[quote style=”boxed”]Respond to and folder e-mail. We have a rule: Every e-mail receives a response within 24 hours.[/quote]
The magic of childhood and adolescence is all about dreams. At the top of the list are the images of those careers taken up when an adult: FBI agent, first person to travel to Mars, veterinarian, or inner-city school teacher. When he was growing up Brandon Dufour saw himself as making it big time as a rock star in music.
That dream had to be somewhat adjusted when Brandon discovered that his talent wasn’t in playing, composing, or singing music. His true talent was business, and so Brandon switched his focus to the Music Industry. His journey in that new direction began when he was a freshman at Fordham University in Manhattan. Brandon knew he was on his way when he was offered an internship at MTV that quickly turned into a full time job in only five weeks. He moved around the music business and in 2005 he found a home with the Dave Matthews Band and ATO Records. At the young age of 23, Brandon had realized his dream to work in the music business. With this goal achieved, in June of 2007 he needed a new challenge. On a whim, he walked into his boss’ office and quit.
Brandon then joined his family as an entrepreneur in the less luxurious but more stable line of work in the Transportation and Education Industries. Today, Brandon is working on All-Star Driver, the largest driver education school in Connecticut. His enterprise is one of the few which is consistently growing and hiring.
With so many opportunities right in his new backyard, his former dreams and life in Manhattan seem very far away. But the skills he has been able to transfer from that experience remain invaluable, and he is exciting to realize new goals and new dreams with continued personal and professional growth.
What are you working on right now?
Right now, I am working on creating a mid-level management tier at my business, All-Star Driver. We are no longer a small business, so we are building a foundation that will help us continue down our growth trajectory. I am also working on a major technology upgrade, as we switch our entire operation to Apple Products. In early 2013, each educator will have an iPad that they will use for teaching both in the car and in the classroom. We are excited about this, the stuff we are working on will be groundbreaking in Driver’s Education, and in for-profit education.
Where did the idea for All-Star Driver come from?
The start of All-Star Driver all came down to timing. The largest driving school in Connecticut was being investigate for major regulation violations. The owners had to sell their assets and cease operations. My family had been in the Student Transportation business for over 40 years, and we always realized there were great parallels between School Buses and Driver’s Education. We had two choices in 2009: Purchase the defunct school and rebrand, or start our own school from scratch. We chose to buy the defunct school, which came with challenges.
What does your typical day look like?
There is no such thing as a typical day! I receive a number of business reports in my e-mail overnight. I wake up at 5am and spend 30 minutes reviewing reports and any other e-mails that came in overnight. I’m at the gym by 6am, breakfast over the local newspaper until 7:30am, in my office by 8am. The routine stops there. The biggest challenge for me now has been not getting caught up in the day to day chaos. My staff recognizes my leadership role, and sometimes thinks that face to face time with me is important. I have to remember that I have my managers to focus on the details so that I can focus on the greater picture growth. However, I have watched my business grow from the start, and in the early days, there were no other staff members handling the day to day. I am trying hard to learn how to not be aware of everything that happens in the company, and it isn’t easy.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Usually, I pop out of bed at 2am with a brainstorm. I e-mail it to myself. This gets the ball rolling. From here, I begin outlining a plan. Who do I need to make this happen? What is the timeline we want it for? What will it cost? What is the benefit? Can we make it happen immediately, or are there resources required that we cannot afford yet? Once I realize an idea is worth pursuing now, I put my team together and make it happen. I’ve learned that firm and realistic deadlines are necessary, or it will never get done.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
Tablets. I don’t think they are 100% the answer to business problems, but it is the starting point to adaptive learning. We cater our educational programs to the individual as much as we can and tablets will eventually make it so that our curriculum moves at the pace of each student’s capabilities. It will also allow us to keep growing. Now, if we need to alter our curriculum or our operations, we need to have a hands on training session with the entire staff. It is time consuming and expensive. Tablets and Cloud computing will allow us to make a change in one central location, and the entire company will receive it. This is the stuff that excites me!
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
Medical Filing when I was in college. I learned that harnessing my energy and my short attention span would never happen in an office environment. I was bored all the time, and I never felt challenged. I needed more. I did the job for three months and had to quit. It made me miserable.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
I would spend less money on traditional media advertising and more money on building a staff of people that could promote word of mouth and execute guerilla marketing efforts. We tried building a brand awareness before we had a brand. It was an expensive lesson, but one that I will take with me in all of my next startups.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Respond to and folder e-mail. We have a rule: Every e-mail receives a response within 24 hours. I cannot tell you how frustrating it is to have to chase down a customer or client. I have some business associates that have 1400 unread messages in their inbox. Why? Every e-mail receives a response. We may not be able to do business now, but one day you are going to have a 16 year old that needs driver’s ed, and I want you to remember the driving school that got back to you right away. Customers, vendors, cold calls to sell health insurance and the Yellowpages all get responses. And my e-mail Inbox acts as my To Do List. If an e-mail is in my Inbox, the content of the e-mail is still outstanding. When the e-mail has been 100% handled, it goes into the appropriate folder (I have 30 categorized e-mail folders). I’m obsessive with my e-mail organization, but it keeps my ADD-ridden brain focused on what is important.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I love this question, but I do not have an answer for it. People do ask me this often, but usually it is “What will you do next? What is the next company?” And I don’t know. I’m so invested in the Driving School right now, my mind rarely gets into other opportunities.
If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?
Public Education needs to be fixed. It is the foundation of Democracy, but it is a system that continues to fail. I have a strange relationship with school systems now that I work with a lot of them. We have 55 school contracts, and we cover the socio-economic spectrum. It is sad to me that a student in one town will not have the same opportunities as a similar skilled student in another town, simply because of budgets. But this is the case. It may be received as unpopular, but the only way to start fixing this is to start fixing the Teacher Unions. It is a culture change that will take time, but it has to happen if the world wants to continue moving forward.
Tell us a secret.
I’m newly in love. Shhhhhh
What are your three favorite online tools or resources and what do you love about them?
- Dropbox. We are 75% paperless at All-Star Driver. It is because of Dropbox
- Twitter. Love instant access to ideas. It’s like stalking with permission
- EverNote. I don’t use this to the fullest of its capabilities, but even for the very simple task of note taking, there is no better solution
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Design is How It Works by Jay Greene. It follows 9 large companies that focus on Business Design before everything else. It challenges entrepreneurs to stop thinking about budgets and start thinking about the customer experience.
Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?
- @inc – Every entrepreneur needs their articles
- @thebuildnetwork – How to start up. How to grow. Great Resource
- Me! @bjdu4 – My twitter is a metaphor for work/life balance. And my dog is hysterical.
When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?
“Whoever combined KFC and Taco Bell is a genius. The only thing that could make that better is an apartment upstairs.” -My Girlfriend’s 18 year old sister, Rachel
Who is your hero?
What is the most important focal point of your business?
Company Culture. There is no quantifiable way to measure growth through Company Culture, but I credit all of our business growth to personal and professional growth that we encourage in our culture. Without a clearly defined company culture that you use in your day to day professional leadership, growth will be difficult to maintain.
How do you unwind?
Mindless television. Obsessed with Boardwalk Empire, HGTV and the NY Yankees.
Brandon Dufour on Twitter – @bjdu4
Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.