Darren started DSM in 2007 with the hope of creating a full-service marketing agency that puts clients first…and foremost. He was trained in media strategy and buying during his 7+ years working at many large New York agencies for clients such as Toyota Motor Sales, Verizon Wireless, Boston Beer, and Puma. He’s been at the helm, growing DSM from a one-person operation on a front porch to a multi-million dollar agency squarely entrenched in the top 20 marketing agencies in New Jersey since 2010. DSM currently employs 20 people and is based in their new 6,600 sq. ft. office in Mahwah, NJ. In short, the mission of DSM is bringing a more polished marketing and advertising experience to New Jersey. Nothing more, nothing less.
How did the concept for The DSM Group come about?
DSM came about very simply because I felt there was a better way to do local/regional advertising within the marketplace I lived in. Pretty simple concept…it wasn’t rocket science or anything. I wanted to create something that could be better than what I saw around me. To me, it was Entrepreneur 101.
How was the first year in business?
Considering I pretty much pulled a Jerry Maguire from my old agency and set up shop on my front porch with no plan or clients, it was interesting. I really just bought my laptop from my old agency and set up shop and started hustling. We did $70,000 in revenue within 10 months of 2007, and by 2008, I realized that we had hit on something in the local marketplace. The folks that I knew, who had local businesses, were looking for help and we (it was two of us at that point) got involved in a local chamber of commerce and starting selling.
What was your marketing strategy?
Marketing strategy?! I had a laptop, an IKEA desk and chair, and my relationships. I didn’t even have a business plan at that point. I found a creative director who could do the artwork (who later turned into my ex-partner) and grew from setting up meetings and being available in my hometown community. Networking has served me very well over the years.
How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
DSM grew from $70,000 total revenue in ten months of 2007 to $1 million by 2011. The growth in the first five years of DSM was ridiculous.
How do you define success?
My definition of success clearly rests of two things. First, accountability to my staff and our clients. That is paramount. Without accountability, there can be no trust. Second, is courtesy. The folks that have been a part of this 12-year journey have all been solid human beings. This is key to our growth and success. My job as president is to ensure that we’re making an impact in our community and those around me know that those two pillars are leading my decisions. If I’ve done that, I’ve been successful.
What is the key to success?
Being tenacious in effort and resilient in the face of hardships. Every entrepreneur faces challenges continually. You learn over time that you are not judged by how you get knocked down but rather how you respond. This has been key to my success.
What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
It actually came to me in a fortune cookie, “Courtesy is one habit that never goes out of style.”
What are some quotes that you live by?
My all-time favorite is by Maya Angelou, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Second favorite is, “You don’t have to be smarter than everyone else. Or that much better. You just have to hold on tighter.” This one came courtesy of Ben Chestnut – CEO, Mailchimp.
What are some of your favorite books?
Three of my favorites are The Fred Factor by Mark Sanborn, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson, and one that I am currently reading…Leadership: In Turbulent Times by Doris Kearns Goodwin.
When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
The thought of all the blood, sweat, and tears that has gone into the last 12 years…and the thought of actually working.
What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Find a brick wall…and run through it. Then, find another brick wall…and run through it. This is what entrepreneurship is all about. You will face challenge after challenge and you will be judged on your appetite and desire to accept each challenge with integrity and dignity. There is nowhere to hide and you need to accept that very early. Be brave and do not waver when you are hit with disappointment. You will not be judged on how you get knocked down, but rather how you get back up. Entrepreneurship is the greatest training for life. Every day, you live in a microcosm of what your parents tried to teach you and what you try to pass on to your children.
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This interview was conducted for research purposes by author Jason Navallo for his upcoming book, Underdog.
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