Dusty Wunderlich – Founder and CEO of Bristlecone Holdings

Running a successful business and being an entrepreneur works exactly the same way. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of establishing a steady and regular rhythm when configuring your schedule.

Dusty Wunderlich is the founder and CEO of Bristlecone Holdings, a high-growth network of consumer and business-to-business finance platforms and financial technologies. Its mission is to democratize the world of finance for the better; it’s unafraid of challenging a deeply entrenched and increasingly irrelevant status quo.

Bristlecone leverages its proprietary financial technologies, big data analytics, and algorithmic decision-making to empower consumers with new tools to better their lives and realize their dreams. Through its portfolio of passionately crafted, industry-specific brands ranging from bridal gowns to dairy cattle, it aims to deliver simple, sensible products that the market needs and customers enjoy using.

Dusty primarily oversees the company’s strategic planning and vision, brand promotion, capital raising, and operational leadership. Under Dusty’s direction, Bristlecone Holdings has seen rapid growth and achievement in the financial technology industry, with plans to diversify its offerings in the next three to five years. Dusty is a current recipient of the Twenty under 40 Awards in Reno, Nevada, and is a member of the Young Entrepreneur Council.

Where did the idea for Bristlecone Holdings come from?

I started Bristlecone because there’s a lot wrong with the way the financial services industry operates. I found most of the issues personally frustrating; at some point, the aggravation became too much, so I decided to do something about it. The financial services industry is largely rooted in ideas and practices that are more than a century old. Because so much legacy baggage persists, many of the practices and business models need to be torn down and completely rebuilt from scratch.

The idea basically came from the need to better assess borrower risk and, more importantly, price that risk accordingly. And it isn’t just about how customers are priced. It’s also how they’re treated and what the process looks like from their perspective. Many of these practices don’t make sense anymore. I knew the types of technology available, so it was just a question of how and where to apply them.

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

Running a successful business, especially a young business, is a 24/7 job. Every entrepreneur and business owner deals with this. I get up every morning, take care of the most important emails, hit the gym, and head into the office. That’s where I am until dinner. Having a productive day is about staying focused. Focus is much easier to achieve when the basic structure of your day is predictable. I don’t have to waste resources planning out my day. I use software to manage all my meetings and collaborate with my team via chat and our project management platform.

When I wake up, I can immediately get to work. When I arrive at the office, I jump into whatever is going on right away. I try to keep any tricky logistical problems that aren’t work-related out of my head to keep the structure of my day as clean and straightforward as possible. By eliminating any distractions and zeroing in on what needs to get done, I get the most productivity out of each day.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I’m lucky to have an amazing team. If an idea comes to me in the middle of the night, more often than not, there’s someone awake I can share it with. Then, I can bat the idea around with our executives first thing in the morning, and they can usually come up with a plan for implementing it on the spot. To bring ideas to life, we need fluent communication at the top and to give our employees the tools they need to accomplish everything we might ask.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

I’m obviously thrilled about what’s happening in the financial technology space right now. Financial services is a multitrillion-dollar global industry, and emerging technologies have the potential to reshape the way things have always been done. It’s exciting to take part in the early wave of these changes and contribute to them in a meaningful way. Our core business philosophy revolves around the ideas of increased efficiency and a better customer experience, and these concepts are central to the financial technology space.

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

Like most entrepreneurs out there, I get bombarded by tasks and information on a daily basis. That’s just the way startup life goes, and it certainly doesn’t slow down once the company gets into its real growth stage. To stay productive, you have to prioritize tasks and not get swamped by things that ultimately don’t matter. What differentiates the few entrepreneurs who succeed from the majority who fail is the ability to stay focused on what’s important.

Many of my personal habits are rooted in this idea. I keep a small notebook with me at all times to jot down ideas and priorities; the simple act of writing helps me focus on a single concept. I also take diet and exercise rather seriously. Productivity stems from how well your mind and body can work together. By eating healthy and exercising regularly, you can keep your mind clear and your body feeling good. Those are key ingredients for productivity.

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

I come from humble roots. I was born and raised in rural Nevada. There’s a lot of ranching, farming, and mining in these small communities and not much else. It’s difficult and exhausting work. Many of the jobs I’ve worked are about as unglamorous as it gets.

They were good experiences, though, and I wouldn’t trade them for anything. I learned a great deal — not just about what it means to work hard for little or no reward, but also about how life works. Silicon Valley and Wall Street are frequently victims of their own insular culture, and they’re not always in touch with the rest of the country. Being able to see the big picture and understand how the business world extends through radically different communities has been one of the most valuable lessons of my career.

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

I’m not sure I’d do anything differently. Like any fast-moving company, we’ve made our share of mistakes, but none have been serious enough to fret over. Because our firm operates at such high velocity and is so receptive to data and analytics, it’s easy for us to catch bad decisions and correct them before they devolve into something worse. It’s OK to fail and make mistakes. But it’s not OK to let these things fester.

One lesson we learned is how crucial it is to secure a solid legal foundation and set expectations from the start. Too many startups are founded on an idea and a handshake. While there’s a certain romance in beginnings like those, it’s invariably disastrous in the real world, especially if the company starts to achieve some success. All startups should take time in the early days to put a clear legal structure and operating agreement in place. It’s totally fine if that structure is plain vanilla, like a basic Delaware S corporation. Companies really don’t need to be innovative with their legal foundation.

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

Rhythm is a huge part of my personal life and our corporate culture. I’m an avid golfer, and a good golf swing is nothing more than repetition and muscle memory. Running a successful business and being an entrepreneur works exactly the same way. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of establishing a steady and regular rhythm when configuring your schedule.

For example, we have a quick huddle with our managers every day at the same time. We recap important issues, discuss what fires need to be put out, and assign or prioritize tasks for the next 24-hour period. We set goals, and we complete them on a regular schedule with a clear cadence. We do it over and over each day.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.

Having the right people. That’s the only strategy that matters when you get down to it. If you hire people who are intelligent, driven, passionate, and unafraid to work hard, everything else will take care of itself. Quality people who have clear ambitions can grow any company to any height. If you can find and attract these types of individuals, make sure that you equip them with the tools they need and that they’re aligned with the direction of the organization.

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

We’ve had a ton of small failures but a few bigger ones, too. We’ve hired individuals at various times who wound up not being a good culture fit. This is one of the toughest things to screen for when hiring new employees; there’s only so much you can do and say without actually observing how people respond in your culture. You have to rectify the situation as quickly as possible. It’s hard, but many times, employees will recognize that they’re not a fit. Parting ways over a mutual cultural mismatch is always in everyone’s best interest. It doesn’t make it less awkward, though, and the only way to overcome it is to act immediately and decisively.

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

Our team probably comes up with a dozen great business ideas every day. We have an idea board full of sticky notes and rank them “Good/Just Might Work!” and “Crazy/Probably Stupid.” So we’re more than happy to share some of these!

The basic U.S. hiring process is completely broken. Some of the more progressive companies are figuring this out and implementing radical and creative recruitment methods, but most companies are still making hiring decisions based on what they see on an applicant’s résumé. At the very least, they’re running résumés through some sort of filter.

Domain experience is often important, but if you talk to some of the most forward-thinking companies, it’s only part of the equation — and not even the most important part. In fact, most companies have some sort of onboarding process used to train new employees on how their specific company works. Each company is its own domain.

The human resources market needs a better filtering process. Employers need a platform where candidates can be screened based on totally different criteria. Think Pandora meets LinkedIn. Pandora transformed the music industry by gauging user preferences and building unique stations for them. HR managers should be able to get on a global platform, input the types of employees they’re looking for, and return a list of candidates whose experience, personality, and culture align. Recruiters sort of do this, but they don’t always do a great job and are expensive. Technology could solve this problem.

Our firm is a real-world testament to this idea. Nobody had a background in consumer finance. We just hired some intelligent and passionate people and told them about the problem we wanted to solve. At first, competitors and investors were skeptical. But after witnessing our success and potential for disrupting the financial industry, our unique cultural-corporate fingerprint now excites them.

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

We are hardcore Slack users. After rolling it out to our 25-person team, people immediately started using it. Unlike other software, it didn’t require a tutorial. Nobody needed to be told what to do. Everybody started chatting, collaborating, and passing files back and forth. It’s helped our team stay productive, especially because we do so much work from home and on the road.

We also use Wrike heavily. One of the toughest things about working in a progressive, open culture is the potential for distractions when frequently generating and sharing new ideas. This is both a good and bad thing. Having a robust task management platform, where everybody can see who’s responsible for what and when it’s due, is a necessary tool. It keeps us balanced between innovating and staying focused.

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

One business book we’ve found especially appropriate for our culture and business is Peter Thiel’s “Zero to One.” At our core, we believe in technology and the power it has to reshape existing industries. And we believe in leveraging it to create things the world never imagined possible. The idea of going from zero to one, rather than one to n, is one of the central philosophical concepts in our company and business model. We don’t want to be like the other guys. We want to be the new guy and the only guy in a market that’s never existed before. That’s the essence of innovation, and it really represents what we’re trying to build with Bristlecone Holdings.


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