This journey has been nothing like I could have ever expected.
I started DSM 15 years ago with less than a clue how to run ANY BUSINESS…let alone a marketing agency. I remember being at the lawyer’s office with my wife and signing all of the paperwork to become a corporation thinking to myself, “what have I done?” I can tell you a few things that have occurred over the last 15 years that have changed me — good, bad or indifferently…and I will note to all of these as we’re embarking on the anniversary that 45-year old Darren is looking back at 30-year old Darren in reverence. Not because we made it 15 years. More because of the experience we’ve gained and the relationships we’ve forged with so many great people.
It’s not easy to start a business and keep it growing for a long time. It takes the ability to know your greatest weaknesses and be OK with showing them in the most vulnerable way you can imagine. The world does not give a sh*t about what you’re going through. If things are going well, everyone is looking to figure out a way to bring you down. If things are going bad, people say, “Why did they think they could start this endeavor?” If things are grinding along at an even pace, people will say, “Why aren’t you pushing harder?” There’s never a “happy medium.” That’s not in the entrepreneur’s vernacular.
I can say one thing for sure…I’ve been blessed in so many ways during this 15-year journey that I can’t even count. By people, by learning, by failing, by winning, by laughing, by crying, by passing along knowledge…by being given knowledge. You can learn from absolutely anyone…most of the time when you least expect it. Furthermore, some of the best ideas DSM has ever had were created during some of the hardest times. Desperation has a way of getting the creative juices flowing, and there have been many hours of lessons learned the hard way over the last decade and a half.
Long story short, you have to really “want it.” At first, it’s easy when you have nowhere to go but up…and you think that everything will just kinda fall in your lap because you’re bustin’ your ass. Working hard is paramount to success, don’t get me wrong. Without that fundamental cornerstone, you’re toast. As you begin to find “your footing,” you get to survey the landscape. I can remember the moment I felt this “moment of clarity” for the first time sitting at my desk at our first office and thinking, “THIS IS IT, WE’VE MADE IT!” Total dipshit move, and I’m actually sitting here writing this and laughing out loud. That’s learning on the job though…and that is what I’ve done for the majority of my time running this company. It’s not pretty. It’s not glamorous. It’s really draining sometimes. It’s mostly thankless…but for some reason, I always come back.
Now, the reason why I always, always, always come back. My work family. The folks that put their heart and soul into their roles at DSM have been the one thing with each and every person — whether I still maintain a relationship with them or not. You cannot work at a place like DSM without a willingness to invest something. Companies our size and smaller have myriad challenges each and every day that needs to be overcome. Without human investment, small businesses do not exist. Through the years, I’ve gained a few friends, and I’ve lost a few too. I’ve come to learn that everyone has their situation and I’m comfortable now saying that this life is not for everyone. It wears you down and exposes weaknesses that are not easy to show — especially as a male. Weakness is another dirty word. 15 years later…I’ve cried openly many times at DSM. Not ashamed to say it. Embarking on this endeavor was, at the time…a novelty, and I wasn’t sure I was going to make it past one month. Here we are 15 years later, and I am grateful, and a bit unnerved that I am THAT OLD.
In closing, I want to say thank you to my wife Samantha and our three amazing kids: Olivia, Luca, and Tessa. My mom, Lucille, for always pushing me. My mother-in-law, Janet, for always listening to me. I want to thank each and every person that has played a part in DSM (whether or not we still have a relationship). Fact is, this company wouldn’t be where it is today without every single person through the years that gave a little or a lot of themselves to its mission.
To our current work-family: Zinka, Charlene, Christine, Mere, Dan, Remy, Caitlin, Morgan, Matt, Kathleen, Rachel, Clayton, and Sierra. My heartfelt and humblest gratitude goes out to you guys in spades. I know how hard you all bust your asses to ensure that DSM continues to thrive…sometimes to no fanfare. Your passion and energy do not go unnoticed. It’s appreciated more than you can imagine. My only hope is to continue to lead in a way you are proud of. I know that DSM will not live forever…I never thought DSM would be around for 15 months in total transparency. It’s only because of what we’ve done together that we continue on. Thank you guys for the best 15 years a guy could ever ask for. ❤️