Dan Bejmuk is an owner of Dreambox Creations, a full-service digital agency that provides a wide range of services to companies such as website design and creation, online marketing, e-commerce solutions and business management systems. Though Dreambox Creations serves customers in many different industries, its niche is the restaurant industry. The company works with more restaurant chains than any other digital agency in the country, including Yard House, Claim Jumper, Black Angus and In-N-Out Burger.
Dreambox Creations recently celebrated its 15th anniversary. What started as a collaboration between six Cal Poly Pomona students is now a leader in its industry.
How did you get started with your business?
There were originally six founders who came together back in 1999. At the time, we were still all in school and had part-time jobs. There was one person who brought us together, and there was a desire to go and build a business that would support our customers in a way that was different than what other companies were doing.
We were lucky from the start that we all had very complementary skill sets and experiences. Some were more on the creative side, some were more on the technology side, some were more on the business development/business growth side. When we all came together, it was a merging of different experiences and different backgrounds, and it meant that we could pull the best of what we were all capable of and build on top of that as we continued to grow the business.
How did you fund your business in the beginning? Have you taken on any additional funding since?
The six original founders all put in a very small initial capital investment. The company didn’t borrow any money until we had been in business for about 8 years. Since that point, we’ve had two different types of financing.
One is through a manufacturer of computer hardware because, as a full-service agency, we make significant capital investments in our infrastructure ever year. We also have an unsecured line of credit with our bank. It’s nice that we don’t usually use it, but if we need to, it’s there.
Running the Business
How did you learn to run your business?
All of us who first started the company had worked at different places before coming here, some of us at big companies. We saw things that big companies did very well, and we saw things that big companies didn’t do very well. What we wanted to do was create an environment where we pulled the best attributes from our experiences at our past employers and built on that with things that could add value to the company culture, comprehensively addressing all the pain points that we had all experienced before.
Who was your first customer?
For our first customers, we really relied a lot on our personal networks. Our first customer was a family friend of one of the founders. She was a professional artist. We were able to start getting the processes moving in place to see how we needed to support our first customer and how we could translate that to something for future clients.
What’s the biggest mistake you made in the first year?
Going back 15 years, if there’s one thing I would have done differently is to do everything possible to retain the best talent. That’s one thing we’ve learned over the years, with any company big or small, all you are is the combination of what everybody there can deliver. When you look at the impact of having a very talented team (which I’m very proud that we do have), every person brings something unique to the table that makes your team that much better. If I were to go back to Day One, I would do everything possible to make sure that we did everything possible to retain every key member of the team.
What’s the smartest thing you did in the first year?
I think we’ve always done a very good job of creating a company culture where there is an expectation of delivering the best product possible every single time. We have this expression here, “Because we are a small business, there’s nowhere here to hide.” Everybody here is expected to deliver and produce to the best of their capabilities. It’s something that from the beginning was our intention, never to inject complacency.
What’s the most rewarding thing about running your own business?
Because we are working with industry leaders and we’re able to sit down with the heads of these industry leaders and influence their decision-making, we see that the work we’re doing is impacting so much more than just our business and our customers, it really is making an impact industry-wide. It’s rewarding and humbling, and something we very much appreciate playing a part in.
What’s the most difficult/challenging thing about running your own business?
It’s sort of a double-edged sword. We’ve done a very good job of being a very key part of many customers’ businesses. In doing that, if they operate 24×7 or are open on New Year’s Eve at 11 p.m., there needs to be someone here who is also working at some capacity in order to support our customers. The challenging part is that we have built such expectations of what we deliver, we need to make sure we keep up with them. Another expression that we have here is, “It’s never boring.”
What’s the most surprising thing about running your own business?
I wouldn’t say for me it’s surprising, but it’s surprising for people who don’t work here, like my family or friends … People are really surprised by how much time it takes to really do a job like this well. It’s pretty much an everyday occurrence to be here for 12 hours. For people who are not living it every day, it’s a little shocking. We also might be a little bit of workaholics!
What business owner or entrepreneur do you admire most? Who is your role model?
Tilman Fertitta, the owner of Landry’s, is someone who I listen to and value every little nugget of information I hear from. Landry’s is a customer of ours that owns 600 restaurants and casinos around the world. Every time I get a chance to hear him speak, I try to soak it up like a sponge because he has these little nuggets of information that tend to be so impactful.
What I’ve Learned
What advice do you have for others starting their own business?
Something that I’ve always heard and have made a part of our company philosophy is that notion of always doing what you can to grow your revenue. There’s so many companies out there that focus on the bottom line and being more efficient and finding ways to cut costs. That’s certainly hugely important. But, by looking at the top-line mentality and doing everything possible to grow the revenue, that’s what makes everything else possible.
Do everything possible to continue to bring in new customers, to continue to bring in new income. That facilitates every other possible initiative and every other possible thing that you’d like to do within the company. If the revenue slows down or stops, you might as well just go home.
What do you wish you had known before starting your business?
I say this with my eyes wide open that I work with a terrific team, but I can be humble enough to say that there were some people who I had the opportunity to work with in the past that I’d love to still work with now. I would say to anybody who is running a business, do what you can to retain the best people, because that’s who will help you continue to grow your business and retain your sanity.