A serial entrepreneur, David was born in New York City and was fortunate to have spent his formative years living and attending school in Manhattan. Staring his education at a progressive school in Greenwich Village, where he learned to think differently, and evaluate problems not only to find a solution, but to understand the process behind finding a solution.
It was at this school that I discovered I had a learning "disAbility," an obstacle many other entrepreneurs face. Trying to figure out the best way for me to learn was a tall order, but I credit my amazing teachers at the time with helping me to make sense of my situation.
The discipline and determination with which I had to face my learning disAbility has helped me get where I am today. In order for me to be successful at learning and in school in general, I had to be optimistic while still facing reality. This meant putting in a lot of hard work and a lot of extra hours to get the results I wanted in school. While I was teaching myself to overcome this challenge, I was also developing a strong work ethic, and a commitment to getting any task completed. Most importantly, however, I emerged from the experience with a deep understanding of how my brain learns best.
As far back as I can remember I was involved in entrepreneurial endeavors and this passion continued through high school, when I founded WebAds 360 and ReturnPath and in college with Grasshopper.
David, it’s great you are able to share your time with us on YHP
Can you kindly give our readers some background information about you and what you do?
I oversee the strategic direction and operations of Grasshopper and serve as the company’s technology visionary. I’m a passionate technologist. I’m a champion of the company’s Core Values and work culture, and strive to create an environment that is professionally and personally rewarding for all employees. I lead multiple departments across Grasshopper including Labs, Engineering, Network Operations, and overall company Operations. A technology start-up veteran, I was co-founder of Return Path, an e-mail performance management company, and founder of WebAds360, an ad-serving technology provider for small and mid-sized businesses. My entrepreneurial spirit has allowed me to serve as a consultant for various companies as well as a mentor to emerging entrepreneurs through my alma mater, Babson College. I’m an Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) Board Member, and a Member of the Global Advisory Board for Students for the Advancement of Global Entrepreneurship (SAGE). I also judge several young entrepreneur competitions each year. I was born and raised in New York City and I graduated from Babson College with a Bachelor of Science in Business.
Your video on "entrepreneurs can change the world", I mean it’s an amazing video, how did that come about?
Our core purpose is to empower entrepreneurs to succeed and we wanted to communicate that with our rebranding from GotVMail to Grasshopper. The video came from the desire to say to all of the entrepreneurs out there, “We get you, and we’re here to help make your dream a reality.” Let’s face it, the economy isn’t good right now. Small businesses and entrepreneurs are among the hardest hit, even though they’re the first to innovate and advance the economic climate. Because of what entrepreneurs are facing, we really wanted to inspire entrepreneurs and let them know that turbulence creates opportunities for success, as the video stated. In terms of the video production itself, we believe in small businesses, so we hired a small company to produce it. We wanted to keep it as organic as possible. We also really liked the kinetic type animation and felt this was a perfect fit for a powerful message.
I know you guys changed your name from gotvmail to grasshopper, how have your customers taken the news so far?
The response was very positive to the name change, due in part to the fact that the name change ushered in amazing enhancements to our platform and the provision of really great additional services like voice to text and much more in the very near future. Our customers are entrepreneurs so they understand the value of a real brand--not a product name--and the need to keep things simple, and that’s what the name change provided. Even people that were very loyal to the previous name and loved it have enjoyed the change and what it has brought. So, overall, the response has been pretty positive because with it we’ve brought real and meaningful improvements to our customers. That’s what counts.
What is your company’s and your personal focus?
Everything we do at Grasshopper is about empowering entrepreneurs to succeed and this answers all the difficult questions like, what new products and services we should offer. With Grasshopper Labs, we will release 3-4 new products a year for the entrepreneurial market. My personal focus is championing our core values and culture on a daily basis to ensure our team has the best work environment possible. This will change over time I am sure, and recently I have been spending a lot of time with our new division Grasshopper Labs.
How do you balance work with relaxation?Burnout is a process not an event. It can sneak up on you.
“Balance” is more about integration than creating total separation of your work and personal life, but it’s still a challenge. With so many commitments from work to organizations I support , the time for yourself and family is limited. One thing I’ve learned this year is that you need to spend time with your family, even if it means a decrease in productivity. It’s crucial. Then you need to find activities that serve as a mental and physical release for stress. I find that working out is a great way for me to release stress, and this year I’ve also gotten into road biking, so that has been fun.
Who is the competition and what are they doing?There is no such thing as NO competition .You guys are supposedly against Google voice? How is that going so far?
While there are companies that might offer services that seem similar, no one supports and targets entrepreneurs like we do. That’s just a reality. We are the brand for entrepreneurs and that will only continue to grow as we release products and services that have nothing to do with voice. Google Voice is very consumer-focused, does not support multiple employees, offers no customer support (as opposed to Grasshopper, whose core focus is support for entrepreneurs). Google Voice will have to face real challenges as an ad revenue supported service will not make for a professional experience for callers. I do have to thank Google for bringing attention to an area of the market we have been in for more than 6 years, and suddenly it is a cool industry. Unfortunately for Google, we knew this a long time ago.
In your opinion, what are the basic survival skills you need to run a business?
You have to have passion for what you do, since it’s not easy to be an entrepreneur. There are so many people I meet that tell me how great a market is, an idea is, the opportunity, etc but when I ask if they are passionate about that opportunity they say “no.” People like that will never last when they’re challenged—and those challenges will come. The other big skill is hiring. Sounds odd, but it’s the truth—because you won’t survive without the right people. Everyone always says, “hire people smarter than you” but that is only the first step. You need to hire people that really live your culture and will improve your culture, and yes, they must also be smarter than you.
How important is it for you to be in control of your time whilst running a business?
You need to be good at time management no matter what, but when you are responsible for so many things, figuring out what takes priority becomes really important. If this question is getting at: Can I start a business while I am doing something else, I think the answer is yes. That again is time management and dedication. If you start a business while working full-time, it means you’ll be sacrificing your free time, and maybe even extra time with friends and family. That takes a lot of dedication and passion to pull off. If you have the right relationship with your employer, be clear with them that you are doing this. They may even help you and then set aside structured time with clear goals that must be accomplished. Again, all depends on your employer’s attitude towards this sort of thing.
What has been the most rewarding moment in journey as an entrepreneur?
Creating an amazing company is only worthwile if you can share it with other people, and by that I mean your employees. It has been extremely rewarding for me to see Grasshopper culture grow and really take on a life of its own. Not only do I want to make Grasshopper successful, but I wanted to make it the type of place people would want to come to work to each day. It’s rewarding to see that dream slowly coming to fruition. We have the greatest people working at Grasshopper.
The other rewarding part about my journey is knowing that I’m empowering other entrepreneurs to succeed. I know we’re actually helping other small businesses because I speak with entrepreneurs—our customers—every week. What we do allows others to be more professional and as a consequence, successful--and nothing could be more rewarding. Sometimes when you’re growing your company, you’re so caught up in the day to day life of the organization that it’s only when you break that routine that you see what you’ve built. Most recently, we had our 4th annual bbq and I looked around and saw all of our employees and all of their children running around and having fun. Then it sort of hit me in a monumental way that we all built all of this, our team has made Grasshopper possible. That’s an awesome feeling and a tribute to everyone’s hard work.
What has been your most effective marketing tactic or technique?
Creating amazing experiences for our customers is what makes them talk about a product—and we want them talking about it. In that way, word of mouth is the most effective technique for sure so we do everything we can do to make our customers happy by living our core values and brand promise. Many people say that word of mouth is the cheapest channel, but I would say it can be cost effective, but cheap it is not. Good word of mouth only works if you invest as a company in amazing customer service, applications, and customer experience. So, I think it’d be better to say that word of mouth done properly isn’t cheap, but it certainly is effective.
What are the most crucial things you have done to grow your business?
Our recent brand change to Grasshopper will be critical in our continued growth. We are now the brand for entrepreneurs and we can focus on building that even more. Beyond that I would say focus is what allows us to grow, we are focused on entrepreneurs, not telecommunications or any specific product or service.
How many employees do you have? Full- or part-time?
We have just under 50 people , full-time, with offices in Boston and Austin, as well as remote employees all over the United States.
What advices would you give to young aspiring entrepreneurs?
First: Don’t be afraid to go out there and do something. Will it be easy? No. Can you do it? Yes. All it takes is absolutely unwavering commitment to your desired end result and a certain degree of tunnel vision. If necessary, find a committed co-founder with complementary skills and make it a team effort. Use the resources you have around you, and don’t be afraid to ask for what you want in a respectful way, whether it’s a meeting with a possible mentor or investment in your idea.
Second: Don’t wait for everything to be perfect. It will never be. You’re never going to have all of the components you need in just the right position for launch. The good news is that if you have a well-research idea, understand your competition, and put together a solid business plan to approach others with, you’ll have done most of the hard work. After that, work on the other things like branding, marketing, and so forth. That will fall into place once you’ve laid the groundwork.
Go out there and do something, if you have an idea get started, find a co-founder that complements your skills and get something out to the market. Now is the time to create something, the economy provides tons of opportunity and while everyone else is saying no you should be the one saying yes. Buying ads, hiring people, and creating the products and services that the market wants.
Thanks for your time David