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How the Founder of Dave's Killer Bread Went From Jail to Selling His Business for $275 Million

Five things that helped an ex-convict build and sell his company in 14 years.

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Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own. This article was updated on December 24, 2020

As an entrepreneur, you are used to juggling multiple tasks and navigating choppy waters. Eventually, you grow accustomed to surviving in a world of organized chaos. To you, setbacks are just part of the process, but what if one of those setbacks happened to be a 15-year stint in a penitentiary? Would you be able to maintain that same enthusiasm that keeps you going right now?

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Meet Dave Dahl, founder of Dave’s Killer Bread. By his own admission, Dahl will tell you that he suffered from low self-esteem, and up until 2001, made a series of poor life choices. After serving a decade-and-a-half sentence for possession of drugs, robbery, burglary and assault, he returned home in 2001 to the family bakery business, which was built by his father and run by his brother. Together, he and his brother sought out to develop a better bread in hopes of changing lives, one loaf at a time.

Fast forward to 2015, and Flowers Foods agreed to purchase “Dave’s Killer Bread” for $275 million. Let’s review the five things Dahl did to take his bread company from local farmers markets to the global market.

Related: A Family Business With an Open-Minded Hiring Policy

1. Self-forgiveness

Dave’s story is one of second chances. Actually, it's one of multiple chances. Prior to reuniting with his brother and joining the family business, he had been incarcerated four times. The moral of the story is that it doesn’t matter how many times you’ve screwed; there’s always an opportunity to start anew. You may have failed yesterday, but that doesn’t mean you have to carry that burden today. Take solace in knowing that most people won’t remember your missteps. Want to know why? They’re too busy worrying about their own. 

2. Never coasting

One of the biggest reasons Dave's Killer Bread was such a hit was because other breadmakers simply hadn’t been as innovative. You can argue that his non-GMO ingredients are better, but on the surface, all Dahl did was add more whole grains and unique toppings to the exterior than other manufacturers were offering. The big dogs stopped being creative. The biggest mistake you can make as an entrepreneur is to coast.

Related: Five Reasons Why Entrepreneurs Need To Think Out of the Box

3. Remaining driven

Great ideas come as you work on something you're passionate about. There is a saying by Gabby Bernstein: "Allow your passion to become your purpose, and one day it will become your profession." Dahl's passion helps him fill that hole in his life. He wanted to bake a loaf of bread with rich texture and natural whole grain that people would love Passion gives you motivation, direction and purpose in life.

4. Taking a leap of faith

One of the biggest challenges Dave’s company faced was moving into a facility that cost his brother Glenn $1.5 million. It was a huge risk for them to take, knowing that they had no cash flow support to sustain such a purchase, and it was all based on future expectations. Eventually, they did see significant growth in the business, even expanding and hiring more employees. Dave's hard work, dedication, perseverance and continued focus on his purpose helped him take this risk.

There will be moments in your own entrepreneurial endeavour where you will be forced to operate outside of your comfort zone. Eventually, you learn how to operate with butterflies in your stomach, and it becomes business as usual. 

Related: Why You Need to Step Out of Your Comfort Zone

5. Being a mad scientist

Dave experimented with different types of bread and countless ingredients. He researched what was trending and what was not. He wasn’t afraid of letting his product out in the market to receive feedback. He knew that some of his ideas would fail. He also knew that some of his ideas would hit, and when they did, they were home runs. Customers were repeatedly asked for his bread, and word got out so fast that it became famous in the community.

Your business ideas won't work if you sit and think about them all day. You have to go out, experiment and execute your ideas, no matter just how crazy they may sound.

Dave Dahl wasn’t born an entrepreneur. His early life was a struggle, and he long clung to a victim mentality. But Dave’s Killer Bread is a perfect example of how you can turn tragedy into triumph. It wasn’t too late for Dahl, even after 15 years behind bars, and it isn’t too late for you. Apply these same five strategies that he used, and go build your own multi-million dollar empire.

Paul Argueta

Written By

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor

I am the CEO of Bear Bull Co., an award-winning, client-first agency that has more than a decade of experience helping businesses increase sales and reduce salesperson turnover. I am an a 2X Inc. 5000 honoree and lead one the top 500 largest Hispanic-owned businesses in North America.