Dan Norton is an Entrepreneur Ally and Process Nerd at Partner-Ally, a resource that helps create foundational strategies and systems and develops sustainable solutions for small businesses. Dan was the President, Chief Technical Officer, and Director of Design for Absco Solutions, a company he and his business partner built. Dan served on the Board of Directors for Absco. Previously, he served on the Board of Directors for Sound Experience, where he held roles as Vice President and President. Dan is a founding member and previously served on the board of the EO Seattle DEI Committee for the Entrepreneurs’ Organization.
Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:
- Dan Norton shares his experience growing up in an entrepreneurial household
- How Dan discovered his entrepreneurial path
- How Dan’s small alarm company evolved into a full service engineered security platform
- What is the foundation for running a great company?
- Dan talks about the value of attending an Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) forum
- Dan shares the importance of having educational tools available for new business owners
In this episode…
There are many resources on starting your business, but what about assistance with crafting your brand’s vision? How do you implement strategies that align with your brand’s personality?
Dan Norton created a place to help small business owners develop their visions from strategic planning to foundational processes. As a small business owner himself, he knows the true value of educational resources and tools when scaling a brand. So, do you need a trusted ally in setting up your team for success with a strategic and process-based architecture?
On this episode of the Rising Entrepreneurs Podcast, John Corcoran sits down with Dan Norton, Entrepreneur Ally and Process Nerd at Partner-Ally and Founding Member EO Seattle DEI Committee for the Entrepreneurs’ Organization. Dan talks about the importance of educational tools for business owners. Dan discusses how patience paid off when scaling his brand, the impact of an advisory board when scaling his business, and how the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) is a valuable resource.
Resources mentioned in this episode:
- Dan Norton on LinkedIn
- Dan Norton’s emails: Dan@DJ-Norton.com or Dan@Partner-Ally.com
- Absco Solutions
- Entrepreneurs’ Organization
- EOS Worldwide
- Seattle Pacific University
- Warren Rustand on LinkedIn
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Welcome to the Rising Entrepreneurs Podcast where we feature top founders and entrepreneurs and their journey. Now let’s get started with the show.
John Corcoran 0:13
Alright, welcome everyone. John Corcoran here. I’m the host of this show. You know, check out some of our past interviews we’ve got some great episodes with smart CEOs, founders and entrepreneurs of all kinds of companies, ranging from Netflix to Kinkos, YPO, EO activation, Blizzard Lending Tree, and many more. I’m also the co founder Ryan 25, where we help connect b2b business owners to their ideal prospects. And this episode is brought to you by Rise25, where we help b2b businesses to give and connect to their dream 100 relationships and partnerships by helping them to run their podcast so that it generates a referral pipeline and ROI and this episode is part of our global leadership conference series. Global Leadership Conference, or GLC is a conference for emerging business leaders put on by the Entrepreneurs’ Organization, EO each year, I’m a member of EO will be attending this year’s event. And I created this series to highlight some of the various different entrepreneurs who have been in attendance and have had great experiences there. This year, GLC is both in person and virtual. So it’s in person, Washington, DC, April 23, to 26th 2022. And it’s also in person in Barcelona, Spain, and it is virtual as well. Open to All EO members worldwide, you can go to eonetwork.org, to learn more about it. And my guest here today is Dan Norton. Dan is a founder of a number of different companies, including Absco Solutions. He was president of that company, actually not founder of the company, but it has an interesting story about how he came to be president of that company. We’ll dive into that in a second. The second is a local alarm company. He ran it with his business partner, and took it from a small little business doing couple $100,000 a year to 50 plus employees 12 million a year in revenue. And then he also had another company, an ERP, SaaS software company, we’ll start we’ll talk about as well and now founder of Partner-Ally, which helps small business owners and businesses to build intentional, scalable and sustainable systems. And, Dan, such a pleasure to have you here today. And I want to start by asking you about your background. You were raised in a family of entrepreneurs, all your parents were entrepreneurs, passed on to the next generation as well. That wasn’t my experience. I actually wasn’t raised that way. So I’m fascinated by people who have that experience. What was it like growing up in a family entrepreneurs? Was it preordained? Like No way? Is any kid of mine getting a job? Kind of thing? Or
Dan Norton 2:41
no, no? isn’t at all, in fact, yeah, I had. It’s interesting, because I think my parents fell into entrepreneurship out of just the circumstances that they were put in and, and jumped right into it. So we had my mom. She’s been an early education teacher her entire life. And she started preschool because she had my two half brothers, and knew some friends that had kids that also needed someplace to take care of them. And so that’s was the genesis of starting that school. And then that grew to, you know, a couple 100 students early education center. And yeah, the same with my stepfather. He was in the corrosion engineering space and worked for another company, ironically, called Norton Corrosion, but no relation. And he then after leaving that company decided, I’m just going to do my own thing and like a lot of people, and he started a business and that engineering consulting firm that he started, has now been handed off to my one of my brothers.
John Corcoran 3:59
Hmm. And did you look at their example and say, you know, I’m definitely following in their footsteps. I’m going to start a company one day.
Dan Norton 4:07
No, actually, I didn’t have that vision. I think I was a little bit lost. I, my parents gave me a lot of freedom of choice as far as what I was going to do and where I was going to head. And I even started into college at one point, but decided that wasn’t for me. And really, my entrepreneurial journey started with a friend asking for help. So
John Corcoran 4:37
So you had a friend this is a friend from high school or college or something like that,
Dan Norton 4:42
Actually, from junior high. Wow. Yeah. known each other since we were 11 years old. So and I grew up with, you know, going over to his house and I knew his parents, and he had a family business, his mom And father ran the business. And unfortunately, they’ve fell on some hard times and lost some big customers and pretty much all their employees. And they were going to shut the doors. And they reached out to him. And he was at college at the time and said, We’re going to shut down the family business. He said, No, you’re not. And I’m gonna come and take over the business. And he had reached out to me and, and of course, I was, like, Yeah, I’m not gonna let your parents you know, close the doors on their business and then lead to financial ruin. So that’s how it all started.
John Corcoran 5:38
And other than your longstanding friendship together, why do you think he reached out to you? Um, you know,
Dan Norton 5:46
that’s a good question. I’m not sure that we, we’ve ever really examined that, even though we’ve talked about it many times. But one thing that a skill that I do have is that I understand most technical things. I’m pretty handy. So I think that technician proficiency might have been part of it. But I think at the end of the day, he was just looking for somebody he trusted so
John Corcoran 6:19
Right. Now, the business evolved over the years. And eventually, you’re doing distribution, design, implementation service, and all this different equipment. Talk a little bit about those decisions and how the company evolved into the company that eventually became became.
Dan Norton 6:39
Yeah, so it started off as security implementations. So think intrusion or like something you walk into someplace and disarm. It started off with that, primarily. And part of the evolution was that at the time, that the two larger clients that had stayed with the business, or been acquired recently, was Seattle University in Seattle Pacific University, both private high origin, education. So really, part of the business evolved because of clients like them, they’re we’re looking for something beyond that, mostly fire alarm and emergency communications at that point. So that’s kind of how it started evolving and our offerings and what we did
John Corcoran 7:34
So kind of classic case of falling where the clients are willing, you know, most interested in from you.
Dan Norton 7:40
Yeah, yeah. I mean, I think we were the, it used to be that at the beginning, we’ve concentrated mostly on commercial fire alarm. But then the security aspect evolved over time. And in fact, you know, it eclipsed the fire alarm portion at one point.
John Corcoran 8:01
Yeah. And you also start another company is kind of an outgrowth of Absco. So talk about that one.
Dan Norton 8:11
Yeah. So. So rewinding to the formative years, my next youngest brother, who was in pre med at the time, worked part time at the company. In fact, before I got involved with it, and he was he put together a database and software for us run the business. Trying to on FileMaker was the platform. So it was that, you know, you know, this is over 30 years ago. So this was just like a couple of Mac computers linked together. Yeah. And so anyway, that’s what we ran the business on for many years. But it was clear that we needed something beyond that. And so we engaged a software developer to put together the system that we use, you know, to this day, and once that kind of got off the ground, and we saw how helpful it was and, and that really, there wasn’t anything like that out there for specialty contractors at the time. That’s why we created it. And the more that we talked to other specialty contractors more cemented, that we needed to roll this out as a product on its own.
John Corcoran 9:32
Yeah. And there’s a challenge to that, of course, right lack of focus, staying within your lane versus pursuing other opportunities. Yeah. What was that calculus like for you as you’re trying to determine, you know, do we pursue this opportunity or do we focus on what we’re doing?
Dan Norton 9:49
Yeah. So at some point in, in early on, I think my The business partner, I think he had the vision that we could, you know, this could be a great business for us. And I think that you’re right, that focus aspect. We, for better, for worse, we evolved that software platform very slowly over time, there’s more of an organic growth to it. And so we were able to essentially fund that company through Absco. However, in 2008, we were, we were going to kind of launch it out on its own, and of course, because of the economy, that ended up being poor timing. So we took a step, a step back from that. And once the, you know, fast forward to maybe four or five years ago, we started looking at that again, you know, as far as breaking out the company, but we did have some other other times that we got sidetracked with projects. Yeah, definitely. So yeah. Yeah, it’s, it’s interesting how that works. We at one point we were going to do, we had a computer division, of the company. Uh huh. And that was just like an opportunity that came up and we could start getting into it and realizing Computer Security Division. No, it’s actually selling like desktop and server computers, to selling local alarm distribution,
John Corcoran 11:40
and also computers.
Dan Norton 11:43
Yeah. So this is something we tacked on. You know, that’s the way the industry was going, as you put, you know, these these systems on
John Corcoran 11:52
could become computerized. Right. Okay.
Dan Norton 11:54
And my partner’s brother also had a lot of expertise in that. And so we tried that. And we didn’t work, we actually started up another division that was going to be remote guard services. But then we decided that we needed to shut that down as well.
John Corcoran 12:13
Yeah. So there were a couple other side projects, some of which took off some which didn’t. As you reflect back, and you’ve since exited the company, you sold your interest in the company. But as you think back over the years of running the company, what what are a couple of the key things that you would credit to the reason why it was able to go from when you first joined the company, and it was a couple $100,000 in revenue to, you know, 12 million 50 plus employees, what are a couple things he would point to as reasons why it yeah did well?
Dan Norton 12:46
I think there was a couple of things that stand out to me. One is that we were quick to look outside of ourselves. So we often engage people that had a lot more industry experience than we did. We had a management consultants that we brought in one in particular that helped kind of form our management team process. So I think that’s one thing is to realize that you don’t know everything. And in addition to that, the the way that we ran the company was as if we were much larger than we were at the time. So we were trying to run the company as that target size company that we’re trying to grow to instead of being mired in what we had to do in that moment.
John Corcoran 13:50
And so that that was what just acting as if kind of as was that way you
Dan Norton 13:55
Yeah, I think we have an outside board member that had commented to us that we ran the company as if it was much larger, multiple times larger than it was at the time, I think from a process and governance and just our approach to how we ran the company. I think that helped a great deal.
John Corcoran 14:18
And you had I don’t know if you’re talking about a governing board or an advisory board, but I know you had an advisory board with with the company talk a little bit about the impact that that had for you.
Dan Norton 14:28
Yeah, so at the time and and I realized that I’m getting gray hairs now I’m in my mid 50s. But But long time ago, there was the the gray hairs, you know, the people that had a lot more experience in business that we did. And a lot of these connections ultimately came through Entrepreneurs’ Organization. So credit, the EO and my partner’s involvement in that For those connections, but we were able to pull together like an advisory board of people that had a lot of experience to help us with our strategic planning. And Warren came in and Warren Rustand you’re talking about, yes. Yeah. He, he came in and helped us with facilitating strategic planning. And it was eye opening. I think that having that level of experience and candid feedback was very helpful to us. Yeah.
John Corcoran 15:35
And talking about your involvement in EO, your business partner actually had joined EO before you did? And then you came in later, correct?
Dan Norton 15:42
Yeah, well, before I did, he, I believe he may be the most tenured member in Seattle at this point. But he was involved with it. And at first, I wasn’t sure what to think of EO to be honest. But over time, it was very easy to see the value of EO. And I kind of warmed up to the idea. And about 10 years ago, in the Seattle chapter, we spun up the executive forum. A lot of chapters have those. But at the time, he explained that, hey, you know, you could try this forum experience, be very inexpensive, you don’t have to commit to being a member and everything that goes along with that. And as a chair, so I was the launch moderator for that program in Seattle. And I did that for almost five years. And by that point, after spending time, interfacing with EO members, it was very obvious to me that there was value there, and it was worth jumping in. So that’s great.
John Corcoran 16:53
And then once you became a full EO member, I want to circle it back to GLC Global Leadership Conference. So you attended a couple of them. One, I believe in Macau, one in Toronto, what was your experience like attending the Global Leadership Conference?
Dan Norton 17:08
I’d say that there was. Now both of these were an opportunity to meet people from all over the world from chapters, which was tremendous, very similar. I’ve only been to three global universities. But there was definitely some parallels there, there was an opportunity to meet people from all over the world and talk with Global Leadership. So there was all of that. But in addition to that, I was fairly new to EO like my second year. And EO. And so it gave me some insight into how EO works. Sometimes as a new member here. It’s a little bit unclear. And but most of all, I think that it gave me an opportunity to get those experience shares from other forum chairs at the time, I was a forum chair. And just hearing their experience around forum and what worked and especially what didn’t work. That was very informative to me, and even just getting an opportunity to meet the other forum chairs in the region.
John Corcoran 18:22
And what would you say to someone who’s considering an EO member considering attending GLC?
Dan Norton 18:29
Um, I would say there’s a couple of advantages to GLC. And sometimes, I’ve heard, you know, hey, we’re going to have a strategic session with our board. I’m going to be interfacing with them primarily. But while you’re at GLC, there’s an opportunity to take programs for example, I did the forum track and also trifecta. And at GRC, we’re able to go immediately from that workshop around Trifecta to Hey, this is my takeaway and, and making plans and some of those long term visions with the people there. In addition to that, in addition to that, having that opportunity to create the space for your board and talk strategy kind of high level. I think there’s also this atmosphere of, you know, keep in mind that these are all people that have volunteered to be on the board and traveled someplace far away. These are engaged members. So you get exposure to some great EO experiences just in general just to members. At the time, I was part of a my EO industry group for North America. And this is an opportunity to meet some people that I hadn’t met in person. We just met virtually so I think that those are all great aspects of the the conference. And one last thing I noticed is kind of related to another aspect of EO, which is the Global Student Entrepreneurs’ work. But I will say that when I was in Macau, I didn’t carve out time to look into the GSA competition or attend anything. But after I watched the program own the room, yeah, I mean, documentary might have missed his opportunity. So. So just keep in mind that that’s something that’s happening, typically during GLC as well.
John Corcoran 20:34
Yeah, yeah, that’s great one, I want to we’re almost out of time, but you have a new company, you’ve since exited your other companies, Partner-Ally, talk a little bit about what inspired that new company.
Dan Norton 20:46
So what I realized is, after I stepped out of day to day and off the boards, and I had a little bit of time, and and I’m engaged with not only EO but some other entrepreneurial organizations, and during the course of talking to small business owners, I realized that there’s a lot of opportunity for small business owners to put in place kind of some of those foundational systems that they don’t realize that they need or that they realize that they need, they just need help doing it. You kept on coming back to that time and time again. Yeah, yeah. So we had it. The other aspect that I realized was that, and I credit this completely to my time in EO is that part of that business is the business owner. And a lot of resources I see out there, address tools or resources are information, how to run your business, or how to run some aspect of your business. What I’m hoping to provide is assistance to the business owner, to help them kind of see their vision for the business, whatever that might be. And then assist them with that, you know, everything from strategic planning down to the process and systems and work with them to help implement that. And,
John Corcoran 22:19
yeah, well, as a business owner, that sounds tremendously valuable. So I’m glad that you are creating that.
Dan Norton 22:24
Yeah, I just thought of, you know, what would I have wanted as a small business owner, and I’m trying to put that in place ultimately, hopefully it leads to some additional education pieces or tools. But that will come over time once I have a better feel for what people need out there.
John Corcoran 22:44
That’s great. Dan, where can people go to learn more about Partner-Ally or connect with you?
Dan Norton 22:48
If you go to the website, which is a partner-ally.com the website will give you some information there are you can always reach out to me my personal email is Dan@DJ-Norton.com or you can reach out to me at Dan@partner-ally.com
John Corcoran 23:14
Great, Dan, thanks so much.
Dan Norton 23:15
Yeah, thank you very much for having me.
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