WashingtonExec had the chance to interview Tom Davidson, CEO and founder of EverFi. EverFi is a leading financial literacy technology company for high school and college students. Through this straight-talk interview, Davidson discussed the importance of every student understanding basic financial mechanisms and consequences, saying “you can underperform in Algebra or Biology and still bounce back…going bankrupt [is] basically unforgiving.”
Davidson told WashingtonExec that he views company success in terms of weeks, not quarters. When starting your own company, Davidson said, “You can’t fake it, your customers know it and your employees know it.” Davidson also gave his best piece of advice for those entering the world of entrepreneurship.
WashingtonExec: What inspired you to launch EverFi, a leading educational technology platform?
Tom Davidson: It was clear that public schools and universities were trying to figure out some very difficult problems — financial education, student loan defaults, obesity, alcohol abuse, sexual assault and other key areas that affect student performance. We thought that we could build some pretty innovative technology that allowed them to address these issues. Teachers are drawing really short straws across the country. They are being asked to do more with a lot, lot less. We wanted to build really sophisticated technology that helped them meet growing standards and mandates. Also, I think we are spending a lot of time on the “empty calories” of education — topics that are rarely going to make a difference in student success down the road.
WashingtonExec: What do you think is the biggest challenge regarding financial literacy for students who are entering the “real world”?
Tom Davidson: The bottom line is, you can underperform in Algebra or Biology and still bounce back. Messing up your credit, repayment of student loans, or going bankrupt are basically unforgiving. They stick with you forever. Period. Things like that limit your opportunities to get a job, to create wealth, to save for education. We have built our data under-layers to try to connect financial pressure to student success. We’ll follow that over time.
WashingtonExec: What is the reason behind EverFi’s success? How about your personal success?
Tom Davidson: I think we really try to define “success” on a weekly basis. Are we a better, stronger company than we were a week ago vs. months or quarters? Did we move the ball down the field this week? Snapshots in time have no relation to success as you see tons of companies that are hot and go out of business a year later. We’ve all seen that happen. We’re considered hot today, but who knows six months from now? As for my personal success, I think startups are just fascinating in how they expose weaknesses in leaders, along with strengths. This transparency is how you get strong. You can’t fake it, your customers know it, and your employees know it. I considered myself the most successful the day I founded the company and have realized that I suck at about 40% of what I do on a daily basis every day since. I spend most of my time finding better and smarter people to surround myself with. Ultimately, they will make me better and more successful and little of it will have had to do with me.
WashingtonExec: What is the biggest benefit students get from successfully completing EverFi’s courses?
Tom Davidson: There are a number of things. First, there is a sense of being the first in your family or social circle to really understand these things. We see the trickle up effect of what we do every day, where students are going home and teaching their parents about finance, savings, about technology, healthy living, and other areas. Also, in a really tough job market I think our certifications give our students a big leg up. We’re building some pretty exciting technology that is going to tie into more economic benefits for kids that finish our courses. Stand by on that.
WashingtonExec: What is the single most important piece of advice you could give to those entering the world of entrepreneurship?
Tom Davidson: You have to make decisions and move. Fast. Don’t let perfection be the enemy of the good. Get enough information around you and decide. I think the best thing you can say about a CEO is that they can make decisions and rally people behind them. I find your partners and employees will always forgive you for being wrong. They’ll rarely forgive you for being slow.