Dave Carlson

President of Summit Technology

Dave’s career in technology began at a young age. His father (retired Rocket Scientist) once said his bedroom looked like the supply rooms of NASA and Nintendo exploded in there. Throughout his teens he sustained his technology hobbies by repairing computers and fixing car stereos for cheerleaders.

Dave went on to earn degrees in Computer Science and Economics – because Computer Science alone wasn’t nerdy enough. Over the last 26 years he has had a colorful career honing his passion for technology starting in aerospace and defense and continuing through intelligence, finance, and two technology startups.

Today, Dave serves his customers and team as the President and COO of Summit Technology where he and the Summit team are focused on creating remarkable customers experiences while enabling small businesses to achieve more with their technology.

Where did the idea for Summit Technology come from?

In 2003 I read an article by Nicholas Carr called “IT Doesn’t Matter” that planted a seed of thinking about business IT differently (I also recommend his book “The Big Switch”). Then in 2012 I had the opportunity to attend an executive briefing on the future of technology. Seeing how things would radically change over the next decade I realized that every small business would soon have access to the same level of technology that the largest enterprises did. Being an economics nerd, I thought of all the possibilities that could be achieved if small businesses could unlock all the capabilities of the technology that was available to them.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

I’m not sure that I have any typical days anymore. Most days are spent working with my team or with customers and prospects, innovating ways to solve problems at the root level both for our customers and for our internal operations. To stay productive our entire team follows the OKR methodology originally created by Andy Grove at Intel. It helps keep us on track and focused on the things that matter.

How do you bring ideas to life?

The best ideas can come from anywhere, so we are always on the lookout. Whenever something is proposed we ask two questions — will it create better outcomes for our customers or will it create better outcomes for our internal operations? If there is a chance that it will, we dig in further, champion the person who brought it to the team, and recognize or reward that person for their innovation.

What’s one trend that excites you?

Passwordless Authentication. Cyber security is an ever-growing threat to businesses. By removing the ability to compromise a password a substantial amount of that threat will be marginalized.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Time management is at the top of that list. We all get the same amount of time every day, how we use it is what makes the difference in the outcomes we create. I actually have an app on my phone that will randomly send a notification and ask me if what I am doing at that minute is progressing towards one of my goals.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Never try to be the smartest person in the room. There is always something to learn from your colleagues and mentors. An idea, habit, or a unique perspective that can unlock new ways for you to accelerate your success.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

Dollars always follow value. If you can keep disciplined focus on creating value for your customers, colleagues, and stakeholders — the profits will always follow.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Write down the things you learn. I learn things and gain new insights every day from my customers, colleagues, stakeholders, friends, family, mentors, and even social media. My handwriting is terrible, but I scratch out enough to recall later. At the end of every day, I have a leather-bound journal — well about eight of them now — where I record these things that I learn permanently using a fountain pen. The fountain pen makes me write slowly and legibly and the act of doing that helps me remember the concept, principle, or idea.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Play a long game. When I first came to Summit, I was immediately faced with a torrent of both problems and opportunities that would have never occurred to me before. One of those was an opportunity on a $3M contract that was about thirty degrees from the direction that I knew we needed to go. It would have been game-changing revenue for the company, and it would have consumed all our available resources to execute on. Although it was hard, I referred that opportunity to a company I knew well that was more focused on that area. The resources that deal would have consumed would have set us back at least two years from centering on the proper course to growth and opportunity that we have today.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

My biggest failure was not realizing early on the impact that culture has on a team’s outcomes. Throughout my career I had read books and studies that talked about culture but until I was in the top leadership role and a colleague called me out for the way I was addressing a team — it didn’t click. Since then, we have done a lot of things differently. We focus more on the soft skills and champion empathy. We even have a psychologist that built his career on the concept of pathological positivity as part of our team. Colleagues can meet with him to discuss challenges and specific situations and he presents to our organization every other week via video conference and at most all hands meetings we have. Now other affiliates ask us how we have turned our culture around.

To be clear, there is no finish line with culture — it needs to be healthy and evolve with the ever-changing circumstances we face.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

A system for creating a Will for digital assets. This may seem a bit morbid, but it hits close to home for me. For years I donated equipment to and worked with a young man who became disabled after an allergic reaction to a vaccine. Enabling him and others like him with modern technology to continue their education became a passion of mine. He passed away unexpectedly at 18. After that his mother brought me his iPhone and said that it would mean the world to her if she could get their last selfies that they took together off that phone. After a few hundred hours it became apparent that the only reasonable way for that to happen was to go to court and petition Apple to grant his parents access to his iCloud account. That wasn’t economically feasible.

The technology exists for someone to create a system that, for a small fee, they could check all their online accounts or digital assets and designate someone – like an executor of an estate — that is granted access to those after their passing. At the time of his passing nothing like that existed.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

I have twin sons who love video games. I challenged them to use the Kerbal Space Program application to design a spacecraft that could launch, orbit the earth, and land with the astronauts alive and well. The reward was a $100 Amazon gift card. This program has remarkably realistic physics and aeronautic principles. This is not an easy task — it took me 15 hours to do it. They both completed it in less than a week and I had to pay up. That proud dad moment will last forever.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

I’d have to say Reach Reporting. I’m not a financial analyst nor do I really have the budget for one. Reach Reporting lets me pull the specific metrics out of our financials that I need to make decisions on and it’s easier to use than Excel.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

That’s pretty hard; I have at least a dozen that I reference at least weekly. If I had to narrow, it down to just one it would be The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive by Patrick Lencioni. It’s a really good starting point for leading any organization and it’s engaging to read.

What is your favorite quote?

“Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.” – Gen. Patton

Key Learnings:

  • Start from customer experience and work backwards to the technology
  • A good team culture is foundational
  • Focus on creating value and the profits will naturally follow
  • Play a long game — pass on the opportunities that don’t get your long-term goals