In the dynamic world of entrepreneurship, success stories often unfold in unexpected ways. Dave Dickerson, the founder of Accurate Background, epitomizes the resilience and ingenuity that can turn a humble beginning into a thriving business empire.
Dave relied on rolling back the Accurate’s profits back into the company to scale it. Eventually, he brought in a private equity investor, Apax Digital Fund.
In this episode, you will learn:
- Dave Dickerson’s journey started in sauna sales but pivoted to founding Accurate Background, showcasing the unexpected paths entrepreneurship can take.
- The closure of Dave’s first venture taught crucial lessons about inventory control, marketing, and resilience in the face of economic challenges.
- Accurate Background’s inception involved a DIY tech solution created with minimal knowledge, highlighting the power of resourcefulness in building a successful business.
- Scaling to 2800 employees required strategic hires, emphasizing culture building and bringing in experts at each growth phase.
- Accurate Background’s success is attributed to its unique culture, fostering open communication, customer-centricity, and a continuous learning mindset among employees.
- Dave’s decision to resist venture capital initially and later partner with private equity showcases the importance of strategic financing choices tailored to the business’s needs.
- Accurate Background envisions continued growth in the background screening industry, anticipating industry evolution towards individual data ownership and emphasizing adaptability to technological advancements.
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About Dave Dickerson:
Dave is the Founder & CEO of Accurate Background, Inc. One of the nation’s premier employment screening firms. Accurate has been recognized for three consecutive years by Deloitte’s Technology Fast 500 as one of the fastest-growing technology companies in America.
In addition to Accurate Background, Dave started a successful internet retail company that has twice been ranked on the Inc. 500 list of fastest-growing privately-owned companies in North America.
His family is most important to Dave. They are and will always be his first love and priority.
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Read the Full Transcription of the Interview:
Alejandro Cremades: All righty hello everyone and welcome to the deal maker show. So today. We have quite a founder. Let me tell you quite the founder. You know he’s built his company from the grownup. You know he started the company with just $3000 and now they’re north of 400000000 in revenue without taking by the way. Venture capital money or anything you know, really to run the business I mean obviously they have peace now but private equity firms. But that’s a different story. So in our session today you know in this incredible conversation that we have ahead of us. We’re going to be talking about how to think about culture. How also to think about culture when you’re thinking about bringing. External money how you’re thinking about to the needs of the clients and really understanding them as well as mentoring people. So again, really incredible and inspiring conversation in front of us so without farther do let’s welcome our guest today Dave Dickerson welcome to the show.
Dave Dickerson: Thanks for having me glad to be here.
Alejandro Cremades: So originally born in California you know and raised in the suburbs of l a so give us a walk through memory lane. How was life growing up.
Dave Dickerson: I was actually raised by single mom and my grandmother yeah actually in a hispanic household you you wouldn’t know that to look at me. But um, actually my mom was from Yucatan ah so grew up. Ah. Very working class family.
Alejandro Cremades: And I guess say what did you get? you know from from the hard work and the you know being in the Us the American Dream I mean all of that stuff. What did you get from that too.
Dave Dickerson: Yeah I mean my my my mom and my grandmother who came over to be with her very much believed in the American dream and what was possible by working hard.
Alejandro Cremades: So then you know like you ended up going to school. You know you ended up going you know to to school very much so in orange county and then you decided to stay but 1 of the things that is very interesting is that rather than going at it. You know in the corporate world. You thought that it would be interesting to get you know into manufacturing you know stuff around saunas and and steam rooms and how was that experience like you know that was your first rodeo.
Dave Dickerson: Yeah, yeah, was it. It was one of those things where ah if you would have asked me a year before I got into it is this something I would be doing I probably wouldn’t have ever imagined. It actually? yeah while I was in college. Um, what happened I was working for an exercise ah company fitness company and they had an ancillary business that the founder had ah at built saunas and so when I left that business I actually had people I had sold saunas to. Who did not want to work with that founder anymore and where it had found me and had asked me. Can you start building these rooms for me and with literally um, no experience I found someone who ah who had experience in the construction and went out bid. It got the job and that. Particular day when I went out and sold that room I ended up selling 3 more because there was a lot of construction going on and so it kind of just evolved from that standpoint.
Alejandro Cremades: So eventually as they say you know you’re succeed or you learn you know you eventually had to ah you guys had to shut down the company. But what was the lessons. You know that you took from that experience.
Dave Dickerson: Um, that that one was actually a lot of learning as far as understanding what I need as far as inventory control. Um, you know how how we market you know selling it was It was a It was actually a good Experience. I mean yeah, ultimately it you know we had to shut it down because of the recession in the early 90 s but it was actually a very good experience for us. I mean it taught me a lot of different attributes of the business. So and it’s one of those things where I kind of know enough of everything. But I’m not an act and particularly an expert in anything.
Alejandro Cremades: And I and I believe so that you know giving you the ad visibility into other stuff too. You know why say what came next you know which was also consulting I mean you did consulting you know with Pharma companies and. And other other segments. You know that perhaps you know gave you more visibility I Guess you know when you do consulting too. It gives you an understanding on how to be able to as well break you know, big problems into smaller problems and and how to tackle them. So.
Dave Dickerson: Correct.
Alejandro Cremades: What what would you say that you got from from from that journey to ah being a consultant.
Dave Dickerson: So so I but basic from a sales standpoint I learned how to develop territories I understood really listening to clients what their needs were and so I was able to translate that into different industries. Yeah again I was into a a pharmaceutical. Small pharmaceutical here in orange county that was looking to build an inside sales program I was hired on built that whole program for them left after about a year and then I ended up ah with another company that was a dated public records aggregator. It was doing the same thing they were trying to build an inside sales program.
Alejandro Cremades: And obviously this was a pivotal for you because say it was ultimately what ended up leading you to accurate background. So what were the sequences of events you know until you were like okay I think it’s time to build something here.
Dave Dickerson: Connect.
Dave Dickerson: Right? So when I was working with them. 1 of the products that we were selling was a skip tracing tool and the primary buyers were banks and private investigators and I was working with the private and investigator group and they were just weren’t buying a lot of this product because they weren’t locating people. In in masses they you know they would do maybe 4 or 5 a month and this was a product that was like $5 and and the company was struggling to find other products to sell them so I started asking um the clients I was working with what products. Do you use a lot of and they would always come back that they were looking for criminal records at the county level. And they were looking for a good source and they would run you know a hundred of these a month and they were they were experiencing wait times about three weeks they didn’t think the data was that good. So I started investigating it and I realized the company I was hat where ah where was had that product but it was. You would quote three weeks and it was a very expensive product. So I started um learning the reason it was taken so long was very manual process and it would actually when you ordered something it would actually go through a number of people before you actually ever get it back. So it was is constantly being transferred so the more touches. You had the more chances you’re going to have for errors in the delay of time. So I started looking at this and said you know we could actually streamline this process bring the cost down be the very profitable product and offer it to the clients and I presented to management. They were not interested. You know they thought it was just a very manual process.
Dave Dickerson: So having been on my own I saw the opportunity to hear and so I left and so I so that’s actually interesting story. So I you know the story of this is I started on a Thursday I had about 20 searches and I was just doing it on excel.
Alejandro Cremades: So then so then you leave and then what’s what happened next.
Dave Dickerson: You know and you know Microsoft word building my reports ordering this ah ordering this stuff and finding researchers who would do this for me and my wife was a programmer at the time and so she said you know you really need to automate this and. You know I could build you a simple database and now I’m I’m not a technologist and my first thing was oh what you mean like Oracle and she kind of like you know this is not something you need oracle. She says I could build you something that at the time in axis microsoft axis. So. So what she did was she literally got vhs tapes because this was the 90 s watched beginning intermediate and advanced access on Saturday morning. She said let’s go to lunch. She asked me what I needed from the clients. What I needed to send to the researchers and what I needed back and what I how to bill a report and then she programmed all Saturday um. Evening all Sunday we launched it Monday morning and that was the basis of how we started and we just kept adding to that.
Alejandro Cremades: So for the people that are listening to really get it. What ended up being the business model of Accurate background.
Dave Dickerson: So so we started we were wholesaling so we were selling to other companies that needed the information and then they would turn around and resell it. Okay, so we started doing that and then for the first you know six months that’s all I did was just wholesale and then we were approached by a large. Ah. Retailer in the West Coast who had gotten my name and it said you know we’re experiencrasing about three week turnaround and we don’t think the data is that good is this something you can provide in how fast and I told them you know most of their information would come back in 48 hours they didn’t believe me, you wanted to run a test. And we did it and most actually most of the information came back within 24 hours and it was actually better than they were getting so they they signed on and from that same point over the next five years I kind of transitioned away from the the wholesale side of it and then just started working with end users and then. As I give would get end user clients I would talk to them asking. What are the products they needed were solutions I could sell them and we started developing educational verification employmentment verification products. Um, you know, final partner for driving records and then we would ah. Aggregate all this into report and return it to him.
Alejandro Cremades: So how how do you guys make money today.
Dave Dickerson: So it’s it’s very transactional in the st where as a client is onboarding a new candidate the background check process when they when they order the background check after ah, an offer has been made that goes to us and it comes to us in and a numerous ways. Either directly through our system right? where they can log on but about 80% come through an integration with an applicant tracking system so like through oracle or Sa which they’re using as their applicant tracking system. All that information is parsed over to us will run the report and then the report. Goes back to the client.
Alejandro Cremades: So as you’re looking back now in time you know because you’ve been at it now for quite a bit you know, almost twenty seven years twenty seven years with a company which is incredible as you’re looking back. What was that moment where you experienced that you guys were turning a corner here and that you were into something.
Dave Dickerson: Why and you I you actually I knew from the first month that I was on something. Okay, so because there was definitely a need. You know, getting clients. Um I wouldn’t say is easy but it was just something that that the clients said I was getting ah they were ordering pretty regularly right. And so it was one of those situations where we just kept developing and going after ah you know the developing the network making it better streamlining network making improvements like if we go back to the 90 s it was very manual at the time now. It’s extremely automated. You know we’re we’re integrated with court systems. It’s very very little human touch to the product now.
Alejandro Cremades: And how has it been the to the journey of of really scaling the business because I mean it’s really remarkable how you got started with just $3000 You didn’t raise any money for the operations and and I’m just guessing you know like why. Why was that the case and then how did you go about Scaling. Do.
Dave Dickerson: Um, so at the time the business you know if you look back in the in the 90 s the the background screen business wasn’t ah necessarily a sexy business that you know venture capital that was there were looking at it. It wasn’t as big as it is now you know it was probably. You know, less than half you know half a billion dollars industry. So now it’s close to 5000000000 if you take all the ancillary industries. It’s probably closer to 10000000000 so it’s it’s really grown over the time and the automation has actually helped that so at the time. You know if you would have asked me I just didn’t know enough to to go out and and seek to raise money. You know it was one of those things I just felt like you know as long as I keep grinding every day and I I just kept reinvesting everything I had back into the business. So.
Alejandro Cremades: So what? what? what was in that the process too of um as you’re reinvesting are you as you’re building the business. You know I’m sure that too the the business went into different cycles now you know every 18 to twenty four months you know our business will change. You know with the milestones the goals. So I guess how did you also develop yourself to really understand what you needed to give to the company to be able to continue to shift from one cycle to the next.
Dave Dickerson: So as we as we were growing so we were basically doubling our revenue every two years. Okay, so as we were growing. Um, you know I would seek out the people that would actually help me get to the next level right? So when I was about $2000000 there was a. A person from the industry from an operational standpoint that had a lot of ah just knowledge of the industry I brought her on and she she was with me for about 8 years as we grew and then you know and then you bring on the the right salesperson even though I could sell you know I knew I couldn’t do everything so we brought in. You know, a really good enterprise salesperson then we brought someone um later on above that was that would lead the sales engagements. So.
Alejandro Cremades: And and in and in this case as well. I mean you guys have scaled the operation to 2800 people. I mean that’s a lot of people too. So how did you go about making sure that they you know. Culture you know the pillars were there and that people were able to row you know at the same time you know towards the same mission.
Dave Dickerson: So ah, a lot of that is is culture building right? So as as we’re hiring you kind of know the people that you’re bringing on. Are they a good fit right? So It’s I always kind of look at it is this ah is this someone I want to have a. Long conversations with it have nothing do with work right? Just someone I get along with that I know on a day in day out that we can be honest with you with each other right and grow. Do they have other experiences that they’re bringing um from other positions that are going to actually help that it will translate to what we’re doing So You know again, it’s. A lot of the people that ah um, you know they were the right person at the right time and then they moved on to other successes. They’ve done. You know other things that and you know I Never um, take it personal that someone wants to leave the company right? You know I I wish him well because I know they were the right person at the right time. That for us and they move On. We’ve had people who’ve left and actually come back. They get other experiences and they come Back. We have you know there’s ah probably more than a handful of people that actually have been able to scale this ah that those to me are the phenomenal stories of our business. That you know they started out in a very kind of entry level position and have just grown they they just had that that thing about them that are able to grow and they’re like a sponge they want to learn and they just grow and they’re they’re just doing great with us.
Alejandro Cremades: So what have you learned about people then you know you have so many employees you know the way that you guys have scaled is people going people coming back. You know new people coming in what have you learned about people.
Dave Dickerson: Um I think generally people want to do a good job. I mean you know that people they’re with accurate I think accurate’s a really unique story where like in our industry. Um, we have lots of people who’ve come from our competitors. We have very few people they ever leave us for our competitors and you know they come in and you know last night we had our our regional sales kickoff. Um, and you know we had 160 people ah here in Huntington Beach and it’s just it’s a phenomenal feeling to be around these people. I mean they’re very excited about the product. They’re very ah customer centric right? They want to make sure the customers are getting what they they need and the solutions to their problems. Um I think for us to have these. Ah. These type of peoples is what makes accurate really special.
Alejandro Cremades: How do you typically go about you know to that point just to double click on that. How do you? How do you go about understanding the real needs of customers.
Dave Dickerson: Again, so a lot of it’s communication right? So so so customers a lot of times ah will come to us today. These are the knees. This is what we’re currently doing and they think that’s the way to do it and then then you start asking them well then what’s your pain points and then they’ll start explaining to them and then you kind of. Basically dissect what they’re doing and say well this is what’s causing the pain point. So let me let me change things for you to make it ah a better experience for not only the customer. But for their candidates because ah their candidates are the ones who are who are providing us the data and so we want to make sure that it’s a stressful time for them. They’re trying to get a job. They’re trying to get hired. We want to make sure the candidate has a really good experience as well.
Alejandro Cremades: So you guys were growing very nicely I mean you are now at North of 400000000 in yearly revenue which is incredible and you decided you know and. I guess you know given the timings and the space. You know as you were alluding to to it earlier you know and not taking like Vc money or any of that stuff eventually you open up the door to private equity firms and I know that culture for you is a big thing. So. How did you go about? you know, like really making sure that you were bringing the right investors for the right resources when he came to the actual moment of raisingcing money from those p firms. How did you guys go about you know, bringing those pe firms. You know what was the the way or.
Dave Dickerson: Think I lost you a hundred.
Alejandro Cremades: I would say like the filtering mechanisms that you use for that.
Dave Dickerson: You know Alejandro I lost you for about 30 seconds
Dave Dickerson: Are we back? Yeah I lost you right? like when you started asking me the question I’d lost you.
Alejandro Cremades: Did I lose you there ours we’ll we’ll edit this Piece. So I Guess the ah what I was saying is how the when when you decided to finally bring investors right? like private equity firms to the table. How did you go about making sure that they were the right fit and why did you think it was the right time to open the door for them at that moment.
Dave Dickerson: So ah, so the first time. Ah what happened was ah when I start you know we would we would get privateest private equity inquiries throughout and a lot of them just weren’t a good fit of some you know started learning about the terms. You know the preferred. Participate paid preferred the accrued interests. All these things you started really understanding it and it just wasn’t something that for me at the time I didn’t really need it. Um, and so it wasn’t something that I necessarily wanted to a path I wanted to go down so in 2013 as we’re growing. What I did do is I did take ah some um, some debt and put it on the books just so I can have some operating capital and then what happened is as we were growing that that that private equity firm actually wanted to have some ownership and so I sold them actually. Ah. Ah, small piece of accurate. So we from that time where we grew but they were and they were good partners I’m actually I I have ah you know again I get I get along very well with them. There’s very open communication. Um, and so they’re they’re still involved in accurate. You know 10 years later. They they still have their same piece. They’ve they stayed on. They’ve been very happy with the investment.
Dave Dickerson: Ah hundred I think I lost you again.
Alejandro Cremades: Dave can you hear me.
Alejandro Cremades: Dave I think I lost you there can you hear me now Dave Dave Dave can you hear me.
Alejandro Cremades: So They’ve obviously you you know as part of bringing on Board Investors. You know all the employees that you have really vision is a really big One. No and and it comes down really to be able to enroll people into the future into what’s Possible. So I Guess to that point the question that I like to ask you is. Imagine if you were to go to sleep tonight and you wake up in a world where the vision of Accurate background is fully realized what does that world look like.
Dave Dickerson: Again. So ah so our space I I yeah I think we’re gonna continue to grow. You know as far, our space is very fragmented right? So you have some very large players. We’re actually the largest privately held in the world. There’s 3 publics ahead of us. There’s gonna be and there’s. Literally hundreds of smaller mom pop shops are basically continue to consolidate I think that we will continue to be a consolidator in the space we’ve we’ve acquired 4 companies over this over this time. Ah. There is definitely advantages of scale in this business just from getting the data and the the operation standpoint I think the industry itself is evolving um I think eventually what’s going to end up happening is the the individual is going to. Really own more of their own data versus actually having to go to relying on ah outside sources like the course and stuff the the you’ll you’ll you’ll the the individual will retain their data will work more closely with the individual to make you to help tell their story so that’s really what what I where I see it we. We’re. Very similar to the art industry is very similar to the credit bureaus. So if you go back, you know, probably the early 1900 s the credit bureaus with everything was very fragmented and now there’s really 3 players and that’s kind of where I see this industry going.
Alejandro Cremades: And I guess you know I say as we’re talking about the future here I want to talk about the past but I want to talk about the past with a lens of reflection imagine if I was to put you into a time machine and I bring you back in time to 97 where you got started with a company. Let’s say I give you the opportunity of having a chat with that younger Dave that is looking at bringing something to life that is new. There is a solution you know to a problem that you encounter back then and let’s say you have the opportunity of giving that younger Dave one piece of advice before launching a business. What would that be and why given what you know now.
Dave Dickerson: What I mean I say hindsight there’s advantage of hindsight I I would say you know continue doing what you were always good at doing right? Just keep grinding. Um, you know, follow you in your instincts. Ah you know don’t always go. Down the path of what you others tell you right to understand the products what the solutions listen to clients. Um, you know, bring the right people around you continue you know continue to bring the right people around you? Um, so. Again, obviously it’s worked out for me. So I’ve been very happy I mean it’s one of those things where you know if I look back on it. Ah you know people will say like you know why didn’t you raise money and and all these in ah you know, bring venture capital do all these other things and and a lot of it had to do with um. I don’t want to say ignorance. But as a lack of knowledge of the space which actually worked into my my benefit I think I think if I would have done it early on I probably wouldn’t be where I’m at today and the company wouldn’t be worth that it would have been a much different story.
Alejandro Cremades: That’s amazing Dave so for the people that are listening that would love to reach out and say hi. What is the best way for them to do so yeah.
Dave Dickerson: I’m pretty easy to you know? Linkedin um I tend to be very responsive I love helping people starting out I get questions all the time. Um anywhere I can help them. You know on on my journey as to what I’ve done and and I’m happy to. Give some advice um of where what we’ve done and how I can help them right? So you know today I do a lot of ah you know early stage investing I have some other investments that that I’m involved in so I now I’ve taken my experiences and able to help. Ah, these other companies grow their their ah their companies.
Alejandro Cremades: Amazing! Well hey Dave well thank you so much for being on the deal maker show today with has it has been an honor to have you. Thank you.
Dave Dickerson: I appreciate. It’s been fun.
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