How do you become an entrepreneur? What are the qualities which help a young person to be successful in this challenging, ever-changing environment?
People take many different paths. But sometimes inspiration comes from the person closest to you, like your mother.
“When I was a kid,” shared Tom Davidson, the founder of EverFi, at another super successful ConnectPreneur session, featuring top DC entrepreneurs and VC firms, “my mother used to take us places and when she’d see someone working hard, she’d pull the car over, and pointed to the person, whoever it was at the moment, someone cleaning the street really well, and explained to us that this is the real key to success – working really hard on whatever place you are in life.”
“It wasn’t about the empathy, but rather the ultimate respect and importance of hard work,” explained Tom. “That really was the foundation and inspiration for me. My mother instilled these qualities in me.”
Apart from respecting the work, you need to actually do it, and a lot of it.
Davidson trained his persistence when he was just a senior at Bowdoin College, when he ran for the Maine House of Representatives. There was a lot of resistance along the way, but he eventually got elected in 1994, and served three terms. Perseverance helped Tom knock on more than 30,000 doors!
After that, Davidson thrived as an investment banker and venture capitalist, investing in early-stage tech companies in education and social media areas.
Yet real entrepreneurs never stop after their achievements; they always have a strong vision for the next big thing. Starting EverFi company in a small Georgetown apartment along with his co-founders, Jon Chapman and Ray Martinez in 2008, he and his team created one of the most successful tech companies in the DC area! The company addressed critical challenges facing the millennial generation through innovative technology.
In 2013 EverFi reached an incredible result – its learning platform was used in over 5,000 K-12 schools and over 500 colleges and universities. Thanks to synergies with top corporate partners and foundations, EverFi was able to certify over 6 million students in various critical areas, like financial literacy, and safer decision-making.
Davidson believes that his success with EverFi comes in part from understanding how to hire the best people to support your start-up. “Ultimately, success comes when you surround yourself with brilliant people who are smarter than you!” says Davidson.
Another quality which stood out for me was Davidson’s unbeatable spirit, belief in his idea and ability to hustle.
Back in 2010, the company was at a crossroads and badly needed money for development. He had maxed out his credit cards, and hadn’t made payroll in two months, but he had the opportunity to pitch his company to new investors. Davidson had to sleep on a hotel couch the night before his pitch. And pitch he did – on that meeting he raised $11M!
When asked whether the investors knew about his dire circumstances, Davidson proudly answers – “Heck no, I was wearing my best suit, and best smile!”
How exactly do you persuade potential investors?
“You show your best performance — you have to come up with something spectacular for your pitch,” believes Davidson.
One final piece of advice was to always work on improving your company. This is the essential part that Davidson attributes to the success of EverFi.
“Success is measured on a weekly basis. Are we a better company today than we were a week ago?”
And what about you and your organization? Are you more capable than a week ago?
Andrey Gidaspov is a published author, creative fundraiser, and a passionate “dot connector.” He is passionate about connecting people and ideas, creating new social ventures and helping non-profits find new funding streams.
Check out Andrey’s latest e-book, Reignite Your Thinking: Kickstart Your Career By Using Brains, Intuition and Creativity
Learn how you can raise money through LinkedIn for your start-up in my article – 7 Secrets of LinkedIn Fundraising for Your Startup