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Episode 46: Be the Captain Of Your Own Ship with Susan Pieper

Entrepreneurship is not a solitary endeavor. This week we are joined by Susan Pieper, founder and CEO of DMOS Collective. Susan shares her perspective on the word negotiation, how she balances being a goofball and a serious leader, and her vision for starting the company that’s eradicating the world of shitty lawn and garden tools. Susan is a grade A badass, you don’t want to miss this one!

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Episode Transcript

Iris: Hey hey, listeners, welcome to Outside by Design episode 9.

Lisa: Episode 9 season 4. My how time flies.

Iris: We have another episode coming at you about negotiation since it's the month of April. This week we have Susan Pieper and she is the founder and CEO of DMOS Collective and she's going to blow your mind.

Lisa: I really enjoyed talking to Susan. She's very much like a no-nonsense lady. She sounds like an athlete, I bet she's a really good athlete because she's got that drive and that mindset. And she's a mom and that's always interesting. I love speaking to women who own businesses who also have children, although I think she has a teenager... and I love that. I think she's a really interesting, direct person and has a lot of value packed into a short podcast.

Iris: Yeah Susan chats with us about negotiation, she has some pretty unique thoughts on the word negotiation. She also digs into her vision for starting DMOS; how she's created this brand with quite a masculine feel, a masculine look; her balance between humor and being really intense as a business owner, and she talks about literally being the captain of her own ship. She used to be a ship captain.

Iris: What a freakin boss.

Lisa: Yeah, she's awesome. So get ready. Here we go.

Lisa: Thank you so much for being here today. We're really happy to have you on the podcast.

Susan: Thank you. I'm happy to be here.

Lisa: And the very first question we ask every guest is always to describe where you are in the country and what you're looking at.

Susan: Awesome, as I'm joining outside by Design today I am in my office at DMOS Collective’s HQ here in downtown Jackson, Wyoming. My office window faces North onto an ally and it's snowing and the mound of snow in front of my window is probably four and a half feet high and there are icicles that just dripped and broke and it's a really good shoveling scene because it needs to be cleaned up.

Lisa: That’s awesome.

Susan: Yeah. Hard to make that up.

Lisa: and so you, you operate your business completely from Jackson, right?

Susan: Yeah. We, we are based in Jackson where we do all of our design and our marketing and a lot of... effectively the Brand Story creation as well as the product testing, but we do manufacture at our Factory in Portland, Oregon.

Lisa: Oh cool. That's awesome. It seems like... so as we talked about earlier you are on our podcast during the month of negotiation.

Susan: Yes.

Lisa: and I think. You know, one interesting thing whether it's negotiating with yourself or negotiating with City versus mountain town and trying to you know, overcome some of those unique challenges. What, like, what does that word mean to you and your business model?

Susan: Yeah, so I think the three things that come to mind for me with negotiation. It's a little bit like a word association game. The first word that comes to mind is boundaries. The second word is getting clear, and the third word is integrity.

Lisa: Oh wow.

Susan: And those words really just relate to how I think about negotiation, you know, you didn't hear me say Game Theory, you didn't hear me say, you know, sort of you know... being, I don't know, like a New York, you know, I don't... I came from New York. Uh, so I can't make fun of people from New York necessarily. So for those of you listening from New York, please know, I have a place in my heart for you. But you know, it's just that New York is sort of known for almost like this sort of street style, a quote-unquote negotiation of like... of like bartering, and I don't think of negotiation as bartering. I think of it as boundaries, I think of it is integrity, I think of it as getting very clear about your intentions.

Lisa: Yeah, this is going to be a good podcast. I can tell.

Susan: Thank you. [laughs] Most people who know me know I'm never at a loss for words.

Lisa: Yeah, that's wonderful. So let's hit on - that first one is boundaries. I think that's so important as a business owner. And yeah, how did... how is that boundaries coming into play for you with, with DMOS?

Susan: Well, you know, I think it's all about... boundaries are all about really, really understanding where, you know, where my company begins and where it ends. Where... where my energy begins and where are my energy ends, where my head of creative, his energy begins and where it ends. It's like really getting where people’s zones are, kind of almost energetically, so that you're asking within something, you know, you're asking for them to do something that is within their area or zone of Genius. And at the same time, you really understand what is outside of their scope. And then similarly I like to think of it from the brand perspective. That we are about badass shovels. So we have a boundary that we don't do knives, we don't do hatchets. We don't... you know, going to try to take on everything in the world. I mean we are... we are a hundred percent, you know, eradicating the world of shitty lawn and garden tools and quite frankly starting with shovels, but we don't do swung things and we don't do knives. So to me it's really important just understanding, you know, when you go into any negotiation, you know, the scope of your energy, the scope of other people's energy, and really what they're trying to do in the world and what you're trying to do in the world and where you either have alignment or you have gaps.

Lisa: Yes, and being okay with those gaps.

Susan: Correct. Yes. Yes boundaries have no judgment. There isn't a... there isn't a piece in boundaries where, you know, I mean you can get kind of... obviously we're human beings so we are filled with emotions and we have to watch where our emotions are coming up and where that's coming from. But you know, generally the concept of boundaries is that there's this acceptance of what is. That there is not a judgment about what is, which can create fear and fear can create anger and all sorts of, kind of, negative emotions, but just really acceptance of what is.

Lisa: That is a wonderful perspective that I've never heard before.

Susan: Thank you. I don't just makes shovels. I think about the world all the time from Jackson Wyoming while making shovels and lots of insights come to me. [both laugh] Oh goodness.

Lisa: And and what is it the second point, you said getting clear? What is that? What does that look like for you?

Susan: Yeah, so, I think the getting clear part is really, like, is really understanding like, you know, I work actually with an executive coach and so that's an interesting part because you know, I believe that businesses, great businesses are not built alone. Business and creative work. None of this is a solo endeavor. So I have my coach, for example, and the getting clear part is he always says to me... he’s a West Point guy. He always says, “Susan. What are your three quarterly rocks? What are your three annual rocks?” This is called getting clear in my mind. But you know these West Point people, they have all sorts of acronyms and they use words like rocks and so to me, getting clear is always knowing like really what am I trying to do? What's my... so I like to start with what am I? What am I quarterly trying to do? What am I annually trying to do? What is my three-year plan? And where do I see myself in five years? And so when I'm really clear on that trajectory, it's a little bit like... so I when I'm not running the company, I spend a lot of time mountain biking. And so to me it's a little bit like that depth of perception of being aware. You know, I'm always looking 40 feet, depending on the speed I'm traveling, I'm looking at least 40 feet down the trail, but I'm also aware in my depth perception that you know, beyond that I'm going to be, you know, shifting, I'm going to downshift because I'm going to go, you know, descend something. Or I'm going to downshift because I'm going to start to climb or whatever. And so, you know, I think it's just very important to be really clear about what you're trying to do.

Lisa: Yes, absolutely. I love that you're relating it to mountain biking.

Susan: Well mountain biking is where I sort all my deepest, difficult ,most difficult problems out. It's my Psychotherapy and I have to hit the trail if I have a difficult call or I'm sort of stuck on something and I can't figure out why I can't get through it. Because it just always seems like when I go out biking I kind of kind of comeback really calm and peaceful and have a point of view, you know, that's different. So it's awesome it transforms my, almost like frenetic energy into this kind of calm state.

Lisa: Yes, that's, that's awesome. And I can tell that you're... like you think a lot and I can see why cycling would be a good... good spot to work it all out.

Susan: Yeah, I mean... cycling is my number one love. I also snowboard. I also Backcountry ski, I also fly fish, and fly fishing is increasingly important in my life these days. I just find that I absolutely love the... I love the Solitude. I love the quiet. I love the game. I love the chase for a great trout. And so those are kind of the things I do that really are really integral to my life as a CEO of an outdoor brand.

Lisa: Yes. And how do you view that third word integrity as linking into negotiation?

Susan: So the Integrity piece is just the... checking your motives, you know, it's really checking motives around like like, you know, sometimes you know, I want things to happen and I have to really check in with myself to make sure that you know, is that fair? Is that true? Is that, you know, is there any part of me that's holding back, you know, of what I'm really saying or really feeling? So I think that Integrity piece is a hugely important part of my personal approach to business. It's certainly a really important part of our company culture and it's an incredibly important part of our products. But that tends to happen, I find, with brands that a lot of ways brands become an expression of the founder of their values and especially as I get clear with my team about telling people what my values are, you know, there is an element that DMOS is... is a co-creation of a lot of my values. So the Integrity piece is just really like just making sure that at the end of the day it is just real, it is true. It is solid in the energy that comes from. Whether it's a shovel or you know, the... you know, what I'm putting forth that I want to do. You know, whether it's a film project with, you know, our creative team, you know, it just has to be really grounded, really centered.

Lisa: Yeah.

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Lisa: Wow, what an action-packed nine minutes.

Iris: Yeah, Susan really went deep into what negotiation means to her and just dropped a lot of knowledge on us.

Lisa: I love that zone of Genius.

Iris: Yeah, that's a really good way to think about your company and your employees and all the different puzzle pieces that put together a brand.

Lisa: Iris, I think your zone of Genius is just figuring shit out.

Iris: I like doing that.

Lisa: You don't require any instructions.

Iris: No.

Lisa: You don't need an instruction manual. That's my favorite thing about you. You can like couldn't figure anything out.

Iris: Well, thank you.

Lisa: I think that it's really interesting to think about everybody's... every employee’s zone of genius and what they bring to the table. So thanks for that Susan.

Iris: Yeah.

Lisa: As well as for building amazing shovels and eradicating... what did she say?

Iris: Eradicating the world of shitty lawn and garden tools.

Lisa: Hilarious.

Iris: That’s amazing. I love that she talked about how her company is a co-creation and a reflection of her own values. I think is very entrepreneurship-like. So often entrepreneurs create companies that revolve around their whole self, like their values, their personalities. And so as you hire on employees you need to make sure that everyone's on the same page with these values, with who the company is and who the company is going to be in the future.

Well since Susan dropped all that knowledge in the first 9 minutes, let's get back to her. I'm sure she has a lot more knowledge to give us.

Lisa: I am I am so interested to talk to you about your vision for starting the company and I believe it stands for Do My Own Shit. Right? DMOS?

Susan: That’s true and you know, we get all sorts of people, they just love this. They go crazy. They're like, well, is it really do my own shit or is it do my own shoveling or is it, you know, dig my own snow? And then you know, there's also the sort of play even though we're an acronym it's dmos, there’s no E, a lot of people note that the Greek demos is, you know, the sort of word for kind of community or democracy and I love that that element of democracy or kind of community is really a part of our brand name. Because, you know, in case you don't know, I realize this is a podcast but listeners out there I just want you to know that I am not Bear Grylls. I am not a muscular guy that uses tools better than anyone in the world. I am a smallish, one might say middle mid-career female professional who in some ways is agnostic about... about, about, for example, off-road shoveling versus building a kicker because I come from neither of those communities. I don't consider myself the best at either of those things. I'm not a super user building a company in my own likeness. We co-create and crowdsource with people who need to use shovels as indispensable gear for whom gear failures are not merely an inconvenience, but unthinkable. We crowdsource for those... from those folks. What designs they need and we... and I get them made. So being I think agnostic to any one single sort of, you know, using a tool or how you use a tool and not coming from the user side I think is one of our strengths and one of mine.

So that's a little bit about DMOS. So, you know, there's also sort of the name that I like to say that sometimes it's a little like the Jamaican like da most best shovels, man. So we got all that going on. There's a lot. The bottom, at the end of the day is just about really taking a category of really, you know, everyone overlooked sort of lawn and garden tools which are used by action and Outdoors and you know Auto and off-road, our kind of main customer segments, all day long as gear. And we build shovels into gear. So we build badass shovels that are gear. It's just what we do.

Lisa: And a really interesting thing that you touched on a little bit is like you're not like a big burly dude.

Susan: No, no, I know. I am really not. I’m actually small.

Lisa: And the first time I came to your website and was looking around. I was like shocked to click around and discover it was woman owned because it's a very like masculine, traditional masculine brand which... and I love that when I read our company story it talked about you observing your son using plastic shovels. And so you're a mom with this super burly brand and I love that and I'm just curious. Like, how did you... how did you decide that this is what you were going to do with your life?

Susan: That's a great question. I get that a lot. It's you know, I want you to know that I think I get it a lot just because it is gender and you know almost all of DMOS customers are these guys that are the hardest workers out there that do heroic work. And people can't necessarily... when they see me they can't necessarily understand that... that... that I have that energy, you know. First of all, I should say that most people that have worked with me over the course of my career would say that I’m literally, like one of the hardest working people people know. Now, not necessarily as a shoveler. But before I started DMOS, you know, I worked in other people’s startups and Investment Banking and in management consulting and like, you know, I have just always been like when I'm on the mission man, I am driven and like get shit done. So I have that in common with a lot of DMOS customers who really resonate with that.

And then the other thing is that... You know, it's some ways my son, who is now 17 and a half, is that guy. You know, he is one of the hardest workers, like, he was... even as like a thirteen-year-old, like, literally when I was starting a company and I saw him outside in the yard building. I mean that kid doesn't come in for lunch, you know, he's just like, you know going all the way through, like, he's got a dirt jump on his mind and he's gonna, you know, they're going to go use their dirt jumpers, you know, their bikes and they're going to go send it. And they won't stop until they do and they get like the perfect film or whatever, you know, like... I forget what they call it. They have that thing like where they like, you know, take their hands off the handlebars and then like clap behind your back. I forgot it's called, whatever. The point is, though, is that I think that I relate to those people because it's really, like, who I am. And it's what I saw my son doing.

And then there's this sailing background that I have. So almost for 20 years I sailed over 10,000 ocean miles and I was skipper a lot of that time. And I got super comfortable working with boat yards on, you know, aluminum spars and carbon fiber rigging and you know Spectra lines and you know, Carbon Fiber sails and so it just... like working in metals and working on gear that had to be built to last was something that I did while I was kind of managing various race campaigns and boat projects that we were working on. And I think that kind of got me into the industry because I began to look at how we ran our boat and where we kept gear and how everything was just dialed and built for this space and just stowed in a way that was absolutely, you know, like you had the best gear, you had one of it, it was built to last, to go offshore cross an ocean and it was perfectly stowed… it really is inspiration for DMOS. So that's a bit of... I don't know... and then there's just sort of fate and Kismet. I had a company in me, and a lot of people like to say a boat in the harbor is safe, but that's not what it's built for. I felt like I was holding back earlier in my career, especially as I worked for other people’s startups. I remember thinking like, you know, I really should do this, I should do this. And you know, if you race on other people's boats, you know at a certain point then you become Captain you realize you know, there's this moment where you're like, okay, my boat. And you're running the campaign. And I had that leadership moment in sailing and so as I saw myself being pretty good at it actually. I was really good at running a boat like not Captain Bligh, you know, like people like sailing with me. We like, would win when we raced. So I think it just really helped that I had all of that background. So that's kind of how it came to be.

Lisa: That's an amazing story.

Susan: Thanks.

Lisa: Yeah, and so when you had that leadership moment where you realized that you were literally the captain of your ship, you know, you realized that you were going to run with your career. Did you have to negotiate with yourself or did you just kind of know that the time was right for you and and go all in?

Susan: So, you know, the... all of these things didn't happen at once, you know, I skippered the boat back from Ala Wai Yacht Harbor in Hawaii to San Francisco in 95, and I worked for other people’s startups between like, you know, 99 and 2006. And I started DMOS in 2015. So big span of time between kind of each of these things and I think that sometimes things just take what they take and sometimes things need to simmer. And you know, I was also a mom, and so between 95 and 2015 and I felt like I, you know, kind of getting my kids fledged was really important to do before I could, you know, undertake a start-up because it's now, you know, mostly consumes my life and that of my son and think goodness he's old enough that he's along for the ride in a way which he helps. But you know, it's a big commitment for us and something that I waited to do until the time was right.

Lisa: Yeah, that is so cool that your son helps out.

Susan: Well, you know, he's still a kid in high school. So it's not like he's full time. But when he can, I mean, he definitely does, you know, he's done photo shoots with us. He product tests, you know, I give him stuff. It'll be like Steven. Can you break this? You know, so that's always key, because this is a kid who can break anything. He brakes so many snowboards and bindings. This kid has broken a bike frame which is like almost impossible. So it's nice to have that guy. Just give it to Steven. [laughs]

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Lisa: That was awesome, Susan, that part about how shovels have to work and that this product... her products are for people to whom failure is unthinkable. Like that's such an intense business. But it's true. Right? If you're in a situation where you're digging someone out of an avalanche and your shovel fails. Oh my God. So yeah, it's... that's wild, that's a lot of responsibility around just... just a shovel and I think it takes a lot of stoicism as a business owner to own a company like that, so good on you Susan.

Iris: Mhmm, and she talked about how it's kind of an overlooked category in the outdoor industry, but to a subset of people incredibly important and has never really had a specific like corner of that market before. So she turns something as simple as a shovel into a piece of gear. So let's get back to Susan the captain of DMOS.

Lisa: That's amazing you seem to sort of approach life in general with a sense of humor. I hope I'm reading that right, but do you also bring that humor into your business?

Susan: Yes, I am alternatively a goofball and one of the most intensive and focused people you know. So I do vacillate between being a goofball and even maybe self-effacing and being very intense. You know, it's the whole, you know, game face. I mean listen, when I'm on gave face, you know, it's like, it's on. But most of the time I find it people play best when they're loose. So, you know, when you're an athlete, you know, it's always like your best performance is when you're like... not too loose, you got to care, but you got to be loose, you got to stay loose. You know, that's when you can really send it and you know, accidents happen when you get really stiff. So yeah, I think it's important to just be real and you know... and enjoy each day. You know, it's the journey, it's not the destination for sure.

Lisa: Yeah, how would you say that your duality of being pretty goofy but also very intense. How would you say that translates into your leadership style? So it translates into my leadership style because I believe that... I really believe in open book management. I believe that that the... that the more that people really understand, you know, like where I'm coming from - and again remember back to the earlier conversation I talked about like quarterly rocks and annual goals - the more that I can communicate, you know the vision for what... what I, we as a company are trying to achieve what I am personally tasked with. And then getting very clear with them about what goals and we co-create goals as a team. I just think that all of that, being incredibly open, written down, and visible is... you know enables people to then, you know, be expressive and be loose because they don't have to guess. You know, it's not like an environment where anyone wonders like, you know, will Susan like this? Well I’ll like it if we hit our results. So it just makes it easy for people to be who they are and be real and you know manage their time and get things done.

Lisa: That's such a wonderful outlook. You sound like a terrific leader. My last question for you is... is there anything I haven't asked you that you would like to tell our audience?

Susan: Oh, that's a great question. Well, I think a lot of people in your audience you mentioned, you know are either, you know, brand managers, creatives, you know, people who work in the outdoor industry, you know, and either working with clients or are clients themselves who are trying to communicate to their creatives. And you know, it kind of gets back to this, you know, the topic of the month is negotiation, but it really gets back to what I was saying about, you know, getting clear and integrity. I think that... I think that Brands, you know do this kind of, you know, branding and messaging work and then they kind of, you know, keep it in stone. And the only thing I would really say that I've learned is that, you know, kind of doing a refresh on it, you know, almost like you know, not major changes, but quarterly looking at it making sure that with each new partner that you on board that you know, you share it, you know, if they have input into it that you co-create it. Because really and truly as you're growing a brand, you start out with you know, a statement of who you are as an integral part of your brand, but it does evolve. And I think that recognizing it and co-creating it. You know, your team, your creative team is important and if I was a creative working with the brand, I know that I would really raise my hand and be like, hey, let's... let's make sure we go over that. Please make sure you share that with me. I want to know, you know, can we discuss it? Can we go through it? I want to get on the same page as you. Because then it just feels like from that foundation the best work can be done and people can play fast and loose and have some fun and bring their true selves into the into the project. I mean, the thing I think I ask more than anything of the DMOS team whether they're full-time employees or contractors is that people bring their authentic selves into their work. And that we then show up and bring who we are authentically to our customers. So that's kind of how we do it.

Lisa: Wow, great words of advice, words of wisdom. I love it.

Susan: Thank you. This has been fun.

Lisa: Cool. Thank you so much.

Susan: Okay. Thank you. I had a great interview. Really appreciate it.

Lisa: All right, Susan, thank you so much for being on the podcast, that was amazing and action-packed and we can't wait to buy some of your shovels.

Iris: Yeah, what a cool, cool person. You can follow her at @DMOS_collective or her personal Instagram is @wycowgirlsue and we'll put a bunch of links in the show notes, so you can find her there. And don't forget to subscribe to the show and leave us a review if you can, we really really love it. Thanks for being here.

Lisa: Thanks for being here. See you next week.

Iris: Bye.

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