as Twitter.