Building a Business That Turns on a Dime With Wayne Tully of National Driver Training
Wayne Tully, CEO of National Driver Training, can teach entrepreneurs a thing or two about being way ahead of the curve. Find out how he’s changed the history of drivers education and may be changing the way teachers are trained and licensed too.
foundingAUSTIN: How did you get started with online drivers training programs?
Wayne: I was doing landscaping then I went into telecommunications. I started selling off pay phones back in 1994 because cellular was becoming very popular. I met a guy at church who said, "I want you to help me with my drivers education program." I told him I wasn’t used to working with mom and pops—I did global sales for AT&T. He said, "Nah, it's real interesting. It's homeschooling driver education." He started to show me the product, this book he had written and I'm thinking, is this legal? You can actually do drivers education from home? You don't have to go to drivers school anymore? This happened to be right at the time when the U.S. Department of Transportation was saying they weren’t funding it anymore. They wanted the parents to take it back. I kept looking and I thought, this isn't licensed anywhere. So, I got to know about homeschooling and as I learned what homeschoolers are looking for I decided to rewrite the course and get it licensed.
As a result, I helped author Senate Bill 964, which became the law in 1997. We became the very first home study, parent-taught driver education program in the world.
fA: What’s the big idea behind your business?
Wayne: Getting mom and dad involved in the process of driver training so that not only does the student get enough hours behind the wheel to be a great driver, but mom and dad get a refresher course too. Studies show that when a student’s only had 35 to 40 hours practice behind the wheel, that’s when they get into trouble. They think they have it—they get cocky, but then something happens like they run a stop sign or hit something. So mom and dad are forced to pay really close attention for the entire 50-hour class.
George Mason University did a study that says the only significant change in drivers education since it was first introduced in 1949 was when parents became involved in the 1990s. So our whole theme was, mom and dad are teaching drivers education. You've taken mom and dad—who have high motor vehicle crash rates with more than 43,000 fatalities and 3.5 million injured each year—and you’ve essentially got them going through class again as they teach each of their children. Now you put drivers education at home as a way of life.
fA: Do you see that business still growing, or do you have more competition now?
Wayne: I've got a lot more competition. There are hundreds and hundreds of schools but we're always a step ahead of them. We just introduced the very first teacher's program online, in the country. Licensed here in the state of Texas. We're rolling that out next month at a driver education conference.
fA: Is this your first company?
Wayne: No, I had a gardening company when I was in high school. I was a gardener to the stars. I did landscaping, then I was the landscaper to the stars. I also got involved with pharmaceutical sales of weight control products. Eventually I went on to telecommunications and got involved with payphones. No one realized how much money was in payphones. Then I went from payphones to selling long-distance and then drivers education. And drivers education lead to buying properties, because I know that anything could happen in drivers ed.
fA: What strengths have made you a success in all your businesses?
Wayne: Work habits. Not even knowing what five o'clock means. People in this building, it hits five o'clock and they head home. It doesn't matter what project's out. They stop thinking at five. There is no clock when you're an entrepreneur. Second thing is sales. I have always known my product inside and out.
fA: What's the most difficult lesson that you've learned as an entrepreneur?
Wayne: Probably biting off more than I can chew. Taking it too close to the edge. Thinking that I can get it done, not planning well. But the biggest thing I’ve learned is that if you do business with your friend, you're going to lose your friend.
Dan: What's the best advice that you received when starting your business?
Wayne: The best advice was from a guy named Wayne Newman who was worth well over $100 million. He said to me, "Stick with it. Don't change. You have to be in this for ten years. You have to survive ten years even if you don’t make any money in those first ten years. Every successful millionaire has at least ten years in before they see the big payoff.”
fA: What do you love about being an entrepreneur?
Wayne: I am only accountable to myself, which is good because I want to fire myself all of the time.
fA: Is there anybody that inspires you or motivates you?
Wayne: Christian leaders like Dr. James Dobson, Max Lucado and Charles Swindoll. And people I grew up on, like Wayne Newman. I always used to listen to his radio show.
fA: When you hang up the hat, where do you see yourself?
Wayne: You know, if I just hung up the hat and did nothing I would probably die. I'd rather die doing something.
To find out more about National Driver Training classes, visit http://www.usdrivertraining.com.