I’m in Fargo, North Dakota this week, teaching the 7 Mindsets to the employees of the local YMCA. Soon, the good people of the Y will be leading the Mindset Revolution in their community! This week’s story highlights an amazing entrepreneur from North Dakota with a winning mindset we can all learn from.
Douglas grew up surrounded by high expectations. For over eighty years, his family operated a grain elevator in the small town of Arthur, North Dakota, and when Doug's father passed away, his mother joined the board of directors. There was a mentality of accountability to everything they did, because in the grain elevator business, not living up to your commitments could mean losing a client for generations.
This upbringing first helped Doug express his entrepreneurial spirit in grade school, after he realized his hometown had no local newspaper. Curious, creative, and a natural problem-solver, Doug started one himself, the Arthur Home News. Then, in college, Doug successfully started a chimney sweeping business, but in order to set himself apart, he dressed for work in a top hat and tuxedo. He was undoubtedly the best-dressed chimney sweep in town, but he still did the dirty job with pride.
After earning his bachelor's degree in his home state, Doug left to pursue an MBA at Stanford in California. There, he made numerous friends who went on to careers in nearby Silicon Valley, but Doug chose to head to Chicago once he finished school.
Taking a consulting position, Doug gained national experience, accumulating contacts in both business and technology. But even more significant was his first experience with the capabilities of personal computing software.
Having just finished a week of late-night number-crunching sessions, a sleep-deprived Doug was invited to try out one of the company’s latest investments: an Apple II computer. Doug had never used one, as personal computers weren’t found in offices and households like they often are today. So when his co-worker used a spreadsheet program to calculate numbers, Doug was stunned to watch the machine complete in minutes what had previously taken him hours. It was a revelation.
The experience was still on his mind when Doug received a call from a pair of entrepreneurs operating a retail computer business in Fargo. Theirs was the first Apple dealer in North Dakota, and they were also developing their own software. Doug decided to return home and visit their office. What he found was an operation located in an old clothing store, with programmers working in a back room still filled with shoe shelves. But he also saw orders flying out the door. Doug was confident that personal computing was the future, and he wanted to help build the business. Working out a deal to join them, he mortgaged farmland he’d inherited from his father to invest $250,000.
However, the reason he saw so many orders shipping that day was because there was a severe backlog going back months, and they were trying to catch up. He had also underestimated the number of similar competitors in the field, originally believing there were less than ten, when in fact there were more than fifty.
Within a year, the company was worth less than when Doug first got involved, due to heavy competition with better-funded enterprises. With the future uncertain, the founders wanted a way out, but Doug remained committed. Gathering additional investment money from a group of relatives, he bought out his partners, determined to make the company successful.
His first major decision was to make service their focus. The idea of technical support experts being easy to reach and responsive to questions simply didn’t exist yet. Doug established a model in which customers paid for guaranteed attention. During one streak, the company went 402 days and successfully resolved more than 160,000 support calls in a row. The philosophy matched perfectly with Doug’s own sense of personal accountability and the values that went back to his roots.
Consumers responded, and the service-driven approach was a success. Within six years, Great Plains Software, led by CEO Douglas Burgum, had over 300 employees and was earning $22 million in annual sales. The company was named to Fortune Magazine's "100 Best Companies to Work for in America," and in 2001, Great Plains was purchased by Microsoft for $1.1 billion.
Doug lives the 100% Accountable mindset, and you can too. Begin with a dream, set high expectations, seek to add value to others, and be prepared to adjust as often as it takes to ultimately succeed.
Until next week...
Live Your Dreams