Dan Phan, Founder of The Late Majority
If you were the only person in your department to survive a layoff, what would you do next? Most of us would thank our maker and cling desperately to the paycheck.
Unless you were Dan Phan, who after surviving “a round” promptly gave his notice.
Dan has since launched a training and consulting business that specializes in a huge but much neglected market – late adopters to technology. He has also plunged right into membership at CoCo. I first met Dan when he attended Jump! Day and am proud to call him a Jump! success story (although he came to class with the idea pretty much formed in his head). Give this podcast a listen and you’ll hear the voice of a motivated entrepreneur who learned a lot on the job and is now taking that expertise to market.
Show notes: selected links from the episode:
Diffusion of Innovations
Monkey Island Inc
Don Ball [DB:]: Welcome to another CoCo Dreamcast. Today we have a special guest – a Jumper, someone who’s jumped. And whether there’s people holding a net below is yet to be seen, but Dan–
Dan Phan [DP:]: Um-hm.
DB: Dan Phan. I was really happy to hear that you had split where you were workin’ at Target Corp, just because you had attended Jump! Class and you had a really cool idea.
DB: And then it seemed like no time had pass[ed] that – other than Garrio said – that you were on the outs. And I–
DB: . . . was like, “Wow.”
That’s fast. What I was hopin’ is – could you tell us your jump story?
DP: The timing was just right. So [I’d] been at Target for about 10 years, and over the past three months I’ve been doing digital consulting and education on the side with a lot of the vendors that I worked with at Target. Target’s been in the news lately for some not-so-fun things, like layoffs, and we had some big re-orgs. And so I was kinda rethinking: Do I want to stay at Target? I still love Target, it’s – but I think the timing was right.
I went to Europe a few weeks prior to the class just to kinda decompress, be off the grid. But not totally off the grid, ‘cause I think that’d kill me if I unplugged everything. So it was nice being seven hours ahead of everyone ‘cause I wasn’t checking social media all the time. But just to make sure – Could I do this financially? Because, you know, I haven’t saved up a lot of money for that, and this is not an industry where you get investors or anything like that. So, [I] figured out, yeah, I could do this, not become homeless. And then I attended your class; and then all the messages just came through; the timing was right; and I think it was the week after I put in my notice and said, “Why not?”
DB: Then there’s a weird thing about the timing, ‘cause I remember you were in the class and all the talk that week was of the Target layoffs. And you were like, “Yeah, I’m the only one left standing.”
DP: Yeah, yeah.
DB: So you hadn’t even been back to the office yet to see what was, like, I think–
DB: . . . you had said that you were–
DP: It was the day after the layoffs, yeah . . .
DP: . . . that we had the Jump Class.
DB: You were the only one of how many people in your department?
DP: Well . . . it’s seven, the way that we were orged out is a little different; it wasn’t everyone in my whole pyramid or division, but everyone on my immediate team, yeah.
DB: That must have been crazy.
DB: So you’d kind of made up your mind already, though? Or at least had a real strong leaning, huh?
DP: It was a strong leaning. I wouldn’t say I was 100 percent there, yeah.
What’s the idea that you had cooked out in your head at that point [after leaving your position at Target]?
DP: Well, so what I did at Target for the past years was lead digital education and consulting. That is something I became really passionate about, because I love being a lifelong learner, and always learning new things. And in this industry you could read everything and be really up to date on some new tool, or some new process, and then Twitter might announce something, or Google might announce something, and then you have to go back to the drawing board and reread it again. I wanted to continue that work, and I would say that’s what I wanted to do. And there wasn’t a place for me at Target at the time to do that, so I did it on my own.
DB: What are you calling the business?
DP: It’s called The Late Majority.
DB: The Late Majority.
DB: It has an interesting idea behind it.
DP: It wasn’t really well thought out. When someone asked if I had a company, and I said, “Yes, let me send you all that information,” so I quickly made a website and I had to figure out what to call it. But, in the diffusion curve of innovation, we start with the innovators; then we go through the early adopters; then the early and late majority; then, finally, the laggards. What I noticed is that the industrial giants, like a Proctor & Gamble, a General Mills, or Target – they can really buy their way up to that innovation curve, to the front of that. So they can be the disrupters – they spend a lot of money on fancy consultants. I noticed a lot of my friends who were at small to midsize businesses, or owning a small business themselves – they couldn’t pay, you know, $4,000 to go to a fancy conference, or hire a team of consultants. So I didn’t really think that was fair that just because you’re a big company you can buy your way up to the front of that innovation curve. I wanted to create access to everyone to really understand how the digital world works, how business is changing, and how we can thrive in it together.
DB: Do you think that’s a function that – is it just money? Or is it also, like, if you’re running a small business, do you have the time to be–
DP: Yeah, it is – I would say, number one, it’s money; two, could be time; three, I also notice it’s a sense of belonging, or intimidation. If you pull up some similar companies, their websites, there’s a lot of pictures of hipsters with their macbook pros coding – a lot of my colleagues in the retail industry, they don’t really associate themselves with that. So it might be even intimidating to take a class like that.
DP: I wanted to bring these people out of the late majority, who don’t necessarily need to be the disrupters of the industry; they just want to move forward.
DB: That’s really cool, and it’s really…it’s kind of empowering. You’re–
DB: . . . already telling people, like, “This is for you, too.”
DB: That’s really cool. Were those a lot of the people – the people you were training in Target – were they also people who needed to kind of catch up?
DP: Yeah. You think of Target as a really innovative company, and we certainly are, but business has changed a lot in the past 10 years. There needed to be that understanding, and I needed to bring people out of their comfort zone to change. ‘Cause change is very, very personal.
DP: And really understand why. ‘Cause a lot of new companies have a great digital strategy, or a great omni channel strategy. But if they don’t have the culture to support it, that culture’s gonna eat that strategy alive.
DB: Mmm, um-hm.
So when you figured out that you could do this, I mean…‘cause you say you didn’t have a lot of savings. Do you line up early work? What did you do?
DP: I do have some existing clients that will basically keep me from not going homeless.
DP: So I’ve been in full sales – sales rep mode right now. But one thing I learned working in the business was different than I think you and I were trained growing up, on how to manage finances. I noticed that a lot of us had to – or the – the way that we are trained to manage money was set a budget, and then at the end of the month you look at how did you compare. A lot of us would overspend our budget and not track it along the way, and then have to readjust, and we kinda had the “Oh, crap” moment. Well, being in merchandizing at Target, I learned how to look six months, a year, 18 months in advance; and what levers I could pull, doing a lot of
what-if scenarios. That’s what I went to Berlin for; is to make my crazy Excel grid of looking out in the future to think, Okay, what would I have to do to not be homeless? What would I have to do to maintain my current lifestyle? What would I have to do to grow? Coming out of that, and then attending the Jump Class where we did that activity of, you know, 10 times or 100 times, I thought, Wow, I could really, really do this. And it’s not as scary, then, when you really lay it out.
DB: Yeah, you kinda demystified it somehow.
With the way you have it set up; will it just be you doing training? Or do you end up bringing people into it?
DP: No – that’s a good question. I would love to have all the money to hire, ‘cause I would love to provide new opportunities for others. But right now I just have contract speakers. So when I have a client or a workshop that I’ll need support on, I’ll contract them out.
DP: So I have a mighty team of four right now that will help us on different topics.
DB: Okay. But that could scale, because–
DB: . . . then it’s not you having to be the presenter, or–
DB: . . . the instructor at the time.
DB: That’s awesome.
DB: And is the money decent in that field?
DP: I think it is. Some of the feedback that I got – because, you know, I wanted to open this up to everyone and not charge an arm and a leg – but then I have some of my old colleagues saying, “You’re way too cheap,” or “You should charge more.” I really have to pay attention…I don’t want to say what they’re willing to pay for; but how much value would this provide to them, as an organization? Then we can work something out. I don’t ever want to deny someone this opportunity because they can’t afford it.
DB: That’s interesting. So…something you’ll be figuring out over the next weeks and months–
DB: . . . how elastic that pricing can be.
DP: Yeah, absolutely.
DB: That’s awesome. So you – you came back from the class . . .
DB: . . . it sounds like you – they were trying to figure out where to put you.
DB: Like, what do you do? Then you come back and there’s nobody. Their boss is gone, even?
DP: Yeah. So I got put on another team. I was meeting with my new leader – which, I’ve worked with her before – and it was really great. We were just kind of chatting and she said, “What would you like to work on?” At that moment, I said, “I think I’m gonna put in my notice.” [Laughs]
DP: And she didn’t really believe me. It was a Friday I believe….I sat there – Well, think about this over the weekend, we’ll come back and revisit this. And they knew it was time, and everyone’s very happy for me, too. They’re sad, but they can’t be sad for me. I was just blown away by the level of support, too–
DB: Oh, that’s cool.
DP: . . . by my team there.
DB: You had some good colleagues it sounds like.
DP: Um-hm, yeah.
DB: How would you describe the – one thing I’ve always thought was interesting is, you know, Target – while you might say that they’re an innovative company…and certainly in some of the things where they do need to be innovative, you know, in the brands that they associate themselves with, and the lines and things like that… But to run an empire like that, you have to have people who are like – you’re not hiring ‘em for their craziness; you’re hiring ‘em because they can rock spreadsheets–
DB: …and figure out risk ratios and all sorts of things like that, right?
Overall, what was the culture of that organization [Target]?
DP: I think the culture is very, very good. I still love the Target culture because it is – you have a lot of general athletes who can manage a spreadsheet, or manage risk and – or manage processes. Because when you’re a big machine, you do have to have the people to make it happen, to execute.
DP: And especially at the store level, too, where most of our employees are. I think that’s part of – that was my job at Target for the past two years; is bringing the culture to a point where we didn’t really understand what consumer changes were happening to that – okay, now I get it, now. Or we saw that we made 40 percent margin on every single thing that we did, now, in this new ecosystem that’s affected by the digital world – What does that mean? Am I okay to put money in this area where it might be a little bit riskier (knowing that we’re gonna get by on our customer lock-on in a different way)?
DB: So sounds like they had to be careful not to play it too conservatively because–
DB: . . . it’s–
DP: Right. And the toughest thing for a big Fortune 500 company that’s public, too, is shareholders.
DP: How do you educate them? How do we transform while we also perform, too?
DB: Yeah. I don’t envy them that–
DP: Yeah. It was time.
DB: . . . to be in that spot – it’s pretty tough.
DP: It was tough.
DB: Do you imagine that they’ll come back?
DP: Oh, absolutely. Yeah. And I would go back to Target in a heartbeat, too. Yeah.
DB: Oh, that’s–
DP: I didn’t pull my stock out yet. Let’s just say that, yeah.
DB: That’s a big endorsement. [Laughs]
When you were startin’ to tell people that you were leaving, besides your colleagues, did you get anybody – you know, relatives – who [were] like, “I don’t know if that’s such a good idea”?
DP: No – and that was the really surprising thing: the level of support and energy , almost more confidence than I had in myself, which was – people were bigger cheerleaders than I was on myself. I thought that was really – I was just extremely grateful. And, you know, people coming out of the woodworks on LinkedIn to say congratulations. Now I have a lot to prove.
DB: Yeah. [Laughs]
DP: Which – which is good, yeah.
Going into this, what do you feel good about?
DP: I feel good about where I’m at in my career. I’m really thankful that I had those years of experience at Target; from running a business to running training programs across the organization, and building up my network there, too. So I feel good about having the connections, the business knowledge, and then also the passion for learning – that’s one thing that is, I would say, second to none at Target: everyone is a lifelong learner there, and always challenging themselves. And…I would say just knowing how to learn.
DP: And constantly being open to challenge.
DB: Is Target a potential client for you?
DP: They could be.
DB: They would hire out for this kind of thing, perhaps?
DP: Um-hm, they would.
DB: Okay. Now that’s not a bad strategy.
DB: I remember when I first quit my corporate job – my first and really only corporate job – I ended up doing a lot of work back into the company I had left.
DP: Right. Which is sometimes–
DB: It’s not a bad way–
DB: . . . if you suspect that’s a possibility, you know, no guarantees, but–
DB: . . . at least it increases your likelihood that you’re gonna have a soft landing.
What do you think is [going to be] challenging in the next few months?
DP: I think it will be getting back into that sales rep mode. I’ve been used to having projects handed to me, or at least direction given to me. Now, I have to pick up the phone, or I have to e-mail a lot of people and constantly tell them what I do. And sometimes I can’t explain it simply, so that makes me revisit – Do I really understand what I’m doing well enough? I thought it was gonna be the motivation part of getting up every morning. I mean, I’m only on day three right now and I’m still waking up at the same time, so hopefully that’ll continue.
DP: But I’m really glad I have resources at CoCo, too; actually having a place, so I’m not sitting at home every single day in a lonely environment. ‘Cause I was always one of those people who had to study in a crazy environment. I like doing solo work, but I need background noise around.
DB: So you still have a work routine?
DB: And people to ignore.
DP: Yeah, um-hm.
DB: You know what I mean?
DB: It’s why coffee shops work for some people.
DP: Yeah, absolutely.
DB: ‘Cause…you’re not goin’ to interact with anybody, but the fact that they’re there and being noisy helps you kind of focus in.
How do you approach sales? ‘Cause, for some people, that’s a dirty word.
DP: Yeah. People are generally interested, and I wouldn’t approach someone if I didn’t think it was the right fit. There’s people that I’ve said, “I don’t think this is right for your business right now, so I’m not gonna take everything just because it’s a dollar in my checkbook.” It’s reaching out to people on LinkedIn, and Twitter, and, first, just telling them what I’m doing.
DP: And seeing what their response is. And not really selling them on anything. Then also just asking them some questions to see how can I help.
DB: What’s the shortest description you have of your shortest pitch?
DP: Oh, gosh. I have different ones for different people and different industries.
DP: I would say it is focus on transformative change within organizations and individuals to really understand the new consumer mindset.
DB: Um-hm. We have a robot makin’ an appearance here – [Laughs] the Garrio-bot. Have you been comfortable with sales conversations? Does that go fairly well for you?
DP: Yeah, I have because I never – well, one thing is I don’t have a set number that I’m gonna go in with at all. And, number two, I – all of my meetings have just been asking questions: How can I help? Is there opportunity there? – Let me give you some advice. Maybe I can help you. Or maybe someone else I know can help you. Because, you know, even if it’s not a sale at the end of the day, they might know someone in the future that will help me out.
DB: Yeah, you know, one thing I like about your idea is…it’s almost like you have both a mission and an audience built into your – just the name alone.
DB: You know? You’re like, “We’re not serving these two other groups, or–
DB: . . . or this certain group at this end”; it’s this one. And built into The Late Majority is the idea that there’s a need to catch up; or to know more than people in that group would typically acquire. So it’s almost obvious what the game is.
DB: It’s like “We’re gonna have to catch up.”
DB: Or learn what you’ve been missing out on.
DP: Yeah. That’s why I opened up classes – I’m hosting some at CoCo, too – on not just focus[ing] on corporate clients; I mean, that’s where most of my revenue will come from. The open classes are open to individuals who normally couldn’t afford a big training program, as well. So that’s not gonna be my moneymaker; that’s just supporting the mission of expanding this knowledge for everyone.
DB: The open secret, which you might have figured out here, is that while not every CoCo member would make an ideal client for you there’s a lot of people here who are one step away from somebody who could be.
DB: So you could find some really good referrals out of this.
DB: The guys at Monkey Island have done this really well; they give away a lot of their information on like search engine marketing; they even buy the pizza.
DB: I’m aware of a couple of referrals, at least, that they’ve gotten out of that. So it’s like, man, not bad.
DB: You give it away and then, you know, it helps that it comes back to you.
What are some things that you don’t know about that you’re gonna need to figure out? Is there anything that scares you?
DP: Taxes, for sure. I’ve met with my friend who’s a tax lawyer, and I think I probably get one more free phone call with her until she starts charging – which is fine, that’s what she does. I would say taxes, and then I would think how to build an organization; like my own organization, but, you know, not be a manager.
DP: That’s something that we talked about in the last session, too, where you gave examples of people who realize they grew too fast and they weren’t doing what they set out to do in the first place. So how do I balance that? That’ll be my next learning.
DB: So…you love the craft that you do, obviously.
DB: So the ideal is that you don’t suddenly wake up and go, “Shoot. All I’m doing is managing other people.”
DP: Right, right.
DB: Boy, I remember havin’ a – one of my businesses where I had a realization where it was like, “I only have five people and I have politics”– [Laughs] “…this just doesn’t make sense.”
DB: I was not a great manager, so that could have been entirely my fault.
DB: Since then, I’ve come to realize that managing people’s not what I should be doing in life.
DP: Okay, okay.
DB: You might be much better at this. It’s good to know one’s strengths and weaknesses.
You got your website set up and everything?
DP: It’s all set up, yeah (Inaudible) been good, yeah.
DB: Easy enough for you, I suppose.
DP: I actually – so I do know HTML, but when I was doing it quickly, I went to WIX, because I had, like, two hours to do this before I sent it over to a prospective client, and I just actually stuck with it ‘cause it was a lot easier.
DB: That’s great.
DP: [Laughs] So I stuck with that. I have business cards printed out. I’m a sole proprietorship, so that’s filed with the Federal government in the State of Minnesota business, all that; business checking account, so all that – I’m ready.
DB: You’re pretty much good to go.
DP: Um-hm – um-hm.
DB: That’s great – that’s great.
Just in case anybody hears this and might know somebody, or might be the somebody: How will I know I might want to call you?
DP: I would say if your company is going through some sort of change right now, mostly, or if it’s strategy or a culture change that’s needed, give me a call and we’ll talk about what that means.
DB: Okay…You might help them conduct sessions in which they will deal with some of these changes?
DP: Absolutely. We can bring their whole team in together, or it could be a train the trainer; bring a few leaders in, and how do you learn from your leaders, as well. Or just sending a few people to some open workshops so they can spread that knowledge.
What website can we find you at?
DP: It is thelatemajority.com.
DB: Alright, very good. Twitter handle?
DP: I have been using my personal Twitter handle, ‘cause that’s where I have my most
followers – I have 14,000 plus, so I thought that I have more clout on that. My Twitter handle is DanielPhanMPLS.
DB: Alright, great. Wow, 14,000. Wow, you–
DP: Well, I forced a lot of people at Target, through an activity, to follow me [Laughs] when they were getting on Twitter, so that’s good. I’ve given some big speeches, too, at other companies.
DB: Oh, that’s awesome.
DP: Yeah, um-hm.
DB: Good for you. Well, great. Thanks so much for joining us today.
DP: Yeah, thank you for having me.
DB: I mean, congratulations–
DP: Thank you.
DB: . . . on making a big move, and I wish you good luck. I will, but I feel like you kind of already have your own energy.
DB: Thanks for listening to another CoCo Dreamcast. It was particularly cool to hear Dan’s story just because he came through Jump School; we hadn’t met him before that, and it seemed to be like the last straw that got him out of, you know, out of what he was doing, and jumping into his own thing. If any of you out there listening to this are thinking to yourself, Yeah, someday I’d like to jump and do my own thing; do something maybe a little more bold than what I’ve been doing, I really encourage you to give Jump School some consideration. You can learn more at cocomsp.com/jump.
The class we have right now – each month we’re holding what we call Jump Day, and it’s just a day-long class where we move you through three concepts; we teach the concepts, then apply them through some exercises; and there’s also some kind of group feedback you can get from other class members.
We talk about Alignment; finding an endeavor that really is aligned with who you are and what your values and your motivations are. We talk about Audacity; trying to think about how you can play big as opposed to playing small. And then, finally, Action; so, instead of waiting for something – you know, for the stars themselves to align – that you actually start making moves right now; and there’s a whole bunch of things you can do to start taking action in life. So that’s what we teach at each class, and the feedback we’ve been getting has been really good.
Some people say it’s just great to have a day to focus on yourself and your goals, and not what you’re doing every single day to make a living. So, [I] encourage you to check that out, again: cocomsp.com/jump.
And in case you’re looking for more podcasts, we’ve been interviewing some really cool CoCo members, and even a couple people who are not members. You can find more podcasts at cocomsp.com/dreamcast. Thanks for giving us a listen. Really appreciate it and look forward to hearing from you if you have any feedback for us.
Recommended Book: Screw Business As Usual by Richard Branson
Recommended Book: Users, Not Customers: Who Really Determines the Success of Your Business by Aaron Shapiro
About the CoCo DreamCast
Our goal for the CoCo DreamCast is pretty straightforward: we want to talk to CoCo members, find out what makes them tick and learn how they’re living out their dreams. Look for another episode soon!