Cliff Dice, born and raised in Essexville, Michigan, is the Chief Executive Officer and President of Dice Corporation
, a security software company based out of the Monitor Township Valley Center Technology Park located in Bay County. We sat down with Cliff to hear his story, talk about the corporation's success, and to learn more about the security software industry.
Route: Where did you grow up?
I grew up on a farm in Essexville in Hampton Township. I went to Garber High School, but I dropped out in the 10th grade.
I just didn't like high school anymore. I had always had a hard time learning in school. I was working at Kroger at the time and wanted to work full-time. While working at Kroger, I decided I want to become a welder. I took 32 credit hours at Delta, about one year of school, which was enough to get my high-pressure welding degree at the time.
Originally, my plan was to head to Alaska after receiving my welding certificate. That plan changed because of my Great Grandparents - who were born in the late 1800s and who raised me. When I told my Great Grandmother that I was planning on moving, she started to cry. At that point, I knew that I couldn't leave.
So after that, I got a job at Aerospace working for Art Dore. He retrained me how to weld aluminum and magnesium while working on a lot of military projects. I worked there for a few years before I started questioning my life path.
I decided to go back to school. I went back to Delta and I was going to become an engineer. So I took this statistics class which required me to buy a computer. The computer had basic programming on it, and I fell in love with the programming. That is how I got into computers.
My path was from the farm to welding and then into computers.
After you fell in love with computers, where did that passion take you next?
I completed my associate’s degree from Delta, and then I transferred to Northwood - where I started my four-year degree in computers and business.
I have two odd stories about my time at Northwood. Before receiving a physical copy of my degree, Northwood called and said that they didn't have my high school diploma on file and that it was required by state law [before they could issue diploma]. I replied by saying, "Well, that's because I don't have a high school diploma." So I had to go to Central and take the GED test. Once I passed that, I got my diploma.
The other story involves my time as a student working as a Co-Op at Dow Corning and Dow Chemical. [While at Northwood] I had a professor, Carl Gerstacker, who was the former chairman of the board for Dow Chemical for years. I was venting my frustration of working for a big company - how nothing gets done and how everyone was always in meetings. Carl assured me that was how big companies worked and to be more patient. Finally, after a while, Carl saw that I am not a very patient person. You know? When I want something done, I want it done right now. Carl finally said, "Why don't you just start your own company?" So that sounded pretty good at the time. That's what I did.
Once I graduated from Northwood with my four-year degree and completed the GED, I went ahead and started my own company - which eventually turned into DICE Corporation.
So you launched DICE Corporation right after your time at Northwood University?
Well, kind of. While I was going to Northwood, I was doing consulting on the side. At that time no one had computer experience, and all of the accounting firms were trying to push computers. Being that I had a dual degree in accounting and finance with a specialty in computer science from Northwood and a computer programming degree from Delta - I got a lot of jobs. I was probably making about $100,000 a year in consulting fees while still in college. When I finished college, I went full-time and made a lot more.
How did you come up with the idea to start DICE Corporation?
What actually happened was, I was getting customers in the tri-city area while I was in college. For these customers, I was creating accounting software and building customer accounting reports. In the early 1990s, I started to lose customers to vertical companies - meaning that the other companies specialized in the same areas of expertise as my customers. For example, I lost a cement company to a vertical player in the cement industry, and so on and so forth.
At this point, I said, "I need to specialize in something." So I looked at all of the customers that I had accumulated. In the past, I had done a security software system for Stanley Alarms in Bay City. The owners helped me get into the alarm and security industry. After working with Stanley Alarms, I got a second installation in Detroit with a company called Multi-Guard. As business grew, the software continued to expand. I took the software to Las Vegas in 1992 and then released it for sale in the US to other alarm companies. After that trip, my whole focus changed from having accounting customers to security and alarm companies that would use my software for monitoring alarms.
How many employees currently work at your company?
There are around 60-65 employees right now.
What is next for DICE Corporation and the security software industry?
Right now, we're working on a cloud video storage farm. In the past, people used to put up cameras and then record them to a DVR (Digital Video Recorder) or a NVR (Network Video Recorder). Nowadays with the internet, we can stream that to the cloud so that no other software has to be onsite. This led to a product we released called Cloud Eye. I believe that is the future over the next 5-10 years of the security industry. We're seeing big growth not only in commercial sites but with smart-home technology people are putting cameras in their home.
What accomplishments at DICE are you most proud of?
There are lots. I think the biggest accomplishment is the fact that over the past 10 years we have transitioned to from having servers in the field to all cloud-hosted. We also built a second data center, like this one in Marquette, Michigan.
How do you maintain a work-life balance?
I burned out in the 90s once, retired from this company for four years, and then came back. Since coming back, I now take "me" days when I travel. Like in Vegas for the CES conference, I took an extra day to get a massage, go horseback riding, and lay by the pool. Since making this change, I feel like I can work forever.
What advice do you have for other aspiring entrepreneurs?
To continue to learn and to never give up.
Also, I've had the privilege of going to Northwood University to talk with their students about entrepreneurship. It can be kind of a shock, because some students think that they can own a business and work a typical 8AM - 5PM or that they will be able to kick back. I am always pushing back on that.
Owning your own business you are going to work 24 hours a day. That's what it takes.