Money doesn’t buy happiness
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
My name is David Dahm and I am a graduate of the University of South Australia with a Bachelor degree in Accounting. After finishing my degree, I landed a job at one of the ‘Big 4’ accounting firms and I was well on my way heading towards Wall Street. Initially, I thought that a path in the corporate world was where I belonged; however, my life changed after a horrific car accident.
After working long hours one night, I crashed my car at 5.30 in the morning and had to undergo 9 operations. As a consequence, I realised how patients are quite disempowered. As a result of my experience in the hospital, I had the idea to set up a firm to help empower providers as much as they empower patients. I did not pursue this venture out of need for money as I realised there is more to life than that: my experience was transformative and my attitude towards life changed dramatically. To me, this venture gives me the opportunity to make a positive difference every day by providing education, advisory and solutions surrounding the business of healthcare to the healthcare profession.
Can you tell us about Health & Life Practice Advisor?
Health & Life has been in operation since 1992 – for nearly 25 years! Our firm provides national accounting, tax, practice management and health care consulting solutions to the healthcare profession. Our goal as a firm is to help create a sustainable and socially responsible healthcare system. We have serviced over 1,200 clients across Australia with over 56 award-winning clients. Our clients come from a wide range of industries including: medical, dental, allied health, multi-national pharmacy, State and Federal Government and elite sports personnel. We have won 6 prestigious awards, featured in over 370 times in Australian media and also participated in over 1,000 key note seminars & conferences.
“As a start up entrepreneur, you have to be at the forefront and be knowledgeable about everything in your business.”
What does being an entrepreneur mean to you?
Many people believe that becoming entrepreneur means you can make a lot of money. If you own a business, most people are under the impression that you are instantaneously rich. You can afford to pay people! In reality, many business owners are not rich. Most of these business owners are lucky to earn minimum wage, some even run into large debt and unfortunately, many go bankrupt. In general, entrepreneurs will not reveal these truths about their finances because they want others to believe they are successful.
This is not to say we do not admire entrepreneurs because we certainly admire their independence, courage and ability to provide individuals with employment while managing their venture well. However, that is a very superficial take on entrepreneurs. It is not why you do it – that is the difference between successful and unsuccessful business people. Ultimately, if your motivation is only about your ego and to make money people will see through that. If entrepreneurs are not authentic, their clients and staff will not be attracted to this type of inauthenticity and will not be interested in keeping partnerships with the entrepreneur. If clients and staff are not attracted to why you are doing what you are doing, they won’t stay. Why? Because they lose trust. An entrepreneur must be clear on why they do what they do. They must share this vision with everyone and everyone needs to genuinely understand it.
“Until they pull out a cheque book to pay for your idea, you really have nothing. That is the cold hard fact.”
What gets me up in the morning is having a purpose and the notion that what I do today is going to positively change a person’s life. It leaves a positive footprint. For me, all that I am concerned with is if people are going to be empowered to turn their fear or hopes into positive change. I hope this positive change makes a change that is so great that it makes a lifetime of difference to them. That is the sort of buzz I look for as a social entrepreneur. A social entrepreneur when taken seriously has the capacity to have a positive impact on the community. We do not do it just because there is money in it. This is the wrong starting point for me.
At any time did any doubt arise in your mind about the success of your venture?
I had no doubt, it has just taken a lot longer than expected. I made a lot of mistakes in the early years. This was a good thing. I had to learn a lot about myself first. Owning a business does this to you, it pushes you to the limit. I did not realise that I had a lot more to offer than the demands of an ordinary job had of me. If I had not begun my venture, I would have never found out the things I now know about myself and my capabilities.
In my opinion, I think there is a huge misconception that owning a business is the same as working a regular 9 to 5 job, where you can change your job at any time. When changing these regular jobs, the worst that can happen is that you will lose maybe 1 or 2 weeks of pay. On the other hand, when owning a business you have much more on the line such as a house, a car or your children’s education. You cannot just afford to stop your business whenever you want or else a lot of money will be lost, especially if you are rapidly growing. If it is your own money, you will reconsider a million times before you really decide to quit. If you are working with other people’s money you can chop and change easily and you are generally more willing to quit.
“Networking with like-minded people who are genuinely interested in you is king.”
All that has been invested in this firm has come from my own money, the bank and a loan from a family member. So it is personal, I have a lot of skin in the game to protect my vision. I have been working from the age 12 until I was 21 and all of this money has been invested in this firm so I have certainly ‘put my money where my mouth is’. I have not used other people’s money and, as a result, have to be a lot more careful in my decision making. It is easy to spend other people’s money but with your own money you need to be very sensible. This may set me apart from other entrepreneurs. I take fewer risks so they better be great ideas. I can’t afford to get it wrong.
Do you have any advice for young entrepreneurs starting out?
There are a few important questions you must ask yourself as an entrepreneur: Is your product or service any good? Do they want it or need it? Are people prepared to pay for it? Does selling your idea make a profit? Why and how? What is your business model? Is it scalable? Can it run on its own without you? Can you fire yourself? Many entrepreneurs are not able to answer these basic questions about their venture; they believe they will be the next Mark Zuckerberg and it is as almost a guarantee. More importantly, they will be judged as a failure if they do not make a billion dollars by the age of 25. They, in turn, ignore all the great opportunities that could make them $200,000 p.a.
“The real work starts when you start testing your product live and acting on any feedback. Be prepared to fail a thousand times. If you cannot handle rejection, do not be an entrepreneur. Be patient.”
Realistically, it does not work like that. As a start up entrepreneur, you have to be at the forefront and be knowledgeable about everything in your business. More time should be spent actually thinking, rather than writing Harvard MBA business plans, for example, that lack depth and context. A great business plan can be written in a few pages. It is not a University assignment where you pass or fail. It is there as a checkpoint to clarify your thoughts on paper.
The real work starts when you start testing your product live and acting on any feedback. Be prepared to fail a thousand times. If you cannot handle rejection, do not be an entrepreneur. Be patient.
Having fun at Adelaide Business Student Society 2015 Business Ball
Understandably, going broke before your idea can take off does put the heat on you. You need to worry about the source of your funding and this step can only be done when you have found and are in touch with the needs of your customers.
I am lucky, because somebody saw my potential and the value of my ideas, so he decided to mentor me. He was a customer. This mentor of mine voluntarily introduced me to an important business connection that really helped to get the firm going. This person then introduced to me to a national medical college council, which helped further my firm and career and I ultimately, ended up on the national board which was a big honor. Networking with like-minded people who are genuinely interested in you is king.
“Most people say all you need is the network connection to gain clients; however, it is not as simple as that and this blows the network theory. An engaged network is a process and not an event. It takes years to test and build trust with others before you can rely on it.”
Tell us some of the challenges you face when starting out?
In the beginning, I faced heaps of challenges. For example, I assumed I would instantly get clients from the Indian Australian Association. At the time nearly 90% of the membership were doctors. I was on the Committee recognized for my work for the community. Despite many words of support not one client. Ouch!! Why? They probably were not comfortable confiding and obtaining advice from somebody they grew up with. My work involves me being familiar with what are very intimate financial affairs.
Lesson learnt: never assume anything and listen carefully. Most people will say nice things to your face to be polite. There will be a lot of tire kickers and potential competitors and the odd genuine person that you can rely on. Until they pull out a cheque book to pay for your idea, you really have nothing. That is the cold hard fact.
When your business assumption does not match reality, you are in big trouble and that was a big mistake I learned from. You need to act fast. Go to school on the problem so it never happens again. Do not cry over spilt milk, there is no time. Most people say all you need is the network connection to gain clients; however, it is not as simple as that and this blows the network theory. An engaged network is a process and not an event. It takes years to test and build trust with others before you can rely on it.
“South Australia is a bloody tough market and in some respect it was not nice. When I won the Telstra award, I thanked to all the people who ran me out of South Australia. It is a blessing in disguise (it was not nice at the time) as instead of having a local business, I now have a national business.”
The other thing mistake we were making at the beginning was calling the businesses Australian Clinical Practice Managers. This was a big mistake because these practice managers are the gatekeepers to all the practices. They thought that I was there to replace them. Guess what they did when we wrote letters to them? They binned the letters. We had ultimately made a simple marketing mistake and so we changed the company name to rebrand it. Moreover, market testing is very important and it can create a lot of problems when you start a business. In our first marketing effort, it was an epic failure and as a result, people would not talk to our company for years: they saw me as a threat. First impressions do count. Sometimes it is more critical than your product or service.
How did you overcome this huge challenge?
I applied to be a part of a committee of practice managers in the state. Most individuals on the committee and all the professional bodies were concerned because at the time they thought I was the competition. I spent my first 5 years in isolation and it took me around 3 years to convince them that I was there with the intention to help. Looking back on that time, I pretty much got blacklisted for trying to help people with my concept! However, the national media loved me because I had a fresh, relevant and alternative view.
Speaking at Australian collaborative Education
This brought me a lot of attention because I had built up a reputation as a thought provoking, counter intuitive voice in the industry. I also researched a lot and published my thoughts on what the health care industry will look like in 10 years. Even to my own surprise, my predictions were accurate and people started to see me differently. I used this positive reputation to build up all my networks including those who feared me at the time to drive the firm’s vision forward.
“If you are trying to engineer change, you have to understand that the only thing that can influence people and their thinking are education and awareness.”
I was trying to make a positive difference; yet, the local market did not support me as much as I had hoped. There were more people who supported me nationally, compared to the few that supported me locally. South Australia is a bloody tough market, and in some respects it was not nice. When I won the national 2011 Telstra award for business and social responsibility, I thanked all the people who ran me out of South Australia. It was a blessing (it was not nice at the time) in disguise as instead of having a local business, I now have a national business.
How do you define success?
Integrity defines my success.
My goals have not been met yet. When I won the Telstra award I was asked: “Do you not consider yourself successful?” I answered, “I am not.” Why did I give this answer? Because I have not met my goals yet. In my opinion, I measure success by meeting your end game and not your goals. Everybody thinks you are successful because you have the right job. It is not that you have a job but the consideration of the question: ‘what is your end game?’ You need to define the answer yourself. Do not let others do this for you. It is personal and this is what gets you up in the morning. The car accident taught me this. I am not suggesting you crash into a tree to find yourself. However it is only when you experience a life threatening moment that your life is instantly brought into context. You start to really think about what you care about most.
“It is easy to spend other people’s money but with your own money you need to be very sensible. This may set me apart from other entrepreneurs. I take fewer risks so they better be great ideas. I can’t afford to get it wrong.”
Once you have reached that end game then you are successful and that is not necessarily by the amount that is in your bank account or whether you got an Award for your efforts. It is about how you feel about yourself. It could be achieving change in the IT world or making your grandmother happy and safe.
Success is what you define it to be. No one other than you will be able to create a meaningful definition for success. Ultimately, you will be a happier person when you feel self-fulfilled with a purpose beyond profit. That sense of purpose is what people should ultimately strive for. Do not let well intended people convince you that you are not successful and judge you on what they perceive you should have achieved. You have to live with consequences of your own decisions. Work with people who will challenge you, but remember you have the final say over yourself not others. Do not blame them should things not work out. It is a subtle and complex question.
“Do not let well intended people convince you that you are not successful and judge you on what they perceive you should have achieved.”
What you need to do is ask: ‘what is your WHY?’ and ‘Why are you doing what you are doing?’ Then look at your life and look at the skills and experience that you have achieved, the future skills and experience you want to achieve and just go for it. What you will do along the way as you embark in that journey will attract people that help you to successfully get you to the next point, until you have found your end game.
It seems you do lot of blogging, can you tell us a little bit about it?
The healthcare field is very complex and it is based on lot of perceptions. Nobody knows what the real truth is. It is what we believe in and it is our feelings that dictate most of the critical healthcare decisions we make at the end of the day. If you are trying to engineer change, you have to understand that the only thing that can influence people and their thinking are education and awareness. Blogging allows me to help people directly by educating them in financial literacy pertaining to the health care sector. It is an attempt to rationalize a complex and confusing system.
I do blogging from the point of view of ‘it’s a two way street’. Firstly, I state this is what is going on and ask, ‘what do you think?’ Secondly, I look into what is really going on and ask, ‘did you know?’ I am not there to dictate to people what they should do next, instead, I make suggestions to point out potential ways people are struggling and I help to find practical answers and solutions. Why do I do this? I do it to provide some sanity and certainty in people’s minds about very complex issues. For me, that makes me feel better because their mental health is important. For many, financial security is their number one priority and this is normal. We just try to contextualize this in layman’s terms that will have an impact on a person’s thoughts.
“Owning a business does this to you, it pushes you to the limit. I did not realise that I had a lot more to offer than the demands of an ordinary job had of me.”
A lot of the times when we make bad decisions, we become anxious because we do not understand the issue properly. After buying something that we think we need, we might find out we actually do not need it. I have seen it can only take one moment and you can make a really bad decision e.g. starting up a business. It can take years and lot of money and stress to get out of bad decision.
Another example is you might think you need a Ferrari but why? Maybe to attract a nice girl and to brag? But then for the rest of the year you try to keep her happy because if you divorce her you might lose the girl and the Ferrari as well. So is the Ferrari something you actually need? I blog to get people to question what they value in their life and what is really more important to them.
Chasing your dreams does not always come cheap. So get the road map out early and you may dodge that tree that we will all hit one day.
Check out David Dahm’s great venture at http://www.healthandlife.com.au/
Have you experiences a life changing event? We would love to hear your story.