by Alex Repola
While preparing for the interview, I remembered a conversation I had with Eric Pratt a few months back who had worked previously with Darrin at MVM and knew his background very well. Eric told me that Darrin had never worked for someone else before; he had owned his own company since he was in 7th grade. Until I sat down with Darrin, I had not realized that Darrin had not only accomplished many goals in his life, but he knew what the uneasy feeling of defeat was like as well.
Through vision, perseverance, success, and defeat, Darrin has been living his own destiny for the past 30 years, and is showing no sign of slowing down.
Q:Tell me about yourself and your family Darrin.
A:My wife Lori and I have three children, Devon (16), Easton (14), and Breanne (12). I have never actually worked for someone; I have been self-employed from the time I started working in 7th grade until now.
Q:What do you spend your off-time doing?
A:I’m very involved in my church. I also like to do a lot of recreation things, riding anything with a motor: 4-wheeler, dirt bike, etc. We like to snowmobile in the winter and boat in the summer. I am involved in three different companies ranging from I.T. support to different real estate investments and LLCs on the business side.
Q:Your background and experiences are pretty diverse, what led you to companies like MVM and QeH2?
A:In 7th grade I started a lawn mowing company; at a very early age I began to focus more on the quality of my work with trimming of the sidewalks and the weeding to keep yards in shape. I moved off of that and stared working with my brother who owned a waterbed store.
In 8th grade I began making padded rails to cover the hard sides of the waterbeds in my parent’s garage. I got a table saw and a nail gun and I had taken wood shop as well as my mom taught me how to sew using a commercial sewing machine so I could sew the straps on the ends. I went out and solicited the six waterbeds stores in Billings, MT at the time and they all bought my product. Jack Jabs, owner of American Furniture Warehouse, was from Bridgers, MT; he used to manufacture some furniture up there and I used to buy my foam from him and they would deliver it to my place. I then began to build the decks and pedestals that went under the waterbeds that held the bed up. I decided that I would build those in my parent’s garage, turning it into a wood shop. After cutting the decks and pedestals I would spray them without any help. My parents were crazy letting me use a table saw.
In 9th grade, I was old enough to get a driver’s license and decided to join one of my other older brothers, who owned a rock hauling business, haul moss rock to go on the front of houses. After being successfully with some of my other companies, I had earned enough to purchase a brand new 1980 silver, half ton pickup, which for my age was a big deal. I went down to the rock yard and they had no problem with me hauling rock. I had a 5th wheel hitch put on my truck and rented a trailer to use to transport the rock. I purchased an old CJ1 Jeep and a pick-up box trailer to get back into the mountains and pick a half ton of rocks, load it on palates and chicken wire them on top of the 5th wheel. I’d get five guys or so to go up with me, each of them generally only lasting one trip because of the labor-intensive work. One day we were hauling a load down to the truck and the pick-up box trailer split right at the hitch. We got it unloaded and unhitched, thinking we could get a welder out there to fix it. As we were heading back down to the truck the front differential blew out in the Jeep. I had already put $400 into the Jeep and $400 into the trailer so I’m a little aggravated. We tried to load the Jeep by backing the 5th wheel up to a hill where we could roll it on. I go to start my truck and my mechanic friend who was with us had left the carburetor cover off and the engine caught on fire. Now the jeep is burning, like a full-fledged fire under the hood. As a teenager I think the car is going to explode, as I go to move my truck and put it in gear, I drop the transmission out of my brand new truck. We now have two disabled vehicles and we are 20 miles from the closest town. That was everything I owned, gone in a matter of minutes. I learned a lot that day; you can take a lot of things for granted and you can lose everything. My dad had to rent a U-Haul to come pick us up after we hitchhiked into town.
The next company I had in high school is where I learned the most. After my dad and I had put a sprinkler system in our yard, I went to my buddy and told him we could put sprinkler systems in, so he funded it with his $400 after I had lost everything. We went out and sold his girlfriend’s dad a sprinkler system after we had gone down to the wholesaler in town who showed us everything they knew about putting sprinkler systems in. We even took drafting class to set us apart from other companies. We were literally drawing the systems out, color-coded every zone. That got us a lot of credibility. We knocked on doors to get business and that year put in around 50 systems. My senior year I made about 35 thousand dollars, which was a lot of money at the time. The day I graduated high school, I knew I never wanted to work for anyone but myself.
Q:How did Jim, Ian, Quentin, and you come up with the QeH2 business model?
A:Quentin was the CIO of Mountain View Marketing when I owned the company and I had never known anyone with such a wide knowledge base of I.T. than Q. When MVM sold to Berkshire-Hathaway and moved their headquarters to Utah, neither of us decided to move with the company. I told him we needed to do something together. After all our bad experiences with the different levels of I.T. support, we took a look at what had been missing in the marketplace in regards to information technology, more specifically within small to medium-sized businesses. We really discovered there wasn’t anyone out there that performed as well as QeH2 when focusing on moving and growing the company as well as following through with what we say we would do. We got rid of contracts, got rid of hourly rates for employees, and really moved away from the break-fix model to how we could make organizations money; looking at I.T. as a profit center to help make businesses money. Quentin and I had a good idea of what we wanted to see out of an I.T. company and Ian and Jim Holt (H2) were very excited to migrate their model from a consumer perspective to businesses and organizations.
Q:As a business owner, how do you view I.T.?
A:It’s really about implementing the right technologies that will reduce expenses by becoming either more efficient, or help move more products, driving up profits.
A:The misnomer is that technology is going to solve your issues or problems. People tend to look at the “T” in I.T. while focusing more on the how the information is being processed instead of the information itself. Generally, business owners look at people as an expense. We understand that employees are assets to the company and by investing in them you tend to see the organization grow. As I look at it right now, I see technologies as pieces that use information to help staff move business forward all reliant on what your product or service is and your different business processes.
Q:Why is it important for you to focus on the inner workings of QeH2 and the personal growth of each team member?
A:The key to having a successful business is not doing just one part. It’s getting every core piece of your business to progress. For example, you have an accounting department and as the business owner you can get that department to be more efficient, more documented, more systematic in how they perform their closing duties, or pay bills, or look at spreadsheets and data files, over all making them 10% more efficient. Why couldn’t you plug that process into every one of your departments? With the chaotic growth we experienced at MVM, if we hadn’t focused on moving our people forward by investing time and resources in each of them, we would have fallen behind.
Q:After running some very successful organizations, what do you attribute your success to?
A:I’m religious and need to say that a lot of it comes from a God-given talent that I have for vision, drive, and the ability to work with people. Having the confidence, experience, knowledge, and willingness to be open to opportunities as well as being able to make smart decisions on opportunities is something else that has helped me to be successful.