Meet Blake Johnson of Byte
I grew up in a small agricultural town and it had the highest unemployment rate in California. My hometown is exceptionally rural and this placed a limit on my exposure to the outside world. As luck and fate would have it, an opportunity of a lifetime presented itself and I had an opportunity to go away to a preparatory/boarding school for high school. At 13, I moved away to school and my entire perspective on the world dramatically shifted. My goals for my future took a big shift and I saw for the first time what others had which I really wanted to be a part of. The Webb Schools focused on instilling leadership and work ethic unmatched in any school. I embraced the opportunities and finally had a place to utilize them. I developed keen direction, polished by all these little intangibles the school instilled and was off to the races. My high school education has played a part in every success I’ve had since.
Upon graduating high school, I aspired to be in the Naval Academy and despite my best efforts, I did not get in. I didn’t necessarily have a plan B. But as life goes, the unplanned course landed me right where I needed to be. I ended up attending the University of Arizona for college. It also provided amazing opportunities and enabled me to grow in a way I did not see coming. I entered very prepared academically but I credit my college experience to developing my emotional awareness and communication capabilities. As a college graduate, I took a sales job at a financial company and became #1 in the company within two years. I worked there for four years polishing my sales and finance skills. With experience under my belt and a fueled desire to reach further, I intended to go to grad school for business.
While studying for the GMAT, I was approached by a young financial company who wanted me to come work for them in Los Angeles. I was hesitant to say the least, having just left my previous job two months prior so that I could put all my focus toward business school. I was not interested in joining another financial company at this time, especially one that was not near or on the same level of success as the one I had just chosen to leave. At the end, I was able to negotiate 50% equity in the company and I made the decision to join as a partner. The company took off like a rocket shortly after and we were flourishing. In retrospect, I didn’t exactly know how to run a company at the time. We went from booming to a near bust in a short number of years due to the financial crisis in 2008. I learned invaluable and hard lessons through this period and thankfully, I came out the other end of it wiser and really understanding what it takes to run a business well. With more experience, I started a few other companies that thrived. Through starting them from scratch and later selling them, and all the ups and downs that followed, I discovered how to build and run a company and the joy the process brought to me – and I have been doing it since.
It has been anything but smooth. It’s been horribly turbulent and the highs, high and the lows, low. I got started out on my own in 2005. In 2007 I had one of the fastest-growing companies in Los Angeles. In 2008/2009, in the depth of the financial crisis, I narrowly escaped bankruptcy and didn’t take a day off work until Memorial Day, 2012. I started three companies in that time, all of which I successfully exited and sold to Hedge Funds/Private Equity Groups. I had a near business death misses in 2015-2107 that could have completely derailed the entire path too.
The trick is to appreciate the struggle and accept there is no other way. You can long for a path without it, but to be on the forefront you are going to have to pave your own way, take the hits and roll with the punches along the way. The further along I get in my life and career, the more I understand that the huge challenges and problems are inevitable. The greater the challenges, the better the potential outcome.
I have started and sold five companies. I recently announced the sale of Byte, a direct-to-consumer dental aligner company that I co-founded with a business partner in 2017. This has been a tremendous personal and professional win. As I reflect on the journey (and celebrate the outcome), I realize that Byte was different from my previous ventures in several key ways. When I began Byte, I knew it had incredible potential, but never anticipated the explosive success that we have enjoyed. As I pondered why that was, I realized that I have been unconsciously incorporating hard-won lessons in entrepreneurship in ways that poised Byte for success from the very beginning.
I learned our strengths, which served to set us apart from others:
Look for the under-served in a marketplace and fill their need.
Thinking critically about the markets you are attempting to enter is key. An industry that seems highly competitive at first may have an underserved segment that is desperate for a product made specifically for them.
Do not say yes to everyone.
So many start-ups say yes to everyone and frantically try to make it work on the backend. All that does is create stress and sub-par products & services. Instead of trying to make your company a jack of all trades, aim to master one. Honesty and transparency create trust, and consumers are happy to work with trustworthy companies.
Do not undervalue good intentions.
Strive to be a company that consumers are proud to align themselves with. An authentic desire to help others wound up boosting our business in ways we did not anticipate or plan for. Do not second guess your desire to do good. Lean into it instead.
While there are always new lessons to learn with each new adventure, I am confident that the lessons I applied to Byte can be applied universally, and that the repetition of the same model will lead to success.
I look at it in two different parts. There is social success and business success.
To me, social success is having strong, long lasting relationships of every kind. Ones that are built on loyalty, mutual trust, and being entertained with one another – not taking anything too seriously. I love spending time with those closest to me- the more I am surrounded by those that I love and respect, the more content I feel.
In business, I see success as building something of value. Some components to this include:
Making sure a business is scalable
Creating something profitable
Having an end game – a vison for the company in the big picture
And most of all, having happy customers
Building that customer experience is integral to my criteria for success. It doesn’t count without happy customers. When I can figure out how to make people happy, how to provide a great customer service and customer journey, how to influence and change their lives in a positive direction—that is success, to me. If I execute that while making money and scaling the business toward my desired outcome, that is success.