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Rob Dahm went from mowing lawns to fixing neighbors computers and ultimately built up a 7 figure empire with Computer Works, Inc. by providing IT solutions and managed services for small businesses.
Although Rob is fairly well known in the online community for his Youtube videos, he was also featured on a national TV show. The TV show never worked out but it had no impact on his standing.
In his story, Rob discusses how a little bit of risk, being realistic, and passionate are the keys to his success at the young age of 29.
What does Rob Dahm do?
I started Computer Works when I was 16 unofficially by fixing neighbors’ computers and looking back, I was probably doing more damage to some of those computers than I was doing good but I was solving their problems. The moment I turned 18, I signed a rental for a little 500-square foot office space and had no idea how I was going to pay for it. It was $500 a month and at that time, that was huge money and I said, “You know what, I’m going to be able to do this.”
At a young age and taking a risk like that, what did your parents think?
My parents got pissed. They were so pissed they wanted to kick me out of the house and I spent that night at the office space because they felt I was being reckless. They felt that it was going to end up coming back on their credit. However, the first year of business, we made $79,000 net revenue. There was myself, my brother, and one of our friends from college. We weren’t taking paychecks and it was crazy fun. Each year, it grew from there and around 2005-2006, we hit a certain number where we got much more profitable but we never actually exceeded that revenue. So that’s where my mind started wondering, “Okay, we’ve got this awesome successful business, now, I want to do more. I want to keep growing.” So that’s kind of where all the other adventures and crazy ideas kind of came around.
You mentioned you had to attend class in one of your emails. What is that about?
Yeah, so I’ve been at a community college for more than 10 years of my life and I have the equivalent of an associates, I love learning. I absolutely love it but there’s something about community college structure, that I get very antsy and get bored quickly. My thirst for knowledge is insatiable but when you sit me in a classroom for that long I start to bounce around.
As someone with a successful business, why even finish school?
Some of my mentors haven’t finished college either so I don’t know. When you and I were talking last, I actually was in an accounting class. Mind you, I’ve been running a business for 10 years but I didn’t know half the stuff in that class and ended up going, “Crap, I can actually manage my own business better.” That was a basic class and it clearly helped me and I ended up making even more money from going to school. It’s a balance, I guess.
How did you build your business and your client list?
If any story could come from the simplest beginnings to the point where I am now, it really is my story. I started by fixing neighbor’s computers and then got A+ certified. From there, I went and got a Cisco certification, and then Microsoft. I got all those certifications within that first year just by studying, reading, taking the tests, and doing well there. Some of our neighbors own businesses and those businesses would pay us $200 at most a month to take care of their computers. We built a reputation with them that lead us to take on larger enterprises. We’ve got a couple of strokes of good luck and we happen to take care of a lot of different doctors’ offices in the area. It was very organic the way we grew. Do I have education in IT? As far as experience, yes, and then necessitating me to get certifications and approvals along the way.
Is it fair to say you never had any real failures with Computer Works?
Yup. That company has been stable, always doing better, always growing. We’ve never had any crazy weird failures. I grew up with this business and now we have intelligent people running it so I spend maybe, four hours a week dedicated to it. It’s really a place to launch new ideas. It’s a place for me to go figure out what really fulfills me.
Not many people know that you were a contestant on The Bachelorette. Tell us about that.
It’s funny, the majority of people think that I made the money while being on The Bachelorette. I should have government top secret clearance because it was a five-step process. They took my blood. They did like a saliva swab, 700 questions – psychology tests, interviews with all these different people. I literally stood in line at a mall and the moment I mentioned I owned a business, I was in. They were very interested to talk to me further.
I had been single for two years and by choice. It’s one of those things where you just got to trust your gut feeling. I was asked to go do the show and I thought, “I’ll do it but I’ll keep my integrity.” There are maybe two or three guys there like that, and everybody else is there to do whatever just to get camera time. You see people sell out and then regret it later, but I walked in there, had a blast. The girl and I didn’t even remotely have any sort of chemistry and so she sent me home the first week.
What other business ventures do you have going on?
I own the building that Computer Works is in and as goofy as it sounds, it’s actually a really big deal for me because I was 21 when I bought it and we lease out more than half of it to a regional pizza chain. From a financial standpoint, it was one of the coolest, smartest things I have ever done. It’s like when you sell it but you still get to keep it sort of thing.
We’re working on buying the building from the detail shop, the computer company, and then really just the car show YouTube stuff. I had started a company for that, to keep that stuff kind of separate from everything else and even though I’m not exactly a YouTube famous star, I’ve got almost 11,000 subscribers and every single one of those people count. I think what I might do this summer is make that into a real experience and see what happens with it. That’s where my heart lies.
My brother and I just bought a car detailing company called Executive Auto Care. The Lamborghini gets to sit there. I think a mistake that a lot of people make is just because you see somebody else doing a business and making tons of money in something, it doesn’t mean that you will. I’ve made that mistake a couple of times.
I guess everything has to be kind of congruent. It’s my favorite word for all of this because the detailing shop has already made us a very stable income and we all love cars. People in our area know who owns a Lamborghini and so it all adds together. Lamborghini is a huge part of my life so why not have a business that’s related to it?
One time we emailed you while you were touring with Ford Motor Company. What is your involvement there?
That’s an experience. There’s about three companies here in Michigan that do the staffing for car show events so if you go to any car show, any car show across the nation, the people are the same ones that you’d go and see at any other car show. You have the models, the spokespeople and a group of trained, good looking people.
Somebody had known about my YouTube stuff and said, “Hey, you like cars. You like talking about cars. Do you want to do this?”
With my current business, all my clients are within 15 miles of each other, I don’t travel at all for work. I want to travel and have somebody else pay for it. I do about three or four shows a year. I get to go to different car shows, talk about cars with random people and have a fun time doing it. Plus I get paid, I’m around a lot of good-looking people, and I get to keep the suits that I would never buy for myself. It has been awesome because I get to meet people that want to meet me from the YouTube channel so I guess it all kind of falls back into itself.
You have quite the loyal following on Youtube, what is your purpose behind all that?
I’m a huge fan of trying to improve yourself but the biggest thing I think I’ve come across is doing what you love. You have to be honest with yourself and say, “What are you good at?” There are a lot of things I’m good at but I don’t love all of those things. I’m in a unique spot where I can choose what to do so I’m in a soul searching mode but I’m still trying to find my greater purpose. YouTube makes me $200 a month. I don’t know if you’re allowed to publish that but I don’t care. It makes me $200 a month which I just put towards buying new cameras and I have the most fulfillment from doing that. I don’t think that I have all the answers but I definitely think I can help people find their own answers. The people that watch my stuff there, that is the most rewarding, the most purpose-driven thing I’ve done with the time I put into it. That means the world to me. I had people come up and take pictures with me, I didn’t realize that making videos and talking about business meant the world to younger guys. It’s paying it forward.
People ask me, “Why don’t you do all like these crazy stunts? Why don’t you have all these half naked chicks on your channel?” Being in the business world, what I’m doing is building up my core, like partners, my core audience that won’t leave me if I make a bad video. I’m not just going for the sellout. All my followers are amazingly dedicated to what I do and then I’ll start upping the excitement level and doing all the crazy stuff and the stupid crap that people do to get more YouTube viewers. Until then, it’s very high integrity type of channel.
What do you ultimately want to do?
I’m a really tangible type of guy so I think my dream is to start acquiring other companies of the same caliber if the opportunity comes up, and then grow my business through multiplication, through acquisition or multiplying locations. I know small business inside and out. I might as well multiply the number of small business ventures. I see my future as a mix of both Youtube outreach and corporate growth. Both keep me fulfilled.
What is your best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
The first one is you have to have the right balance of being an entrepreneur but not wasting your time trying to invent something that shouldn’t be invented. Entrepreneurs are pretty stubborn bastards. They don’t like to be told no because they see it as a challenge to do what others haven’t. It’s a delicate balance because you have to be stubborn enough to do something nobody else is doing without wasting emotion and time towards an idea that was bad to begin with. That’s huge.
My second piece of advice relates to employees who deal with bookkeeping and accounting.That was the worst person in the entire company to have personal issues with. She didn’t like seeing us succeed. This was back in 2005 as well and it bothered her to see us make more than our employees. It bothered her to see us charge more for services even though I fully feel we’re worth it. We parted ways and our company profits quadrupled. Nobody, maybe other than your mom, is going to fight for you as hard as you will. It was great not having to do the books but it was horrible in not running your own company. It felt like we were working for somebody else. A huge tip I would say is definitely understand accounting and bookkeeping.
You’re well known for your yellow Lamborghini Diablo. Why not something newer?
I’ve been obsessed with the Diablo since i was in second grade. I wasnt interested in the latest and greatest. I wanted to accomplish a childhood dream. I follow you guys on Facebook and you have a formula for handling depreciation on cars. I happen to have a 10-year-old Lamborghini since you can’t buy a newer version of the Diablo. It’s still worth what I paid for it so I’m not taking a huge hit on depreciation. I have the glitz and the glam of having a bright yellow attention-seeking car but if you look at my numbers, I’m being very conservative. The average person has a greater chance of buying a Lamborghini the same way i did, instead of paying cash for a brand new Aventador. I feel like it gives other people hope that it’s actually attainable.
I see these guys with multiple Lamborghini’s and I can’t even relate with them. You can’t do that as a normal person looking at your numbers and saying, “Man, if I double my money, I’ll be able to do more.” Could I buy two Lamborghini’s? Finance two, maybe, but that’s so extreme that it’s unrealistic for me and financially foolish. I feel people relate with people who are on their level because I’m 29 now, and granted my net worth has multiplied. It still has not reached billions and all that sort of craziness. I’m still at that realistic stage and then wherever I take it from here, that’s my own screw up or my own choice.
What does a small little town like yours think of you and your bright yellow Diablo?
Ever since I bought that Lamborghini, that has been probably the best purchase I’ve ever made in my life. It validates my second grade dream of owning a Lamborghini because it’s going for what you want. It rubs off on other people and I’ve had two different clients at a client meeting, they were like, “We’re going with you because you own a Lamborghini so you know what you’re doing.” That has been a very rewarding experience altogether.
Some of the things I’ve been focusing on lately is when you buy a car like that, people love to relate to you but then some just want to see you fail. I have a lot of friends or acquaintances that didn’t like that big jump in my life that put myself in a different category in a lot of respects so I did actually lose quite a few friends over that one.
Is there any thing else you want to say?
When people ask about the largest challenge in my life, I love to tell the story about buying the building my computer shop is in. We were renting a $500/month small office space when I saw the building go up for sale. It was on the busiest intersection in Monroe and just looking at the building gave me tingles of excitement.
I called the real estate agent the day the put the For Sale sign in the ground and found out that they wanted $500k for the building. My stubborness kicked in and I knew in my heart, I would find a way to finance or buy the building. I submitted a purchase agreement later that day. The agent called back and apologized. “We mispriced the building, its actually $700k.” I was in shock. Is that even legal, I pondered. I asked him to split the difference. He budged and agreed on $650k. I still had no idea how I was going to come up with the money.
Computer Works was profitable at the time and we had about $70k in liquid assets. We barely paid ourselves and we outgrew our old office. I called a friend who worked in business financing and he spent late nights helping me prepare all of the documents that a bank would want to see. We ultimately went the SBA 504 financing route.
If you’ve ever wondered what its like to go to a closing without money, I can tell you. The SBA portion of the loan wasn’t ready and we missed our closing date in abysmal fashion. We lost all rights to buying the building. The real estate agent was no help. Out of sheer terror, I called my way up the company that owned the building. The vice president got on the phone and ripped me a new one. It was the least professional transaction he had ever seen. My nerves got the best of me and cut him off. “Allowing me to buy your building will make my life more rewarding and challenging, Please give me a chance to prove we are capable”
He gave me two weeks and required that i give him 10k for due dilligence (He keeps it if the deal falls through) I scrambled.
Calling the local congressman, he was able to push through the red tape and we had full financing one day before closing.
While signing the stack of papers, the real estate turns to me. He said, “What the fuck did you say to the owner?” I explained what I had done. He then said “They had an offer for 1.1 million on the table and they let you buy the building anyways, I don’t get it”.
Months later, I got a call from the vice president and he asked me “Did I make the right choice?”