Dan Waldschmidt isn’t just running for his life—he’s running for yours, too. “When you run a 100-mile race, everything is in pain, and your body is saying, ‘Dude, this is not healthy.’ The second you stop running, the pain goes away. You either stop and you fail or you finish and you win—not because you’re competing against anyone else, it doesn’t matter—but because you finished.”
An hour-long interview with the corporate coach can be akin to sprinting through a brain-marathon: you gotta keep up. During a midweek twilight near the end of November, temperatures are falling from 48-degree highs. Even more challenging, the conversation takes place at a Starbucks, where you have to sit outside because it’s too noisy inside.
You settle down with Dan and immediately get down to business. He calls himself a “business strategist”: “The boardroom is my playground.” Also a keynote speaker and contributor to the likes of CNBC, he makes it clear he’s not some self-help motivational guru—and that he’s an introvert. He’s all about clarity.
He learned to focus early. In northern Virginia, his parents refused to allow a television; reading was required. “My mom said, ‘You’re not going to read fiction because it’s fake,’” he says, before recalling that at age 12, apparently his single most formative year, he was reading his father’s copy of Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England, published in the eighteenth century. By 25, he’d dropped out of a Bible college and a university; sold cemetery plots; married, with a son; then was named CEO of a professional-services company.
He was driven, all right—relentless work destroyed his marriage and left him physically and emotionally ill. He was driven to suicide. “I can still remember the oily taste of cool metal on my tongue,” he writes in his 2014 self-published book, EDGY Conversations: How Ordinary People Can Achieve Outrageous Success.
He sat in his garage, drunk, exhausted, hopeless.
“In a twisted, overachiever kind of way—after all, one would do the job—I shoved bullet after bullet into the clip of my Browning .22 pistol until it was full,” he writes. “Curiously, I questioned whether I should place it at my temple or in my mouth. Would I screw this up as well?”
“You have to have a strategy for navigating the human element of life—which, frankly, is almost all of it.”
Now 40, he says he has added $17 billion in value to clients’ companies, including some of the world’s biggest banks and airlines, with projects in 17 countries. A few months ago, he launched another company, EDGY, which revolves around his speaking and writing and strategizing with C-suiters he calls elite “business athletes.”
EDGY’s actually an acronym. Here’s how Overview, a Boston-based expansion-stage venture firm for software companies, distills EDGY:
Extreme Behavior: “Taking something different and multiplying it by insanity. In other words, taking risks that might make you feel uncomfortable, but might also put your business in a position to get noticed and build customer loyalty.”
Disciplined Activity: “Commit to something you believe in; you have to stick with it long enough for it to actually work.”
Giving Mindset: “Conversations with customers and prospects aren’t about you.” (For Dan, gratitude’s key.)
Y(h)uman Strategy: “Can you identify the pain or fear that is driving them to do what they do?”
That’s the heart of Dan’s business gospel: Being human, being clear, and being tough; he calls his work, “Radical help for those who want it. Whereas other consultants would come in and go, ‘Hey, let’s readjust the labeling’ and ‘Let’s reposition this’—all very logical—but it’s missing that extra something and that extra something is what we bring. Sometimes it’s hard to put your finger on what it is exactly.”
Not really. Dan’s thing is all about knowing who you are and why you do what you do, working on an emotional, even vulnerable, level to connect with people. Doing that connects you to yourself, to your dreams, to your happiness and success.
In a word, Dan focuses on the business of being a human being in a world of business. “The standard for us is, how do we create something so overwhelmingly magical? People confuse magic as what you sell. It’s not what you sell; it’s the methods. The methods are what create the magic.”
His business-sense magic, as it were, began with preteen entrepreneurship. He started a lawn-mowing business—again, at 12. “After I got my flyers printed, my first day out, my mom asked where I was going, and I said, ‘To go mow lawns.’ And she asked, ‘With what mower?’ I said. ‘With this one.’ She said, ‘That’s mine. You can use our mower, but it’ll cost you.’”
His work and demeanor feel and sound like a mashup of Tony Robbins, Oprah, Dale Carnegie, Dr. Phil, and the late Jim Fixx, the author of the 1977 bestseller, The Complete Book of Running, credited with “helping start America’s fitness revolution.”
Dan’s no casual runner. An ultra-marathoner, he says he has logged some 17,000 miles within the last decade. In June 2015, he placed first in Greenville’s 100-mile Knock on Wood race, clocking in at 17 hours, 18 minutes. UltraSignup.com, a website that collects such things, says Dan’s sixteen hyper-long races rank him above the 91st percentile in his age group. “He’s a runner who’s not stopping at just running a marathon, but some crazy stuff,” says Rajesh Setty, an entrepreneur, author, speaker, personal-branding expert, and founder and owner of several tech companies; he lives in Silicon Valley and has worked with Dan for four years.
“so many people talk about being awesome it’s almost like a cliché for them. It’s cool to say you should be awesome, but Dan is the one person that I’ve seen that actually manages that in his life and in his clients’ lives,” Setty says. “That’s why I love him because one thing is to talk about it, the other is to live it. Talking is easy, but living it is really, really hard.”
“Love of the game: When two equally talented players go head to head, the winner is usually the one who loves the game more.”
Talk about hard: Try developing a software platform in partnership with the NFL to data-mine athletes, a precursor to the system depicted in the 2011 film Moneyball, where the Oakland As used sophisticated matrices to build a championship baseball team. The NFL program came from Zebra Technologies, where, until 2017, Jill Stelfox was vice president. “We were very manufacturing-focused,” says Stelfox, now CEO of a sports-related startup in San Jose, California. “We weren’t a sexy, cool company. Dan was able to create a video out of whole, clean cloth to demonstrate the power and vision of technology that we have—the science behind it, the package behind it—and made it look really sexy. Which was great—that’s what the NFL wanted.”
Dan knows how to move the ball down the field because he’s been there, done that, run that.
“I’m going to share lessons with you I’ve learned from helping the most elite companies in the world and not at a business level, but at a personal level, and I think that’s the difference,” he says, responding to a question about what distinguishes him from other self-styled, self-help, quick-fix, sales types.
“I’m not just a guy on a stage. I’m the guy who woke up one morning and ran 16 miles so I could be in the frame of mind to be on the stage.”
It’s working toward that next stage he believes we can all achieve if we know ourselves enough to know what we actually want.
Dan’s in it for the long run.