Tom Davidson & the CEO Mindset

EverFi is a digital learning platform that educates communities on critical life skills. What are critical life skills? Critical life skills are topics like Financial Capability, which get sidelined in a typical academic curriculum (see: student loan debt crisis).

I had the opportunity to hear EverFi founder, Tom Davidson, speak about his view on starting a company.


Photo Source: Modern DC Business

To give you some background, EverFi was founded in 2008 and its journey has all the peaks and valleys of a great startup epic. Tom had some great stories about the highs and lows of being a founder and CEO, like sleeping on a couch in a hotel lobby because your credit cards are maxed. A few days later, EverFi received Series A funding of $11 million, with an additional round of $10 million in 2012. This reminded me of Mark Cuban’s story about living in an apartment with so many people, he kept his stuff in a pile. However, Tom’s insight into how to look at different industries and jump off the ledge into entrepreneurship was just as exciting.

Step One: Identify Opportunity In founding EverFi, Tom sought a sector where private the private section wasn’t: education. Thinking about where to find the blue ocean is critical for success. These are the areas of business with low levels of competition, leaving an opportunity for your company to thrive. Identification is step one.

Step Two: Confidence
In my view, confidence is something that can’t be faked. Tom would explain to us that when pitching your idea, whether to a potential investor or client, “So much is a confidence game.” This strongly resonated with me. I can’t think of an instance where I was pitched something from someone without confidence and actually decided to buy in. If you aren’t completely committed to your idea and believe in its impact, why should someone else commit and believe?

Tom explained to us that even after seven years, you still have to be learning and adapting as a CEO. Here are some key points for developing as a CEO:

  • You must be doing. (My Takeaway: Don’t talk about it all day.)
  • Any meeting should be 10 to 15 minutes. (My Takeaway: Don’t talk about it all day.)
  • “No game is won in the locker room.” (My Takeaway: Don’t talk about it all day.)
  • You don’t learn much from having meetings every single day.(My Takeaway: Don’t talk about it all day.)
  • Start delegating. (My Takeaway: It is very difficult to do everything yourself.)

I may have over-emphasized one of Tom’s points, but this piece is critical. Although his context was mainly while running a business, I believe this is a key factor in founding a business, too.

This is something I’ve seen as a former musician. There are two types of people and only one of those types gets into the band, plays live shows, and has the opportunity to succeed as a musician. Let me explain:

Person A: Talks about how awesome the band will be, talks about what they are going to wear to the show, talks about the venue and how cool it will be to play different cities.
Person B (in this order):

  1. Picks up their guitar, practices every day.
  2. Gets together with fellow musicians to put the music together.
  3. Relentlessly calls any promoter they know to get a show.
  4. Promotes each show relentlessly (while continuing steps 1, 2, and 3.

Who do you want in your band?

If you picked Person B, congratulations. You may very well play a few shows AND who knows where that will lead (future rock-stardom?). If you picked Person A, enjoy talking to your friends (or anyone who will listen) about something that will never materialize.

Lastly, you need other musicians. You need the bassist, the drummer, and (if you are me) the singer. You need reliable musicians that will do their part to contribute to the band. Team-building for your startup is the same. You need other people, and it is critical to pick the right ones.

Written by Richard Power, student of Starting A Startup That Matters, Fall 2015. Posted with permission. Original Source.