From fighting fires in the Navy, to starting his own business during a major life event, it’s safe to say Divining Point’s CEO, Coy West, has slayed the game. We had the privilege of sitting down with him to find out what led him to become a business owner, his future endeavors, and more.
Describe the path that led you to starting Divining Point.
I didn’t study marketing in college. I actually studied psychology. I was really fascinated by human behavior, so my first real job coming out of school was working with teenage sex offenders and gang kids. While I enjoyed that job, I quickly learned that I didn’t want to pursue psychology as a career.
I was actually DJing at the time, which involved a lot of negotiating, closing deals and hustling, and so I learned sales and marketing through street marketing and event promotions. I was also learning how to do print runs for flyers and brochures, and that taught me what qualifies as bad design or good design. I learned how to excite people and how to motivate them in a variety of ways.
I then went into various jobs for a few years that involved marketing and advertising before I ended up at a billboard company in town named Reagan Advertising. It was a great company where I had tremendous success. The billboard industry taught me a lot about branding and messaging and how to get your point across in 10 words or less while someone is driving by at 50 miles per hour. I learned how to distill the core unique value of a product or service into a bite size chunk that could really move the needle.
After being there for a while, I felt like there was more for me, personally. The people there were incredible, and I was paid really well. It was like family. I loved the outdoor advertising industry. But I had always wanted to do my own thing. I was watching how digital transformation was really changing the way people do marketing, and I wanted to be a part of that.
Once I left, I started doing marketing consulting and business development for people I knew. I had a small book of business of marketing clients, while at the same time I was contracted in leadership positions with different tech companies to help them with their business development and marketing strategy. I was really just pulling from different sources to help businesses with things like their sales strategy, marketing, blogs, social media, you name it.
So you were teaching yourself all these things along the way?
I was. I had all this experience in marketing and advertising, but I was really applying it in a lot of new ways that I maybe hadn’t done before.
After doing that for about two and a half years, I realized what I was doing on the consulting side was a lot better than being committed to some of these contract leadership roles. That’s when I decided I would make it my full-time gig and formally launch the agency as an LLC.
What was the biggest let down in your career so far?
Probably that I didn’t launch Divining Point sooner! I’ve enjoyed the last 6 and a half years, and sometimes I wonder if things would be different had I launched sooner.
What do you feel is the biggest strength of the company right now?
The people that work for the company. I operate with the Steve Jobs’ philosophy: I hire smart people so they can tell me what to do, not the other way around. We have a really great team of people who I consider to be some of the best in the industry. Truly creative problem solvers with great attitudes who I respect immensely.
How has your company vision evolved from Day 1 to Today?
Originally, there was a lot of sales coaching involved. I would teach businesses how to generate sales while also incorporating marketing to drive leads into the funnel. We’ve changed quite a bit since then. I’m no longer a hired gun for business development or coaching unless it’s in the context of a marketing engagement. I end up bringing all that to the table for the client when we search for a solution. I tend to dig deep into their operation from top to bottom, and that includes how they handle sales when leads come in the door, or even how they have their business model set up.
These days, we’re truly a marketing agency whereas in the beginning it was kind of random and diverse.
Our focus has also changed from being a strictly B2B agency to handling both B2B and B2C clients. That’s not only made the agency stronger, in my opinion, but it’s also taught me a thing or two – or more like 10 or 20 things – along the way. We do great things for companies regardless of their customer type.
As an organization gets larger there can be a tendency for the “institution” to dampen the “inspiration.” How do you keep this from happening?
My goal is to hire effectively and make sure the hiring process involves team members. Our culture and values are pretty important, and I don’t want to lose that as we grow. So I feel the team has to be invested in a new hire before I pull them onboard.
I also don’t want Divining Point to get super large. I feel pretty convinced that a smaller team is the way I want to go. When you go beyond 10-15 people on a team, you have to hire multiple levels of management, and I’m not a big fan of mid-level management.
What is your finish line?
At the moment, I’m not interested in developing an agency to sell it. I enjoy what I do so much right now. I wake up excited every morning, even when I maybe only got 3 hours of sleep. That makes me confident that this is what I was meant to do, and I’m going to do it until I can’t anymore.
What keeps you up at night?
Cell phone notifications mostly. But every business owner is faced with typical things like “are we doing enough to support our clients?” or “Are we doing the right thing to support ourselves as a company?”. I obsess over that a lot.
So you’re kind of thinking of the bigger picture?
The big picture keeps me awake at night, without a doubt.
What have you learned this year that was a surprise?
It’s a cliché to say that marketing is always changing, but I think the biggest thing we’ve recently encountered are the recent changes to Facebook. For credit, employment, and housing companies, Facebook has really dialed back on what’s allowed using their platform. What I suspect may happen is we’ll end up seeing that happen in other social platforms, like LinkedIn, or maybe someday that even gets applied to Google.
I also think more and more companies are looking at how they can holistically extend their brands and make conversions in a more diversified way, including things that are offline. When platforms like Facebook are dialing back certain targeting capabilities, companies are going to have to figure out different ways to grow their business. My guess is traditional advertising will get looked at again in ways that it hasn’t much over the last 10 years.
There’s almost a slight turn of the ship where more and more businesses are going to have to figure out how to break through the noise with more and more limitations like what Facebook has done. In some cases, the media landscape gets saturated, and there are only so many ads that people can digest on any given platform. There are changes that are already occurring that we’ve been researching which will help us make more noise for a client’s brand.
What specifically is your priority for the next year?
This year we’ve really looked to diversify the clients we’ve been working with, as well as improving our internal processes. A specific priority next year is to sustain that momentum and bring on more team members.
I want to achieve that goal while delivering value to companies that are in the outdoors, travel, ecommerce and hospitality industries– ones we’re perfectly suited for.
What did you have to give up to achieve your current level of success?
Before starting six and a half years ago, my wife and I were in a good position financially. When I made the decision to start Divining Point, it was at the exact same time my wife told me that she was pregnant with our daughter – and then one week later she was laid off from her engineering position. By launching the company, our combined household income would be cut down to a fifth of what it was.
So you decided to start Divining Point after that?!!
Most people would really second guess whether or not that was a good decision, so I had to think very quickly how I was going to take our lifestyle and squeeze it into essentially what was 20% of our household income. That was a huge change.
Six and a half years later, I’ve had to give up tons of sleep, deprioritize a lot of social engagements, and restructure how I dedicate my time and how to make it fit into my life.
I look back and I’m like “Wow, man, you were crazy!”
Well, what IS the craziest thing you‘ve ever done?
Aside from launching this business, probably joining the Navy at 17. It was something I didn’t really plan on doing. I left home at a young age for some purely selfish reasons, and the Navy seemed like my way out.
I was a firefighter in the Navy and put in harm’s way quite a bit. I worked with a team dedicated to structural integrity, plumbing, welding, and the like. We did Damage Control. I think forcing myself into a situation that crazy, and being open to the possibilities of what could happen, that was insane, but also incredibly rewarding.
I always tell people that if something is outside your comfort zone, it’s okay to be uncomfortable and even to fail. Those experiences of disappointment and failure are when we really find ourselves becoming the strongest. You either learn to overcome or you don’t.
What’s one thing about you that surprises people?
I think I either click immediately with people or people feel that I’m a little intense. I can be pretty serious when it comes to business, and I ask A LOT of questions. Also, I think maybe they’re kind of surprised with how I really connect with them. I try to apply those learnings to how I can become more engaged with people.
What does your dream day entail?
As much as I love what we do, my dream day involves being out in the most remote area in the United States, either bow hunting, camping, or backpacking.
What’s on your bucket list?
I really want to take my wife and daughter to Alaska. I think it’d be pretty amazing for them. I also want to go on a bow hunt where I have to spot and stalk big game animals like elk, caribou, or even a bear. It’s a physically demanding task and your odds for success are so incredibly low. People underestimate how hard it is. It’s kind of like having to train for an Iron Man, and even if I don’t shoot anything, the experience would be incredible.