He learned to climb and get out of business the hard way. Now help other founders to do it the easy way.
10 min read
The opinions expressed by collaborators are personal.
When Brandon Dawson , 29, gave the opening bell on the U.S. Stock Exchange for going public with Sonus Corporation in 1998, he was one of the youngest people to do so. He had raised millions in private capital to build a hearing aid business, which was poised for explosive growth thanks to his franchise model.
The young CEO was on top of the world when he got the call to go to New York a few years later. He thought he would be slapped on the back, but what happened was a series of events that made him leave his company.
The private equity group supporting the company had a different vision for Sonus and wanted to sell, something Dawson was unwilling to do, so they replaced him as CEO and put him in office. A few months later he resigned. “It was devastating,” recalls Dawson. “Business was my baby.”
The loss brought Dawson to the brink of despair, but it also taught him an important lesson: Building your business with private equity means sticking to its rules . “I used other people's money to follow my dreams, so it really wasn't my company.”
Dawson vowed never to relinquish control of his fate to anyone and decided to build a new company, Audigy Group , but this time without external financing and without relinquishing control. In 2016, it sold the business for $ 151 million dollars .
Dawson learned how to scale and exit companies the hard way. Now, he's partnering with international influencer and real estate mogul Grant Cardone, to help other founders do it the right way.
Walnuts and shortcuts
Dawson grew up in the homes of his divorced parents in the Pacific Northwest and the Midwest of the United States. As a child, in his spare time he worked at his stepfather's company, a hearing technology company. “Everyone in the family was expected to work,” says Dawson. “It was difficult but it taught me to be resourceful.”
Dawson's first big spark of entrepreneurship came during high school. “Every year, we sold nuts from our garden to pay for tuition. My family went out for the weekend, but I got into trouble and had to harvest the garden, something I hated. ”
Dawson heard that the largest generation at his school needed to raise $ 1,000 for a trip, so he hired them to harvest nuts. “I was expecting about three or four people to show up,” he recalls. But the cars started to arrive, and he found himself with 30 workers. They finished the job, and after having worked hard together, they also bought all the nuts.
Dawson earned far more than he needed for tuition without having to lift a finger. “I had to pay them $ 1,000, so I just charged more for the nuts. They enjoyed the experience and were happy to pay. That's when I learned an important lesson: Price is not important if you create enough value, and a lot of people overwork and complicate things. ”
Dawson did not enjoy school and was a fairly average student, so he moved to Atlanta, Georgia, after high school to continue working at his stepfather's company. He traveled through the southeastern United States selling hearing aids and was promoted to director of sales at age 23.
He had already built a successful career when his mom and stepfather announced that they would separate. Instead of staying in the middle, he decided to move on.
Carving a new future out of pain
Dawson relocated to Portland, Oregon , and discovered a Canadian hearing aid company. He managed a deal to buy the business and become CEO of Sonus Corporation.
Many of Dawson's previous clients were pulling out, leaving behind profitable hearing aid businesses that no one was buying. Dawson started a franchise model, raised $ 38 million in private equity and bought more than 100 companies, and as CEO built a network of more than 1,000 locations.
Dawson went public with what is now the NYSE, something that added more salt to the wound when he left the company.
Image: Dawson was one of the youngest people to give the opening bell on the New York Stock Exchange .
Hanging around the crushing twist of fate, Dawson took time off to consider his options and admits he was not the funniest person to be with. “One day I was playing golf with my mentor, Hector LaMarque, as we had done many times. He turned to me and said he wouldn't play with me again if I didn't stop complaining. It helped me see that I had to stop being a victim and create the future that I wanted. ”
LaMarque gave him the book “Beyond Positive Thinking: A No-Nonsense Formula for Getting the Results You Want” by Dr. Robert Anthony, which Dawson read over and over. Little by little, her pain and anguish were transformed into determination. “I asked myself: if I had the chance to do it again, what would I do differently?”
With that mindset, Dawson launched Audigy Group in 2004 to help hearing practices grow. And instead of raising financing and relinquishing control, it gave non-voting shares to its most loyal customers.
In 12 years, Audigy grew to 650 independent practices with more than 1,800 employees and $ 300 million of added value. In 2016, he sold it for a staggering 77 times its EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization). And the most important thing for Dawson is that he continued to be the CEO of the company and shared the profits with his team. “Handing out millions to our customers and employees during closing was the best feeling in the world.”
Societies: two dynamic duos
After successfully applying this approach to other companies, Dawson dreamed of sharing it with more businesses and managed to partner with Grant Cardone. In 2019, Dawson trained to meet the real estate mogul at his Miami, Florida conference. He only had one minute to propose his great idea: “If I could show you how we could add several billion dollars to our net worth, would you be interested?”
Cardone said yes. The result is Cardone Ventures , a portfolio company that helps independent business owners to scale using Dawson's guidance from Audigy Group. “My mission is to help business owners earn together with their team and their customers, without having to give up part of their business. Freedom is not measured by money, but by the ability to make your own decisions. ”
Since the company started in April 2019, things have grown rapidly. Dawson expects Cardone Ventures to earn $ 2.5 million this year and $ 100 million in the next five years. His overall goal is even higher: $ 5 billion in business under his administration in five years.
“Grant and I are the perfect partners because we are aligned in wanting to help others achieve the life of their dreams. My specialty is creating additional value in a business; Grant has created a system to do this for everyone: in business, sales training, and real estate. ”
Image: Dawson and Cardone expect Cardone Ventures to earn $ 100 million in five years.
With an estimated personal net worth of $ 75 million, Dawson may have retired, but he does not plan to do so soon. New milestones for him include speaking on stage at the 10X Growth Conference alongside music mogul Scooter Braun , NBA legend Magic Johnson, comedian Kevin Hart and Marie Forleo, whom Oprah called “a thought leader for the next generation. ”
And Dawson's personal life has never been better. He is engaged to another entrepreneur, Natalie Workman , Vice President of Organizational Development at Cardone Ventures and host of the “Age Gap Realness” podcast .
The couple is 25 years apart. “At first, the judgment of others was difficult,” admits Dawson. “But now we have fun with it and we are authentic.”
Image: Dawson and his fiancé, Natalie Workman, have an age difference of 25 years .
“Natalie is perfect for me in every way, including where we are both in life,” she continues. “She is very ambitious with the future, just like me. His desire to conquer life is incredible ”.
The couple live in Vancouver, Washington, and travel often, but Dawson says he is not in this world to play golf and relax. “I want to do more and help more people.” With the kind of power behind the Dawson-Cardone and Dawson-Workman duos, you're on your way.