Could you provide a brief recap of your career since graduating?
My career started when I was at Owen. Between my first and second year of business school I started Confirmation.com. I had written business plans for the company in Germain Boer’s entrepreneurship class and he had suggested that I run with the business as my internship but I didn’t have the money to start the business. I was interviewing with other .com businesses. My intent was to work for a small startup to get that experience because I knew at some point I wanted to start my own business. I was looking at other businesses and then my father was killed in an accident toward the end of my first year in business school. My Mom, brother and I used his life insurance policy as the seed capital for the business and that allowed me to start Confirmation.com in June of 2000 right between my first and second year of business school. Then, I watched the .com crash happen, graduated in May of 2001 and shortly after that 9/11 happened so the financial markets took a double hit. I moved my business into one of my grandmother’s garages. There were 4 of us there. Everyone got paid in stock and ate their own expenses for the most part. I ran up my credit card debt to pay the expenses of the business and deferred my student loans from Owen. Fortunately, good things happened. The business continued to grow and we raised some funding along the way. In total, we raised just shy of $12 million in investment capital, did a recapitalization of the business about 3 years ago where we brought in $60 million and a year ago we sold the business for about $430 million.
What is your company and where did the idea come from? What served as the the biggest motivator or influence in starting your company?
As a staff auditor at Ernst & Young I had seen the profession move from paperwork to electronic work files. I went over to Pricewaterhouse Cooper, got pulled onto some audits there and also saw that firm transitioning from paperwork to electronic files. I had seen two of the largest firms in the world that both had a problem that was very inefficient. It was a 4 to 8 week process at best with about a 43% error rate. Really what I saw that was most disappointing was that I could easily circumvent their processes to commit financial fraud. I thought, “here are two of the largest firms in the world and I as a 23 year old audit could conduct financial fraud on these firms and they’d never know it”. When I went back to business school and thought of a business that really needed this, I thought we could use this new thing that was 3 years old, called the internet, to make the process a near real time process, make it a lot more efficient and eliminate the opportunity for fraudulent activity. That was really the “aha” moment. We’ve caught millions of dollars of fraud since then with the service.
What is the most challenging thing about being an entrepreneur and how have you worked to overcome this challenge?
It really is the overall stress, especially when you take other people’s money. I always tell people that if the original capital for the business had been my own money, I would’ve quit and left. Certainly we knew the internet bubble was going to burst. We didn’t know the full impact of it, but nobody really could’ve predicted that. At that point when people were saying “go back and get a real job” I was saying I either have to stay here until this business 100% fails or 100% succeeds. There was no quit. It was really difficult. We had to be creative and figure out how to make it happen.
What qualities are most important to possess as an entrepreneur?
Determination is one. Not quitting. I think that’s a trait that every entrepreneur has to have – the inability to quit. Burn the bridges, whatever it takes, because you have to be all in. There can’t be a plan B, there’s really only a plan A and you have to give yourself 100% to it. The other thing I would say is leading from the front. Especially in big business, managers manage from the back but a real leader takes the first shot — they’re out front going first.
Then I really think you have to have a mission and a purpose that people can rally behind and you’ve got to drive it. You have to have high risk tolerance and the ability to make decisions in the absence of complete information. That’s really difficult for a lot of people to do because they just want to analyze. In an entrepreneurial business where cash is king and you’ve got to figure out how to get cash coming in, you don’t have time to analyze and look at all the reports. Most decisions you’ll be making with imperfect data and input. You have to be comfortable living in that world – in a lot of chaos and a lot of risk if you’re going to be an entrepreneur.
What are you most proud of about your business?
I really just am passionate about the ability to help the good guys catch the bad guys. Given the new technology that existed I thought we could really leverage that in our profession. It was a problem that I saw at both firms I worked at and knew if those firms had that problem then every firm globally would have it. I had seen different crashes and different fraudsters get away with theft. I thought here’s a way we can really have a positive impact and mission on people. I thought I could really help protect whoever was trusting those numbers.
My Mom was in the first class of female police cadets and my younger brother also ended up becoming a metro police officer. I always said this was my way of helping the good guys catch the bad guys. For me, it was really mission driven. The fact that I felt we were helping our profession by catching billions of dollars of fraud was a significant mission and purpose that we had and could rally behind. Trying to think what fraudsters were going to do next kept me motivated.
What advice do you have for students as they launch their business? Are there any tools you consistently use as an entrepreneur?
Number 1, I would say find a good mentor. That’s the best tool and advice I could give. When I started this business I had about 3 years worth of total work experience. While I had a good idea and was passionate, I did not have the day-to-day operational experience that was required to make this business a success. Any entrepreneur, regardless of your age, needs a mentor who is going to sit there and help you point out differences in your thinking. It’s easy to get tunnel vision. You need people who challenge you and have been there and done that before. For me, I found those successful business leaders who had a point of view that was longer term than mine. I was in the middle of battle and needed their experience.
Other entrepreneurs are a great resource. Get to know them. Even though they may not be in your industry — starting a business is sales, marketing, customer support and finance technology — those are all the same. You’re going to want to ask who are the good accounts and who are good the good attorney’s to use. I surrounded myself with a group of folks who all started businesses, who I could call, trust and count on to give me honest feedback.
What do you do to live a balanced life? Do you have any interesting or fun hobbies?
There is no such thing as work life balance if you’re an entrepreneur. If you want work life balance, go get a real job. Go work 9-5 or 8-6 whatever you want to do. If you’re an entrepreneur, it’s 365 days a year, 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. I always tell other entrepreneurs or entrepreneurship classes that I talk to that vacation is another place to work with a prettier view. Some want that work life balance earlier as you go. I tended to say when I was in my 20’s and 30’s, I could put in the work and would love to have the opportunity to have a lot of fun later. Others want that balance and to have that fun right after college. That works but you’re going to give up that opportunity to have a really successful business if you’re an entrepreneur. They just don’t work together.
But in terms of hobbies and how I stay energized I would say stay in a routine and find one that works for you. For me, I wake up early in the morning. I’ve found that I’m most productive in the morning so I wake up, read a chapter of the bible, workout and then answer some emails. I do all that before the kids wake up so I can hangout with them before they go to school. That routine for me works well because in the afternoons I want to have dinner with them or get them to their sporting events. That is a routine that I still live by today.
As far as hobbies, I always had to get some sort of adrenaline rush so I got into adventure sports – really anything crazy whether it was mountain climbing, skydiving or repelling. I went to professional bull riding school, scuba dived with sharks, wrestled alligators and did all sorts of fun things. I’ve done tough mudders, warrior dashes, half iron mans and some triathlons. Those are all events I train for because for me I’ve found that if I don’t have something I’m training for it’s a lot easier not to put in the time and effort.