Dan is a true Silicon Valley veteran, with more than thirty years of experience navigating high-growth, rapidly evolving markets with some of the key technology leaders in the IT space. He has over two decades building venture-backed start-ups from the ground up, followed by almost another decade with executive marketing and sales responsibility at a U.S.-based Fortune 500 global technology contract manufacturer. With a focus on strategic marketing and sales, Dan has been responsible for driving significant product growth in dynamic, rapid-growth industries including networking, database, servers and data storage. One of the high points of Dan’s career was helping to guide ‘First Virtual Corp’ from a small startup to a highly successful Initial Public Offering (IPO). Dan has assembled a top-caliber team of seasoned industry experts across different functions for Splitvolt pulling from the deep contact base that developed over his career. Dan has a keen interest in building businesses, developing high-performance teams and solving problems that make people’s lives easier—so after having owned three consecutive electric and hybrid cars over much of the past decade, coming up with the idea to form Splitvolt was serendipitous.
Dan has a bachelor’s degree in Business Economics from the University of California, Santa Barbara and a Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) from the University of Michigan.
Where did the idea for Splitvolt come from?
I have been driving hybrid plugins for a number of years and had two different vehicles, but then upgraded to a Tesla with a long range and had 330 miles of range rather than a 20 miles of range that my prior vehicle had. I realized then that the normal 110 volt plug in charging that I had been doing charges only at a rate of three miles an hour. And that now with a battery range of 330 miles, it was not practical to charge with that slow rate. So I investigated options and realized that it was quite expensive to have someone install a dedicated circuit, and wanted to find a solution that would allow people to inexpensively and easily get very fast charging at 220 to 240 volt rates without having to pay electrician fees. I wanted to solve that problem. With the recent breakthrough in battery technologies and the much greater ranges now available for electric vehicles, I could see that the last of the hurdles for that market had been resolved, and that a massive wave is rapidly rising for conversion to electric vehicles. I wanted to develop a company that would help facilitate this large-scale market shift.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
Splitvolt was founded as a totally virtual company. From the very beginning, we wanted it to be virtual in order to get the best people and to be able to have them located wherever it was most cost effective and convenient for them. Being virtual allows companies to scale in a cost-effective fashion. If you outsource as many of the components and elements of the business as possible, then you can achieve scale and ramp up much more quickly. Currently, my typical day looks a lot like anybody else’s due to the COVID sheltering. (The difference is that we were structured this way prior to COVID hitting.) I get up in the morning, review customer responses, questions and sales, then check email, go through and prioritize business action items and prepare for team one-on-one meetings with each functional leader on the team. I basically alternate between Zoom or Google Hangout calls, generating content, and meetings, as well as working through contracts and other business activities all day long. Late in the day, I return to reviewing comments from people on social media platforms and generally follow-up directly with those who have questions or need help. This tends to keep me up late each evening, but is important so I can keep my finger on the pulse of the customer experience and needs.
How do you bring ideas to life?
For me, the most important thing is understanding the challenges facing customers in every day life, and identifying opportunities to help make that better. After understanding the market, developing a detailed business case and then bringing together skilled, motivated people to efficiently address it.
Over my years at venture-funded technology start-ups, F500 public companies and during my MBA program, I’ve seen the incredible impact and importance of having a team with a diverse background combined with deep experience in their functional areas. If they’re properly motivated and working together, it can be super productive. So bringing an idea to life requires assembling a team of intelligent, motivated and experienced personalities with a common goal and positive culture.
What’s one trend that excites you?
There is a huge and relatively rare shift happening right now in the automotive industry that is turning the industry on its head, and is resulting in tremendous opportunity for new and established companies who successfully identify and invest effectively in this new direction.
This is resulting in some new companies such as Tesla coming into their own, but also represents a shift in power amongst the existing auto makers. Those that have invested strategically and have been monitoring and involved actively in the development of electric vehicles stand to do well and maintain their position as a leader. Those other large automakers who have been burying their head in the sand, ignoring the potential for electric vehicle adoption or off doing other things like fuel cell or other technologies that are not as ready for primetime, will have a lot of ground to make up and are going to lose prestige and market share fairly quickly.
The fundamental reason driving this is simple: operating electric vehicles costs are about one third of operating a comparable gas vehicle. Those economics alone are why electric vehicles are going to win and the automakers now understand this. It also just so happens that the other performance metrics are generally superior as well. For example, the handling is far superior due to the low center of gravity and balance because of the location of the batteries, which represents most of the vehicle’s weight. The acceleration from superior electric motor torque and smooth, continuous speed adjustment without the inefficiencies of shifting a transmission is better. And now that they’ve got 300- 500 mile ranges, there’s pretty much no auto segment or particular class of vehicle that’s not going to improve by having an electric drive train. These factors are driving this massive shift, and it’s already accelerating. You’re starting to see a lot more hype, education and excitement by the major automotive CEOs as they go on record saying how critically important electric vehicles are. They’re now not just saying that EVs are *an* important part of the future, but rather they’re saying are *the* future of automobiles.
Besides making grand statements specifically about cutting entirely away from gas-based vehicles, they’re backing it up with huge investments. Looking at just the top auto producers, they’re on record for hundreds of $Billions because they understand it’s THE future of the automobile, and it’s here now.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
It boils down to identifying, assembling and nurturing a team and company culture that is positive, energized and is vectored in all-aspects towards learning and adjusting rapidly in an effort to always be doing the “right thing” for the company and our customers.
It starts with understanding the importance of, and productivity associated with developing a great high-performance team who’s motivated, skilled, with a lot of experience in their areas and have a sort of matching level of authority and responsibility. The team must be treated fairly, empowered, self-motivated, and excited by the opportunity and solving problems for customers.
Ours is not a corporate style where one person is pushing them, it’s an approach where they can see the potential and feel within themselves that they do not want to let the rest of the team down. So we have this great dynamic that works really well. I am fostering that and see my role being to lead by example in terms of work ethic, demonstrate a flexible problem solving perspective, being unafraid to admit a mistake so we can adjust accordingly, and to unblock the team members so they can produce to their potential. I have seen over the years that this results in a more sustainable and effective output than other management styles, so it will remain a core of our business.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Invest even earlier in Cisco, Apple, Netflix and Tesla… But more seriously, I would just tell myself to remain patient. I have many decades of experience in technology startups and public companies while preparing to start my own company. There were times I was tempted to change gears earlier, but in looking back I feel like if I had shortcut that process, I wouldn’t have the understanding and perspective that I have today. Also, I wouldn’t have developed a great network of teammates and people that I was able to recruit to come join this company. So as a young person, I was quite anxious, but I was able to hold
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
I don’t know if there’s really anything that “almost nobody” agrees with me on, since I have consciously maintained a flexible mind-set and try to learn whenever I can. I have found over time, that if it seems that everyone else is wrong, it usually just means that you are–so I further investigate to better understand.
With that said, I would say that *most people* in the US today do not really understand the magnitude of the auto market upheaval that is now underway. Most people are also not yet aware that the last of the technological, convenience, and cost-related issues have been resolved, and that EVs will dominate each of the major automotive segments. (There are lots of people now who know this, and this can be seen by the sky-rocketing valuation of TSLA, but still not *most* people.)
Still, relatively few people understand the true magnitude and number of strategic moves that Tesla / Elon have put in place. Most analysts are looking in the rearview mirror and trying to equate it to something they’ve seen before in the auto market, but this is not only unique but extends way beyond the auto market.
Tesla has also been investing strategically in an area that could lead to a big shift in the the power and electric utility industry. They have built into their vehicles already the ability for them to provide power back to the grid from the vehicles at home, they also have deployed the software and billing management that can support it today. They don’t promote this very much, because they’re waiting for the million mile battery, which is a necessary component to leverage broadly. (The lifecycle wearing of all that charging/draining would shorten the life of a normal EV, so this new “million mile” battery would provide plenty of buffer.)
There’s a number of other equally large market advantages they have that are underappreciated. If you go back to the automotive industry, it’s one thing to make these cars that are superior. It’s totally another to have this robust and automated wireless software upgrade process–that’s not an easy thing to do and must be designed-in from the ground-up in both the systems and vehicles to accommodate that at scale. So all these other automakers, electric vehicle makers, and others who haven’t done that, or trying to add it on as an afterthought are going to have a very difficult time of it. If you compare it to how easy it is for Tesla to do these wireless automated updates and push them out. So they’re able to improve those vehicles dramatically over time, without having to even bring them in, they also can fix bugs over time without having to touch them. That is a tremendous advantage financially, and from a product testing and release frequency perspective as well as potentially extending the life of the vehicle.
Another significant area that most folks do not realize, is the high-performance computers shipping and massive data collection and analysis effort that is already put in place in the millions of vehicles that they have on the road already. This real-world data set advantage will give them a tremendous lead when it comes to developing self-driving vehicles. So even though we’re still in the early days of this autonomous driving, this too will ultimately likely be a source of advantage.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I would say that the most important thing is to question everything related to your business, make sure that you understand it and that it makes sense. It is easy to either get so immersed in the weeds that you lose sight of the big picture, or to hand-off responsibility for the business to too great of a degree and lose touch with the market. Understanding your customers is critical, and aligning/empowering your team to efficiently and effectively address those needs is the foundation for a successful business. Be flexible, don’t hide from “bad news” and don’t just go the course because that was the original plan. You need to be able to adjust rapidly to the market in real time so understanding it is paramount.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Identify people with complementary skills and experience to yours and develop relationships with those that have a positive, supportive attitude and solid work ethic. If they recognize those traits in you, they will want to join you, and building a team such as this, with the right culture can be many times more productive and allow the business to grow efficiently and for the long-term.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
The danger of underestimating the complexity, cost or timeline for developing a business or key program is a painful lesson learned early in my career. I consider myself very good at identifying business and technology risks, as well as potential complexities or issues that can come up in functional areas I have less direct experience with. To address this, I seek diverse perspectives from folks in those areas for not only business planning and risk mitigation, but also to execute in those areas so we minimize the learning curve and can scale the business efficiently. Identifying gaps along the way, and continuing to recruit folks to help address them is fundamental to rapid course correction and adjustment to market changes and opportunities.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Well, we have a series of products that we’ll be rolling out after our first set that are all under the concept of empowering electric vehicle adoption. There is one that we are probably not going to be able to get to that is compelling and great potential there, but would require significant investment focus for a while: finding solutions to interface between solar power management, home power management, and electric vehicles. In particular, an area called vehicle to grid, where I mentioned earlier, the batteries in electric vehicles can be used to power the house or sell excess electricity back to the utility. Although Tesla is incorporating this technology into their vehicles, many other EV automakers are not yet looking at this, and they will represent a significant portion of the market. Incremental solutions that support applications such as these is a prime area for development over the next 3 years.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
The best $100 I’ve recently spent was for some simple ergonomical lighting set-up pieces for my desk. Previously I had worked out of an office, but with covid sheltering had been working from a temporary home office set-up. Simple things like having your monitor the right height, a laptop stand and a “warm” light for use on Zoom calls made all the difference in the world and was cheap!
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
I resisted for a long time, but finally gave up and set up the company to use Google applications, drive sharing and Hangouts. It is an incredibly cost-effective package and is already integrated. It has made our life much easier and is easy to add users in the background. Works great for my fully distributed team, and supports our interactions with global partners.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
“Hacking Growth” by Sean Ellis and Morgan Brown. The book has a great perspective on what I generally refer to as a flexible mind-set, and helps identify the underpinnings of an effective corporate strategy.
What is your favorite quote?
There is a motto that I find myself repeating to young folks and teammates. I’m not sure where I first heard it, but found this quote that basically captures it from Albert Schweitzer: “Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.”
• Build a great team with complementary, not identical, skills and perspective.
• Question everything and thoroughly research your business and know your customers.
• Jump in and fully commit to your goals
• Don’t be afraid to make a mistake, but iterate and course-correct rapidly–keep an open mind.
Carlyn runs the day-to-day publishing operation here at ideamensch and interacts with our awesome customers and entrepreneurs. She is likely editing this with a cat on her lap.