“Nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight.”
Our introduction was a little awkward. Brian’s wife invited us to their home very soon after our wives met at a church function. Young, unseasoned and neck deep in sippy cups, I think all 4 of us were thirsty for good adult friendship, so we were willing to take a risk. That was 14 years ago and Brian Jones, Dauber’s CEO was already shaving his head. I recall him offering me a Monster energy drink, which he bought by the case. To this day he keeps a high octane beverage close by and I think it’s to help his body keep up with his mind, which is always running. Since then he has largely migrated to Red Bulls.
Little did we know that day was the birth of more than a friendship. We’ve become allies on what has felt more like a series of shared missions.
Today he is one of my best friends and I am so thankful. This blog post might be a little awkward for him to read, but it’s the job of friends to witness each other’s lives and offer feedback to encourage and sharpen. And as father to a 17 year old son, I am eager to share stories of how good men and their good names are not made overnight, but are instead crafted over years.
It makes me smile when I consider how minor details can become such major turning points. That day when Brian and I were talking in his kitchen, I looked out his back window and saw a swing set. I instantly liked him. It was brand new, and the exact one I had just installed in my own backyard a few weeks prior, one of those 1,000 pound sets sold in 5 huge boxes at Costco, made of red stained wood and brightly colored plastic. It was a multi-day sweat-fest to install in the rock-infested south Texas soil, which made for a good story between us.
It’s rare to find a really good man to befriend, and rarer still to find a couple both you and your wife enjoy, but Brian’s wife Jennifer is sweet and beautiful and the conversation was easy on that first “date”. As friends we share an alma mater (Gig ‘Em Ags), a love for buffeting our bodies, and a deep faith that through it all, we are being led by a benevolent Creator to bring some light into the darker places of the world. At that time we both had only 2 kids, each with a son and a daughter basically the same age. The congruence was there from the start and we have been blessed with a deep family friendship that endures today.
Since that Sunday in 2005 we’ve lived unique lives, but always side by side, like the parallel rails of a track both headed West into frontier. That swing set was the first of many stories we’ve shared in the years since, which have included races, trails, mountains, lakes, beaches, bloody escalators, my father’s swamped boat, birthday parties, a church start-up, adoptions, and a larger mission with 5 other good men in a group of allies we call the Alamo Band of Brothers.
It’s been an adventure, with all the tears, joys and unpredictability that always comes with a real adventure.
Conception – Seeds are Planted.
For about 2 years we worked together in an office in downtown San Antonio, about 5 blocks from the famous Alamo. It’s a growing city and at times the noise of construction across the street was a distraction to me, but Brian jokes about the number of years he spent learning to think with men yelling and machines heaving just outside his paper thin trailer walls. He has 20 years invested in learning the trade of commercial construction, starting as an intern during his junior year at Texas A&M.
Back in 2005 when we met, Brian was on the move up the corporate ladder at Bartlett Cocke, a senior project manager whose particular spirit could be described as entrepreneurial and ambitious. He has a good story about this “brilliant” idea he chased shortly after getting married, to start an online foundation pouring business. He created a website where customers could just type in the dimensions of their slab and trucks would arrive to pour it. Despite his youthful zeal and creativity, he failed to secure any online orders, so his cement never got on the ground. But the experience was gold for him. It’s a humorous start to what would become a pattern of applying his entrepreneurial spirit to various situations where he felt a frustration with inefficiencies.
He is also naturally gifted as a quick and creative thinker. When he was a teenager his High School science class was given the assignment to conceive a contraption to protect a raw egg from breaking when dropped from the top of the football stadium bleachers. He had forgotten about the assignment until the morning it was due. So before school he bought a jar of peanut butter and shoved the egg inside. His egg survived the drop and he got the class’s highest grade on the project. I love that story because I’ve seen similar moments of coolheaded creativity in him.
Under Brian’s supervision at BC, several beautiful High Schools have been built, along with a Natatorium and some other substantial projects which required years to complete. It was in these years with BC, working on these sites that Brian became familiarized with the way the various players in the construction trade communicate and do business. And it was here that Brian began to experience the dysfunctional relationship dump trucks have with their customers.
It was in the fertile soil of Brian’s story and this construction dysfunction the seed for Dauber was planted. But that’s getting ahead of the story.
Gestation – Kids and Cards.
Years into our friendship, while still Sr. Project Manager at BC, Brian and Jennifer felt called to adopt 2 kids, a brother and sister, from the Caribbean isle of St. Vincent. In hindsight after enduring the expensive process of adoption, Brian visualized a creative new way to help people donate to such causes. This is where he might admit to entering his crazy years, because he resigned from his stable, predictable job in construction, renovated his attic into an office, burned through his savings and built a company to make it possible for the outstanding balance on gift cards to be donated to the non-profit of your choice. It was an amazing idea that almost worked, but after exhaustively exploring the frontiers of existing technology it became apparent the idea was ahead of its time. The project failed, and by far the hardest part for Brian was wrestling with the feeling he had let others down who had invested their resources along with him.
But now looking back, like the Apollo 13 lunar mission it could be classified as a “successful failure” for the experience gained. Through the process he developed several skill sets, learned new ways to approach complex problems and how to gather a team with complementary giftings to help resolve them. But only hindsight has 20/20 vision. At the time he felt like a failure and needed a friend to encourage him.
One weekend during this same season our families went out for Mexican and then walked to a bookstore. I watched him grab off the shelf a Beckett Baseball Card Price Guide to look up the value of some of his son’s baseball cards. He put it back on the shelf, frustrated, and about a year later he had created a beautiful app called Miracard which provided real time valuations of sports cards and a secure platform for selling and trading. My son and I were some of its first users. It was both elegant and ingenious. Because the app was an innovative disruption to the way things had always been, it quickly engaged the interest of Beckett themselves, who bought and then buried it to keep the status quo. It was a frustrating reality both to Brian and the app’s faithful users that the controlling players would reject innovation. This was another valuable lesson: Resistance to change cannot be avoided, no matter how good the change.
Love, Sweat and Tears.
One of Brian’s strategies for sorting through life’s questions and finding joy has always been to sweat. It’s on a trail run or a bike that he best finds restoration for his soul and works through problems. It’s also been a place we’ve bonded. While I’ve shared some stories about his ambition and talent, I’d like to share a few more personal stories to reveal his heart:
He had just finished his first marathon in 2008 and had loved the journey of training. One of his best buddies from college had recently passed away after a long bout with cancer and Brian was considering ways to bless the grieving mother. So he decided to raise money to help defray her medical expenses by attempting to run 3 ultra-marathons (any race longer than 26.2 miles) and inviting people to pledge donations based on his completion of the combined 182 miles.
The first race was 32 miles, easily completed. The second was 50 miles in the mountains of Colorado, and also pretty easily done. The third was an attempt to run 100 miles in the blistering Texas Hill Country heat. When he crossed the 50 mile mark well into the night, he called it quits when there wasn’t enough gas left in the tank to do it all again. Despite wrestling with the illusion of failure, he eventually fell fast asleep in his tent, joyful and contented by the sounds of friends and family on a campout, laughing and celebrating his achievement. A man like Brian has many friends.
Regarding adoption… it is a process that begins with love, it starts uphill, and then goes completely vertical for a long time. Extreme spiritual growth and death-to-self are required for that journey to be taken well. It tests the man, the marriage and the motivations. Now, 12 years into it, his family is intact, happy and healthy.
It was friend and co-founder Ward Dow (owner of Ella SA Contractors) who initially pitched the idea for a dump truck app and named it. After years of working on projects together, Ward, another good man, was intrigued by Brian’s way and vision for technology. Over shared projects they had discussed how such an essential piece of the system could be so broken. Having to order and manage dump trucks was the justification for more cussing than war, it seemed. What they noticed is that while they had enjoyed technology built for their specific disciplines, nobody had developed a good tool to help dump truck fleets and operators evolve out of the Flintstone era. At the time Uber was making a killing and Ward saw “Uber” buried in the name “daUber”, as in mud dauber, which is an insect that carries dirt from one place to another. Recognizing the potential, Ward bought the domain name even before approaching Brian with the idea.
Armed now with over a decade of preparation, I watched as Brian thoughtfully resolved to take on a task worthy of his training. More so than the previous endeavors, this project, now called Dauber Applications, was more consistent with his calling and training. Having trusted God in all the prior steps, it felt certain this was the intended destination all along.
Soon after, they launched. This was it. The need was great and the potential to make a difference was enormous. It was obviously the moment he’d been training for.
Montage – The Indispensable Slog of Initiation.
It’s getting easier every day to forget the fruit of process while we live in a culture enamored with shortcuts (think Amazon Prime and groceries delivered to your doorstep).
Why might jalapeños and cilantro, picked from your backyard garden, freshly chopped with a knife you just sharpened, on a cutting board you crafted in your shop, make a better Pico de Gallo than you can get anywhere else? You took the full journey of its becoming. It’s the very process…all the essential pieces coming together, that makes the final product so special. The same is true of us.
In hindsight I now see the back story in Brian’s journey for what it was: Initiation. A series of essential seasons of preparation where the fashioning of his character became the focus while the building of his kingdom took an appropriate backseat. Too often kings are offered (or seize) a throne without the character to rule well and it ends up hurting those around them. (Think Commodus from Gladiator or Anakin Skywalker from Star Wars). And that’s why all great stories have heroes that must endure a long, slow, inescapable process of preparation.
“In movies it’s the montage scene”, Brian likes to say, “Where you see short snapshots of Rocky Balboa running through the streets of Philly and punching meat in a locker.” Or young Daniel Larusso doing maintenance on Mr Miyagi’s house. While the audience needs to see it happened, it has no interest in the slow painful tedium of the hero’s actual journey. It turns out we have to be tempted to quit for the high price it costs, before we can appreciate what it takes to begin.
I have witnessed in over 14 years a maturation of character in Brian, a spiritual deepening, and the development of the humility necessary for him to be trustworthy with something precious and significant. And now, under Brian’s leadership and creativity Dauber is 4 years old and being used effectively around the country. The results of this Dauber adventure are positively staggering, even to us. Whether or not this app changes the world is yet to be seen, but the journey to make it has changed him.
As a man Brian has become like good soil, a foundation from which things grow, like family, businesses, and the dignity of truck drivers who use it. And it’s helped me grow.
A wise man I know and love once said, “You shall know a tree by its fruit.” So true. So true.
Brian, thanks for sharing your trail with me. Thanks for creating a space for me to grow. Let’s keep going.