At age 29, Dave BH Valentine learned he was on his way to a heart attack. The wear of constant stress from running his business had ravaged his nervous system. A doctor told him his body was shutting down, and that it would take years for him to recover.
This came as quite the wake up call. Dave knew at that moment that everything he had built in order to achieve success had morphed into a burden that was now threatening to crush him. He needed to change his entire approach to entrepreneurship. His life depended on it.
Dave Valentine did not look like a person on the brink of burnout. He was the go-getter—a rising star teeming with effortless charisma and boundless initiative. Young but accomplished, Dave was used to winning.
As a teenager, peers and teachers recognized Dave BH Valentine to be a gifted student and a natural leader with immense potential. He was a talented athlete who regularly landed starring roles in school plays while being encouraged by supervising adults to take on leadership roles in every club or team he joined. Dave had a way with people. They knew whenever he entered a room because they were drawn to his infectious energy.
Dave’s powers of influence aided his transition into entrepreneurship. Through his early 20s, he juggled college, athletics, and young married life, all while keeping a part time job at a marketing agency. Driven by his signature work ethic, Dave built up friendships with fellow entrepreneurs and learned the lessons of grit and perseverance in the face of adversity.
At age 25, Dave set out to start his own marketing agency. Soon after, he learned he was going to be a father. This only kicked Dave’s hustle into overdrive. By age 26, Dave was a full-fledged workaholic bent on making his agency work so he could provide for his growing family.
“I would wake up at 5am and work from 7am to 10pm, as well as on weekends,” says Dave BH Valentine.
The pace was unsustainable. Dave worked so hard he had little time for family or self-care. Externally, his wins were mounting. He was a dynamo of sheer determination whose ability to outwork the competition was making a name for himself and his burgeoning agency. Life at home, on the other hand, was a different story.
Dave’s wife saw the toll that work was taking on her husband. Dave barely saw their 18-month-old daughter and had resorted to feeding a caffeine and alcohol dependency in order to stave off crippling bouts of fatigue. She convinced him to make a choice between work or family.
The very next week, Dave scheduled a doctor’s visit and learned the extent to which his unyielding work practices had damaged his body.
“I’ve never been accused of not working hard enough, but I have been accused of not working smart,” says Dave BH Valentine.
Dave determined it was time for a hard pivot. He sold his old agency and started over with a new perspective, one that would eventually lead to the formation of Avadel, Dave’s current SDR agency. Convinced he had become distracted from the things that mattered most, Dave greeted this new venture with the resolve to gather, hire and build around his most valued principles. Thus, Avadel is formed around six core values: tenacity, curiosity, initiative, transparency, accountability and humanity.
The pivot paid off. Within a year, Avadel grew to become more successful and more profitable than its predecessor. The boost in revenue allowed Dave to fulfill a career-long ambition of creating and acquiring other agencies, among which is a branding and strategy company called VHS Design, as well as a professional flight school called Fly Valentine.
Demand has increased, but Dave is healthier than ever. He attributes this to his company’s deep attention to its core values. They are the pillars that allow Dave and his team to maintain balance through expansion.
Tenacity is Dave’s DNA. He built his life on hard work, so the urge to hustle will always be there. At the same time, unchecked zeal for hard work over smart work is what led Dave to dysfunctional habits in the first place. Dave is wiser in approach today. He practices bold decision-making and informed risk-taking for the sake of finding smarter ways of doing things. In his own words, “Marketing is not a science. It’s somewhere between science and magic. We work hard, but we also work smart, A/B testing and finding ways to do things more efficiently, even if we are already getting exceptional results.”
Curiosity helps Avadel know itself and its clients. Dave’s teams care about who they support and the quality of the services they provide for them. This care is evidenced by the fact that team members regularly participate in development opportunities. Innovation is integral to Avadel. According to Dave, “there are no sacred cows, starting with me.”
Initiative as a value empowers team members to trust their intuitions and take action. Employees will struggle to trust themselves if leadership does not show trust in them first. Dave says, “If anyone from the team believes there’s a better way, we test it and adopt it no matter who it came from.”
Transparency keeps things clear and open for clients and employees. Sharing information freely cultivates a culture of helpfulness. Avadel teams work together to provide clients with the tools they need to stay informed and involved. Dave says, “We go for trackable ROI. The idea is that every client can see everything happening in their campaign at any given time.” This also makes it easier for clients to personally track the benefits of Avadel’s services.
Accountability encourages Avadel employees to take ownership of their work by regularly assessing the gap between where they are and who they are becoming. According to Dave, “The engine of Avadel’s excellence is the willingness of Avadel employees to show up to work as their full and engaged selves.”
Finally, the core value that brings everything and everyone together is humanity. This principle roots Dave and his teams in the understanding that no bottom line justifies burnout. Dave’s primary concern is about “being an empathic human being.” His painful experiences with overwork have instilled in him a deep respect for balance. He desires to create better workplaces where people can achieve good standards of living. “It’s upsetting to me that the average salary in the US has stayed the exact same for the past 40 years,” he says. “I inherently believe that’s wrong.”
Dave Valentine’s goal is to keep building a constellation of businesses that help each other and create value for as many people as possible. Regarding his ambitions, Dave says, “We want to create amazing workplaces for people to work in. [We want] to launch, or to partially or fully acquire many different companies and employ at least 2000 people.”
What stands out about Dave today is his spirit of gratefulness. His heart is full and healthy. He appreciates the fateful doctor’s visit that exposed his destructive dogma. Accolades on their own are not the measure of success if the journey costs everything that truly mattered.
Dave Valentine keeps with him the hard-earned lessons of his own journey as he seeks to live out a more conscientious and holistic approach to business. Reflecting on his past, Dave says, “If I could go back and talk to my previous self, I’d tell him to take a breath. I’d tell him that it’s all going to be alright.”
This learned wisdom he now shared freely with his staff at each company.
It all works out in the end.