Jonathan Davis of American Workforce Talks about the Entrepreneur Organization’s Accelerator Program.
Where are you from originally?
I was born and raised in the northernmost reaches of rural Upstate New York.
What university did you go to?
I attended the University at Albany where I had the opportunity to study Economics.
What brought you to Austin?
I was fortunate enough to get to know a number of the people at Trilogy while I was going through the recruiting process in the late 90's. While I chose not to move to Austin right after college this same group of friends convinced me to move less than 18 months later to join a start-up called Mall.com.
What is the idea behind EO Accelerator?
Accelerator's a truly amazing program. The Entrepreneurs' Organization (formerly YEO) created it about 3 years ago with the goal of providing content-based learning opportunities to first-stage companies. Austin's chapter has been around just over a year and we now have nearly 20 cities in 3 countries with 350+ members.
The original goal was to have quarterly learning events with professional facilitators that focused on Sales, Finance, People and Strategy. What we've discovered after a couple of years is that while the content is great, our Participants are really enjoying the introduction to Peer to Peer learning that this provides. The twice-quarterly meetings that we have are based on teaching through real world experiences and driving real take-home value for the Entrepreneurs that are spending this time away from their businesses.
What need does it fulfill?
We found a number of resources for people who were thinking about starting a company (Fortune Small Business, Bootstrap Austin's Ideation Group) and even resources for companies who were pre-revenue and looking for ways to position themselves for funding.
The Accelerator Program is for Entrepreneurs who are actively engaged in and growing their businesses and they're faced with added complexity, scalability challenges and the complications of employees.
What exactly does the group do?
Accelerator provides peer to peer learning opportunities as well as the chance to learn from seasoned Entrepreneurs who are actively running their own businesses through what is called "Gestalt Protocol". Gestalt, which is also the basis of the Entrepreneurs' Organization, is the idea that we weren't born with opinions but we all have them. Instead of giving opinions or advice, members within EO and the Accelerator Program are responsible for listening to the experiences that Mentors and Speakers are sharing and decide what applies to them and how it can impact their companies. We don't offer advice and we don't hide the ugly side of the mistakes that we, as fellow Entrepreneurs, have each made.
Who is it for?
The Accelerator Program is for Entrepreneurs whose companies have at least US $250,000 in revenue but who haven't yet reached $1m.
What was the most challenging aspect of starting up the group?
In order to launch any kind of volunteer-led group you must have passion and leadership at the top. In launching the Accelerator Program in Austin I believe that while recruiting was difficult, assembling a team of other Entrepreneurs to serve as mentors, leaders and supporters was the single most challenging aspect. Now that I have a de facto Board that includes Jeffrey Stukuls, Alan Blake and Member-Leader Dean Dzurilla I'm more comfortable with the program's perpetuation and its future looks bright. Obviously, it took the support of Chris Canada as our Past President and Derek Wright as our current President to maintain its status as a focal point of the local Entrepreneurs' Organization chapter.
What have you learned from running it this past year?
I'm a reluctant CEO and I've made a lot of missteps during my short tenure as an Executive. That being said, I've gotten a unique and special opportunity to learn how to Lead other Leaders over these past 14 months. From a selfish perspective, I've really enjoyed the insight I've gained about myself by launching and managing our local Accelerator Program.
What advice do you have for entrepreneurs?
Baz Lurhmann parodied it in a song in 1999 called "Everybody's Free (to wear sunscreen)" but the true credit goes to Mary Schmich who wrote in the Chicago Tribune in 1997:
"Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it's worth."