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Last Update: Wednesday June 23, 2021

Key Idea: Innovate

Signing Naturally is the breakthrough product Joe Dannis developed.

Key Question:


In Silicon Valley web developers say that if they can't improve something that already exists by ten-fold the effort won't pay off. Did Joe think he could improve communication for deaf people by ten-fold? Yes, but, it took longer than he ever dreamed it would take.

Q: Why is competing with "the establishment" so difficult for small business owners?

A: First, it is difficult because you can't just sell into the marketplace. You have to reeducate the marketplace. This takes time and time is money. Small businesses often don't have the staying power to keep the business running long enough to win enough customers and turn the tide to generate a market demand for the new idea. Second, you don't have a big brand name to give you instant credibility with customers. If IBM comes out with a new type of computer, it is recognized as coming from the biggest computer company in the world and it is trusted. It would be very difficult for a small company to say, "Let's change the way computers work from the inside out and convince everyone to throw away their current personal computer." Getting people to change is very difficult especially if they have never heard of your company. Joe has it even tougher because his marketplace is academia and it can be very conservative. To adopt Joe's method for teaching the deaf would require a teacher to admit that what they have done in the past is not very good. There is a strong psychological barrier to change. As humans, we gravitate to the familiar. Out of habit, it is easier to do what we've done in the past. Until we are in pain with our old way or until we are completely convinced that changing would give us a significant benefit, we don't change.

Q: How hard is it to change an industry?

A: Almost impossible and Joe did it!

Think about it

What needs to change in your industry? Where are the opportunities for the renegades? Are you the right one to go after the opportunity? Are you the mentor and funding source for someone else to take on a newproblem?

Clip from: Dawn Sign Press: The Pain of Starting

Joe Dannis, California's Small Business Person of the Year

San Diego: What are the most commonly used languages in the USA? Answer: English, Spanish, Chinese, Arabic, Hindi, French, German, then ASL. Yes, ASL. American Sign Language.

No less than 500,000 and as many as 2.5 million people use ASL every day. In this episode of the show language is subtlety transformed into hand, finger, body and facial combinations.

Take away any one of the basic senses and deep-seated creative power within the human mind is enlivened and focused interiority awakens. With today's micro-technologies, the deaf and blind are teaching us all about subtleties within language and our skills to communicate it. Here we meet extraordinary people in the midst of a revolution.

Joe Dannis is an advocate for American Sign Language. The Small Business Person of the Year from the State of California, Joe Dannis started DawnSignPress in 1979. He has always been out on the edge... being the first to advocate something new. Joe and his team publish materials to teach sign language for the deaf. Although he publishes videos and books for both children and adults, his biggest customers are schools and universities that offer courses in American Sign Language (ASL).

Today you'll meet Joe Dannis. He is one tough businessman, but he remembers nine very lonely years in the beginning. If he had to do it all over again, he probably would not. Learn from someone who has been over the hot coals and whose wisdom runs deep.

Go to all the key ideas and videos...

Dawn Sign Press

Joe Dannis, Founder

6130 Nancy Ridge Drive
San Diego, CA 92121

Visit our web site:

Office: 8586250600

Business Classification:

Year Founded: 1979


JOE: 1988, I started to produce a video because I thought that video really is the medium for sign language, and a book is too two-dimensional, but in video, it's 3-D. So in 1988, we published a sign language book, and that was set up in all universities and colleges in the US.

HATTIE: That was the big breakthrough.

JOE: That was my big breakthrough.

HATTIE: All right. So you've built a relationship with school systems, universities and colleges out of that success.

JOE:Yes. So now when we add a new product, they'll look over it, and if they like it, they'll adopt it for their classroom.

HATTIE: OK. So you're on the top of the mountain. You're totally successful.

JOE: Well, I had the small-business syndrome because I saw my competitors fall, closing. It was back in the `60s. They were all failing. I saw how they fell, because they did not watch for the next wave. We have to always be on the lookout for the next wave, the next wave of authors, of products. We can't wait for people to come to us. Ninety percent of people with ideas who come to me, it's just talk, there's no writing. So what I find is that I go after the people, and then I'll get really good results. I persuade them, `You're an expert in this field, write this.' So I really do work with the authors. I don't just tell them I'll look over their manuscript. Most of the time, what they give us, we're involved with the changes, and we get a better product. So it's more of a team. It is a team.

HATTIE: (Voiceover) With catalogs circulating constantly in thousands of places, the DawnSign order desk is busy.

Unidentified Employee: Good afternoon. Thank you for calling DawnSignPress.

SANDY (Employee): (On phone) And how old is your child? OK. Are you currently enrolled in the sign class yourself? OK. We encourage you to learn American Sign Language because that is the language of the deaf world...

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