The entrepreneur and SaaS developer discusses the steps he took to from selling drugs to a rock-solid foundation upon which a future SaaS empire would be built.
Dan Martell is known for many things, including being a proud Canadian, a loving husband, and a serial entrepreneur. He’s also a best-selling author with an impressive career that has allowed him to coach over 1000 founders in the SaaS space.
Recently, he sat down with HawkeTalk for a fascinating interview that touched on his unexpected journey from problematic teen to award-winning Canadian entrepreneur, investor, and all-around technology expert.
ON THE UNEXPECTED BEGINNINGS OF A NOW WILDLY SUCCESSFUL CAREER
Erik Huberman: To start out, I assume that on the day you’re born, you come out with just a ton of SaaS knowledge right out of the gate.
Dan Martell: I grew up in a house where my mom had a severe drinking problem. My dad was in sales, and traveling quite a bit. I had older sisters – no older brother, no real guidance in life. I was diagnosed with ADHD when I was 11 and ended up developing pretty severe anger issues and behavioral challenges at home. I ended up getting taken out of my home and put into a crisis center when I was 12. Eventually, I was in foster care.
A lot of people don’t know this part of my life, because they see me today. We, as a family, went through some really, really challenging times. I was introduced to drugs when I was 13. That was definitely the spiral. I just went out of control and got in trouble with the law. Juvenile detention when I was 15. When I got out, I made a commitment to myself that I would change my life. I lasted 24 hours before I was back out with the same people, selling drugs.
I ended up getting sentenced to almost two years in an adult prison.
Huberman: I didn’t know any of this.
Martell: I was literally in a debate on Facebook with one of our mutual friends about how ‘all successful people come from rich families and rich upbringings.’ Yeah, it was definitely not true [in my case]
ON TURNING ADVERSITY INTO OPPORTUNITY
Huberman: So you just happened to find a computer in the place where you were completing rehab?
Martell: What’s funny in the story, I told myself at the time, is like maybe my brain was wired for computers. That’s why I always struggled in school. I didn’t pay attention, because I just became obsessed. It literally became my new addiction. I got sober and then replaced it with writing code.
That’s where I got into entrepreneurship. It turns out, business is the ultimate personal development program. I just happened to go from selling drugs to building software tools.
There was something about the predictability of writing code, the repeatability, and the consistency, that really spoke to my soul. I think because of that chaos I grew up in, I fell in love and just went all in and just kept trying to build businesses. I would love to say that I crushed it, but I didn’t. I literally started at 17 writing code, starting companies that nobody would buy, that I would then shut down, and move on to the next thing.
It took seven years, until I was about 24, until I finally found any business success.
ON THE PERILS OF BEING YOUR OWN BIGGEST CRITIC
Huberman: [As you rise to success], part of the challenge becomes the psychological part of it all.
Martell: I judged myself so hard because I always kind of prided myself on being this mentally tough person. I wasn’t. My body was having a physical reaction. I couldn’t stop it. I remember, I went to the gym and it felt like I was having a heart attack. I’m like ‘no, I’m stronger than this.’
I have got to admit that I need some help and all this stuff.
The beauty of I think life is that I can point to several of those big moments and challenges that just allowed me to develop my growth mindset. When I’m going through it, I know it’s gonna suck. But I’m also looking for that seed of opportunity. Where’s that seed? What’s the new high watermark? That’s the fun part.
ON INSPIRING THE NEXT GENERATION
Huberman: What would be one piece of advice to any aspiring entrepreneurs, just someone trying to reach their goals? Coming from nothing, whatever it is, one piece of advice that you either wish you heard or that you did hear that really got you set up?
Martell: I wish I had heard this when I was starting off because I think it’s the number one plague for all entrepreneurs: they lack clarity of direction. This is true for anybody. People ask themselves, ‘What am I supposed to do with my life? What is this all about?’ Here’s what I believe – it’s two things.
One, you become the best version of yourself that you can possibly become. Focus on that. Then, share that person with the world. Your world may be your own, like your family, your community, or your church. It could be social media. It could be the Internet. It doesn’t matter.
But if you actually wake up every day and say, ‘The purpose of my life is to become the best version of me and share that person with the world,’ you can’t go wrong. It doesn’t matter if you want to build a business or not. It’s literally the success principle that I think will energize people to find another opportunity that will allow them to feel fulfilled in life.
CEO & Founder Erik Huberman launched Hawke Media in 2014. Now valued at over $150 million, Hawke Media is the fastest growing marketing consultancy agency in the United States.