Capturing Lightning
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Sean Dawes

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“I think you have to feel the fear and just do it anyway.”

Sean Dawes, co-founder of Modded Euros

Sean Dawes is a co-founder of Modded Euros, an ecommerce company that specializes in aftermarket performance parts for Audi, BMW, and Volkswagen cars. Here he talks about his steadfast commitment to his work—including the time he didn’t let a weeklong hospital visit slow him down—and his equally strong devotion to his family.

Did you have any fears about becoming an entrepreneur?
I think anyone does when they quit a job, especially as you get older. A lot of younger founders who are right out of college are probably still living at home. They might have student loan debt or something like that, but don’t have many fixed expenses, generally. When you get into your thirties and you’re married or have kids, and you have a mortgage payment or rent, the risk starts to become higher. And you hear that from a lot of people, saying, “Do it while you’re young.” Because what’s the worst-case scenario? You go back and get a job. It’s not the end of the world. But when you have a family, when you have kids, you’re risking more for sure.

I think you have to feel the fear and just do it anyway. I think if you didn’t feel the fear, you’re probably crazy. Any rational person should feel fear. If anyone says they don’t feel fear, they’re just lying. It’s just being able to push yourself past that and just say, “It’s going to work out.”

What has been your greatest personal struggle in founding Modded Euros?
In fall of 2017, I went into work on a Friday. That Friday night, I ended up in the emergency room at the hospital and within 48 hours I was having emergency GI surgery. I had a rare thing where my intestines got stuck. It was just severe, sharp pain. They took pretty much all my intestines out to check to find where it was stuck. It was chronic appendicitis that caused a legion on my intestines. So they removed my appendix and they had to go through my intestines.

I had surgery on Sunday. That Monday morning, I still worked. I had my family bring my laptop in. I was laying in bed with my stomach stapled and tubes down my throat, and I was working every day that I was in the hospital. Some people say you shouldn’t push yourself too hard. But I always like to tell people, “Once you find your why, that’s what’s going to drive you.” And for me, it’s my family. I’m not dead. I’m not going to stop unless I’m dead. Why stop? To me, I think it keeps you healthy, as long as you enjoy what you do. One of my first questions is always, “What’s the wifi here? I’ve got to work.”

What has been your biggest sacrifice?
I don’t necessarily see it as a sacrifice, but I think a lot of people would: I am so laser-focused on the end goal, that I personally don’t put any time toward anything other than family and work. Meaning, I’m not going out Friday and Saturday nights. I’m not sitting and watching season after season of a certain show every weeknight. I don’t go home and play video games. I go home and it’s family time. It’s family time, and then either I’m sleeping or working. There’s no time for anything else.

I think it’s almost on the flip side; I think you’re actually sacrificing if you’re not doing it [making time for family]. I think you can have an entrepreneurial mindset even if you’re an employee. You’re in business for yourself, and I think you’re sacrificing a lot by not focusing on yourself, your well-being, your family’s well-being.

Did anyone in your life try to dissuade you from becoming an entrepreneur?
No. Everyone around me was supportive. My father runs a business. His father started the business my dad now owns. It’s a completely different type of business, so I did get a lot of questions like, “You’re spending how much on web development? That’s a month?” There’s sometimes a knowledge gap there. But outside of that, everyone around me is supportive.

They may not understand. That might even be the challenge: A lot of people don’t have people who necessarily understand, but that’s not really what you need. You need someone who supports you, because you’re going to fail and a lot of people want to give up. I think that’s what oftentimes is overlooked: If you’re doing it right and you’re really pushing yourself, you’re going to hit deep, deep depression. Like a level that you’ve never hit in your life. We’re very animalistic. You’re wired to flee from danger. In a sense, you’re basically forcing yourself to go against your natural instinct to go in the direction that’s most likely dangerous in a sense.

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“I always like to tell people, ‘Once you find your why, that’s what’s going to drive you.’”

Sean Dawes, co-founder of Modded Euros

Tell me about your work-life balance.
I think it’s a family-first mentality. For instance, my son has swim class every Wednesday at 6 o’clock, so I’m there. I think that’s important to carry that throughout life. I never want to get to a point where someone says, “You have to be here. You can’t do that.” If it becomes a business or a personal question, it’s always going to be personal. If I’m doing business with anyone who says otherwise, I don’t want to do business with them. That’s it. I won’t show up. I think that’s very important because at the end of the day, that’s really what matters.

Given not only my own business, but my spouse’s work as well, we have my mom; she quit her job and she’s our full-time daycare. My mom quit her job when she had me, raised me for 16 years, and then went back into the workforce. I know how important it was to me and I’m extremely thankful that I can basically provide a similar environment for my son. He actually spends all day with my mom and then my grandmother, so his great-grandmother. I think that’s a good work-life balance, even though it’s not me directly.

I have the same respect for the people that I work with, manufacturers or something like that. If something family-related comes up, I’m there to be supportive. If you screwed up, I don’t care. I get it. 

Did you ever come close to giving up?
I wouldn’t say giving up. Like I said, if you’re doing it right and you’re growing at such a rapid speed, if you’re not having some form of time where your head is in your hands and you’re just saying, “What am I going to do?” then you’re really not trying hard enough. You’re going to hit that roadblock a lot. I’m friends with a lot of business owners who have very significant-revenue companies, and they still get to that point because you’re always going to have the same problems. The problems are always still there; they’re just multiplied. You just put zeros after them. You just have to be able to recognize that you’re hitting a roadblock and just figure out a way past it.

What would make you feel as though you accomplished what you set out to do when you first founded Modded Euros?
It’s being able to have my family in the position where no one has to worry about anything ever again. Obviously I live comfortably, but to the point where you can do whatever you want, whenever you want. And I’m not saying that everyone buys a Ferrari. It’s more of, we all want to go somewhere, we don’t have to ask anybody to get time off approved. My dad still owns a business; I would prefer to sell that off. We just go. I’m not saying lavishly, necessarily. It’s just more of just the freedom.

For most of my life, my father worked 364 days a year. He owns and operates a bar in Kensington. Years ago, when it opened, it was a much different neighborhood. I’m not talking Kensington where the yuppies are. I’m talking Kensington-Kensington. It’s rough. My dad carried a gun to work. He’s been shot at. So I think to me, that’s a lot of my motivation: Just to end that type of lifestyle and then also not have a similar lifestyle myself. In all reality, if it snows, I can stay home and have a snow day with my son. I think that stuff is so much more valuable than money.

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned as an entrepreneur?
Surround yourself with people who are in the position where you want to be. So in my case, I’d want to surround myself with successful CEOs in ecommerce, whether in the Philadelphia market or not. I think this is important even in your social life. Just generally, if you surround yourself with people who tend to be more negative, it only brings you down.  

You never want to be the smartest person in the room. The successful business owner or CEO wants to surround themselves with smarter people in very specific niches. If someone asks you a question, you should always be able to say I don’t know, but you’ll know who to ask. I think the only way to accomplish that is to build yourself a nice circle of people.

This interview has been lightly edited from an in-person conversation for clarity. Capturing Lightning is a project from Woden, a strategic storytelling agency in Philadelphia that helps organizations articulate who they are and why people should care. To learn more about how to tell your story, visit us at wodenworks.com.