Dave runs The Duluth Experience, a touring organization for his community of Duluth, Minnesota.
City: Duluth, Minnesota
Who is your community? This may be a group of friends, organization of affinity or a geographic location.
We are a hyper-local tour company based in Duluth, MN. But the label “tour company” doesn’t quite cut it. We are hyper-focused on creating opportunities for visitors (and locals) to create meaningful relationships with the people, places, businesses, and stories that highlight our community’s natural, historical, and cultural identity.
Give us a behind-the-scenes look at your average day.
I am the CEO of The Duluth Experience – a small, 3-year-old start up. On any given day, I am the maintenance guy, the tour guide, the book-keeper, the marketing director, and the salesman who pushes our company closer and closer to achieving its vision.
What challenge in your life or work are you most interested in overcoming?
I think that our biggest challenge is scaling up while maintaining our relevance in the local community and our authenticity as a locally-focused company who promotes the best parts of our community. My current goals are to create a fun company culture with dedicated staff who can help us achieve our goals in the near-term. Building connections is our mission and I think we could use mentoring in doing this more effectively for the betterment of our company, our community, and our business partners.
If you could do any job, what would you do and why?
I think I’ve got it. As a Duluth native, I am so happy that we’ve created a business model that celebrates our city in a way that introduces people to the “story-behind-the-story”. The compelling history of Duluth combined with the optimistic future are two things that keep me focused and fire me up each and every morning.
What is the most beneficial aspect of living in the OTA region when it comes to your career?
There is a wealth of local knowledge and commitment to community that inspires our efforts. Duluth is building a lot of momentum – regionally and nationally – and the great people in our region are what makes it so exciting. I love being a Duluthian (4th generation and proud) and I love being an ambassador for Duluth.
At what intersection do you live your life?
I live at the intersection of passion, creativity and freedom and creative chaos.
Where do you think good ideas come from?
Good ideas come from doing the work. Work can be a passion. Passion leads to innovation. Innovation creates the atmosphere for creativity that drives success… however that might be measured.
What’s one current trend you think will change the world?
I think the Experience Economy is the most important trend right now. It’s an economy based (in part) on an overwhelming desire to connect with the local scene. Whether it’s engaging tourists or the local community, there is a growing pride in local artisans, businesses, and stories and that pride is driving a very exciting movement across the nation. It’s not about what people buy anymore… it’s about the experience they have.
What’s the best way to put inspiration into action?
Take your inspiration and engage people in dialogue. Brainstorm with your team and bring new ideas into reality. I am a firm believer in the power of Teamwork. It’s at the core of everything we do here.
What’s the greatest risk you’ve taken?
I decided to start a business. That involved quitting a well-paying job and walking away from a previous life. It involved throwing myself and my idea into the marketplace and building a Team that could help me refine the idea into something special. I haven’t looked back since that decision was made. My father told me something during my deliberation that will forever stick with me. He said, “You’ll earn money and lose money. You’ll earn love, and lose love. But you’ll never gain time. Take what time you have and make it count.”
What’s your biggest failure, and what did you learn from it?
There’s been a few! But I’ve never been afraid of failure… the greater fear has been missing a chance to follow my passions. Specifically, I failed in the realm of inspiring my business partners to rise up and take a real ownership role in the company. As CEO, I implemented Traction (Gino Wickman’s Entrepreneurial Operating System) and my partners quickly decided to leave the company. We’ve moved past that now, but I see that as a failure to inspire my Team.
Who do you hope to leave a legacy for?
I want to leave a positive legacy for Duluth. I want to make sure that we represent Duluth in the best possible way so that folks will be able to learn about the “stories behind the stories” and develop a more personal relationship with Duluth in the process. My hope is that this will extend far beyond me into the future.
Who is the most connected person in your life, and what personal characteristics make him or her so well-connected?
My wife, Chelsea. She is an expert at connecting with people on a real personal level. She is an amazing listener. She is a thoughtful and intuitive listener and understands the needs of others and knows how to make people feel special when they interact with her. I take a lot of notes from her.
Who is the most creative person in your life, and why?
I’d have to say that my best friend Steve is the most creative person in my life. He has so much energy and his ability to enhance a brainstorm is un-matched. No idea is too crazy for Steve and his ability to take a crazy idea – give it structure – and layout the steps needed to make it a reality are something that I’ve always strived for in my own life. Combine his innate creative ability with the fact that he created a new life for himself after being paralyzed in a climbing accident and there is no question that he is the most creative person in my life. His paralysis did not stop him from envisioning mobility and making it a reality.
Who is the most community-focused person in your life, and how do they impact their communities?
I’m actually going “outside-the-box” with this one. Instead of a person, I’d like to propose that our local bicycle club – The Cyclists of Gitchee Gumee Shores (COGGS) – is the most community-focused “person” in my life. Their leadership in making Duluth a world-class mountain bike destination has been amazing. In a short amount of time, this volunteer-based organization, has built an efficient and successful team, raised an impressive amount of money, and successfully improved biking opportunities for Duluthians and visitors alike. They are a shining example of the great work non-profits are capable of when passionate people come together behind a common cause and compelling mission.
How are you experimenting for the betterment of your community?
We are in a constant state of experimentation. Each of our tours and events is an experiment in storytelling, adventure and community building. We strive to create fun and memorable opportunities to teach people about Duluth – its history and future – in order to build a strong and personal relationship with the city and its people. We work with a variety of partners – we call them our Affiliates – to create a well-rounded and authentic experience and each “experiment” is founded in mutual benefit, passion and authenticity. Ultimately, these efforts are directed at showcasing what we believe are the best parts of Duluth. We tell the stories of Duluth – through its history, adventure and community – because those stories are compelling and important.
What project are you working on right now?
I want to expand our tours to include multi-day adventures – primarily cycling – with a focus on the European tourist community. This would expand upon earlier efforts in 2015 to spread the word about Duluth’s booming mountain bike scene at fairs in Amsterdam and Brussels where I got a chance to interact with the European cycling and hiking community. This could be a huge move for Duluth and the region as a whole.