Inside Track: Opportunist rises to the top
Dan Hodgson climbs the SalesPad ladder despite no college degree.
Despite being vice president of operations for SalesPad, Dan Hodgson entered the rapidly growing software company with no college education or any technical experience.
“That’s kind of a weird thing for my position, to be where I’m at,” Hodgson said. “I didn’t take the ‘normal’ route.”
He does, however, possess experience in management and customer service. Out of high school, Hodgson “stumbled” into the world of retail. He moved to Colorado where he managed a ski and snowboard rental store out of Beaver Creek Resort for a couple years.
When he returned to West Michigan, he got a job managing a hockey equipment store via a recommendation from an old hockey friend, Darrell Allen.
Even though he had a strong passion for hockey, Hodgson knew he didn’t want to work retail for the rest of his life.
“Retail’s a tough business,” he said. “It’s long hours. It’s holidays. It’s not what I really wanted for myself.”
Hodgson said he also had a passion for computers from a young age, but without a college degree under his belt, there weren’t a lot of related career options for him. Coincidentally, Allen came through again and helped land him a job at SalesPad.
“That same friend stumbled upon the owner of SalesPad, not even knowing he was the owner. They were neighbors,” Hodgson said. “I owe this guy a lot.”
Allen told Hodgson he found out the software company was hiring for customer service and tech support, and that he recommended him for the job.
“I went in for an interview, thought I crushed it,” Hodgson said. “I was really excited about it. I thought it went really well.”
But his hopes were dashed when SalesPad decided to pass him up for another candidate who had a college degree.
“It made sense,” Hodgson said. “He had a college degree in (computer science), and it just fit in more with what they were doing.”
Hodgson went back to the hockey store, but a few weeks later, he got another offer from SalesPad. The company had decided to add another position to its customer support staff.
He gladly took the offer and started his first position with SalesPad as customer support two weeks later. Prior to that, he asked to come in early to train and get familiar with his new environment.
“I was coming into SalesPad — and people didn’t even know who I was — just so I could do product training,” he said. “I just wanted to start working.”
The drive for knowledge paid off. Hodgson held his first position for about seven months before he was promoted to implementation specialist, coordinating with business clients to help implement SalesPad’s software.
“It’s a much larger role as far as you’re doing more communication with the stakeholders in the business,” he said. “You’re doing all the discovery and finding out the business needs and the requirements, and then you’re configuring and implementing the software for them.”
During his time in this role, he said he dug in and learned the ins and outs of a wide range of industries like HVAC, apparel sellers, manufacturing and hydraulic fluid suppliers.
Hodgson also attributed his previous experience in retail management to getting his foot in the door at SalesPad. Already possessing about seven years of management experience made him an attractive prospect when he was otherwise lacking in technical skills.
“That’s really what helped me land that job,” he said. “They said, ‘We’re not hiring you for your technical abilities’ because I didn’t have any. They weren’t hiring me for my college degree. I didn’t have one. What they liked is I had retail management experience.”
He also asked a “ton of questions.” Saying he was lucky enough to sit next to his product manager at the time, Jacob Pegg, he would listen and make notes of how Pegg talked on the phone and interacted with customers.
“Those guys noticed it,” Hodgson said. “So as we grew, my name seemed to always be at the forefront of it. ‘Hey, we’re going to add a manager. Dan killed support, he killed implementation.’”
Two years into his career, SalesPad almost doubled in staff, and Hodgson said the company had grown to about 50 employees from about 25 when he started. The rapid growth opened up new opportunities for him to climb into the management seat.
Hodgson became manager of professional services and support, overseeing both of the departments he had previously cut his teeth in, and the company continued to grow. After about a year and a half as manager, the company had about 75 staff members, opening the door for Hodgson to move up to director of professional services and support.
He spent another two years in this position until SalesPad grew to around 130 employees and decided to implement new vice president positions. Hodgson accepted his current position as vice president of operations, giving him oversight of custom development, product development, professional services and support.
For him to be in such a high place with no development experience raised some eyebrows within the company, but having no experience also lent a fresh perspective to the team meetings.
As vice president of operations, Hodgson said he came to meetings posing what he thought were dumb questions about the way certain divisions operated within the company.
“We had three different teams at the time that worked on different products, and I was starting to ask, ‘Why did we create these silos?’” he said. “Is there a way that we can knock down these silos, and can we have them all follow the same process?”
Hodgson argued if all development teams were efficient in each other’s product responsibilities, it would make the company more efficient.
“Now, we’ve merged all the teams … all developers can work on everything, and all developers follow the same process,” he said.
Marking seven years with SalesPad in October, Hodgson partly attributed his rapid rise in leadership to the available opportunities but mostly to his drive of taking advantage of those opportunities.
“I was always jumping at the chance, and I would say from Day 1 when I started, it was just an extreme work ethic, and I know a lot of people say that, but I’d say I take it to a different level,” he said.
Since Day 1, Hodgson said his journey through SalesPad has been a baptism by fire. He initially felt like he’d made the wrong decision, knowing next to nothing about the product or its implementation, but his thirst for knowledge and his determination kept him going.
“I was very serious about quitting three months in,” he said. “I just thought I was in over my head. Too many times I was like, ‘I don’t understand these businesses. I don’t understand the software.’”
Hodgson said around his one-year mark, everything started to “click.” He began to understand the product and the clients he was working with, and if he didn’t know the solution to a client’s problem, he would own up to it and “fight through it” with them.
“I wasn’t afraid,” he said. “I wouldn’t say, ‘Hey I don’t know the answer. Can someone else take this?’ I’d say, ‘You know what, I’m going to figure it out.’”
Hodgson also said he has his auto mechanic father, Danni Hodgson, to be thankful for. Besides just having a strong work ethic, his experience working with his dad on semi-trucks taught him valuable skills like troubleshooting and critical thinking.
“He was a very, very good problem solver/critical thinker to put the pieces together,” Hodgson said of his dad. “This was the overall issue. He could backtrack to what the original issue of that problem was very quickly. I’d say I got a lot of that.”