We work and we play. Read about both here.
October Employee Spotlight: Dan Miller
While I’m honestly excited for every employee spotlight interview, there are those few people out there in the office whose personalities I know will make for a killer post, even if I don’t ask them many questions. Perhaps the biggest of those personalities is none other than our fearless leader Dan Miller.
There isn’t a person in the office who doesn’t know him. After all, he insists on interviewing every employee who comes on board. He’s the CEO of the company and he’s been here since day one. Some days he comes in with a suit and tie and others he’s in his signature Hawaiian shirt and sandals. He’s infamous for his love of Grey Goose, his sarcasm, and his adage: “If you’re sober enough to drive, you’re sober enough to work.”
While anyone in the office could quickly recall a standout Dan memory, I figured the management team would have some of the best insight about what it’s like working with him. Of course, when I asked them, they were eager to put in their two cents. Here’s what they had to say:
Really, I don’t think there’s much more I can do to hype people up for this post. This is Dan Miller we’re talking about, so here we go!
Amy: Are you ready?
Dan: I’m ready. Are you ready?
Amy: I’m ready! I have a bunch of fun questions for you. And I’m recording it so that I can type it up.
Dan: This is being recorded?
Amy: It’s being recorded.
Dan: Alright. What do you do with these recordings when you’re done?
Amy: I just use them to type up a transcript of the interview.
Dan: Yeah, but what about when you’re done with that?
Amy: They’re just in my phone.
Dan: You don’t delete them?
Amy: I can delete them if you want.
Dan: Yeah, you should delete mine.
Amy: (laughs) Okay, I can do that. Maybe.
Dan: Hey, that’s part of the deal. I don’t want some recording around forever. I’ve got enough problems.
Amy: Okay. Also, I’ll send you the document before I put it up.
Dan: Oh, beautiful.
Amy: And I’ll think about deleting the audio file. So are you ready?
Dan: I’m ready. Fire away.
Amy: Firing away. So before I ask you a bunch of questions about RNL and running the company, I think some people don’t know a lot about your life outside of work. You’re married and you have four kids. Seems pretty crazy. Can you first tell me a bit about your wife?
Dan: Oh, boy. I don’t know if she wants to be part of this interview. Her name’s Donita. We met in college and we’ve been married for 30 years. She is a saint. Anybody that lives with an entrepreneur has to sacrifice just about everything. She is behind whatever I want to do.
Amy: It sounds like she can keep up with you. And you have four kids. How old are they?
Dan: 25, 24, 22, and 17.
Amy: Okay. Wow. So you had three back to back.
Dan: Yeah, about 18 months apart.
Amy: Geez. Are they all different from each other or similar to you and your wife?
Dan: They’re all very different. Some of it’s funny because you raise them all the same but they’re all pretty different. Obviously, the oldest one is more responsible and typically more organized because they try to help out with everything else. The last one’s always a free spirit because by that time, you’ve given up on parenting. One’s easy going and likes to party a lot with his buddies in NYC. I think he’d help anyone in the world and give the shirt off his back. And then the third one that just graduated from NYU, she’s kinda hard-charging. She knows what she wants.
Amy: Is this one of the kids who’s in New York?
Dan: Yes. Three of them are in New York.
Amy: Why’s that?
Dan: I think they probably wanted to get away from me. (laughs) I told my daughter before she went to school: “If you want to go someplace where I’ll never come visit you, go to New York.” So she went to NYU. But really they all grew up in school with friends from Philly, New Jersey, or New York. Everyone was from the east coast. So when they graduated, they all just wanted to be near their friends.
But how are they like me and my wife? I think there are probably traits that some of them have, but I think they’re all independent. I think that just happens when they all went to different high schools and different colleges. They’re a product of their environment and they each spent a lot of time at school. I wouldn’t want them to do what I’m doing and I don’t think they’d want to do what I’m doing.
Amy: That’s fair. Do you think the youngest one will go to New York?
Dan: He’s kind of a homebody, so he’ll probably do something totally different. Maybe he’ll go somewhere sunny. I keep telling him I’m going back to school with him.
Amy: Yeah. So not New York.
Dan: Yeah, probably not New York and probably not here. Somewhere in Florida or Texas or southern California. He mostly cares about the weather and playing baseball.
Amy: What’s it like having a 6-person family?
Dan: It’s probably hardest with the two dogs. They’re probably harder than the kids. But you do all kinds of fun things with the kids. I go on fun trips with them and I remember those a lot. I also have a lot of fun pranking them.
Amy: I bet you’re a good prankster.
Dan: I don’t know how my kids would look at me, but I think being a dad with four kids isn’t any worse than being a dad with two kids. The second one is more than twice as hard as the first one, but once you get past two, it’s all the same. I would have had more, but my wife would’ve killed me. I love kids.
Amy: Four’s a lot.
Dan: Yeah, four is enough.
Amy: And in one way, you kind of have six kids.
Dan: With the two dogs, yeah.
Amy: What are their names? Teddy and Bear?
Dan: Yeah. Theodore and Bear. We call him Theo though. So Theo and Bear.
Amy: They’re huge!
Dan: Oh, they’re huge. One of them has lost 15 pounds, so he is down to like 130. He’s on a Slim Fast diet.
Amy: How did you choose those dogs? They look perfect for you.
Dan: Why, because I’m such a big, hairy guy?
Amy: I don’t know about hairy, but in size they look like a good fit. Giant dogs for a giant guy.
Dan: My wife’s always liked bernese mountain dogs. And they’re just great with people and so easy going.
Amy: They’re really sweet. I like them. Shifting gears to your background, you said you got your BS and MBA from the University of Portland. Are you from Portland or from near there?
Dan: No, I’m not from there. My dad retired from the Air Force when he was 38 and we settled in Portland when I was in sixth grade. That’s how we ended up there.
Amy: Did you move around a lot before then?
Dan: Yeah. So I was born in Texas and lived in Germany for three years, Nebraska for three years, Spain for four years, and then Portland.
Amy: Oh god. What a terrible transition: Germany to Nebraska. But you were in Portland from sixth grade until you graduated college. Would you say that’s your hometown?
Amy: What’s your hometown?
Dan: Um. How do you define a hometown?
Amy: I don’t know. How do you define a hometown?
Dan: Like, your go-to town?
Amy: In your gut feeling, if somebody said “What’s your hometown?,” you would say…
Dan: My dad was in the military.
Amy: Okay. Fair enough.
Dan: I would not wish Portland on anybody.
Dan: It just rains a lot. It’s really nice in the summer though. We went skiing five days a week growing up and the beach is an hour away, though it’s colder than you-know-what. It’s pretty cool if you want to be outdoors. We took the boats out, went crab fishing, and did all kinds of crazy stuff. So it was a lot of fun.
You don’t notice the rain when you grow up there, but once you leave you realize it rains all the time. We get the same amount of rain as they do, but we probably get it in one-tenth the time. It’ll rain an inch here in a day and rain an inch there over ten days.
Amy: Sounds like just enough to be inconvenient.
Dan: It’s a continuous misting. No one there really uses umbrellas since they’re all used to it. Portland was just different, but it’s alright. I wouldn’t say I’m from there. I don’t know where I’d say I’m from.
Amy: After you graduated college, you worked at Intel and got experience in sales, marketing, production management, and process engineering. How did you transition between all those roles?
Dan: I just wanted to do different stuff. When I came out of school with an engineering degree, I obviously got an engineering job. Before I was at Intel I worked at Hughes Aircraft in Southern California. I did that for a year and a day so I wouldn’t have to pay back my moving expenses. I got in trouble there for doing too much work. I got in trouble for moving a piece of equipment when I should’ve called the union person to move it. So I just couldn’t take it anymore.
After a year and a day I was out of there. But at Intel, I helped start up their equipment engineering group and then wanted to do something new about every two years. I think it probably goes along with my bad reputation for just changing stuff around. I can’t sit still for too long. So I went from engineering to go see how the production side worked, and from there I wanted to see how the marketing side worked, and then I wanted to see how the sales side worked. I took a pay cut every few years and moved to a different job to just try it all out. It was a good time.
Amy: What was your favorite?
Dan: I think my favorite was probably sales. You get to see what the competition is doing and understand what their operations look like and what they’re selling. We were selling to all kinds of different people, so I think I came to the understanding then that all of life is sales.
Amy: Interesting perspective. Can you tell me about your transition into entrepreneurship?
Dan: It was not what I expected. We expected we could make 3-5 times our money in 3-5 years. I really don’t know how much we made, but probably the equivalent of $10 an hour and it took 15 years.
Amy: Really? How did you make the initial decision to start your own business?
Dan: At Intel, my coworker and I looked at each other after sales calls and said, “These guys can make it and they’re idiots. We can certainly do something better.” We didn’t really know what we were going to do. We put a list together, just like we did when I started Red Nova Labs. I still have that idea list somewhere. We started with 60 ideas that included stuff like automated kitty litter boxes and recyclable lawn mower bags, just different things like that.
Then we graded them all. We went through the whole matrix of total available market, time to market, time to develop the product, what our interest level was, the complexity of the project, and the availability of resources. That’s how we got into the wireless business with AeroComm. We decided we had to quit our jobs and go make it happen. So I had three kids, I quit my job, and I figured it out. It was a big leap and it was pretty painful. That said, I would do it all over again.
Amy: Do you have any advice for entrepreneurs?
Dan: My advice is that you just can’t do it part-time. I know success is different for everybody, but in general, I think you’re successful when you’re happy and you’ve been in business for three to five years whether you’re making money or not. Probably less than 10% of businesses are still around after three years. So if you do it part-time, your chance of success has to be one-tenth of that. You really cut your odds down.
Plus, if you’re doing it part-time, it spills into you not being successful. Your product’s not as good, it takes you longer to make and market it before someone else does, and you’re not as passionate about it. Now, that said, you can’t be stupid. Not as stupid as I was. I think you’ve gotta jump off the cliff but you’ve got to have a parachute. I wrote a little blog post on that and I didn’t publish it for awhile because I thought people would be offended.
Amy: That’s a fun post. Kind of transitioning a bit, but on a similar note, one thing I think is interesting about you is that you’ve said you interview all the employees that we hire. Is that still true?
Dan: Yeah. There have been a couple that I haven’t when I was out, but yeah, I like talking to everybody.
Amy: I know lots of people here feel that their interview with you was a little strange. Can you talk a bit about your interview style and why you want to interview everyone before they join the team?
Dan: Well, there are a couple of reasons. One is that I don’t think generic interviews really accomplish that much. I think everyone here could probably be a brain surgeon if they wanted to put the time in and go figure it out. Anyone who comes in for an interview has the basic skillset to do whatever job they applied for. But what most people are interviewed for is just the basic skillset. So for a writer, I’m not going to ask if they’re a good writer. I’ll usually have them write something on the desk in front of me to see how they do under pressure, how they write without auto correct, and what their grammar and punctuation is like, how they think on their feet.
I want to find out what makes that person tick. It’s important to see what motivates them, what they like doing in their spare time, and what their personal goals are. Business is a third of your life, roughly, by the time you’re driving to and from work and thinking about work when you go home. Your work is pretty much intertwined with your whole life.
Everyone says you can just turn it off when you get home, but you don’t turn off your personal life when you come to work and I don’t think you can turn off your work day when you go home. It’s just not human nature. So I like to understand how people work, react, and respond to different situations. I ask some really weird questions and off-the-wall stuff, I know, but that’s what I’m trying to find out.
Amy: Yeah. I like that perspective. Well, most of the people who work here are under 30 years old. So either professionally or just in general, do you have any advice or wisdom to share with that generation?
Dan: (pauses) No. (laughs)
Amy: Points for honesty.
Dan: You know, I can’t give any advice. People have their own situations and their own personalities. I read that article about the mistakes people make in their 20s and I think it’s the same mistakes people make when they’re old. I can give advice on starting a new business. I try to give people around here help on getting a home loan or getting their personal finances in order. Or I can tell you what you should do if you’re going out to a bar. Specific black and white issues. But advice on life? I don’t think that’s possible. Everyone’s got different parameters.
I was talking to someone the other day about a finance deal and they said there’s some book they’re following about saving up and what not. I said, “It’s just relative.” It’s relative to you and how you like to live life. If you’re going to be miserable only paying cash for big expenses like a car or house, you’re going to be miserable your whole life. Is it really worth it, just so that you don’t owe any money? I don’t think so. But it’s different for different people. I can tell you from my mistakes what I think I did wrong, but just because it’s wrong for me doesn’t mean it’s wrong for you.
Amy: That’s true. Good thoughts to keep in mind. I had more questions but you’ve already answered most of them. Is there anything random about you that you want to share?
Dan: Hmm. I’m trying to think if there’s anything random. There’s plenty of random stuff but I think I’d probably go to jail if I told you. I owe a ton to my mom and dad. They really taught me that anything is possible. Neither one of them graduated from college, but they kicked my ass. Also, this sounds cliche, but I’m really nothing without the people in my life at work and home. I do this because I love it and I’m addicted to work. My greatest satisfaction is when people I work or live with are successful. I also couldn’t do an interview without mentioning Alyssa. She is a ROCK!
Amy: Definitely. That’s a good note to finish on.
Dan: That’s all my wisdom right there. In one hour. I feel like I didn’t give you any good nuggets.
Amy: I think you did. You can always add them in, too, whenever you edit it.
Dan: I want to answer one question from every employee. I’d be curious to see what everyone would ask. I could do my own hazing.
Amy: Yeah, there ya go. That’d be fun. It’s been a long time since you’ve been hazed, if you’ve ever been hazed.
Dan: I’ve never been hazed. Alright, well, good luck. I can’t think of any other questions for you.
Our CEO, Dan Miller has jumped on the ALS Ice Bucket train. He's accepted his challenge from fellow RNL engineer, Tim Banks. He is donating and challenging Austin Jones, Matt Friederich, and Chris Klein to step up to the plate. Check out the links below to learn more about ALS and how to donate to the cause. #ALSIceBucketChallengeInfo: http://bit.ly/1pX1Uy8Donate: http://bit.ly/N6jO1PPosted by Red Nova Labs on Wednesday, August 20, 2014