Brandon Peterson is the COO of DPA auctions and CEO of Geokey Inc, a cloud-based mobile access solution for doors, gates, elevators, padlocks, and more. We discuss the 3 Cs of marketing, how to create a care culture in your business, and what it takes to build a competition-proof business.
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Create A Care Culture With Brandon Peterson
Our guest is Brandon Peterson, the CEO of Geokey, Inc, a cloud-based mobile access solution for doors, gates, elevators, padlocks, and more. Brandon, welcome to the show.
Thanks, Steve. I’m happy to be here.
It’s great to have you here. I’m very curious about some of the stuff that you have going and that you’ve come up with and your businesses. There’s another business that we haven’t even talked about, but I will ask you about it. Tell me, Brandon, how you got here. You previously founded and ran different organizations, including a non-profit, a coworking space for real estate companies, and an agriculture equipment auction platform, if I’m not mistaken. How did you end up founding an access solution business on top of this?
It’s an interesting story. I’m a third-generation entrepreneur. That’s in my blood. We’re serial entrepreneurs. We like to find problems and turn them into revenue-generating machines. One of the businesses that we had was 24/7 fitness clubs. As we were in the clubs, you have key fobs to get in. People were fobbing in, but it wasn’t the paying member.
I’m lacking security and I’m losing money. I don’t have data analytics. Every time I want to meet up with somebody to give them a gym membership, I have to physically meet them. I said, “There’s got to be an easier way of doing this.” What’s the one thing we always have on us? It’s our phones. Can that be the key? I looked into the market and there were some companies doing it, but the difference is that they were manufacturing their own hardware solution and then putting a cool app on top.
I said, “I’m not an engineer. I don’t want to get it into inventory. What are the big unicorn companies doing?” They’re cloud-based overall solutions, but they don’t own their components. Uber doesn’t own the taxis platform. Airbnb doesn’t own the real estate platform. Could I take that same methodology to access control and be the platform for all these different hardware solutions? That’s what I did.
I found a couple of guys. We bootstrapped the whole thing, built the technology, and ended up getting a patent on using your location services to authenticate the access, hence the name Geokey. It’s a Geolocated key. I started calling up these billion-dollar manufacturers and global manufacturers and saying, “Can you open your API up to us?” That was no easy task. They were like, “Who’s this guy?”
I worked my way in. I’m more of a sales CEO. I talked about relationships. “You’re a hardware company. You don’t want to build the software and do new feature builds and support and all of these different things and maintenance. Let us be that and we’ll partner with you.” They said, “No one’s doing that. That’s a good idea. Let’s do it.” They did open up their APIs. We made partnerships.
Now, we have a bunch of global brands like Access Communications, Carrier Systems, Noke, Master Lock, and the list goes on, and we’re hardware agnostic. We can go into facilities, an apartment complex, a manufacturing facility, or a small business and say, “We can do this type of hardware for your exterior doors and handles and deadbolts for interior and padlocks.” These are all different manufacturers under one cloud-based umbrella. That was the journey. There were a lot of ups and downs, but we’re here now, and we’re in 5 countries and 40 states. Our team is growing and it’s just so much fun building Geokey.
All of these hardware manufacturers also have technological components, so you can connect to them. It’s not just hardware. It’s not a traditional lock, which has no technology in it. These hardware companies already have technology in their locks.
They’ll have their firmware in there and sometimes they’re IP controllers, so then we do a cloud-based integration. We don’t require readers when we do that, so when we talk to people, “Where do you put the reader on the door?” “We don’t do that.” We’re one of the only companies that have made that happen or maybe it’s a Bluetooth connection. There’s the firmware in a padlock or a handle, and then you’re talking directly to those handles. Being hardware agnostic makes you very flexible in the way people can have access control. You can create very customized solutions but not compromise on the security measures that they need.
While we are talking about Geokey, you mentioned something that took my attention, which was that you bootstrapped this company. How did you bootstrap? Most tech companies like yours are venture-backed because the whole idea is, “We want to conquer the market as fast as possible before our competitors catch on.” How did you not have to do that? How do you even fund this company from scratch? That’s very rare.
We bonded out of our own pockets, and then there were late nights. You do your day job, and then in the evening times, you do these meetings. You game plan, you strategize, you code, and you’re doing sales calls after work to do those you’re running around making relationships. That’s what you do. You make it work. It’s long hours. It’s little sleep. As long as you have that long-term vision and that long-term goal, “I know where I’m going. I trust my team. I’m going to put in these hours because this isn’t forever,” it’s those sacrifices that you make that you have to take to get to the next level. It’s your antique to have a successful business.
Did your team members also treat this as a side gig?
At the beginning, we all did. It was all just a side thing. We believed that it was going to take off. Along the way, we had people saying, ” key fobs are never going to go away. No one’s going to use the phone. This is never going to work.” We had people telling us this, but we had faith and we were like, “We’re going to make this happen.” We’re glad we stuck with it because we are where we are now.
The way you got here, though, is that you have some really smart frameworks that I like to dig into a little bit. One of the frameworks that you use, you call the three Cs framework of marketing. How does this work, and how did you discover it?
We talk about the art of persuasion of an early adopter product. “How do we get people looking for or interested in the technology that they don’t even know about?” We learned one thing the hard way. We dumped a bunch of money into PPC marketing, Pay-Per-Click on Google, social media, YouTube, and those types of things.
What we found out is that people aren’t looking for this because they don’t know the pain point. What we created was called the three Cs. What are your customers doing, and what are their pain points? What’s the competition doing, and how are we better? What’s our value proposition to win over that? Using creativity to land on their ears and their eyes to say, “What was that?” and spark their interest.
That’s the approach of the three Cs of marketing. We look at our customers. What are they doing? It’s high-priced security solutions. It’s key fobs. It’s the same problems that I had as a business owner that I came up with the thing, Geokey. We have that. We look at what the competition’s doing. You have to use their hardware. It’s high-priced. It’s different things like that. Let’s not do that. Let’s make it so it’s a more affordable price. They’re getting a ton of support because that’s unheard of, and it’s a flexible technology. That’s how we’re going to be different, and that’s how we’re going to separate ourselves in a very saturated market.
The creativity part. PPC isn’t working. Why? It’s because it’s an early adopter product, and nobody’s googling this. How do we get out there? It’s with relationships. Let’s think of creative ways to get out there in different networking things or a video spotlight where they go “What?” or sending free demos and installing on offices of people that would resell it. They’re using it every day, and then they feel it, they see it, and they get that. You have to be creative and different in your marketing because traditionally, especially with an early adopter product, they’re not going to see the value. They don’t know that there is value yet. You got to show it.
It segues well into the previous episode, which was about sequential function release. Rob Ashton talked about how he actually systemized the different parts of his businesses. The last one he did was marketing. He talked about why marketing is so strategic and why so few people do that marketing well. I love how you explain that there is this analytical part of it.
When you analyze your customer and what their needs are. You research your competition. What are the gaps in the market that no one is covering? How do you communicate something over to the market that they’re not even aware that they have this pain? They have the pain, but they haven’t articulated what the problem is. How do you get to them? You are using the partnership approach through these major access cultural manufacturers that already have a captive market. You are tapping into their relationship. This is very creative and it’s very strategic. I love it.
It’s analyzing and synthesizing and then coming up with a creative solution to reach your customer. A lot of people think that marketing is just a mechanical thing. It’s about posting on social media, networking, and getting out there, and then they can hire these mercenary marketers who will do it for them. They miss the creativity piece, which is the Geokey in this whole equation. It’s an awesome framework.
I wanted to make an exception in your case. Normally, we only discuss one framework because otherwise, it gets overwhelming. You had this other concept, which is so fascinating. I want us to talk about that as well. You call it the North Star Challenge. You talked about how you motivate your employees using the North Star Challenge. Please share with our audience a little bit about what that North Star Challenge is and what the questions you ask are.
I love talking about this one because culture is so important to me. If you’re not taking care of your employees and your staff and treating them like a customer, they’re not going to go the extra mile and treat your customers the way they should be treated. They have to be a customer to me first. Before they’re a customer, I have to learn about them. I have to build trust and a relationship.If you're not taking care of your employees and treating them like customers, they're not going to go the extra mile and treat your customers the way they should be treated. Click To Tweet
There’s this thing. I learned it from Bob Beal but put my own twist on it. It’s called the North Star Challenge. What I do is I tell each person I meet with every single person who starts on that first week, I’d say, “I want a meeting with them and I’m going to talk with them.” Even if I’m not their direct report, I want to learn. These people are coming to our company and to our organization.
I tell them, “When you were born, you weren’t born with Geokey branded on you. You weren’t born for this company. You were born for your own goals and your ambitions and what you want to achieve in your life. Wherever you work is the vehicle to get you to those goals. Some are going to be the Honda Civic. Some are going to be the Lamborghini. I hope my organization is the Lamborghini to your goals. Before I can get you there, I have to learn what those goals are.”
I take them four short minutes to learn that, and I ask them four questions. “Why are you here? What are you going to do with your life? How are you going to do that? What are you going to be known for when you’re gone? What’s your legacy?” I start a timer and I ask a question. I said, “Get out a piece of paper and let’s write. Why are you here?” I give them 60 seconds.
The reason I only give them 60 seconds is that their subconscious is going to write it down. They’re going to say it. They’re not going to think about what their parents want, what their spouse wants for them, or what their friends want for them. They’re going to write down what they want because there’s not enough time to think about external influence.
With these four minutes, I’m able to figure out about this person, what they want, and what their values are, and we create this connection. I do it with them. The goal is that you have to be transparent. I start off by saying, “This is why I think I’m here,” and so on. We create this bond from the beginning, and we create this understanding.
They go, “Brandon, where are you going?” “This is where I’m going. Where do you want to go?” I learned that. Together we create this alliance to both get there. It’s that vehicle. Through the North Star Challenge, you have the opportunity to make that relationship. To understand in a cultural setting, “This is where we’re going, we’re doing it together, and we’re on the same page.”
That is so powerful. My mind is turning to where I can use this. There are so many places I could use this. What do you recommend? These questions are pretty deep. You soften it up by sharing yours first, which is great. Still, it could be sensitive for some people to go that deep that early. Would you do that when you start a relationship? Would you warm into the relationship and do it then when there’s already some level of trust? What’s the best way?
I would start analyzing our company first. Do you provide a care culture? When they come in for their first interview, can they feel the energy of a care culture? If they don’t feel that off the bat, this North Star Challenge isn’t going to work. At first, I would challenge people to say, what does your culture look like? Is it hard-nosed? Is it that you show up and you get your job done, and then you leave?
You’re going to go try to do a North Star challenge. They’re going to go, “This doesn’t add up.” First off, I would recommend this. If they can feel that energy at the beginning that this is a care culture, they come and they walk around, they see the people are excited, high-fiving, and they’re feeling it. It’s a little bit more of a softer approach to the North Star Challenge.
I always start off by saying, “I’m here to work for you just as much as you’re here to work for me. To prove it to you, I want to learn about you, and I’m going to teach you about myself. We’re going to see where we’re going to go together.” That’s the beginning. That’s the foundation of transparency and figuring that out about each other, but what are you doing to follow up? Your actions have to follow up where you’re going after that to show that care culture.
You take this opening salvo, but you’re setting the expectations and then have to live up to the expectations. You’re putting yourself under pressure. I like to think that this is what entrepreneurs do. We are willing to put ourselves under pressure and then use that pressure to force our performance. Whereas most people are afraid of the pressure. They never go there, so they never have to dig deep and get their real talents to the surface because there’s just no expectation set for them.
It’s like pressure-based diamonds. Transparency is the only way to get there. I like to use the phrase “humanitarian tech.” That’s my whole goal. I want to create amazing technologies. The only way to make amazing transformative technologies is with the humanitarian aspect of it. It’s by combining the two that you create this just concoction of the amazingness of a culture and innovation to change the future.The only way to make amazing transformative technologies is with the human humanitarian aspect of it. Click To Tweet
Another thing that you talked about, which interests me, is that everything is a process. At the surface level, I understand everything’s a process. Is it true? Is everything a process? Do you mean that literally? How do you mean this, and what’s the practical application of that?
It’s definitely process-driven. As I said, I’m a sales CEO, but I do have an operational core. I like to know that things are taken care of. In all my companies, I always want to give a white glove service. If you are doing a free-willy-nilly approach, from the moment they pick up the phone to learn about you, all the way until they get invoiced, all the way to reinforcement and follow-up, there has to be this love. They have to know they’re taken care of.
I don’t know what the audience is selling or how big the tickets are. If you’re going to go $20,000 to $25,000 plus tickets for bids, buyer’s remorse may come in and insecurity and so on. There has to be a process all the way along the way that they know, “The salespersons take care of me, all the way to the project manager, to the onboarding spot specialist, to the customer experience specialist. Making sure that I’m educated all the way along the way until forever.” That doesn’t just happen.
We use so much technology, from CRMs to project management platforms. Things don’t fall through the cracks. On top of that, we do verbiage processes. This is how you communicate. This is what you say. These are the questions you ask to show that you’re listening and that you understand. To us, we’ve learned by failure. It wasn’t by reading it in some book or something like that. It was learned by failure and then taking advice from others. They sat, “This is that flow. Follow the processes. That’s when you’ll get that true white glove service to your customers.”
When you say everything’s a process, how processed is your business?
We’ve got a manual for about everything. Our sales manual is 35 pages. We have engineering onboarding manuals, marketing manuals, and style guides. We have technology. Everything is in a drive and everybody can access it. The information is accessible. You have to make sure it’s accessible because if you’re requiring your team to say, “You got to know this.” They better have everything right there whenever they need to access it. We’ve taken a lot of time to develop these things, but if you want to scale, that’s the word. Process and scalability go together. If you want to scale, you have to have both to do it.Process and scalability go together. You want to scale, you can't do it without process. Click To Tweet
Do you feel like you have already eliminated single-person dependency in Geokey?
I have struggled, in the past, with being one-dimensional. Somebody gets sick or somebody wants to go to their kid’s soccer game. The rest of the team would hurt. A customer would be hurt. I was like, “What world are we living in that people can’t go to their soccer game or go on a vacation?” We put processes in place. If somebody is gone or something happens, this person steps in.
If technology goes down, this is the redundancy. If there’s a storm, a catastrophe, this is how this is going to operate. We’ve put these redundancies in place because of pain points. We said, “We’ve experienced all these pain points up to this date. There’s going to be more and they’re probably going to be bigger. How do we predict the pain points 60, 90 days out, or a year out? Put processes in place now so when it does happen, it’s going to hurt a little, but it’s not going to kill us. That’s what we concentrate on.
I have a final question. This is a strategic one. I have not asked this on this show yet, but I’m curious about how you think about this. You look at your business and you want to make it a sustainably leading business, which is difficult to compete with. Think of IKEA that’s dominating its sector, becoming this category of one business. How do you dig the moot around your business to make sure that people cannot compete with it very easily, they can’t figure it out, and they can’t copy your system?
It took years to get to the point that we are at right now because of the processes in place. There are a lot of things that go into that. 1) You got to have the right people. You got to have the right team. My team is way smarter than me. They know niche parts if it’s finance, engineering, customer support, or sales. In the position I am, I know a little bit about each one, but we have the right butts in the right seats to say, “This is what’s going to happen.”
You got to have the right culture. You got to have people that are all on the same page. At one point, we hired because we wanted to put butts in seats. That was the worst thing we have ever done because people were saying the wrong messages. They didn’t have conviction about what we were trying to do. They were just a job to them. It’s finding the right people, having the right data, and analyzing data.Don’t hire just to put butts in seats. That was the worst thing because people would say the wrong messages and not have conviction about what we were trying to do. Click To Tweet
Which way do we get to go? What time do we need to pivot? My grandpa had a line, “The only thing you can be married to is your wife.” Don’t be so stubborn and set in your ways that, “This is what we decided from the beginning.” We might have to change paths. We might have to go this way. You understand the data and listen. Be intuitive enough to say, “We’re going to take a pivot.”
We talked about the redundancies. Prepare for rainy days. Put the processes in place that, “If this goes south, this is what we’re going to do.” It comes down to that humanitarian tech and the care culture. If everybody knows the seats they’re in and they truly care about the company like it’s their own, and you give them that freedom and the power to act that way, innovation will come out.
I’m not just talking about a new app. I’m talking about innovation internally and new processes. How do we conduct a meeting? How do we communicate? You just see phenomenal things come out with amazing ideas. You implement them. They’re so excited and proud, and now you have buy-in from the whole team to win.
I love the idea that you create a care culture where people will bring not just their minds but their hearts as well. They’re going to come up with innovations, with solutions because they care about the company. Their identity is linked to the company and they want to make it successful so they become successful and the whole company becomes successful. Where can people learn more about Geokey? Do you have another business? Do you want to talk about that as well? Your auction business? What is that about?
I’m a third generation in an international online heavy machinery auction business. We do it all online. We sell agriculture equipment and transportation equipment. We started back in 1972. 2022 is our 50-year anniversary. Grandpa started it, it was all onsite auctions. Dad brought it online, and then I came in and I scaled it. We work with giant corporations in the ag and trucking world to provide full-service experience from title transfer, money transfer, and certified appraisals to getting it sold and transported, putting the money right in that seller’s pocket, and an easy platform for the buyers.
You’re running both businesses and you are still taking time for being in our show and figuring frameworks out. That’s amazing.
It’s the power process.
You’re leveraging yourself. You’re cloning yourself all over the place. If people would like to learn more, they want to reach out to you, they want to find out what Geokey. Where do they go? What’s the best way to access all that information?
If you want to jump on our site, DPA Auctions or Geokey, you’ll be able to find me. If you’re looking for mobile access control when you’re trying to create a more sustainable business. When it comes to going green and then using modern technology. If you have an apartment complex near your corporate location, if you have padlocks for a utility company, you can go to GeokeyAccess.com. If you’re looking for anything in the auction business, that’s DPAAuctions.com. You can contact me there. If you’re interested in learning more about care culture, you can go through the sites and find me. I’d love to talk to you about it.
Thank you, Brandon. I know that you’re active on LinkedIn as well. Thank you for coming to the show and sharing about the care culture, the processes, and your three Cs of marketing. Pressure makes diamond as well. There were lots of good stuff we talked about. Thank you for your time.
Thanks for having me.
- Geokey, Inc
- Rob Ashton – previous episode
- LinkedIn – Brandon Peterson