Dan Ballantyne’s bio might as well read: when he’s not bringing wireless internet to Colorado residents or installing network towers atop the Rocky Mountains, you can find him conquering the waves of Latin America.
Founder of TellerWifi Network Operations Dan Ballantyne tells us there’s a strong link between the grit of building your own hustle and his favorite hobby, surfing. However, it’s the quality of output that sets the two apart. While surfing is a one-time thrill, keeping up with a growing business is another feat. Having the power to change thousands of people’s lives takes your courage, responsibility, and determination to a wholly different level.
Here is Dan himself on the insights learned from his business journey and how aspiring entrepreneurs can follow in his footsteps of launching a business with a strong mission.
The Journey to the Top: Beginnings
Dan Ballantyne has quite the experience up his sleeve: a background in networking, analytics and data coupled with an MBA and hands-on experience in bringing the internet to rural villages in Mexico and installing solar setups in Honduras. But at the heart of his business lies the goal of changing people’s lives close to home. Such motivation sparked TellerWifi into existence in 2017.
“I was living in Teller County, CO, and as I started talking to county officials and looked into a variety of surveys and studies, I realized that we’re actually in the bottom 5%-10% of [internet] connectivity in the United States,” Dan shares. “We started TellerWifi with the goal of filling the gaps. As a wireless internet service provider, we’ve been able to bring the internet to places that have never had real connectivity.”
...at the heart of his business lies the goal of changing people’s lives close to home.
It was spring 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic and a national lockdown transformed his business into a life changing service for its customers nearly overnight. “In March, we saw people whose companies basically told them – if you can go home and work, we’ll let you work, otherwise we have to lay you off,” Dan says. As a result, TellerWifi has doubled up on its service, bringing network connectivity to whole communities whose life, education and work depended on it.
3 Staples for a Growing Business
Coming from both a tech and business background – mind that MBA – Dan has valuable insights stored up his sleeve. Here are the three pieces of advice he gives every wanna-be entrepreneur thinking of changing the world, one step at a time.
1. Outsource the formalities
If you’re great at tech but horrible at taxes, sales and marketing, starting a business may feel like a closed circle. How do you go from techie to entrepreneur? Dan suggests focusing on your knowledge and delegating the rest to the experts.
“I’ve done businesses in multiple countries, and in the U.S., the tax code and the business codes are built around entrepreneurs,” he says. “Don’t get so wrapped up in the business side that you stop your business just by saying ‘I don’t know how to do X, Y, and Z.’ [Instead], go see a CPA or the tax person. In an hour, they will straighten out the structure of your future business.”
Focus on your knowledge and delegate the rest to the experts.
2. In the beginning, be the best at one thing
As important as this sounds in the market that has been defined as “inch-wide and mile-deep,” picking a vision and sticking to it is often the hardest part for aspiring entrepreneurs. Meanwhile, defining your subject matter and being good at it is the first mountain that hustlers have got to conquer.
“In the industry I’m in, there are a hundred easy spin-off businesses. But especially at the beginning, you’ve got to be the best at one thing. For us, the internet part is our core, and by focusing all our energy by making that the best we could, we did it. As opposed to having three mediocre to good products, we have one exceptional product.”
3. Find your customers’ sweet spot
Maintaining a growing business always involves the customer. We often hear about communicating with customers via digital channels. For example, your audience may be most responsive over email, or most active on Twitter. However, Dan’s business experience shows there’s more to the picture than technology.
“Figure out how your customer base works and if they like a lot of transparency, give them transparency. People want to hear and see different things, depending on where you are. When I’m in Texas and I communicate with our customer base, it’s a different style than up here in Colorado.”
Providing Wi-Fi in the Rockies comes with its bucketful of surprises, like lightning striking the network towers. But even in tough times, Dan says it’s "owning up to the situation" that warms his customers’ hearts.
“When we interact with our customers, we’re very candid and open. In our business, it’s very easy to tell your customers it’s their fault, it’s their router, it’s their phone, etc. But when we say, ‘here’s what happened and here’s what we did to fix it,’ it builds a lot of credibility. We usually get notes back thanking us, saying it’s great service and they’re really excited about it.”
Entrepreneurship is More Than Work
Throughout life, Dan’s inspiration has been to have a growing business that would change people’s lives while allowing a mobile lifestyle for himself. Using digital tools like MightyCall’s virtual phone system, he now communicates with customers and his team on the go. So far, he’s done business from four or five different countries by just loading up MightyCall over Wi-Fi, which worked out phenomenally. And that’s just the beginning.
“There’s this idea built into people’s minds that when you get out of college, you just go to work,” he says. “And when you’re old enough that your body can’t handle it anymore, you stop working, like that is your goal in life. And I looked down and asked myself: if I have enough money today, why can’t I retire tomorrow? I’ve made it to the point of feeling good in my life and asking – how can I make something better, how can I improve something around me?”
Which brings us back to surfing and entrepreneurship. Both can be seen as a complex challenge. Unlike surfing that “feels great but is very instant gratification,” doing business is about lasting. “I’m listening to people who’re now able to work from home, people who would’ve lost their jobs otherwise, whose kids weren’t getting an education,” Dan says.
“All of them needed viable internet. What really motivates me is taking on a big challenge like that and being able to support people on the way through.”
At the end of the day, Dan’s story demonstrates how to embrace the entrepreneurial spirit. As a result, you can make yourself and others happy today without waiting for tomorrow. So go ahead and take the first step in starting your own hustle or growing your business more. Catch that wave. Your limits will surprise you.
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Written by Angela Yurchenko
Angela Yurchenko does business journalism for MightyCall, the virtual phone system for small business. Angela advises small business leaders and teams on next-generation collaboration strategies. She writes about small business, digital transformation, and personal development for entrepreneurs.