Surround yourself with good people in all aspects of your life and treat them well.
Dan Giuliani is the co-founder and CEO of Volt Athletics, Inc., a Seattle-based sports tech company that brings elite-level sport performance training to athletes and teams worldwide. Volt’s technology is an expert system that leverages decades of strength and conditioning research and science to build hyper-personalized training plans delivered through an intelligent training app.
Giuliani is also an Adjunct Professor of Sport Performance at the University of Washington, teaching in the Intercollegiate Athletic Leadership masters program, and a member of the National Association of Corporate Directors and the Washington Business Alliance.
A certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS) through the National Strength and Conditioning Association since 2009, Giuliani earned his Registered Strength and Conditioning Coach (RSCC) designation in 2016. He holds a Masters in Sport Administration and Leadership from Seattle University and a B.A. from Colby College.
Where did the idea for Volt come from?
Before Volt was even a business idea, the concept of creating a better strength training solution for athletes and coaches came about during my early days as a certified strength and conditioning coach. My roommate, Trevor Watkins (Volt Co-Founder and COO), was an IT professional and got tired of watching me spend hours of time every day programming workouts in Excel for the athletes I was training. Using his expertise in computer science, he reprogrammed my entire system and turned a very rudimentary process into an exponentially easier and faster way of building and administering training programs. We started thinking that if we could do this effectively for me, we could do it for other strength coaches. Trevor and I are also both ex-collegiate athletes who played at small, underfunded programs that didn’t have the resources to offer strength training to all of their athletes. We decided to take our idea a step further with a solution that could not only help coaches administer training, but provide them programs of the highest industry standards at a cost they could afford.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
My day probably looks similar to most people in business—meetings, emails, strategy discussions, etc. However, because we’re in the fitness and sports performance industry, I prioritize getting into the weight room and using our intelligent training app. Using it daily gives me the opportunity to learn about areas where our technology can be improved. And our team is also in the gym using Volt, allowing all of us to think strategically about our users and our product. We’re not just talking about Volt, we’re doing it—that’s how we’re productive.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Listen first, and then begin to actively tackle them. We work with strength coaches, sport coaches, trainers, sport scientists, athletes, industry leaders, and partners, and our focus is to listen to their feedback to learn what the market demands. Prioritizing the user first and including all levels of our team in the conversation allows our team to be nimble and strategic when it comes to implementing new ideas.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
I’m a fan of any technology that democratizes expertise. Volt is an expert system built to deliver professionally built strength and conditioning to athletes around the world. Whether it’s wearable tech, driverless cars, 3D printing, VR—you’re seeing technology create new access to expertise, and it’s going to be exciting to see how that shapes our world.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Entrepreneurs should have a passion for whatever it is they’re dedicating themselves to. Sports and technology are passions of mine—and I’ve been fortunate to have played and coached several sports, in addition to being a fan of our industry. And I’ve surrounded myself with former athletes, coaches, and industry leaders to emerse myself and our company in the sports technology industry. Being an entrepreneur isn’t a part-time endeavor—but I believe if you’re truly passionate about your dream, your habits will reflect that as well.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
Every job I’ve had has helped me get to this point. When I was a teenager, I was involved in a minor car accident, and my parents decided I could use a little lesson in responsibility. So, I found myself spending the summer at a shoe warehouse moving giant boxes for 3 months. Not only was it challenging physically, the company was growing, staff was limited, and distribution was trying to keep up. There were a lot of lessons learned, but the big one was responsibility and accountability in the workplace. I hope more kids have the opportunity to have a job that is out of their comfort zone because it helps with personal growth and defining what they do or do not want to do long term.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
We’ve learned a lot over the last 5 years, and I think we feel confident because of all the lessons that experience has taught us. For entrepreneurs, prioritization is paramount. Everyone has an opinion and you can do a million different things, so you need to make sure you’re prioritizing the right things at the right time. It can be paralyzing if you can’t prioritize. We’re constantly reevaluating priorities, and I believe prioritization is a critical component of every successful company.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Surround yourself with good people in all aspects of your life and treat them well. You never know who is going to come through in the clutch when you need them the most. This isn’t “networking” as traditionally viewed. I am a relationships guy—I value close relationships with a few good people over a stable of acquaintances. As Volt has grown, a bevy of different people have stepped up in a multitude of ways to help the company. By surrounding myself with passionate, caring people, I have put Volt in a position to be successful for years to come.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.
Learning how to listen effectively has become a crucial strategy for Volt’s success. Sounds simple, I know—but among entrepreneurs, there is a tendency to think you know more than everyone else. After all, it’s YOUR company. It’s often easier to block others out and keep marching ahead with your plan, especially when you’ve poured so much of yourself into the project. But there are so many good ideas, and you never know where your next inspiration will come from. Staying open to influence keeps me agile and curious—and it forces me to hear unique voices. Above all, learning to listen has kept me grounded, which is integral to being a successful entrepreneur.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
One failure I had early on as an entrepreneur was work-life balance. Learning how to prioritize and balance my commitments has been a critical component of my growth as an entrepreneur and boss. I’m still constantly working on this, but if I hadn’t started properly balancing Volt and the rest of my life, the company wouldn’t be where it is today and I probably wouldn’t have slept for the past 5+ years.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I’m part of a few organizations, including the National Association of Corporate Directors, Washington Business Alliance, and the Washington Technology Industry Alliance, all of which look at the relationship between technology, government, and the consumer. One big problem we’re facing is how rapid technology shifts are impacting the labor market. Proper education is struggling to adapt and adjust to these changes, and whomever can solve that problem will ensure we have a workforce that can continue to keep up with the pace of change.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
It cost a bit more than $100, but my best recent purchase was a plane ticket to go to a meeting in person. Technology has allowed for us to connect with more people, but I’m a firm believer that it’s impossible to replace face-to-face meetings. If you can, spend the money to go and meet someone in person—it’s worth it!
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
Like any entrepreneur, I leverage a lot of different softwares in my daily life. Excel, Tableau, Twitter…and of course, Volt. They help with a number of things, but ultimately I’m seeking insights and efficiency with my work. Also, I love seeing how others have approached solving the UX/UI design questions we’re also trying to answer. It’s fun to see how other problem-solvers approach and think through potential solutions that might be good for Volt users.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I recently read The Fish That Ate the Whale: Life and Times of America’s Banana King, by Rich Cohen. It’s the fascinating story of Samuel Zemurray who immigrated to America and began his business life as a fruit peddler on the street, ultimately becoming one of the most powerful businessmen of the 20th century. It’s a story of creativity and perseverance that gives a brilliant illustration of the role one man can play in shaping the world. Once you read it, you’ll never look at bananas the same way.
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?
This may not be helpful to anyone else, but the most influential figures in my life have been my parents and my high school football coach. When I was growing up, my father, David Giuliani, was in the throes of building his own startup company and I saw firsthand the level of dedication, passion, and perseverance that it takes to be successful as an entrepreneur. I saw the sacrifices that my mother made to enable him to pursue his dreams for the good of the family. Fun fact: my father has taken two companies to the INC 500 list of fastest growing startups in the U.S. My other major influencer is Bill McMahon, my high school football coach. During a formative period of my life, Coach McMahon showed me what doing things the right way looked like, day in and day out. I have strived ever since to live my life up to the standard that Coach McMahon set. And he inspired me to get into coaching, which is what led me down the path to Volt.
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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.