“I was making really good money, I had amazing career growth, and I really loved the culture of the company, and I wondered, ‘Why don't more people do this?’ I went from no degree, no sales experience, no tech background, to making over six figures in eighteen months with a path to continue to grow, and I was just twenty-two years old.”
No, Jaron Erickson, founder and CEO of Dojo, was not talking about door-to-door summer sales, but about being a Sales Development Representative (SDR) for a tech company.
Like many after high school, Erickson followed the common path of going to college and was a collegiate track & field athlete and student at Utah Valley University (UVU) for two years. Yet, he felt like something wasn’t right. “I hit a point where I didn’t know what I wanted to do long-term. I didn’t know what to do with my career, and I didn’t even know what I wanted to study,” says Erickson.
He decided to talk things through with his dad, Jeff Erickson, who worked for Carta at the time, who encouraged him to look into working for a tech company. “I’m not a computer guy,” says Erickson, but he decided to apply to the top tech companies in Utah and got a job as an entry level SDR with Divvy.
After one year, Erickson had been promoted four different times. “I don’t think it’s because I was anything super special,” says Erickson. “It was because the company started growing and they brought in more and more people and I had this natural push up the ladder.”
Erickson left Divvy after their $2.5 billion Bill.com acquisition to go back to school, but kept wondering why people weren’t pursuing SDR careers and why it wasn’t taught in college. He pointed out that his dad was in tech for a large portion of his life and yet, Erickson had still never heard of this career path. He decided to do something about it and started Dojo, a sales training course, teaching individuals how to become top-performing SDRs and connecting them with some of the best tech companies around Silicon Slopes.
“I didn’t come in thinking, I’m going to start my own company,” says Erickson. “I came in thinking, I’m going to learn as much as I can from my leaders and mentors, and then I saw this amazing path, and thought, ‘why don’t people do this?’ So that’s why we started Dojo, to help people have the same opportunity I found. I stumbled into it and I felt like more people needed to be a part of it.”
Erickson first started with research and interviewed SDR teams from large Utah tech companies such as Podium and Divvy. He asked what they wanted in an SDR and created a curriculum based on their answers and his own experience as an SDR.
Dojo’s first cohort consisted of three people, one of them being Erickson’s little sister. After the course, all three students were hired. Erickson’s sister started working for a tech startup making $60K right out of high school. One of the other students from Dojo’s first cohort now works as a manager in the tech company he was hired at.
Dojo is now one year old as of June 19th, and in one year Erickson has run ten cohorts with over 70 students. Each course is four weeks long, Monday through Thursday, from 5-6:30pm. All classes are over zoom, but each instructor teaches live.
“B2B is all over the phone, over zoom, and over email, so that’s where we hone our skill set,” explains Erickson. “Through the course, we have our curriculum that we cover, but with everything we do, there’s an application. We do a lot of role plays, we give a lot of live feedback, working on tone, working on pitch, and working on overcoming objections. Everything is being practiced and applied throughout the entire course. One of our biggest successes is working in a live, remote setting.”
Dojo has seen students with all kinds of backgrounds. Erickson explains that he thought most students would be around his age, college students or college dropouts, looking for a different path. But, Dojo has trained stay at home moms, high school graduates, people in the middle of a career looking for a change, fast food workers, retailers, furniture movers, and many others.
“You don’t need previous experience or sales experience to get into a tech company or to come into the program,” says Erickson. “We are able to teach the skills you need to become a top performer through the course. Some of our best reps have never done sales in their life, but sales is all about creating and building relationships. Everybody has sales experience in the sense of building and connecting with other people.”
Working with the community and minority groups is an important part of Dojo’s mission. Dojo has partnered with Encircle to help LGBTQ youth and the Utah Black Chamber to help more African Americans get into the tech space. “It’s an underlying goal in everything we do,” says Erickson. Dojo also partners with community organizations to provide scholarships for students coming into the program. A big focus of Dojo is to foster more diversity in the tech ecosystem, and besides focusing on LGBTQ youth and African Americans, Dojo aims to help more Latino and Polynesian people also break into tech.
After the course, Dojo continues to work with their graduates, practicing interview skills and lining up interviews for each graduate. Dojo partners with tech companies around Utah and across the country to provide them with pre-trained and high caliber talent. Some of their local partners include Pluralsight, Kenect, Zeni and LoanPro.
“We love our course and we love our curriculum, but the whole goal we have is to get our graduates placed and working at a great tech company, that’s when we’re successful,” says Erickson. “Our goal is to get two or three offers on the table for each student and allow them to pick and choose where they feel is best.”
The average starting income for graduates who go through the Dojo program is $67,500, and has ranged from $60K to $100K.
Dojo has a two way business model. First, Dojo charges their partners a “training & placement fee” to hire their graduates as they’re coming in pre-ramped and will be able to make an immediate impact on any SDR team. “Our goal for our partner companies is to allow them to focus on a speed to ramp and speed to revenue model when bringing on new SDRs,” says Erickson. Dojo also operates on a “deferred tuition” model where the students pay $500 up front to take the course and then, after they are hired by a tech company, will make three payments of $500 over three months.
Looking ahead, Dojo plans to grow their partnerships with both Utah tech companies and community groups. To expand partnerships, Dojo recently hired Joy Branham, Head of Career Growth, who works to gather more partnerships and connect students with job opportunities.
Dojo also has larger plans as a company, to change the mindset towards college and life after high school, a goal based off of Erickson’s own experiences.
“I think Dojo is just a small piece to the mission we have of continuing to enhance and advance educational opportunities for individuals, especially for those who don't go to college,” explains Erickson. “I think sometimes people go to school to check a box, and I hope that someday we can eliminate the check-the-box mentality. Learning is fun, learning is invigorating and if you can have that mindset and approach to your education, your potential is limitless. I personally like to view education as a form of internal progression, getting from where you are to where you want to be. I think sometimes we lose that focus. Something needs to change, and we are working on making that happen long term at Dojo.”