Jason Boyce – Co-Founder & CEO, Dazadi.com

Jason co-founded Dazadi.com in 2002, and has been its acting CEO since 2004. Following the completion of his finance degree at Cal State Northridge, he gained valuable management experience as a commissioned officer in the United States Marine Corps. Following the Marine Corps, and prior to co-founding Dazadi.com, Jason worked as an account executive at Johnson & Johnson. In the last sixteen years, Jason has added skill sets including, but not limited to, raising capital, designing, and sourcing private label products from Asia and the U.S., software development and project management, business financial analysis, digital marketing, logistics planning, developing A+ employees, and developing successful strategies for success in the ever-changing world of eCommerce.

Tell me about your early career.
It took me FOREVER to graduate from college (8 years), but when I finally did graduate, I joined the Marine Corps. I went straight to Officer Candidate School and spent four years learning how to lead Marines. I left the Marines in 2002 and co-founded Dazadi.com. However, I also worked in sales for Johnson & Johnson at the same time. Dazadi wasn’t doing enough to support my salary and my brothers so I worked on Dazadi at night and on the weekends.

How did the concept for Dazadi come about?
Here is our origin story, not yet published. We’re going through a process to update our branding and copy on the site:

“When Dazadi.com co-founder and CEO Jason Boyce was 18 years old, he had no way of knowing that a simple invitation to join the Klaristenfeld family for a Friday night dinner would change him forever. Jason was so moved by the Klaristenfeld family tradition of unplugging from the world for 24 hours each week, that he showed up uninvited the next Friday night and every Friday thereafter. They ate meals together, they talked together, and they PLAYED together! They played cribbage, backgammon, ping pong, and basketball…and through play, they connected as a family.

Eleven years later in 2002, they sat at that same family dinner table and founded a company that offered the same classic items they played together as kids. Their mission: to bring families and friends together so that they can experience the same connection that Jason and his “adopted” brothers (Josh, Elan, Ari, and Dan) did. Fueled with little more than a bold vision, a bit of gumption to go for it, and a standard to always put people over profits, they named their company Dazadi (pronounced DAZZ-uh-dee) – a combination of audacity, meaning bold or daring, and Tzadik, the Hebrew word for a person who always does the right thing. Dazadi.com has since grown to become a respected home that offers an incredible selection of expertly-curated products. From outdoor games and poolside products to treadmills and pool tables, Dazadi’s goal is to make your front yard, backyard, and everything in between a place where friends and family can come together to share great memories.

As The Home of Awesome®, Dazadi promises audaciously amazing service from caring experts who can guide you through our curated selection of awesome products to help you find exactly what you’re looking for at the best price. Oh, and because we always aim for awesomeness, we’ll deliver it all to your door absolutely free.”

How was the first year in business?
It’s been sixteen years, so I remember very little. I do remember not sleeping much and trying to balance two jobs. I didn’t really enjoy my work at Johnson & Johnson, so it became extra motivation to make Dazadi work, and fast! We were drop-shipping everything, so the hardest part was convincing vendors to sell to us. Most of our vendors weren’t too excited about doing the logistics work for us so it took some serious selling to convince them that we were a good customer.

What was your marketing strategy?
Marketing in the beginning was great. It was a pay-per-click marketing strategy, mostly with a company called Overture in Pasadena. We were paying $.05 per click with hardly any competition. Life was good.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
We went from $100,000 to $1 million in revenue in year two, then doubled again the next two years.

How do you define success?
In all honesty, we didn’t really know what we were doing. Marketing was easy, sales were pouring in, and we were just happening to be growing top line revenue. That all changed when we experienced our first “near-death” experience in 2008 during “The Great Recession”. Failure can be an excellent teacher and we’ve learned a lot from our mistakes.

What is the key to success?
At each stage of a company’s life, different skills are required. Going from $1 million to $5 million required one set of skills, then going from $5 million to $10 million required another different set of skills. I’m actually learning as much as I can right now in order to get our $22 million company to $40 million and beyond. So, I would say key #1 is having a healthy curiosity. I love learning new things as our business expands. It keeps me hooked in to the business and it keeps things interesting. Key #2 is not being afraid to fail and making tough decisions after failure to learn and move on. Doing an “autopsy” on a failed rollout or after a bad quarter can really help you and your team get back on track. If everyone in the organization knows it’s okay to fail as long as they learn from their mistakes, then everyone tries to push the envelope.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
It’s really hard to quantify and rank the greatest lesson because there have been so many, and there are so many still to learn. There were a couple of reasons it took me eight years to graduate from college. One is that I learned in college, after flunking several classes, that I had a pretty severe learning disability. When it was finally diagnosed and corrected through vision therapy, I really wanted to “start over” in college. I dropped out of Pepperdine University and started back in remedial classes at a local junior college. It wasn’t that I was so set on learning the content again, but I wanted to “learn how to learn.” It still takes me longer than the average person to learn things, but I get excited about learning and I know a learning process that works for me with my specific learning issues. So, I would say that the greatest lesson I’ve ever learned (haha) was learning how I, Jason, learn.

What are some quotes that you live by?
I learned a lot about leadership and management as an officer in the USMC, but I had to unlearn some things when I started working with my brothers on our business. The quote that best summarizes what I had to learn was, “The right thing, in the wrong way, is the wrong thing.” It helped me realize that I was no longer in a military environment where individuals responded to yelling and being talked down to. This quote not only helped save our business, but it saved my relationship with my brothers. I was a jerk to them and this quote helped me stop that negative behavior. The next great quote is, “They will respect what YOU inspect.” I’ve heard several different variations of this quote and even one from the Marines, but you can’t grow and succeed if you cannot delegate tasks. And those delegated tasks and duties won’t get done if you don’t inspect and supervise them. Amazon does a great job with “instrumentation.” They measure and monitor everything and we’ve adopted some of that in our organization. In fact, doing a better job of identifying and monitoring KPIs is something I’m learning how to do better now. It will be crucial as we grow to $40 million in revenue and beyond.

What are some of your favorite books?
I haven’t read this in a long time, but Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki is the reason I started a business. I was in the Marines, read it, and it helped me steer my course away from corporate America and towards entrepreneurship. I also just finished reading Great CEOs Are Lazy by Jim Schleckser and enjoyed it so much that I joined his CEO Project. It’s been really helpful for me.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
This is an easy one, Jason. It’s March 2014, after our worst year ever, 2013, when we lost $1 million. We had to lay off all of our staff, and we had huge amounts of debt. My two brothers and one remaining employee are trying to run an $8 million/year business and learning from those disastrous 2013 mistakes, and I find out that my 6-month-old daughter has to have her kidney removed. To make matters worse, she develops a hospital-born infection that quarantined her for a month at the UCLA Medical Center. There were moments when my wife and I weren’t sure if she would survive. I have to give it to my brothers for keeping the business going during that time because I refused to leave her side until she was discharged. I spent one month in her hospital room with her, and I wasn’t sure the business would survive. Not only did Ellie survive and is a happy, healthy 4-year-old now, but the business survived, and is in fact surviving. I guess that was more like the worst month than day. 🙂

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
Adversity is familiar to me and I don’t shy away from it. In fact, sometimes adversity is easier for me to handle than success. These days, my amazing wife, Ann, and my two amazing daughters keep me going. My brothers also keep me going. We pick each other up when we’re down and we sometimes even kick each other in the ass to get going. We are completely honest with each other and it really makes this business meaningful and fun.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
You will fail. There is a 100% certainty that you will have moments of intense failure, but just know that it’s all part of the game. Grip the mirror, learn which of your behaviors caused it, learn from it, and change those behaviors, then put it in the rear view mirror…because it won’t be your last. 🙂

Jason Navallo

Jason Navallo is the author of five books: American Dream, Thrive, Never Give Up, Success, and Driven to Succeed. He has an M.B.A. in Human Resource Management from Louisiana State University and lives in NYC.