‘Walk-on mentality’ shapes former BYU football player, current CEO

Former BYU football walk-on Jonathan Ord, second from left, poses with his family after winning the 2014 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award. (Jonathan Ord)

Jonathan Ord came to BYU as a walk-on quarterback in 1989. He showed up at what was then Cougar Stadium with something to prove, and he has kept that mentality ever since. Now he’s the CEO of a billion-dollar company, not to mention recipient of the 2014 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award.

BYU showed interest in Ord and another high school teammate in Southern California, but there was only one scholarship available. The teammate received the scholarship and Ord chose to walk on.

He played back-up quarterback for Ty Detmer as a freshman in 1989. Ord remembers being wide-eyed and in awe of the future Heisman winner. Ord described Detmer as a competitor but one who “made his teammates feel better and understood that they could do more with their abilities, versus beating people down.”

The two became close friends and their friendship continues today. Detmer won the Heisman Trophy in 1990 and joined the LDS Church while Ord was serving an LDS mission in Spain. Now the BYU football offensive coordinator, Detmer met up with Ord a couple of times in California while on the recruiting trail. He said it was fun to “rekindle” their relationship.

Detmer is quick to point out how Ord’s energy played a role in his entrepreneurial career.

He’s a guy that brightens everybody’s day,” Detmer said. “He is just an energetic person that just works all the time — goes, goes, goes.”

Ord returned from his mission but still didn’t receive a scholarship. He played another season before hanging up his cleats to focus on entrepreneurship.

The successful businessman loved his experiences as a walk-on member of the football team. Ord’s “walk-on mentality” shaped his life and taught him to be resilient.

“I’m forever grateful that BYU didn’t give me a scholarship,” Ord said. “It gave me a great chip on my shoulder that I wanted to show people that I could compete in whatever thing that I was involved in, and that’s affected me to this day. I love being the underdog, I love being a walk-on.”

Ord remained an underdog in his entrepreneurial endeavors and carried the lessons he learned on the football field to the business world.

Starting a company is a lot like playing football, Ord learned. He compared it to getting hit hard and having to get back up.

“You just do the best you can and you prepare as hard as you can as long as you can for every possible scenario,” Ord said. “And then you realize that the reality of the situation when it comes is probably going to be a little bit different.”

BYU alum and 2014 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year recipient Jonathan Ord poses with his award. (Jonathan Ord)

Ord and co-founder Brad Perry created DealerSocket, a company that created software to help car dealerships sell more cars and improve customer satisfaction through tracking and compiling data.

“We can be very thoughtful and helpful to dealers as they think about what cars to stock and how they can best service their customers with the type of inventory they hold,” Ord said.

Ord and Perry started the business in Perry’s garage in 2001. The duo met in the 1990s as they both pursued graduate degrees in accounting at BYU. They began preparing for every possible situation they could but had to adjust to make smart decisions along the way.

When the software was about halfway completed, Ord asked a dealership-owning friend if he’d be interested. The owner replied that Ord and Perry weren’t “car guys” and that it needed to be user-friendly for the employees who would actually be using it to sell more cars.

The duo took a year off from developing the program and instead worked for free at a couple of car dealerships in Southern California. They learned the ins and outs of how the dealerships operated and how to make their software user-friendly. Perry said their wives call this time the “dark days,” as neither family had much money.

DealerSocket launched the product in July 2002, and its first customer was Larry H. Miller Lexus in Utah. Sixteen more stores started using the application that year, and the company became profitable months later in January 2003.

What began as a garage operation by two friends has transformed into a company worth about a billion dollars, according to Ord. DealerSocket’s revenue has grown by at least 30 percent for 15 consecutive years and it grew by over 120 percent last year.

Perry attributes their success to building a culture of success.

“It’s helped to keep the culture strong and growing from literally a couple guys who built an application in my garage to 1,200 people keeping up a culture with strong values and principles,” Perry said.

Ord and Perry kept their values in mind as they made decisions within the company. They chose to not take on any debt or tie themselves to external business partners until the right time. The duo also funded DealerSocket themselves for the first eight years of the venture.

“I think maintaining control because of the decisions we made was very instrumental in getting to where we are today,” Perry said.

DealerSocket’s success stems from the experiences its owners had at BYU. Ord is grateful for “the environment created at BYU to help people achieve potential.”

He advises aspiring BYU entrepreneurs to act rather than be acted upon and to build relationships with others based on charity. Ord also encourages students to not shy away from sharing the source of their spiritual and temporal happiness — they’re one and the same.

“The more we can share what we believe to be true from a principle perspective, the better we will make our companies and the more potential that we can pull out of the individuals that we work with,” Ord said.

The “walk-on” mentality changed the course of Ord’s life, but he insists he’s not special. He says everyone’s a walk-on somewhere.

“Most people in this world are walk-ons in some way, shape, or form in different areas of their life,” Ord said.

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