Located in Oak Park, Michigan, imageOne provides document security services, process automation, and managed print services.
Rob Dube and his at-the-time 9th-grade business partner, Joel Pearlman, began their entrepreneurial journey selling Blow Pop lollipops from their school lockers. They’d get the inventory from Joel’s uncle who owned a drug store, who charged them a nickel for each one. They would then sell them for a quarter.
“Great margins. Great product,” Rob says with a smile. “It’s really my earliest memory of having this entrepreneurial drive, not really knowing that that’s what it was at the time. Back then, we just wanted to see if we could go out, sell some things, make people happy, and have some fun.
What Rob and Joel learned from that experience that has stuck with them to today with their business, imageOne, a managed print service provider, is this:
If you provide consistent, reliable service and the highest quality products, you will be rewarded with your customers’ continued loyalty.
Rob and Joel’s next entrepreneurial venture was selling remanufactured toner cartridges for laser printers. Started in the days before the internet, it involved a lot of footwork.
“We’d just be out canvassing buildings, knocking on doors and getting kicked out,” Rob says. “But there were a number of people who had mercy on us and so we would open our catalog, find their laser printer, and then tell them we could save them 50% with a remanufactured cartridge. That was our pitch.”
Unfortunately, about 40% of the cartridges they sold didn’t work.
“It actually got to the point where I got a sick feeling when the phone rang because I knew it was likely to be a problem,” says Rob.
With their ‘customer first’ attitude, the two partners would drop everything when they got a call and would run out to the client site, get the cartridge, then try to figure out how to fix it. Meanwhile, the customer was waiting because they couldn’t do their printing without a printer cartridge.
“The lesson we learned was that we didn’t ask any questions about what their challenge was, we just got right on it. We learned how important it was to keep our customers loyal by doing anything we possibly could.”
After several years, Rob and Joel discovered selling remanufactured printer cartridges wasn’t for them. They were able to pivot within the same kind of industry and started what today is known as imageOne.
In Comes Gino Wickman
In late 1999, Rob became one of Gino Wickman’s first clients where he implemented many of the ideas that would later find their way into EOS. For Rob, Gino became an early mentor and sounding board.
“In 2004, we were approached by a public company,” says Rob. “We ended up selling our company to them and for higher multiples because of the principles Gino had implemented with us. The purchasing company felt there was a tremendous amount of value because we were running the company like a well-oiled machine.”
As part of the deal, Rob and Joel agreed to stay on and run the company as a wholly-owned subsidiary after the acquisition.
“That was the time when I really knew I was not employable,” Rob says. “I couldn’t handle it. I was… I felt so out of control. It had a lot to do with me not being able to control my days, where I’d be called into meetings or needing to travel here and there. Oftentimes, it didn’t seem practical and I couldn’t understand why. So it’s not to say it was a bad culture, it just wasn’t one that fit me.”
Eighteen months later, in 2006, Rob and Joel bought the company back and today, continue to run the company using the same EOS principles that brought them their early success.
Hitting The Ceiling
While selling the company for high multiplies was quite an accomplishment, for Rob, a bigger success was his ability to become a servant leader.
“What really resonated for me was that I could actually build a business that was focused on people before profits. That really resonated with me. For me, that was my biggest win because ever since that I’ve had more energy and excitement around the business than I ever have.”
But even with excitement and a laser focus, like any entrepreneurial journey, pain points and hitting the ceiling are part of the experience.
“At one point, I hit the ceiling where I didn’t feel useful anymore. I was the company president, running operations, and people would share problems with me and it just wasn’t my strength. I couldn’t figure it out. And I said to Joel, ‘I’ve hit the ceiling. I am not useful as a president. He said, ‘You’re a great president.’ And I said, I’m telling you, I’m not. I see it each and every day.”
After the conversation, they brought in a new president.
“You can see the difference,” Rob says. “He’s so much more useful than I was. I credit a lot of that to self-awareness and emotional intelligence. It’s something I’m always working on and recognizing. I look at the problems and I say, ‘What am I doing wrong here? What can I do better? How can I be more useful?’”
While entrepreneurial business owners can define success in many ways, Rob is crystal clear what defines his: People.
“It’s 110% people,” he says. “I realized that I’m personally only as strong as the people around me and I can’t work in my genius without people. And being a servant leader is an absolute honor. To be put in this position, the way life unfolded for me, it’s about them and I ask how I can be of service to them in their life. That’s my main focus.”
Building a Great Business
In the very beginning, when things were tough, Rob isn’t shy about admitting that he thought about quitting all the time. He looked at his friends who had gone off to college then got jobs. They seemed happy, living good lives, making a few bucks, even getting their own apartments while he was still living with his parents.
“I tease my mom because she had said for years, ‘Why don’t you just go get a job with good benefits?’ I don’t blame her for a second for saying that. She saw me struggling for years, but her words motivated me and I would always say that I wanted to show her that I could really build a great business.”
And so Rob and Joel did just that.