Neal Sharma and Dale Hazlett’s company, DEG, has long been an industry disruptor. Turns out, disruption was the way the two entrepreneurs met while University of Kansas students. They were called out by a professor for enjoying class a little too much and their response was to join forces and create a business rather than just learn about it.
Some 20+ years later, the two, along with their other partners, Jeff Eden, Jasvindarjit Singh and Sky Morey, have built a powerhouse digital agency and recently sold it to Dentsu Aegis Network. Today, the company is known as DEG, linked by Isobar.
Sharma and Hazlett shared the secrets to their success and the story of the recent sale at the March breakfast meeting of ACG Kansas City.
The first thing to note is that DEG wasn’t looking to be acquired – the goal was to infuse the company with some capital to facilitate growth. The acquisition really found DEG. Sharma said that connecting with Dentsu and Isobar was fortuitous.
The deal also allowed DEG to expand its reach on a global scale, allowed for more resources to bring to clients, provided revenue acceleration, overall security and greater career opportunities for the people of DEG.
“We were a single ship,” Sharma said. “We needed an armada to do battle/business.”
Becoming part of the armada was an arduous process, Hazlett admitted. One that he only thought he was prepared for once the process really started.
“I thought I knew what due diligence was,” he said, with a laugh. “I had no idea what due diligence was.”
While he’d do it all again, (as long as he gets some downtime first) he offered some pointers:
“If you don’t trust the team on the other side, it won’t work,” he said. “We really liked the people on the other side. There were several others we took a pass on because we didn’t feel that way.”
Sharma concurred, “It was really important that we make sure our defining characteristics weren’t lost.”
So, what’s next? DEG is continuing its transition with the new company. And it is continuing to work to be at the forefront of the digital marketing world.
Sharma sees several trends on the horizon.
“This is the age of the consumer,” Sharma said. “You have to be telling the story from the perspective of the consumer.”
Business really need to make the effort to understand what customers need and how they want to interact with a company.
Consumers are looking for personalization. It’s no longer about people being defined to the world by the brands they use.
“Millennials especially don’t want to find their identity from the brand,” he said. “They want to define the brand with their identity. “Jeans don’t define me, I define the jeans.”
Lastly, the incoming influx of artificial intelligence is completely going to change what we think of it now.
“It’s going to be so much more profound than just Alexa or Google,” Sharma said. “The next step is more predictive. AI will be expecting what you need.
“Right now is the fastest rate of change ever in our lives, and it is also the slowest it will ever be.”