Building A Technology Startup with Engage’s Daniel Hennes

April 29, 2020

In today’s episode of Impact! with John Shegerian, John interviews Daniel Hennes, a recent USC graduate who during his college career was the manager of Jake Olson, the first NCAA blind football player, and based on his experiences managing Jake started a technology startup company called Engage with a mission of disrupting the talent booking industry. Listen along as John and Daniel discuss technology startups, being a young CEO of a company, and the interesting intricacies of booking talent online.

John Shegerian: Welcome to the Impact Podcast. I’m John Shegerian the host and this is the second episode of Impact and I’m so honored to have with us today, Daniel Hennes. He’s the CEO of Engage. It’s really called www.LetsEngage.com but Daniels not only a good friend of mine, but he’s also abusiness partner. I’m going to leave it at that because this is all about Daniel. Daniel, welcome to Impact.

Daniel Hennes: Thanks, John. Great to be here excited to get into it.

John: Hey, Daniel before we get into your business ventures and other things. For someone who hasn’t known you or heard about you before, can you share a little bit about yourself and who you are and your journey leading up to your becoming the CEO of let’s engage?

Daniel: Absolutely. Absolutely. So, yes. I’m a recent USC graduate. I graduated class of 2019, living in the real world now and my sort of journey leading up to Engage, I’d always wanted to work in sports, work in sports business. I remember when I was a third-grader, my dad asked, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” and like any third grader who likes sports, I was like, “Oh, I want to be a professional baseball player.” He goes I’ve seen you play baseball you definitely that’s not a valid career path. You’re just not going to be very nice blond Jewish parent like not going to be aprofessional baseball player. So, he said, “Start thinking about other ways you can get involved. There’s plenty of ways whether it’s being engineer[?], being an executive. You should start thinking about other ways you can get involved with sports.” So, that’s start off from a very young age, I started to become fascinated by the business aspect who the power agents were, who the right Executives were. I’d always develop the sort of interest in the sports business. When I was a freshman at USC, my random freshman year roommate was I think a previous guest on the show Jake Coulson who’s completely blind and played long snapper for the football team. So, that was my random freshman year roommate and just a unique opportunity. He’s such a humble kid. I remember the first time he practiced I told Jake I said, “Jake, this is going to be a huge story that blind person is practicing for a team that he grew up a fan of and is gonna be a first blind player in college football. This is going to be a huge story. Let me be your PR person is a joke.” Jake’s sort of thought nothing of it he goes, “No one’s going to care but fine. If I do a lot of interviews, you can be my PR person.” Well, sure enough, he gets in to practice and it’s a massive story. He calls me after class one day goes, “Daniel, put on a suit, come down to Heritage Hall where the athletic office is. I actually have a bunch of interviews lined up. You can come if you want.” So I grabbed a suit, I run down there and then Jake is a joke, introduce me to the USC people as his personal PR person and then all of the USC people said, “Great,” and started forwarding me all of his requests and all of his media appearances, and I was just sort of thrown into the fire by default. January of our freshman year, I took over as his manager and started handling all of his speaking engagement. After he snapped and played in his first game that sort of what led to this idea of Engage as we just got flooded with speaking requests and appearances and Jake are saying, “Okay. There’s got to be a better way to find him, to do all this, to do this process. I shouldn’t be faxing people contracts in 2019.” So we started looking for a platform to do the whole process online just for ourselves to make our lives easier and then when we couldn’t find,when we called a bunch of athletes and agents we knew and they all said the same thing. They said, “The process is so inefficient,” and because of that were only able to focus on one percent of our clients and there’s this real need for a digital platform that just democratizes the process of digitizes the process and that’s what led to its founding Engage.

John: Okay, hold on before let’s step back. First of all, you’re growing up. You’re told that you’re not going to be the next Barry Bonds or Tom Seaver, whoever you want to A-Rod or whatever. You then fall in love with sports as a whole.

Daniel: Yes.

John: When you were growing up, who did you want to be? I mean, was it just based on the movie Jerry Maguire or was it some other sports agent that you would read about? In your readings or in television, who was your model sports agent?

Daniel: That’s an awesome question. Back then, it was definitely Scott Boras. He runs [inaudible] down Newport Beach, over powerful baseball agent who always did things definitely, first guy to embrace statistics. First guy to think about injury prevention. He just took a holistic view and cared and the whole thing is genuine relationships. He seemed like the type of guy and I’ve gotten to know him a little bit and he is the type of guy who cares deeply in genuinely about all of his clients.

John: Got it. Now you’re with Jake, it’s freshman year. As fate would have it Jake Coulson, the special Jake Coulson who is also a friend of mine as well and business partner of mine, heis your roommate in college, did you even ever imagine the first month that you were together? First two months that he would become your first client?

Daniel: Yeah. No. When I found out Jake was my random freshman roommate. I didn’t think he was a real person. I mean, we get like before we move in, we got bios on all of our roommates. We get bios in all of our roommates and I had never heard Jake story. So I’m reading Jake’s bio and it goes, “Hi guys. I’m Jake. I play on the football team,” and I’m thinking that’sawesome, I get to live with a football player.

John: Right.

Daniel: I’m also blind and I have a guide dog Quebec[?] and I’m like, “Oh, this guy can’t be real.” This kid is hilarious. He understands how awkward this thing is. This id so funny. He’s going to be a great funny kid. I don’t think anything of it a week before we move in, one of my other roommates text me, “Hey, we’re getting a TV. Do you think it’s appropriate to have Jake pay for a portion and I go, “Of course, why not? He’ll use a TV,” and my roommate responds, “Because he’s blind,” and I go, “Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait that’s real? What — in theroom?” So that, of course, I started reading Jake story. I remember when — I never spend any time around a blind person before so I was super nervous like how can I say, “Did you see that? Did you watch this?” I was nervous about everything. I think pretty quickly, we became good friends. From there I never expected to become his manager, but as we became good friends first, I think it was a natural evolution given both of our interests.

John: I mean, you never expected your first year freshman year at USC to be rooming up with seeing idol, either.

Daniel: Right. Right. Right. Exactly. That is not in the stands for the oven[?] guide to college. No, I did not expect that.

John: Got it. Got it. Oh boy. Okay. So now let’s fast forward, you and Jake are roommates. Things are going well. Talk a little bit about, pre-engaged when you were thinking about this business and thinking about the industry being broken in the voids in the industry. What’s your coremission, Daniel? Like yourself, what drives you every day to do what you do? Is it go back to your childhood and sort of a chip on your shoulder that you were told that you’re never going to be the next A-Rod or is it more just someone who wanted to be a successful entrepreneur or business person? What’s your deal?

Daniel: That’s an awesome question. I think what drove me is really being around Jake. I saw the power of his story. I mean, we have people who reach out to Jake years later letting him know, “Hey, your speech really changed how I thought about X, Y & Z. I saw that he was doing something that legitimately mattered and legitimately was making an impact and sort of my motivation for really founding Engage was we talked to a ton of talent and their agents and it sounded like because of the current system, there was a ton of talent that wanted to be making an impact, thatcould be making impact, that had great just amazing stories. But, no platform and no market place for them to get books to share it. My theory was there were a lot — there’s obviously, there’s only one of Jake but there are a lot of incredible inspiring people. On the flip side, there are a lot of people who want to hear from them. I mean being around with Jake everyday has made me a more positive resilient person. So I think there’s a lot of people who wanted to hear from those people. So what really motivated me in starting Engage was democratizing the access on both sides.

John: Right. Right, Right, that’s great. Talk a little bit about impact, this is the Impact podcast andhow do you feel that your company Engage impacts the planet, the community, the industry at large and makes a positive impact?

Daniel: Mm-hmm. No, I think one of the unique things about Engage is that’s literally our goal is to help provide. I mean our mottos “Find book experience” because we want people to have those experiences that changed their lives. So, I would tell you by opening up a marketplace for more people with incrediblestories, cancer survivors, Elite athletes, successful business people, we’re making an impact by helping match those people. The people who need to hear their stories. The people who can learn and their lives will be better from having heard them speak or from having played golf with them. So we’re making an impact there and I think kind of what’s unique about Engage is we’re making an impact just in how we run the business. I mean, Jake is our president and he’s very, very involved in the day-to-day operations and strategy. So, it just goes to show that you shouldn’t let blindness or you should let disability stop you from being able to run a business. It shows that there aren’t — I don’t know John, I can’t think of any notable entrepreneurs with disabilities. We want Jake to be the first to really pave a path for people, that shows no matter what’s going on in your life, you can still easily succeed in business.

John: Right. I love that. I really do love that and I really agree with you on that, Daniel. Daniel everybody has superpowers. Some understand it and leverage them. Some really don’t and some don’t take advantage of their secret superpower. If you were to say that you have a secret superpower. What would that be? How do you discover and how do you leverage it on a consistent basis to be the best Daniel Hannes that you can be and to inspire people around you on a regular basis?

Daniel: That’s awesome. I think my jokes superpower is I think I’m really, really good at carrying groceries. I can carry aninsane amount of groceries. People have observed, I could get like seven or eight bags in one hand easily. [laughs] because it’s always send my mom to the grocery store and I never go with her. So the deal was I had to carry them into the house.

John: You were in charge of that.

Daniel: I was charge of it.Yes, but on a more serious note, I think my superpower has been that I’m always able even if I meet someone once, I can remember talking them who they are and what they do. I can be genuinely interested in what they are and I think in what they were doing and I think having the ability to genuinely be interested in people is a really really powerful thing. Since I’m interested in so many things, I always remembering what people do, who they are, what drives them and I think by being able to have that memory and stored and when you talk to people and it’s clear that you remember your conversations and you know who they are. I think that goes a lot way a long, long way in building relationships. If there’s one thing I’ve learned I think the key to business is finding the right strategic partners and building those meaningful relationships. That happens by understandingwho people are, by genuinely caring and by just remembering when people give you advice. When people tell you things and that’s I think would be my super powers. I have a pretty good ability to remember who does what.

John: Time is everything now because that’s all we all have. How do you make — what’s your greatest time hack so you can make yourself smarter, stronger make your brand better. How do you get through every day with the least amount of friction and the most amount of productivity?

Daniel: Yeah. The first thing is living in Los Angeles. I avoid rush hour traffic at all costs. Generally what that means my day looks like I’ll get up probably about 7:30 or respond everything on the east coast. Then I’ll shower, get cleaned up, do my work but then I want head to the office until 10:00 because that way instead of spending an hour in the car, I’m spending 20 minutes in the car. I’m only losing a little bit of productivity and on the flip side, I’ll either wait late at night to wait out the traffic or I’ll leave at 3:30. Get back to my home and do the rest of my work from there. Today’s day and age, it’s really easy to do things electronically and virtually via email and cell phone. So, it’s important to be in the office and show a presence, but if you’re spending, I know people who spend three hours a day in traffic that’s three lost hours. That’s three hours are not working, not exercising not spending time with her family. So I think people lose so much time and traffic. I don’t do that and the second thing is and this is a little more unique to me I think is, I’m a big fan of working out and exercising as the last thing I do every day. A lot of people say that it energizes them too much. For me, I love working out from 10:00 PM to 11:00 PM, because it allows me to end my day on a high note and I find that I sleep better when I’m physically tired and relaxed. So, I think that’s been a huge, I don’t lose it — when I wake up literally the first thing I do is check email and get to work. So, for me because I’m well-rested and I’m physically tired. I’m physically tired, I’m able to sleep well and that allows me to just be supercharged for my day.

John: That’s really great. Sometimes you read and help literature that exercising at night is way to energize yourself and it keeps people up. I’m like you, I get exercise in the morning as well, but if I exercise at night, I sleep my deepest sleep and that’s fascinating. That’s a really fascinating health act because it flies in the face of what you read typically, but I find it to be exactly the same benefit that you do. I really highly recommend it as well to our listeners out there, just to try it as a deep sleep practice. So, that’s a good one. There’s a lot of people out there Daniel that will listen to this, go online, look at LetsEngage.com and read a little bit about you online and say, “I want to be Daniel. I want to be doing what he’s doing.” So there’s a lot of people out there that want to switch position and get out of working for someone else or change life path. What are some pieces of good advice that you could share with our listeners, who want to change their journey and potentially take on a new journey whatever that is were like you and frankly speaking, our good friend Jake Coulson can make an impact and make the world a better place? Share some of your thoughts because I know that soon, if not already you’re going to be getting emails or text messages from your classmates at USC who go, “Dude, I’m really not digging my first job,”–

Daniel: It’s happening —

[crosstalk]

John: Right. How can I join what you’re doing or how can I find something like what you found or created really more specifically and take my own journey into my own hands?

Daniel: Yes, that’s awesome. I think the first thing that anybody has to understand is if they want to start that journey, they better not start it alone. They need to understand that if you’re going to start to create an impact, I knew nothing about business when I first started, but I did know that if I was lucky enough to find the right people and the right partners, that would exponentially speed up my learning curve like you need to be, if you want to start something on your own you need to be willing to take honest feedback. You need to surround yourself with people who will give you that honest feedback and push you and you also need to be willing to work at all hours of the day. A lot of people what they love about what I do is to go, “Oh man, you have so much flexibility. You get to go to the Super Bowl. You get to go NBA All-Star weekend.” Yes, that’s true. I mean, I will also gladly get up and do three hours of work on a Saturday. Sometimes that means I’m working until 8:00 PM or 9:00 PM. The upside of a 9 to 5 job is it’s from 9 to 5. The downside is so many other things. The upside of being an entrepreneur is Teddy Roosevelt has a quote “the greatest opportunity life can provide is the opportunity to work hard at work worth doing” because of Engage I have that opportunity. So I’m so thankful for that every day. And for me like since I’m given that opportunity, the flip side is I better work my ass off to earn what I’ve been given and because of that like my friends always joke, even Jake jokes, like I am always on my phone, always on email. I sleep with my phone by my bed. I can’t tell you how many times. I’ll get up at midnight or 1:00 AM. Write down an idea or a strategy thing. Its surrounding yourself with like-minded people who have that drive and also have that desire.That’s what keeps you going. There will be days where I’m exhausted, but our CEO was so energized and he’s doing a hundred different things and that gets me energized again to keep going and keep pushing through. So you need to — nobody gets there alone, find the right people and be willing to work at all hours.

John: That’s great advice. That’s really great advice. Work all hours.

Daniel: I think you’re an example of that. You’re literally being perfect example of that.

John: Hey, thank you. When you told your mom and dad that you were going to start a business and not take a job out of SC. Well, what were their thoughts on all that?

Daniel: You know what? I’m so thankful that the parents, I do. My dad, in particular, his whole thing was what he’s always instilled in me is he will support whatever I do. Literally whatever I do as long as it is thought out and I have considered all of the options. So my dad like blind support go for it.My mom obviously, she’s incredibly supportive. She just had a few more questions, but my parents whole thing was you know what this is the time in your life to —

John: That’s awesome.

Daniel: — maximize your upside. You have no risk, you have no downside. So I was very lucky. I mean my grandfather was very entrepreneurial and was very successful. I was very lucky to have parents who really just trusted me. They know I’m a hard worker. They know I wasn’t just trying to cost off of some investor money. They know that this is the opportunity in my life to set myself up to be happy inmy work for forever. That’s something that’s so few people have and I think it’s something that my parents have always said they want nothing more than for us to be happy as kids and they saw that this was something that gave me that opportunity. They have been nothing but supportive whether it’s — I mean I had to tell them they couldn’t invest but literally they’ve done, they want to do everything they can to help me and I’m very thankful for that. I’m also very proud that one of the promises I made myself was that if I was going to do this on my own, I wasn’t going to let them continue to support me. I was going to pay my own bills. So since they knew that like I was serious enough and I’m off the Hennes family, [inaudible] I’m supporting myself. I think that also went a long way and showing them that I was really really serious about this.

John: For our listeners that don’t know, how old are you?

Daniel: I’m 23. I look like I’m 40 because I’ve lost a lot of hair but —

John: Twenty three, that’s impressive. What everything you’ve accomplished. Talk a little bit before we got to go here, talk a little bit about Engage. How many people you signed up and have on it. What’s your goal for the rest of this year? What’s your goal for the future for Engage?

Daniel: Yes. I think we started this pasture super small. We grew from nothing to over 300 talent in our first year. Now, we’ve already added 50 or 60. We have another about 30, literally 30 in the pipeline. So, the goal this year is to get to a thousand talent in a really diverse range. We’ve added some of these last couple weeks from Top-tier business speakers. We added one of the top speaking doctors in the country as well as continuing to add big-name athletes. We have Steve Young coming on board the platform here in the next week. We have some real big-name guys coming and so my goal is to really grow the talent. We have a lot of strategy laid out for PR to consistently get us big publicity in PR head. So people hear about and understand the impact Jake is making in the broader mission and then the goal for the future is to build a marketplace where every consumer knows that if they want to book talent and they want a seamless easy way to do it that Engage is the platform to do it. In order for us to get there, the first thing we have to have is the talent. So right now, I’m laser-focused on Partnerships that help us grow the talent and then we’re continuing to build the consumer base with the end goal of building this massive market place that just completely changes the way that people get booked and then we sell that company and then I would want to spend the rest of my life investing. There’s so many great people who helped me, who took a shot on Engage. I’m talking to one of them right now. Who took a shot on Engage when itjust an idea. I want to be that person for the Next Generation. So the goal is to sell it and then all make an impact by continuing to invest and fun people who need someone to take a shot at them at the very beginning. It’s super easy to raise money when you’ve got a profitable business and you have a lot of talent. It’s really hard to find people who say, you know, what I just believe in the passion and the energy and I’m going to support that. That’s the person, that’s the type of investor I want to be.

John: For our listeners out there, how do they connect with you, Daniel?

Daniel: I’m notoriously off of social media. I don’t have Twitter orInstagram, but you can find me on LinkedIn Daniel Hennes is my name. I’m super accessible via email Daniel LetsEngage.com and then I also encourage you to follow our company Engage, our Twitter is @let_engage and our Instagram is @lets_ engage. I really encourage you to connect with me through seeing the work I’m doing because I think that’s the best way.

John: Hey, if I’m a speaker or a public speaker whether I’m a business person or an athlete or Entertainer, how do I sign up forto get on your great platform once engage.com.

Daniel: So couple ways, one you can always email me directly if you’d prefer to have a phone call first, but you can also just go to our website click go to LetsEngage.com, click register as talent. From there, you’ll be asked to fill out some questions and some information and then our team reviews your profile, approves it, finishes it out and sort of hops on a couple calls with you to really brainstorm how you want to be marketed, what you like doing. So the first step is to either email me or go to our website and register as talent.

John: Daniel, any final thoughts for our listeners before we say goodbye?

Daniel: I would just say, continue to listen to this wonderful podcast.

John: Oh, you’re too nice. Daniel Hennes, he’s my friend. He’s my business partner. He’s the CEO and co-founder of LetsEngage.com. Daniel Hennes, you’re living proof that we can all make a great impact in this world. Thank you so much.