On July 7, 2022 Tyler Tolson shared his story with one of his BHAGs as the Featured Founder during RevRoad’s monthly RevUniversity event. Tolson is the CEO and Founder of Denik, multi-million dollar custom notebook and lifestyle product company. Denik serves companies such as Nike, Disney, Google, and TikTok. In addition to sharing profits with featured artists, Denik also donates a portion of their profits to build schools in third-world countries. To date, Denik has funded six schools in various countries, including Guatemala, Laos, Nicaragua, Ghana, Mali Africa.
WHAT ARE BHAGs?
When Tyler was a college student at Utah State University, a leadership professor started the first day of class by saying,
“The only thing we will do this semester is work on a BHAG: a Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal. We are going to talk about leadership principles and at the end of the semester we’ll see how far each of you got with your BHAG.”
Tyler had always thought about starting a business, and now seemed like the best time to do it.
That day in school lit a fire in him that would never die out. BHAGs and grit have gotten Tyler to where he and Denik are today.
WHAT OTHERS SAID WAS IMPOSSIBLE
After starting the initial phases of Denik, working on mockups and selling out at trade shows, a good friend stopped Tyler on campus and said, “Do you really think you can build a school by selling notebooks?”
A few of Tyler’s professors also were not too sure about this whole notebook idea, telling him that it probably wouldn’t work.
And most of all, anyone in the art world said to Tyler and his team, “You’ll never land Michael’s, they are just too hard.”
“You’ll never land Michael’s, they are just too hard.”
HOW THEY LANDED MICHAEL’S
Task: Land Michael’s.
Tyler sat at his computer and pulled up LinkedIn, searched “Michaels’ Buyer” and found about eight thousand results.
“I did what any smart entrepreneur would do: scroll until I found one who looked nice and clicked on their profile.”
This particular buyer (we’ll call her Danielle) did not list what category she bought for, but she did have an art degree. “Sweet! She gets art, she digs it, she looks nice, let’s give it a go.”
Tyler found the phone number for Michaels HeadQuarters in Dallas Texas on Google and gave them a call.
“Hello this is Michael’s, how can I help you?”
“Hey, I’d like to speak with Danielle.”
“Just a moment, please.”
“Hello, this is Danielle.” Tyler was thrilled! But wait, it’s not that easy.
“Danielle, this is Tyler Tolson. I’m the CEO of Denik!” He couldn’t believe it. “I don’t know if this is is what you do, but here’s what we do; we work with artists all over the world, we print their art on notebooks and sketchbooks and with every product sold, part of the money goes toward building schools and part of the money goes back to the artist.”
He let the information simmer for a moment, then spoke up again.
“Is that a category that you buy for?”
Not terribly surprised, he asked, “Do you know who does?”
“I have no clue.”
“Awesome, well can I send you a notebook just for speaking with me?”
“Absolutely! Wow, you know what? You need to talk to Susan.” Of course, it was Susan!
“Hello this is Susan.” Tyler shared the same pitch and Susan responded, “Wow that sounds really cool, but I’m not your buyer. You need to talk with Nancy.” Of course it would be Nancy, she also looked really nice on LinkedIn.
Unfortunately, Nancy didn’t answer her phone. And because Tyler didn’t have her email address, he began sending his pitch to all the possible combinations of Nancy’s name @michaels.com. After about 20 combinations, he received a vacation email responder which included the email for Nancy’s assistant. He was getting closer step by step.
Over the next two weeks, Tyler never stopped calling Nancy––even using different phone lines in case she knew which number was Tyler and wasn’t answering on purpose.
Finally, they connected on the phone and she said, “Oh Tyler, hey! I’ve been meaning to touch base with you. Your product looks great! Can we talk about pricing?”
“Absolutely!” He wasn’t actually prepared to answer the question, so he followed this entrepreneurial rule: whenever your customers need you, you are “already planning” to be in their area.
Entrepreneur Tip: You are always planning to be in the area of your customer or buyer.
Tyler spoke next. “Well Nancy, I’m planning on being in your area.”
“In two weeks!” His response was based solely on the expectation that flights would be the best price two weeks out.
“Great! See you then.”
When the time came, Tyler hoped on a plane to Dallas and presented samples to a room full of executives. At the end of the meeting, Nancy said “I love it! All of it. I’m keeping it, I’m going to show everyone, and we’re going to do this.”
7 trips to Dallas and 14 months later, Denik had their first $100,000 payout from Michael’s.
TYLER TOLSON’S ADVICE TO ENTREPRENEURS
Tolson offered three pieces of advice to rising entrepreneurs:
- Never say it won’t work. If you have the grind and grit, and are willing to adapt as needed, there is opportunity to be had.
- Let go to grow. You’ve got to find great people for your team and hand them the keys to their role. Let them drive decisions, let them execute, and let them fail. It’s not going to kill the business—let them fail forward.
- Never skimp on design. As a brand or company, you have to stop the scroll and break through the noise.
“Find great people for your team. Give them the keys to their role and let them spread their wings.”