Build your own success — focus on getting experience in various roles and taking on projects that expose you to areas of work to build your foundation rather than chasing promotions and titles. I sought roles in geographic locations or businesses that others were less likely to choose or perceived to be less successful. However, those locations and positions gave me a great opportunity to prove the impact I could make in areas others didn’t see as opportunities.
As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Scott D. Willis, CEO, DartPoints.
Scott Willis serves as DartPoints’ President and Chief Executive Officer and also serves as a member of the Board of Directors. Mr. Willis is a recognized global technology leader in the communications industry with a demonstrated track record of building successful businesses for both large and small organizations to significant scale. He has extensive leadership experience transforming organizations, setting strategic direction, overseeing complex operations and confecting corporate alliances while delivering growth and profitability to the business.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
Thank you for taking the time to meet with me. I’ve read through your disruptor series, and I’m honored to be included.
I knew at a young age that I appreciated and liked challenges and diving into work that was considered difficult by others. I grew up doing hard work on ranches, hauling hay, and I also worked in oil fields. It was hard work that instilled a disciplined and focused work ethic. As I set my sites on college and careers, I knew I wanted to choose a profession that had an impact and meaning to society while providing the challenge I sought. I put forth considerable research, including talking to guidance and career counselors and taking time to meet with professors and get advice about various professions and industries. Through that discovery process, a few obvious choices like law and healthcare rose to the top. However, there was one area, telecommunications, that resonated deeply. It was the mid-80s and telecom, as we know it today, was in its infancy. We were at the point where industry innovators were dreaming about the future of global communications and connectivity. It was with this appreciation and understanding of how technology was advancing and changing communications that I entered into telecom with intent. Like my time working on ranches and oil fields, at a time when my peers were taking on more mainstream summer jobs, I sought an impacting career in an area that at the time was not sought after.
My journey has been of one taking riskier paths. I have had a great career working with highly intelligent, innovative people — those who’ve helped shape telecom and connectivity throughout the world. I’ve learned from their ingenuity and worked alongside those who had a vision for technology and how it can impact our lives.
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
The way telecommunications networks provide a connection to customers has generally remained unchanged for decades. While the internet has grown and demand for content has skyrocketed, we still see that most content resides in a few major markets; we call them Tier 1 markets or NFL cities. Anyone outside those immediate areas depends on a series of hand-offs from the big carriers to smaller carriers and ultimately to the end-user. This is a major cause of the “digital divide” because it adds costs and reduces performance. When you consider the newer, emerging applications and technologies, this model is untenable. It’s like trying to drink a milkshake through a six-foot straw. The answer isn’t to get a bigger straw, it’s to bring the milkshake closer — that’s what DartPoints is doing. We are creating network-neutral interconnection points that allow the large content companies to deploy their content and applications in smaller cities and towns, which enables regional carriers direct access to content to better serve their end-user customers. The end result is the same level of performance and competitive cost structure for rural or underserved markets as enjoyed by those residing in major cities. Our work ties directly to the efforts being taken on a state and federal level to improve rural broadband by further enhancing those investments.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Given my tenure, I have picked up quite a few learning along my career. I am not sure one mistake that led to learning is particularly funnier than another. However, it is interesting to think that when I was in the midst of a mistake, especially early in my career, that in the moment I was scared about the negative repercussions and I couldn’t see how it shaped and positively affected my future successes. Hindsight is 20/20, but now, mistakes don’t seem as dire as they once did. It’s still very important to course correct, but the mistakes alone were useful because I was willing to learn from them.
We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
I’ve been fortunate to have several good mentors in my life and throughout my career — starting with college professors. One bit of advice I received a few different times, which continues to resonate with me, is to be open to relocating and moving for a position. I’ve moved 11 times during my career, and I have taken positions that were off the beaten path to prove to the organization and myself that I could make an impact or turn the situation into a success. I’d encourage others to do the same. Don’t be afraid of the risk to do what others don’t immediately see as an opportunity, especially if you know you can make an impact.
In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?
I don’t believe that any change can be so easily categorized as either positive or negative because that judgment is relative to one’s position in the dynamic. DartPoints is fundamentally changing the status quo for markets outside of major cities, but this comes with an understanding that these markets might have a hesitation when it comes to disruption. So, we focus on advocating for existing providers in these markets and helping them understand how we’re serving them, not outpacing them, while still helping to evolve the existing model for their benefit — that truly is our core purpose. By widely distributing content and applications across the U.S. and not only focusing on major metropolitan areas, but we are also leveling the playing field. For example, we are enabling rural school districts in Eastern Iowa to receive the same access to educational content that exists in Dallas, TX. Allowing everyone faster, more cost-effective access to the internet ultimately helps latency issues and content availability.
At DartPoints, many businesses we engage with may initially assume we are a disruptor when we are actually serving as an enabler. As such, our focus is on partnership and collaboration to bring varying networks together in a neutral interconnection point, further enhancing their abilities to deliver data and content that their end-users need.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
- Build your own success — focus on getting experience in various roles and taking on projects that expose you to areas of work to build your foundation rather than chasing promotions and titles. I sought roles in geographic locations or businesses that others were less likely to choose or perceived to be less successful. However, those locations and positions gave me a great opportunity to prove the impact I could make in areas others didn’t see as opportunities.
- The obvious, usual path isn’t always the best for your career — take the roles or projects others don’t see as the typical path to success. I took roles that the business didn’t see as strategic or weren’t prioritized, and I would find ways to turn them around. Twice in my career, I volunteered to take an acting role for positions hiring managers told me there was no way I would be considered to fill. While they were interviewing and going through the hiring process, I would take the opportunity, execute and deliver with an impact that positioned me as the obvious candidate.
- Seek knowledge and inspiration from various sources — talk to people who’ve attained success in different areas, read books about ideas and movements that have sparked change and seek input from those you typically don’t turn to for advice.
Lead generation is one of the most important aspects of any business. Can you share some of the strategies you use to generate good, qualified leads?
Lead generation is important, but our current efforts are focused on educating the market and our ecosystem partners. Enabling smaller or more rural markets through education and information sharing is important for allowing communities to be aware of and confront the problems and provide a solution that solves them. There are some who don’t clearly understand the challenges of receiving dependable connectivity through alternative methods. For now, we are focusing on education, and we are depending on the trust our current customers have in the services we provide. It’s critical for us to show the impact we’ve made in these markets and create relationships based on trust. As such, companies and local government officials that recognize we bring a critical service to their community have helped spread the word and advocate for us. What DartPoints provides is new and can be seen as somewhat intricate, but we focus on the benefits we provide and what that means for the entire ecosystem we enable.
We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?
We have an audacious vision, and it will take years for us to fully realize our dream. As I look to the future, I see DartPoints’ sites improving access and performance for schools, farms, businesses and families throughout every corner of the United States. We will be the foundation upon which future technologies and applications launch to bring greater economic possibilities to all communities. But the issues we are tackling don’t just exist here in the U.S.; they are global. In fact, it’s been shown time and time again that investments in technology made by developing countries can produce faster and greater benefits than in developed nations. Equal access for all could change the world, and we’re passionate about achieving it.
Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?
I’m currently reading Chris Voss’ book, Never Split the Difference. Chris is a former FBI negotiator who is now working in the business sector and teaching how his training in international hostage negotiation relies on the same principles as negotiating in business. It is resonating with me because I’m learning about levels of emotional intelligence and how they impact business situations with empathy and understanding — not only sales negotiations, but also in leading teams.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I want to share a quote by Mary Anne Radmacher for all of the other disruptors who challenge the status quo to improve people’s lives: “Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I’ll try again tomorrow.” Being a disruptor can be difficult because asking people to change is often met with opposition. DartPoints has been leading the charge to create distributed network-neutral interconnection “edge” points for over eight years. In the beginning, the company founders were told it would never work. Through our perseverance, and that of other like-minded industry visionaries, the “edge” is now very real and data and content is distributed like never before. So, continue believing in your vision and keep moving forward.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
To build off of my answer from the previous question: There is no shortage of good ideas or varying ways of offering new business, personal and global solutions. However, many have given up on these ideas when they are met with naysayers or when they believe it’s too far off the typical course of action. Consider the feedback and learning from others if it helps improve your direction, but don’t let it stop the innovation. It’s more of a mindset than a movement, but I do think it would help those who are finding ways to innovate and better serve people.
How can our readers follow you online?
The best place to follow me is on my personal LinkedIn account or through the DartPoints company LinkedIn page. Please connect with us.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
Thank you. I appreciate being asked to join in the broader disruptor conversation.