Entrepreneur, Best Selling Author, Speaker, and Angel Investor.
My story is about following my life’s ambition, the frustration of seeing it unravel, and the joy of discovering that one important factor in a company’s success is something that can’t be measured on a sales spreadsheet and cannot be communicated through an employee handbook…
In 2002, I left my tenured teaching position at a local college to start my own business. Digital-Tutors began as a small company creating online training for 3D animators and digital artists — the legions of men and women who create the breathtaking visuals and the impossible action we see in Hollywood’s blockbuster films.
For the first couple of years, everything was great. I had a small handful of employees, but Digital-Tutors was financially successful, my entire team was awesome, and I loved coming to work every day.
Over the next few years, the company grew, work increased and we brought on more great employees. Then things started to change.
More and more, I found myself stuck in the weeds, fixing other people’s problems and putting out minor fires across the various teams in our organization. My days, which used to be fun and energizing, now felt ineffective and draining. I began to hate going into the office.
In fact, it got to the point where I considered walking away from it all.
I realized that I had lost something along the way — a sense of purpose and meaning in my job. That led to an even bigger revelation — most of my employees felt the same way!
Now the picture was starting to become clearer. You see, my first few employees were people that I had already known for years. We spent holidays together, we knew each other’s families and we understood each other on a deeply personal level. In the office, that bond translated into an unwavering commitment toward this vision that we shared, and a mutual understanding of the personal values that we would never compromise.
But our newer employees didn’t have that kind of history with us. They didn’t fully understand our unspoken values. They didn’t fully understand the rules that we played by. They didn’t understand our culture.
Culture. That’s what was missing. A lack of culture can’t be directly observed on an accounting spreadsheet or in a sales forecast. But culture is like the gravity that holds your teams together — without it, everything just drifts apart aimlessly.
So I made culture a priority. My wife and I spent a long weekend nailing down the core values for the company. The next week, we presented our five core values to the rest of the company. We called them the “Rules of Our Game.”
Everybody came to know these rules by heart. They weren’t just decorative motivational words on the wall — we hired and fired based on these values. Everybody understood the rules to play, and every single person at the company helped enforce those rules. As we added new hires, much of their onboarding focused on our company’s culture, helping them become valued members of our tribe.
Here’s why culture is such a powerful driver of business: when everyone in the company believes in the mission and feels a genuine sense of belonging and meaning from their workplace, they’ll want to go the extra mile to do their best work.
That becomes a powerful competitive advantage.
It took time, and it took plenty of effort, but those five core values turned Digital-Tutors into an online training powerhouse, becoming one of the best in the world. We grew from a six-figure company to a seven-figure company, and then an eight-figure company educating over 1.5 million students worldwide. We were united in our mission to help aspiring artists across the globe achieve their dreams, and that’s exactly what we did.
But more importantly, defining our core values transformed my company from a place I hated going to every morning, into a place that every employee loved to call home and where we all felt like family.
In 2014, I received an offer from Pluralsight LLC to purchase Digital-Tutors for $45 million. After careful consideration, I accepted the offer and rewarded a portion of the sale to every single person in my company. At the end of the day, it was their hard work and dedication that helped put Digital-Tutors on the map.
Today, I work as a mentor and advisor for entrepreneurs at all stages in their careers. I help business leaders realize their own dreams, and I give them the tools to help make that possible. I focus heavily on culture as a driver of business, because I’ve learned from first-hand experience that you can do everything correct and by-the-book, but without a strong culture, a business will never be able to reach its full potential.