Interview with an entrepreneur-Dan Sanker of CaseStack

in Entrepreneurial, Self Employed

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What do you do for a living?

I’m the president of a logistics outsourcing company.

How would you describe what you do?

The company does transportation, warehousing, and all related technology to help people manage the flow of their products from the manufacturers out to retailers. I run the company, which consists of about three hundred and twenty people distributed around the country. Our main office is in California, and now our new office is coming to Fayetteville.

What does your work entail?

There’s not been a normal week in a pretty long time. But, I guess, for the most part I spend time talking to clients on solutions to some of the issues they’ve got.

A lot of people want to do some sort of entrepreneurial thing.  Most people keep thinking about it and thinking about it, but they never actually do anything.  If you’re wanting to do something, just do it already and don’t agonize over it for the rest of your life.

I spend time trying to work with our training partners, which are retailers, warehousing companies”other warehousing companies”trucking companies, recruiting people, managing people, managing issues that come up with people, selling, figuring out our marketing plans, so it’s lots of different pieces.

How did you get started?

I was at Proctor and Gamble, Nabisco, some larger consumer package goods company, and then some large services companies, and saw a piece of the market that was not really being addressed, and that had a high level of dissatisfaction with supply chain management software and supply chain management services and how they interact. So, I decided I could fix that using the Internet and as a tool that would enable people to better manage their businesses. I left my job at the time and just started with absolutely nothing there and slowly built a company. I hired an engineering person first and then other people, and we built a sort of simple technology platform, like a beta. Then we pieced together the services. We got our first small, small client, and then we got a just a small client, and then a slightly less small client. We kept developing systems to make them better for larger clients, and then when they would ask for changes or improvements to things, we would change it and improve it, and it just got better and better over time. And we continued to grow and get larger. And that’s kind of how we got to where we are.

What do you like about what you do?

Well, I like that we are innovative. Innovating new services is fun. Selling is a lot of fun, and helping people develop their careers is a lot of fun too.

What do you dislike?

I don’t like really like the administration type work. I don’t really like to get bogged down in paperwork and accounting-types of things.

How do you make money/or how are you compensated?

I make money if the company makes money, and the company makes money by charging clients for warehousing, transportation, and technology services.

I think if anyone wants to go down this path, it’s not an easy path, it’s a pretty difficult path…you are taking a big risk, as much as you don’t realize it¦I think the risks you know about are one thing, but there’s a whole lot of risks in your life that you’re about to take that you don’t even know exist. But you have to be okay with all of that.

When we manage more of a company’s business, we make more money. I have equity in the company as almost all of our employees do. So, if the company does really well and we have a nice sale, then everybody makes even more than they were thinking they were going to make.

What education or skills are needed to do this?

I had an MBA and that was helpful. And then more importantly, probably, is I had experience with some larger companies that I think did logistics well, and I learned. I think the best experience you probably can get is to spend some time at some larger companies that just do things well, and then you learn how to do them well, and you learn a little bit about corporate culture and then you can use that and apply it not even necessarily in the same industry. Sometimes it’s a completely different industry, but it’s analogous in some way, and that, I think is pretty important.

What is most challenging about what you do?

Finding good people and not allowing the company to become too slow moving.  We have to keep it moving, and keep on doing things that are outside of people’s comfort zones. And it’s easy not to do anything about that and just to leave it as it is. We came out of nowhere eight years ago because we sort of pushed it, and most people in the industry thought that it was sort of unnecessary or not a good idea or it wouldn’t work. And clearly, it has worked, and it’s very easy to become one of those companies now that says, Well, we got a model, and it’s fine, and it’s working, and we just need to tweak it a little, and it will be even better. And I think that the hardest part is to find a group of people that can continuously do more than just tweak it a little, because if you just keep tweaking it a little bit, you might be successful and you might be around, but you might not be around that long, and that’s the hard part.

What is most rewarding?

I think the most rewarding part is when you have clients that want to use you for more business because there’s something that you’re doing to help their business. When we grow a company’s business or solve a problem for a client that enables them to grow their business, typically that will enable us to grow our business when there’s growth because we’re sort of a part of their business. So that’s the most fun part because it solves somebody’s problem, and it helps their business grow.

What advice would you offer someone considering this career?

A lot of people want to do some sort of entrepreneurial thing.  Most people keep thinking about it and thinking about it, but they never actually do anything.  If you’re wanting to do something, just do it already and don’t agonize over it for the rest of your life. I think 60% of my MBA class were in the Entrepreneur Association, and out of that group I can’t think of anyone who’s done anything entrepreneurial; out of hundreds of people. Their biggest, most important thing in their life that they wanted to do, they just never did it. So, that’s one thing.

And then the second thing is if you’re going to do something entrepreneurial, and you have time and you’re willing to do it right, it’s worth going to get a job, at another, bigger company, that’s already doing something good and learning at that company. It doesn’t hurt. It seems like three years is a lifetime when you’ve just got out of grad school. But spend three years at Proctor & Gamble or at Wal-Mart or at 3M or at some innovative company that everybody in the world knows does a good job. I’m not saying you should spend twenty years there, but spend three years there, try to stick your nose into everything you can possibly do. Try to help build value at that company, and you’ll end up in all the right places, and then you typically have alternatives. If you decide you want to stay, that’s cool because you’ve done a good job and you can stay and you have a career. Or, you can decide, You know what? I learned a lot. I’m going to do something else with it. So that, I think is important. And then, eventually, if you really want to do it, just do it already and stop talking about it.

How much time off do you get/take?

Really none. That’s not by intent. My intention is to take a ten-day vacation every year, and four three-day weekends. In reality, I take none. And it’s been like that for six, seven, eight years. And it’s always just that something comes up and stops me from doing it. And that’s wrong, bad and dumb, but I just can’t ever seem to make it happen. But I still believe that I will next year.

What is a common misconception people have about what you do?

People always say, Oh, start your own company, and you control your own destiny. Make your own hours, you can work whenever you want. I think that’s pretty rare. I think mostly what it means¦start your own company, you will be beholden to investors, clients, and employees. You need to constantly do more than other people because you’re making an impression on your employees all the time, so you can’t really spend any money and you can’t really take any time off. Anything you would like your employees to do, you got to do a little bit more of it to show them that you’re willing to do it. You’re a small company, so your clients have these huge expectations, and they’re wary of smaller companies. And then, as you grow, you need investors to come in because you’ll need capital, and then, they’re very involved in your company. So, the misconception is that you’re going to somehow control everything in your life. So if you want to do that, I think you got to do something else, which is maybe a small company maybe run a really small business, where you really don’t have any employees, you don’t have any investors, and you maybe don’t have any large customers.

What are your goals/dreams for the future?

I’d like to continue to do what we’re doing¦to continue to build the company up, make it bigger, and then, once this company gets to some plateau where it makes sense for me to step out and do some other things, then I’d start another one or do something that’s more venture capital, private equity-related, or something like that.

What else would you like people to know about what you do?

No, that’s about it, I think. I mean, I think if anyone wants to go down this path, it’s not an easy path, it’s a pretty difficult path, and most people that I know that started when I started have failed to continue with it because the market’s hard and difficult, and everything is tougher than you think. And they folded it up, and then had to kind of go back into some kind of corporate environment, and typically have taken a major step backwards in their careers. So, it’s a definite warning. You know, it’s really satisfying, it’s really cool, but you work really hard. But you are taking a big risk, as much as you don’t realize it¦I think the risks you know about are one thing, but there’s a whole lot of risks in your life that you’re about to take that you don’t even know exist. But you have to be okay with all of that.

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