Dave Chaplin – CEO of SearchDex

[quote style=”boxed”]My typical day starts at the office at 8 a.m., and I’m usually home at about 8:30 p.m. My day is driven by two main questions: How do we grow the business, and what is the status of our existing client work?[/quote]

David Chaplin is the CEO of SearchDex™, a boutique SEO firm specializing in high-end e-tailers. David engineered the buyout of SearchDex with a group of investors, targeting its reputation as a well-run, well-regarded technology provider.

Prior to SearchDex, David served as VP of Advanced Search Technologies at Kroll Ontrack. This position followed Kroll Ontrack’s acquisition of Engenium Corporation, which David founded. In his role as CEO, David grew Engenium from a startup to a recognized industry leader, earning multiple industry awards for its knowledge management and trendsetting products.

Previously, David was a Senior Manager at KPMG, a Big Four accounting firm. In this role, David was responsible for managing the development of knowledge management technologies. These included real-time news distribution via email and groupware, search applications to build efficiencies in audit and tax practices, and industry-specific knowledge applications to ensure the highest level of service delivery.

David currently resides in Dallas, Texas with his family.

Where did the idea for SearchDex come from?

The idea for SearchDex came from observing that websites, particularly e-commerce sites, do things that negatively impact how they interact with search engines. The original concept was born from the need to develop an indexible repository that presented content to search engines in a form they could consume.

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

My typical day starts at the office at 8 a.m., and I’m usually home at about 8:30 p.m. My day is driven by two main questions: How do we grow the business, and what is the status of our existing client work? We are a client-driven company with outstanding client service, so I like to nurture that and develop relationships that assist in growing the business. My day must include a few games of foosball with our development team. I keep my day productive by taking walks to clear my head and scheduling enough time to complete what I need to complete.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I find it very important to not let business processes or structure kill ideas before they take root. I like to vet ideas with people of various backgrounds and functional responsibilities in a very informal way. I’ve found that good ideas tend to cause informal and unstructured conversations to become idea scrum and can rapidly change the idea to a better idea, kill the idea, or confirm the validity of the original idea. Eventually, it can be brought through normal business processes, but I firmly believe it must have some momentum to survive the amount of friction institutional processes can cause. If the idea has merit, I like to push it quickly to some form of deliverable.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

A trend that excites me is the continued move to mobile. The ability to do almost anything on a mobile device has an enormous impact on e-commerce, while at the same time impacting so many aspects of life. The ability to stay connected, be productive, and be entertained is actually taken for granted by many people.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as a leader?

I get to work early and leave late, but I always make sure to integrate some exercise or time spent doing something completely different than the productive tasks of the day. I make sure I move around a lot, drop by employees’ desks for random conversations, take walks, or read something of interest. I find that doing this help me concentrate and think clearly. Plus coffee!

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

In high school, I had a job feeding and cleaning the cages of laboratory animals that were being used for medical experiments. I learned that I always wanted to do something that was heading in a direction I wanted to go. Life is a journey, and this job gave me an appreciation for what people have to do to make a living.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

I don’t mean to skirt the question, but I have no regrets and would not change anything. I love where I am now from a life and career perspective. I don’t believe that doing anything differently would have put me in a better position. I’ve learned more from failures than successes, and I can directly attribute every major success in my life to a prior failure.

If I had to give an answer, I would say I would have taken more career risks during my 20s, and I would have started my first business sooner. If I take the question as pertaining to starting my work life differently, I would have changed the order of things a bit by working full-time for a few years before going to college. I believe I would have gotten more out of college and would have applied myself differently with a few years’ worth of work experience framing my goals and aspirations.

As a CEO, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

I talk to other CEOs to gain insights and vet ideas, but, most importantly, to be told if I’m wrong or straying off the goal. I find it very enlightening how other people are handling the daily issues of growing a business in this environment. Have a trusted group of business leaders, and go to them regularly for advice. So many times, people who are involved in drastically different businesses cut through the fog that can come from being close to a situation or opportunity. Great business minds, when given access to your challenges and opportunities, can provide the most unusual and beneficial answers.

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

Get everyone’s compensation plans in line with the plan for growth. It is extremely important that everyone recognizes that he or she is responsible for growth, and that the proper rewards are in place for achieving company growth goals. The great thing about this is, if done correctly, everyone automatically becomes responsible for containing expenses. Along with compensation, we empower greater freedom in how and where work is accomplished.

What is one failure you had as a CEO, and how did you overcome it?

I love this question because I’m in the middle of it right now. SearchDex experienced amazing growth in 2013. Revenues doubled. We’ve been hiring people at a fast pace, and I completely dropped the ball on communicating with our people how transformative the growth would be. I finally saw the need for better communication and instituted monthly all-hands-on-deck meetings, but they got stale quickly. We are retooling the meetings and putting in place a way to keep people plugged in. I consider it a failure if people don’t understand the impact they are having on a business. I believe it’s my responsibility to nurture a culture of innovation, growth, and empowerment through better communication.

Tell us something about you that very few people know.

I am smarter and better-looking than people think I am. Okay, I’ll be serious. I value life experience over education, and I have little use for people who aren’t willing to make a mistake. I have even less use for people who don’t learn from their mistakes. I believe in “failing fast and recovering faster.” Very few people grasp that I am not afraid of failure and that I am, in fact, a risk taker.

What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?

I spend a lot of my day in the Microsoft Suite. I cannot say with a straight face that love enters into my feelings about them, but I am heavily dependent upon them. If I need to use the word “love,” I would have to say LinkedIn from a stay-connected and business development perspective. I despise Facebook but, unfortunately, I still use it. I love Slingbox and Netflix because, when I have free time, I can watch programs and movies I want to see. I love Uber, both the app and the service.

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

I highly recommend “Leadership Is Dead: How Influence Is Reviving It” by Jeremie Kubicek. I really like this book because it clearly shows the difference between authority and responsibility, as well as clearly illustrates how different influence and power really are.

What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?

Many people have influenced, and continue to influence, my thinking. I picked three quickly off the top of my head:

Mike Doberenz, EchoVantage:
Mike is such a freeform thinker and, somehow, he has the ability to put it on paper. I’ve worked with Mike, and his ideas about big data are a great read.

Matt Cutts, Google:
I’m in a business that places Google in the center of a lot that we do.

Michael Hyatt:
He offers a great blog on leadership and influence.


Dave Chaplin on LinkedIn: