Gui Costin turned his startup, Dakota, into a success. But it wasn’t until he and his team turned their focus outward that his job really became rewarding.
In 2011, five years after he’d taken a leap of faith and launched Dakota, a sales and marketing organization for investment firms, Gui Costin felt like he’d made it. Dakota had a growing client base, satisfied employees, and steady revenue. But something was off. “I was doing well, but it was somewhat empty,” Costin says. So he made a change.
More specifically, Costin decided to put serving other people at the center of Dakota’s culture. A dozen years later, the impact is tangible. Dakota is not only thriving as a commercial venture, but it’s a leader when it comes to Corporate Social Responsibility, offering significant support to more than a dozen small nonprofits. And Costin himself? He’s never been more energized.
In this conversation, Costin talks about the unique culture that Dakota, a Satell Institute member, has created; its philanthropic arm, Dakota Gives; and why putting others first not only benefits nonprofits and an organization’s employees, but also, sometimes, its CEO.
We started Dakota…
…in 2006. We’re a sales and marketing organization for investment firms. In order to successfully build that business, we used a database called Salesforce.com, where we housed all the information about the institutional investors we would call on to raise money for our investment firms.
In 2019, we also saw there was demand in the marketplace among investment firms to have high-quality, accurate, up-to-date contact information so they could make sales calls. We turned that database into a product, and we now serve over 800 investment firms – and we’ve added 45 teammates to build that business.
The key to our growth has been…
…number one, having great people on our team. Number two, treating them extremely well, with a lot of kindness. Number three, giving everybody the ability to grow their careers. And number four, forcing them to play at the highest professional level. We also abide by some very core principles and make sure those are very public.
We call those principles…
… “Dakota-isms.” They’re everything that we stand for. I’ll give you some examples: “Walk the 8 feet,” which means to go into someone’s office to tap into the collective knowledge of the group. “Don’t go cowboy,” which is about being communicative with your team and sharing information. “Throw your hat over the wall,” which is about taking risk. “Turn your brain off,” which means just do it. Sometimes people can so overthink things.
I like to say we have a crazy, hard-charging culture, but we do it with kindness.
My mantra since 2011…
…is that life is about serving other people and helping them get what they want out of life. It took me a little while to get there – just because you’re so motivated to grow your business.
If you’ve ever done a startup and you’ve risked everything, you know it’s almost all about you all the time. Because it’s brute force. You have to grind through and make it work.
But I just realized that even though I was doing well, it was somewhat empty. So what I did was, I just made it my mission to flip the script. We put it on the web site: we exist to help other people get what they want out of life. Teammates. Customers. Whoever we interact with. And when you start making it about other people and not yourself, that was for me a pretty big leadership step. And then when you do that, it’s just so much more fun.
We used to give money away to different nonprofits…
…but it wasn’t as formal as it needed to be. And I really wanted to be more aggressive with it, so we launched Dakota Gives in 2021. We didn’t just want to be a check-writing organization. We wanted to give to micro-charities so that we could have impact.
We give away $10,000 per month — and we work closely with our partners, whether it’s helping out with their emails or their database, or going physically on site to volunteer.
If we can bring our expertise to bear as well as some money, that really has a lasting impact.
When we help our nonprofit partners…
…that really galvanizes our company. It’s been so much fun, and people really do appreciate it because a lot of these nonprofits are run on a shoestring budget.
But it has to be genuine. It can’t just be, oh we’re doing it just to do it. We’re doing it for the nonprofits, to help them get what they want. And then the tangential benefit is that it galvanizes our team and helps our team. That’s awesome. But that’s secondary.
We joined the Satell Institute…
…thanks to the head of Dakota Gives, Barbara Loeslein. People told her we really need to be part of Satell so that we can be with like-minded CEOs that really want to make a difference in their community.
Every time we sign a new contract…
…I tell our team, look, your hard work is allowing us to take some of that money and give it to the different causes we support. It’s pretty cool when you know your work is really having an impact outside of just generating revenue.