Editor’s note: The Fremont Tribune is publishing a series, “20 Under 40,” that shares stories of young professionals in Fremont under the age of 40. The series will highlight one individual on Page C1 every weekend until November 21. “20 Under 40” is sponsored in part by RTG Medical and the Fremont Chamber of Commerce. Email nominations to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Brandon Peterson comes from a family of entrepreneurs.
His grandfather, Del, started 36 businesses, including DPA Auctions in 1972. His father, Steve, started more than a dozen and his mother, Paige, owns several Anytime Fitness locations in Nebraska.
Although they all found success, not all of their endeavors succeeded, and Peterson himself has experienced failure with one of the six businesses he’s created.
“But that’s one of the things about entrepreneurship: You have to go in with just a boundless amount of optimism that this is going to work,” he said. “And if or when it doesn’t work, then you have to go, ‘Well, we tried. What did we learn?’ and move on.”
After work as an entrepreneur, Peterson found himself at DPA Auctions in 2017, revamping the marketing and sales teams. The Fremont auction company is currently located at 419 W. Judy Drive.
Today, Peterson is COO of the company and lives in Bennington with his wife, Karlee, and 14-month-old son, Pax.
LIFE GROWING UP
Peterson was born in Omaha and attended school at Oakland-Craig Public Schools. While in high school, he said he tried to get involved in as many activities as he could, including speech.
“I did have some health issues,” Peterson said. “I had a C1-C3 spinal fusion, so I was limited on the different sports I could do, so I ended up doing cross country and track and golf and basketball.”
Peterson said he learned lessons from each of his extracurricular activities, including pushing to the end with cross country.
“And speech, it taught me how to get over your fear of public speaking and to practice and to understand what you’re saying so that you can captivate your audience,” he said. “And then of course, golf and track and those types of things, and all of them really, is that team effort of working together.”
Peterson also took academics seriously at Oakland-Craig, graduated as one of the school’s four valedictorians in 2010. During his time in high school, he shadowed dentists, helping take his brother’s wisdom teeth out at the age of 17.
With scholarships to both Creighton University in Omaha and Nebraska Wesleyan University in Lincoln, Peterson started school at Wesleyan in the fall, choosing to go into pre-dental to become an oral maxillofacial surgeon.
After attending his first zoology class, Peterson said he felt confident with his choice. But during his chemistry class, he said his professor started talking about all of the requirements and gave the students an important piece of advice: “You’ve got to love this.”
“And I sat there, and it just hit me, and I go, ‘I don’t love this. I don’t love this at all,’” Peterson said. “And I got up right in the middle of her talking and I walked out and went straight to the register’s office, and I switched my major.”
Although he had his heart set on dentistry and based his school around the decision, Peterson said he was following his gut and heart toward what would make him happy in life.
“That was one of my really big moments where I felt that feeling and I listened to that,” he said. “And that was the best decision I’ve ever made in my entire life.”
A NEW DIRECTION IN LIFE
With his love of math and love of people, Peterson decided to go into business administration and psychology. While at Wesleyan, he continued his passion to become involved as a leader to give back.
“In high school, I was always involved in extracurricular activities that could reach out and help people, if that was in the church or if that was through the school or outside of school,” Peterson said. “And then into college, it was kind of the same deal.”
Peterson was one of the founders of the university’s Phi Kappa Tau chapter, where he also worked on its early stages, recruitment and main focus: “Work as hard as you can, be an exemplary person and always give back.”
“I was never going to be a fraternity guy, I had no desire because of the stereotypes,” he said. “But when I was able to start it and have that create the foundation, then it was a little bit different. I could take something, and I could create a new perception on it.”
In 2012, Peterson was recognized nationally with the fraternity’s 2012 John Cosgrove Spirit and Leadership Award.
At the beginning of his college career, Peterson met Dallas Polivka, who later became his roommate and now works at DPA Auctions as a financial and operations analyst.
Polivka, a business administration and political science major, said he was drawn to Peterson by his positive energy, saying he always saw the bright side and shot for the top.
“We kind of had similar family makeups; he was the oldest, I was the oldest,” he said. “We were able to connect on that, and we both wanted to do something kind of entrepreneurial, so we would always sit and talk about what we wanted to do in the future, come up with fun ideas and then work on trying to implement them.”
For the fall semester of his senior year, Peterson decided to take his studies abroad to New Zealand.
“I just wanted to see different cultures,” he said. “I always like to put myself in other people’s shoes and see how they live their life, how they do different things, and what better way to do it than to go into another country and see.”
Peterson said he not only enjoyed the country’s beautiful landscape by visiting filming locations for the “Lord of the Rings” film series, but also appreciated the people there, whom he compared to Nebraskans.
“Nebraskans are kind, they’ll take you in if you’re hungry, if you need help, if you need someplace to stay, you’ve got that neighborly type of people,” he said. “That’s exactly how the Kiwis are, and so that was really fun.”
HITTING THE GYM
At the same time, Peterson said he was becoming interested in helping his mother with her Anytime Fitness locations. After the death of Peterson’s uncle, his mother honored his memory and the family’s entrepreneurial spirit by starting a location in Oakland and purchasing three in Lincoln.
“And I knew that when I got back from New Zealand, I wanted to work in those gyms, as fitness was always a big part of my life. I loved working out. I got to help people get happier and healthier,” Peterson said. “That was just something I was very much attracted to.”
Peterson got an internship at an Anytime Fitness location in New Zealand to prepare and get a feel for the business. Upon his return home that November, he interviewed with his mother and started work at one of the Lincoln locations.
During his last semester, Peterson balanced 16 credit hours of school and managing the gym. He said his day would consist of waking up early to go to the gym to clean, answer emails and perform other managerial duties.
“I’d leave to go to class, come back, work, leave again to go to class, come back and work and stay there until about typically 10 or 11 at night,” Peterson said. “And then I’d go home, I’d sleep, I’d wake up early and start the day again.”
Peterson would end up increasing profits for the location by 20% in five months, which he attributed to the hours he spent putting in work.
“It’s discipline and working hard and understanding that long-term goals are a thing you’ve got to work for,” he said. “Don’t complain, just do, and that’s the mentality you’ve got to have.”
In May 2014, Peterson graduated from Wesleyan and became a regional director for Anytime Fitness, where he looked over its multiple locations and ran sales and retention training.
Peterson also became closer to his future wife, Karlee, as the two started dating in February 2016. The two had originally met during middle school track, as she attended Pender High School.
Although the two had gone their separate ways, they still kept in touch through Snapchat and decided to go on a taco date in the winter of 2015.
“We ended up doing that, and there was just kind of this spark that we knew was kind of there, but didn’t quite know it was there,” Peterson said.
BUSINESSES OF HIS OWN
Working at Anytime Fitness, the entrepreneur bug soon bit Peterson, and he was itching to start something of his own. He eventually found that outlet after being texted by Ashley Hauser, a friend from Wesleyan, about a business idea she had.
“At the time, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve never started a business before,’” Peterson said. “’I manage businesses, but I’ve never started one.’”
During their meeting, Hauser told Peterson said she had an eating disorder in college and wanted to provide support for young women struggling with the same issues.
In 2016, the two created SELFiD, which stands for “Self Image Defined.” The nonprofit has events for young girls to help with their mental, physical and emotional health and help them find happiness in their lives.
The nonprofit was also created by Kayla Ott, another friend of Peterson’s from Wesleyan. Prior to having an event in Lincoln, the two ran into each other, and Ott offered her marketing skills to the project.
“From that moment, we created SELFiD at my kitchen table, and in my basement, we just brainstormed,” Peterson said. “And from there, we have a board of directors, we have people that have come across the state and across the United States that have come to support the event, we’ve had donations. It’s been phenomenal.”
SELFiD has featured a variety of keynote speakers, including authors, psychologists and American Ninja Warriors. It is currently in the process of shifting resources online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“That was my first experience ever starting a business,” Peterson said. “And I’m so glad it was a nonprofit, I’m so glad that people supported it and it was just so many learning experiences that came from that.”
Since then, Peterson has created five more companies, selling one of them. Polivka also became involved in the ventures and said he took much from the experience.
“I learned that it’s usually harder than you expected it to be,” he said. “The payoff doesn’t come when you think it’s going to come. It’s usually farther out and it usually costs more.”
Especially with technology companies, Peterson said he learned the importance of being first-to-market.
“I don’t care what kind of (intellectual property) you’ve got, you’ve got to be first-to-market,” he said. “Because if somebody else has done it first and before you, you’re pretty much out of the running unless you have this crazy quality that’s going to be different.”
Peterson said another important lesson he took from his grandfather was the importance of hard work, including long nights of creative sessions.
“You have to take a lot of people saying, ‘That’s a dumb idea,’ or ‘That won’t work’ or what have you,” he said. “And you have to take those words with a grain of salt, say, ‘OK, some of that stuff’s valid. I’m going to dig into that a little bit,’ and not take it emotionally like they’re targeting your personality or who you are as a person.”
While business owners in the past could take many roles, Peterson said he’s learned that isn’t as viable of an option anymore.
“If you don’t have a team helping you and getting it off the ground fast, fast, fast, you’re basically putting the nail in the coffin,” he said. “Because you have to move quick, and you’ve got to have a team that you trust, and you’ve got to work together for the common goal.”
WORK AT DPA AUCTIONS
Wanting new challenges working at Anytime fitness and realizing that his startups weren’t going to pay the bills, Peterson joined DPA in early 2017.
The auction company was founded in 1972 by Del Peterson, who named it Del Peterson and Associates and made a name for the business through the Midwest.
After Del Peterson’s retirement, his son, Steve, took over the company and brought it to the digital era, building its customer service as well.
“I came in and I said, ‘You offer a great service, you became a national company by not quite all of the innovative marketing techniques. Let me come in and just be more of a kind of a consultant-style employee to help revamp this side of things,’” Brandon Peterson said. “He said, ‘OK, let’s give it a shot.’”
At DPA, Peterson brought in new digital marketing and enhanced marketing efforts, growing the team from 20 employees to 35 in a few years.
From there, Peterson also revamped the sales team by increasing its staffing size, setting up departments and roles and teaching them techniques of good customer service, and ultimately, sales.
“And so that got up, and then I put a lead in front of them and taught them how to manage,” he said. “And now I’m in a chief of operations role where I’m running financials and kind of overseeing everything from an operational standpoint.”
On Feb. 6, 2017, Peterson proposed to Karlee, a year from when they first started dating, and a year before their wedding. Their son, Pax, was born in June 2019.
GROWING INTO THE FUTURE
DPA has continued to expand, with the company launching marketing agency DPA Impact last year. The company also plans to expand to 100 employees with a new building at 900 Bud Blvd., which is set to finish construction in fall of 2021.
With so much expansion, Peterson said he’s also worked to have an open-door communication policy with the employees to share ideas that fit with DPA’s values of family and simplicity.
“I think that’s kind of been the secret formula for our growth, is that we stick to our core values, which is family, good communications and customer service, those types of things,” he said. “But we can change and adapt and grow and give more.”
Between the businesses DPA works with and its employees, Peterson said he’s always excited to hear new ideas in his role.
“Our employees are hardworking and passionate about what we’re doing, and passionate about helping families and other businesses succeed, and that’s attracting more people,” he said. “We’re growing so much, we’re building this brand-new office on the southeast side of Fremont because of it.”
Peterson said he’s learned the importance of understanding his team as he leads them forward. Many people have areas they can excel in, but he said they need that opportunity.
“If you compartmentalize people and put them in a box and you don’t let them succeed and give them the tools to be successful, what a disservice,” Peterson said. “And so that’s where we kind of think outside the box and do different things to make sure our people feel valued, that they have freedoms, that they can really shine.”
Despite high expectations of its employees, Peterson said he’s worked to make DPA an enjoyable place to work.
“The culture is, we are disciplined, hardworking people, but we are also super family-oriented, we have fun, we support each other, and it just makes everything full circle,” he said. “It’s an environment that people are really attracted to.”
Polivka, who has been with the company full time for a couple of months and part time for about a year-and-a-half, said he joined the team as Peterson enjoyed his insight on financial and operating during their time together.
“We’d be working on stuff together, just helping each other set budgets,” he said. “And then once I was ready to leave my last position, I put together a proposal and applied for a position here.”
Since taking the position, Polivka said he’s enjoyed the sense of community and atmosphere at DPA.
“It’s very supportive, and it just encourages your own personal growth as well,” he said.
With Peterson, Polivka said he admires his hard work and dedication toward everything he works on.
“He wears a lot of hats, and he’s got about every hat I think a person could imagine,” he said. “And he always does it with positivity.”
A PART OF FREMONT
In being a part of the Fremont community, Peterson said he just enjoys the support that is given between people.
“They want to see each other thrive, and they’ll go out of their way to make sure that happens,” he said. “And I’ve seen that time and time again from so many different people, and it’s really just a neat thing to see that.”
With the decision on where the new DPA building would go, Peterson said he knew he wanted to be a part of Fremont’s continued growth, which has allowed multiple businesses to start and thrive.
“That doesn’t happen on its own. It has to happen with the support of a community,” he said. “And so there’s a lot of different things that go into it, but the underlying factor was, we just really appreciate the people here in Fremont.”
In his role as COO and everything else in his life, Peterson said he just wants to inspire others to strive to be the best versions of themselves. He said he’s often approached by others who are fearful of an idea they have.
His answer? “Screw it. Just do it.”
“If you shoot for something better than what you’re doing right now, you’re going to hit something,” Peterson said. “Something good is going to come out of it, so why not go for it?”