In this episode, we talk to Chris Elmore of AvidXchange about the entrepreneurial journey, personal branding and more!
Andrew: What’s up entrepreneurs?
Andrew: This is Andrew Bowen, your host of CBR’s B2U Podcast presented by CBRbiz.com. There is one word entrepreneurs hear a lot, and that word is journey. Journey in italics. It’s all about the journey, the entrepreneurial journey that is. Our guest today is an eight-time published author, along with over 500 articles in magazines and online. Is that correct?
Chris: Well, that’s right. I apologize out of the gate for stepping on your lines.
Andrew: No, it’s okay.
Chris: I’m setting the tone for a good podcast.
Andrew: No. Absolutely that’s important. So he’s a public speaker, a motivator, a professor, and of course, he is an entrepreneur who, like you, is on a journey. A very unique journey by the looks of that beard.
Chris: That’s right.
Andrew: So here with us today to talk about his entrepreneurial journey, is Chris Elmore of AvidXchange. Chris, welcome to the podcast.
Chris: Thank you. Thank you. And for the record, because you’ve already noted this, strongest beard game in all of podcasting.
Andrew: Strongest beard game.
Chris: We have a third party to actually verify this fact.
Andrew: Yes. So, Hayley actually already took pictures of this beard game in action, so please check out @CBRbiz Twitter, and you will see the beard game happening.
Chris: Really excited about this.
Andrew: Yes. So, Chris, thanks again for being here. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Chris: A little bit about myself, well…
Andrew: It is not about me today.
Chris: Well, we can make it about you if you like but…So you heard from my bio, but I guess if I switched away from the bio and talked a little bit about passion. I’m really passionate about helping entrepreneurs either go to that next step or maybe fulfill their wildest dreams or, even probably one that I have niched myself with, is young entrepreneurs, helping them kind of go from idea to business to, you know, further. So telling you a little bit about myself…well, I have to kind of say that my passion is behind helping folks become a little bit better than they actually are. And then I have four kids and a wife.
Andrew: So you’re a busy man.
Chris: Yeah, if my wife ever leaves me, I’m going with her. I like to get the jokes in at the beginning of the podcast, so they’ll stay around for the rest of it.
Andrew: Yeah. Okay. Well, we’ll make sure to pepper them in throughout the rest, too.
Chris: That’s good. But I’m serious about that because it’s both a threat and a promise.
Andrew: I trust you.
Chris: Thank you.
Andrew: All right. So can you tell us really quickly kind of what you do over at AvidXchange? How did you fit into that new building that just got put up?
Chris: Well, funny. Funny thing as of right now, [July] the 12th…I’m not in the building; we have four phases. I’m part of the fourth phase, but we’ve got the first three, so the building is kind of filling up. But we’ll be there in next couple of weeks, and everyone will kind of be in. But anyway, what I do for Avid is pretty simple. Now when you’re a five person company…by the way, did you know that we started AvidXchange at Ninth and Brevard right down here? It’s a single red brick building, and we started…
Andrew: Yeah, that building?
Chris: Yup, that’s where we started. We started in the front room, and we had a table and we were standing around the table and we decided our first business decision was to buy chairs. And a good one and now I’d love to count how many chairs we own now, but we’re doing really well.
Andrew: So standing desks, is that still a thing?
Chris: That wasn’t a thing in 2000. Now, of course, now, of course, we have all of those fancy stuff. But anyway…
Andrew: So the company is 17 years old?
Chris: 17 years old, yeah. Started in 2009 on Brevard Street, a kind of a real grassroots Charlotte’s story because we were inspired to start. You know, we were influenced to start by Charlotteans to start right here. We’ll talk more about the business later, but where I fit in, when you’re a five-person company you do a bunch of stuff so I actually started doing all of our original consulting training, customer service, help desk all of that.
And I implemented our first 89 customers basically single-handedly. When you’re a small company, you just kind of make it up. And then as the company grew, my role became more and more specialized, and I started assisting in the selling process which is really where my heart is. I love, I know that sounds kind of goofy, but I love selling, I always have. I consider myself a salesperson.
Andrew: Is that what that book is for? Are you going to sell me that book?
Chris: No, I’m going to to give you a present and a gift. I’m glad you saw that. But I think all good podcasts should have something for the host as, you know, I’m not going to say bribes because I know this is associated with the City and that’s a bad word, but I think a gift would be a very nice thing.
Andrew: Well, I like the artwork on the front.
Chris: Yeah, we’ll get to it. And it’s great to have something physical that you can show people on a podcast. I think this is really intelligent. Most people on podcast land are laughing right now.
So as the company got bigger, my role became more and more specialized. I started kind of with the sales group and really helping them understand how the product works, what the benefit is. And now I am…we can talk about this now. Now I’m part of a group of three people I call the three-headed monster. That’s what I call it internally, but two other gentlemen and I are running the MasterCard relationship from an execution standpoint, and I also work at the bank channel. So Key Bank is a partner of ours, and I help them…yup, great company, and I help them resell our solution. That’s basically what I do with MasterCard in the back channel now, along with other things.
Andrew: All right. So you mentioned starting here in Charlotte. This is a Charlotte podcast. So can you explain how it started in Charlotte?
Chris: Yeah. Well, actually, so there were two individuals. There was Mike Prager and David Miller, and they had gotten together, and they were kind of influenced by another guy who we know as Daniel Levine and, you know, we know the Levine name. But as the story I understand it goes, because he was in commercial real estate, they’d all gotten together and said, ”We need to create an electronic marketplace.” So it was 2000, and electronic marketplace dot-coms were real popular.
And so we just wanted in on that bandwagon. I’ll tell you the funny thing about it was when we got the idea to come together…The name came from a graphic design student at Davidson, and she had put this together. And we had traded some stock for the name. And probably shouldn’t say, but I think alcohol was involved, too. I think she got more than stock. You might want to bleep that out if you want to. I don’t know. It’s true, it’s factual, she was over 21 also. So that all is important.
Andrew: It all adds up then.
Chris: The podcast has taken a weird turn right now. So back to the story. So Davidson, Charlotte and then this whole thing started when Mike and David agreed that we should start this electronic marketplace. We’re going to call it AvidXchange, and I had worked for Mike before because we had started another company called careershop.com. And that kind of went through its circles, and it didn’t end so well. But that’s part of an entrepreneur’s journey.
Andrew: Journey, there it goes. You know it’s been 10 minutes and…
Chris: We got there, we got there. I’m so excited to talk about journey, not the band.
Andrew: I was going to say, don’t stop believing, man.
Chris: I love the band, man. Just to kind of give you an idea of what the landscape was like in 2000 when we started our dot-com, the way that you did it was you got your portfolio together, a bunch of bios. You had these stick charts that kind of dip down a little bit, then they went straight up, you know, and that’s in three weeks will be a billion-dollar company. You just made the…That’s the way you did it. You made these outrageous claims and people would just give you money, a lot of money actually. And so we wanted in on that. Not to say that our claims weren’t invalidated in our minds at least, but we went to New York City, and we got a VC pitch.
And true story, the guy that we were pitching to saw our logo and said, ”What’s that?” We said, “It’s AvidXchange”, and here’s what he said. He said, “I guess all the good names have been taken.” That was it. That was it. So it basically was from that. That was kind of the attitude we were received with with our idea in 2000. And as you guys may know, tech stocks just tanked in 2000. We basically started the company the day that they tanked. People didn’t want to have anything to do with us. It’s probably the greatest thing that ever happened. We got no funding, no money at all.
Andrew: That changed your entire outlook then, yeah?
Chris: Completely. Completely because we had to shift to something that was completely outrageous and something that tech companies weren’t doing at the time. And that was, we were going to have to provide a product that people were willing to buy. And we had decided to buy at a premium because we felt like selling, you know, a million items at $5 each was probably better if we sold five at a million, you know, just kind of flipped it. Hopefully, that’ll make sense.
Andrew: It does.
Chris: But we felt like, you know, churning with smaller amounts wasn’t going to get us anywhere. And then we wanted to provide a product that people would stay with us. So we have from 2002 a 97.7% retention rate.
Andrew: And it’s because you’re the face of the business?
Chris: Yes, because the face has a beard, too. By the way that was somewhat controversial. When I grew it, our marketing group said, ”But you’re the face of the company.” And I said, ”Well, it’s gonna be pretty hairy.” And it worked out because I was at a conference. I was speaking at a conference, and this lady came up to me and she said, ”Oh my God, I’m so glad to see you because I was in the audience and you said something that I wanted to talk about, but I couldn’t remember your name and I couldn’t remember your company.” You know, she was very honest with me. ”But I just remembered you had a beard.” And when she said that, I was so excited and I went back to marketing and I said, ”You know what? It’s actually working out.”
Andrew: Awesome. Sorry, I sidetracked you a little bit.
Chris: Well, this is probably going to be the way the podcast is going to go.
Andrew: Yeah. Very true.
Chris: Yeah. Do you want to talk about Journey now or what do you want to talk about?
Andrew: No, not Journey. Well, you were talking about how the entrepreneurs, so obviously the market kind of tanked right when you guys kicked up and you had to pivot. Here, I’m going to use all of the entrepreneurial words I can think of.
Chris: Yeah, good. Wait, have we talked about pivot?
Andrew: Not yet.
Chris: Because we know each other, and I don’t like pivot.
Andrew: Maybe we did when we met.
Chris: I don’t like pivot at all.
Andrew: Well, then you’re welcome. Okay.
Chris: But I don’t mind it if entrepreneurs use the word pivot because I understand the principle behind it. But it has…to me, though I might be wrong. But to me, it has kind of a negative connotation. Well, we were doing something, and so we just pivoted, we just moved over this way and really the whole idea of the principle of pivot as I see it’s a very positive thing. It’s almost like real-time market feedback. And to maybe to anticipate where you’re going here, is that in 2000 we started, and we had three products that we basically started at our target market, which happened to be commercial real estate companies said not a good idea.
They just basically, the first two products that we rolled out and virtually no one purchased. And it was funny, what we did is we went back to the original product because we had created this electronic marketplace where they didn’t have to buy into it, and they could just buy things online and we were going to… So if you bought a lamp or a bulb for $1.50, we would take a nickel of that. So we were going to take transactions, and that’s what we did. And so anyone could buy, and it wouldn’t cost them anything. The seller would just basically get the money. We were in the middle of the transaction, which by the way is one of my core principles of being a successful entrepreneur.
Andrew: Do you have your hand in every transaction?
Chris: Get in the middle of the transaction, get in the middle of the transaction, get in the middle of the transaction because it’s only in the middle of the transaction that you can provide value.
Andrew: And then learn more about the buyer and the seller.
Chris: Oh my gosh. I mean, that’s…
Andrew: Am I speaking your language?
Chris: I couldn’t say it any better if I had a beard. I do. And so the thing is when you’re in the middle of the transaction, you’ve got to provide value in a big way or else they’ll kick you out of it. And so here’s what we did is our third product, we decided to go back to the original product, which we made in margin and we just started randomly charging $10,000, and we got six customers. So we had it for free and got zero, charge $10,000, and we got six. And that was a pretty big lesson for me. And a lesson that I’d like to pass on to all podcast listeners. Charge.
That’s it. Maybe you can post-edit some crickets into that.
Andrew: Just charge it.
Chris: Charge. No, and really charging a lot. And I know that sounds crazy. But charging for its real value is an important thing that people miss. And a lot of times they want charge based on competitors or…But that was a real eye opener to me is that free was really hard to sell, and that expensive was much easier to sell because people put that intrinsic value on it.
Andrew: Well, because free, too..but doesn’t it come back to if you’re not the consumer you’re the product?
Chris: That’s a good point. If you’re not the consumer, you’re the product.
Andrew: Right. So a lot of the free services online right now, you know, we are not paying any money for it, but our data are being monetized. Right?
Chris: Yeah, good point.
Andrew: So charge for it.
Chris: Yeah, charge for it. Charge a lot for it. Charge at least its value, maybe more. And I think that goes back to something that I do at UNCC. Oh, by the way, I’m starting at Queens University in the fall and teaching a class on entrepreneurship and innovation. I’m really excited about that.
Andrew: You jumped way ahead on that on my script.
Chris: Oh, I’m sorry about that.
Andrew: No, that’s okay.
Chris: Do you want to ask the question?
Andrew: No, I don’t want to ask any questions. I’m so over this. Can we finish? I’m just kidding. But we will get to education.
Chris: Good. Let’s talk about that, yeah later.
Andrew: Okay. So really quickly, we talked about what your experience was, you know, kicking up your company and realizing that doing it when you did it for whom you did it, you needed to adjust and then charge for it. What do you see the landscape in Charlotte like now and in the future for entrepreneurs who are coming up trying to do the same thing? Because it is not 15 years ago anymore.
Chris: Yeah, yeah. So…
Andrew: Well, now you’re at the top. You’re the entrepreneur, it’s one in a, I don’t know what the odds are, but…
Chris: Yes, so I was meeting with someone late last week, and they said lightning in a bottle. And we talked about, you know, can we capture lightning in a bottle again? Because for me, I know this is going to sound goofy. And I promised myself I wouldn’t sound goofy on this podcast.
Andrew: Go for it. We can allow goof.
Chris: This is the only way we can make sure people will listen.
Andrew: I think we lost them all.
Chris: No, yeah, that’s okay. My mom and dad are still hanging in there. They’ll listen to it all the way to the end. But to me, AvidXchange didn’t do anything spectacular. There was nothing that we did remarkably spectacular. We provided a service, we provided a service that people wanted at a great rate, and we provided excellent customer service for them, you know. We have a thing where if you contact us, we’ll contact you back within 15 minutes. And our average is seven. So, you know, the 15 minutes is something that’s like worst case scenario. But here’s the thing, and if you look back, do you come from an entrepreneurial background? Did we talk about this…?
Andrew: Sort of.
Chris: Sort of. I mean have you had relatives that had a business?
Andrew: Yes, indeed.
Chris: And then my great grandfather, he had a shop. And it was basically he sold and traded for goods, and he had to do the same thing. And so one of the things that, just to go back to your question about the landscape for entrepreneurs in Charlotte, one of the things that we are incredibly lucky about is that we actually have the ability to start a company here, not get funding and build it based on its own merits. Basically, they’ll…here, are you ready?
Andrew: All right. So we’ve got three: journey, pivot and bootstrap.
Chris: Right. We can get more. We can get more. But I think that Charlotte, North Carolina is really one of the only cities that you can successfully bootstrap a tech company.
Andrew: What makes it that way, do you think?
Chris: Well, I’d like to think that I have some hypothesis on it, but this is just fact because of Avid. And one of the facts about Avid that not very many people know, is that we had more customers between 2004 and 2006 in Southern California. So North Hollywood to San Diego was where all… at one point we had more customers in that area than we had anywhere across the country combined.
Andrew: Including Charlotte.
Chris: Including Charlotte, and that’s one of the craziest things about Avid to this day, is that we don’t really have any Charlotte customers. Now when we first started this business, we got the … of the world and then a couple of other local companies like Southern Real Estate, NAI, I think that’s what they now are today. But they just kind of dropped off when we changed products. And when we became an accounts payable automation company, Southern California was the place that really took to that. But going back to why bootstrap, I’m stammering, I was so excited. I hope I get emotional and start crying. Has anyone ever cried on the podcast?
Hayley: Not yet.
Chris: Not yet.
Andrew: No, we promised we wouldn’t tell.
Chris: Yes. It’s in disclosure. So do you think that we actually could have started this idea in Southern California and survived?
Andrew: Absolutely not.
Chris: No. No way, no way. Not even close. The cost of living here in Charlotte made it to where we could have three failed products in two years and still be a company. And the second thing that is really unique about Charlotte, and you should never underestimate the power of the direct flight. As a startup entrepreneur, you should never underestimate the power of the direct flight because we had the ability to get basically anywhere in the country and back in a timely manner. Now going out to California, we would have to stay a couple of days, but I used to fly out there on Monday. You know, take the first flight. I’d be there at like 10:00. I’d work all day and then all day the next day, and in the very wee hours of the morning I would come back here to Charlotte.
And we could hit New York and back, we could hit Chicago and back, we could hit Dallas and back, and we wouldn’t have to have a hotel room. And so all of those things, you know, have a couple of extra meals. And all of those things although for, you know, a large corporation kind of seem irrelevant, but to a bootstrapped entrepreneur was vitally important to our success. So cost of living, airport and then the third thing that is really remarkable, and this is a little…could be a little kind of fringy but…
Andrew: You say Southern hospitality volunteers.
Chris: We hadn’t talked about that, but I’m from Boone, North Carolina where we put our major appliances on our front porch because we’re proud of them. And if they knew that I was on doing this interview today on a podcast, it would make the paper.
Andrew: I was going to ask if you were actually from Watauga County or from Oxford.
Chris: No, I’m from Watauga County. And I want all the podcast listeners to know this that I’m going back on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday for my 30-year class reunion.
Chris: Why? Why would you congratulate me on something like that?
Andrew: For coming down to Charlotte.
Chris: Well, at our 10-year class reunion, about 80% of the class lives in Charlotte. But that’s typical of…that was going to be my third point on bootstrapping.
Andrew: See, I brought all the way back around.
Chris: See, there you go. That’s typical of cities that have kind of a rural population. When you think about Charlotte and the entrepreneurial ecosystem, we don’t think about Charlotte, we think about the 16 counties that surround it. And one of the things that I’m very proud of is that I’m a product of the North Carolina community college system. And we have one of the most remarkable community college systems in the world. I’ll say it. And you know, with CP and Gaston, I went to Gaston and even up into Hickory with CVCC and all of the other community colleges.
One of the things that our education system…this is my third point. One of the things that our education system in Charlotte, even UNCC, Queens, is that we produce people that want and need to work. So if you contrast that with something like an RTP, a Research Triangle Park, where they have produced people that want to research or think, you know, these are organizations that have huge research departments, and they go and recruit professors to go do these tremendous research projects and publish papers and publish books and, you know, get all the notoriety from that.
We’re fortunate because in Charlotte we produce people that need and want to work. So when we started a company here, we tapped into that in abundance. I mean, we have over 400 employees, and the average salary at AvidXchange is $52,000 a year. And when we first started this company, you can’t say…by the way, you can’t compete. Here’s what it sounds like as an entrepreneur. When you’re like an eight-person company, and you’re trying to recruit someone who has some very specific technical skills.
Okay, I’ll just recruit you. Okay, Andrew, that’s your name, right?
Chris: I know the bank has promised you $50,000 more than we can pay you, but look at all this opportunity, look at what you can do, look at what you can make, look at what you can develop and 8 times out of 10, the person would say, “No, thanks, I’ll take the 50 grand more.” And I have no problem with that. You know, if I was in their shoes, you know, four kids, expensive wife; it is pretty easy. But the 2 times out of 10, we got someone that was really interesting. And it created the culture we have today.
Andrew: So culture?
Andrew: Is that the fourth?
Chris: It can be.
Andrew: You want to make culture the fourth entrepreneurial bucket?
Andrew: So I understand you know quite a bit about company culture and personal brand.
Chris: Because you’re not just reading that from a piece of paper, you actually know this.
Andrew: Yes, I understand that you know quite a bit of that. Yes, so do you want to talk a little bit about how you feel about that?
Chris: I’d love to. Well, I work with accountants and finance people so my feelings are pushed deep down; it’s facts, it’s data, right. People always say, ”How do you feel about this product?” I say, ”I don’t know. We’re not going to feel anything about this. We’re going to make sure it works.” Culture, so culture, we’re fortunate to have a…by the way, I was talking with the interns. I do a class every Monday for an hour and a half with our interns. We have 33 interns.
Andrew: College interns?
Chris: Yes, college interns from the great state of North Carolina. We have one from Arizona and a couple from Virginia Tech, but mostly from North Carolina.
Andrew: We’ll welcome them with open arms.
Chris: I know that we’d love to have them…southern hospitality again. So this speaks to our culture, but we talked a lot about culture today. And one of the things that I like people to be aware of culture is every company has it. Every company has it, every department has it. Every company has it. And the challenge is, if you don’t lead your culture…by the way, there’s nothing worse than dictated culture. That’s not our culture, you know. Does your manager know what you’re doing?
Andrew: When you point at me furiously like that, I’m afraid.
Chris: It makes you nervous. But you can’t dictate culture. You have to live culture, you have to breathe culture, you have to lead the culture, is the word that I started with and is the word I’m going to stay with.
Andrew: I got another one for you. You don’t demand respect, you command respect.
Chris: There you go. There you go. And I think by and large we’ve done a lot of that because everyone that’s in leadership, you know, understands the culture and lives by the culture. What that does for our organization is it prohibits us from having to micromanage. If they know our culture and if they know certain things about our culture, then there’s things that they would do that we just don’t have to tell them to do. Well, I’ll give an example.
Andrew: They don’t have to check with you about what you would do.
Chris: Don’t check with me. I don’t want people checking with me. It does me crazy. Just checking because I don’t want to…I don’t want to blow anything up. Well, it’s like hell, blow it up. Come on, let’s see. Come on. I said hell. So hopefully you’ll bleep it out.
Andrew: I think that’s safe.
Chris: Hopefully, you can just randomly bleep certain words out and make it sound like I’m… Anyway, so we are an action first organization, that’s part of our culture. And so if someone, you know, has the thought that, “Well, I should just go ahead and do this,” and they do it and maybe it was wrong, we’re going to applaud them because we’re an action first…I mean, that’s just part of our culture.
And there’s a lot of other things about our culture that, you know, being passionate about our customers’ success and winning as a team, you know, these are all things that we talk about. So culture is big, but I go back to my original statement, and that is, if you don’t lead it, it’ll define itself, and it’s always negative. And so we talk about…so something that people don’t know about AvidXchange is that about five years ago, maybe five and a half years ago, we were a 50-person company, and we had half a floor at the Metropolitan downtown, right? You know, Trader Joe’s and Best Buy all right there. We had half of the sixth floor.
And before we moved into our new building, we had three floors at the Met. We had a place over at the airport and then we had over 300 people at Silver Hammer at the…and that was all within five years. And we had Salt Lake City, Houston, Texas and Somerset, New Jersey and 180 people working out of their house. So that was all in five years. And the question is can you keep a culture when you’re a 50-person company at a single location? And really the thing that we talked about that we’re so fortunate that seems to be working so far now that we’re 900 employees, is that it’s not keeping the culture, it’s figuring out what the culture should be, you know, kind of staying ahead of it. So that’s also part of my job. I’m the unofficial cultural cheerleader at the organization.
Andrew: So there’s…my hand and the cue cards here have something about your personal brand versus your company brand as an entrepreneur. That was a perfect segue to talk about how you’re…if you’re, you know, culture guy in chief, how does that fit with what you brought in originally and what you have to keep doing in the future?
Chris: You’ve obviously done some background work on me because not a lot of…
Andrew: Me? No. I’m just reading off the sheet, man.
Chris: Somebody gave you some inside information which is actually really good information. But I don’t know, I have a secret mentoring group that I run that no one really knows about it.
Andrew: It’s not so much of a secret anymore, man. The first rule.
Chris: Of a secret? But it is a secret because no one really knows about it. It has no structure, no definition, and one of the things we work on is personal brand. What are you known for? What do you want to be known for? Just like our company, what are you known for? That’s right. A glorious beard, that’s what I want be known for. We haven’t talked about tattoos yet.
Andrew: Not yet.
Chris: You only have one.
Andrew: That’s not true.
Chris: Okay. You only have the one that I can see. Oh, okay. Yes. Now I see another one. To podcast land, we won’t explain.
Andrew: It was a shoulder.
Chris: Yeah. But companies have a brand. And then the thing about companies and their brand over the last 20 years, people have become very overt about their brand and driving their brand, right? Isn’t that your business, Hayley? It’s your business. But people have brands too and they should put as much time and effort onto their personal brand as the company puts on their brand. And you know, I have in my book, I have all of the things that I’ve listed out of my personal brand, and I just stick to it. One of it’s being on time. That’s part of my personal brand. Another is being disarmingly honest. You were on time; you showed up like two minutes after. You know, another is putting a meeting on your calendar and keeping that meeting.
There’s so many people in this world that would just blow that off. So that’s what I’m talking about…personal brand, company brand. You know. that’s the secret mentoring group, it dips into what is that? What do you want to be known by? What do you want people to know you as?
Andrew: Not the guy that reschedules meeting.
Chris: Not the guy that reschedules meetings or the guy that just blows them off. And I don’t, you know.
Andrew: Yeah. Because the last thing you want that to do is translate into your business and how people perceive…
Chris: Well, they’ll perceive you pretty quickly. I mean, you only have just a little while to judge someone, that’s why we instantly were friends where we met at networking.
Andrew: You’re right. It had nothing to do with the people that introduced us.
Chris: That’s right. I am five-seven. I think they should know that. I sound a lot taller on a podcast.
Andrew: You look a lot taller sitting down too.
Chris: Well, I fit perfectly in an airplane seat. So it goes back to one of my three reasons why Charlotte is a great place to bootstrap a company; I could stay forever. It’s tough, isn’t it?
Andrew: It is very tough, especially on an airplane.
Chris: Yeah. Not for me.
Andrew: That’s why I have a standing desk; they’re actually tall enough for me. So we mentioned earlier, or you mentioned earlier, I didn’t get to bring it up. But you’re an adjunct professor at UNC Charlotte…
Chris: That’s right.
Andrew: …or Queens University of Charlotte. How about you tell us a little bit about what kind of knowledge bombs you’re dropping on some students?
Chris: Well, and I’m an alum of UNCC. I went to Gaston, transferred. Are you, too? Really? When did you graduate?
Andrew: ’11 and ’13.
Chris: That was considerably different than the time that I graduated.
Andrew: A little.
Chris: I didn’t know.
Andrew: But I also went to CPCC. So I totally…
Chris: See, there you go.
Andrew: …I mean, it all resonates with me.
Chris: Let me tell you something about Gaston College. I set foot on campus in 1988 after about 12 rejection letters from colleges around the area. I just didn’t have the grades. I was in the half of the class that made the top half possible. Yes. And I was very supportive. I’ve been supportive ever since. And school and I had difficult…I had a really difficult time with school. Here the podcast is now going to turn into Robby Benson after school special. Somebody look that up. There’s some great ones.
So I had trouble with education. When I went to Gaston College, Gaston College said, ”We’ll take anybody. That’s our rule. That’s the way it goes. We just want people that are all willing to learn.” And I got there, my dad gave me a blank check to pay my first quarter tuition, they were on the quarter system. And I remember this so vividly that he gave me that stupid blank check, and I was supposed to pay for my education and I was really nervous. I was really nervous about it because I’m like, “Oh my God, this thing is going to bounce.” I hope my dad is not listening now.
So I walked up to that cashier’s office and I said, “I’m taking this many hours.” And she had a manual calculator and she said, ”That will be $89.” And I paid $89 for my first quarter of school. Then I went to the bookstore and I paid $350 for books. And that’s when I decided I wanted to write a book and get it into a college campus. But anyway, I felt like I was stealing because the quality of education was so high there. And then all of my credits transferred. I just took everything that I possibly could at Gaston College. So UNCC, I hadn’t been on campus since 1993.
Avid’s starting to to do some things, and UNCC to their credit said, “We’ve got to kind of look at the type of education that we’re giving our computer science students.” That’s the department I teach in, which you would think entrepreneurship would be business, but the computer science department said, ”No, we want to take a look at this entrepreneurship.”
And so we started in the kind of a dialogue and first of all, I was like, “Gosh,” you know, because they said…once I got the gig…they said, “Well, we need you to send us a resume.” And I don’t have a resume. I’ve never had a resume. I’ve never gotten a job off of a resume. Am I running out of tape?
Chris: It’s digital.
Andrew: It’s digital, man.
Chris: I have never gotten a job off of a resume. I don’t have a resume. And so what I did is I just copied and pasted my LinkedIn profile to a Word doc. And that was my resume. And then the second thing they said was, if I remember what I was thinking, the second thing they said was, ”And because you were a student here, we’ll just do your transcripts and interoffice mail.” I was like, ”Well, let’s do a short lived.” But they said, ”No, don’t worry about it. Don’t worry about it.” And I was worried about it. God! I was worried about it.
But anyway, when we started our dialogue about the kind of things that they wanted me to teach and the kind of things that I felt like I could teach, I was really nervous because one of the things that universities do a great job with are what I like to call this base entrepreneur curriculum, which is, well, what’s your business, what’s your business idea, what’s your marketing strategy, you need to go out and kind of canvas your market, understand your market, you know, how are you going to finance it, how are you going to raise money–what’s one that always gets me–intellectual properties, you know, patents, things like that.
And so universities do a great job with that stuff. I call that the base. But I told UNCC, I said, ”If you want someone to do the base, I’m probably not a good person to do this. Not that I don’t know it, it’s just that I don’t really care.” And the reason why I don’t really care is because there are so many talented people out there that do that really, really well, really well. I mean so many, you know, small business organizations, I know that the City can connect you to tons of resources.
Andrew: Tons that have been on this podcast and if you’re interested in hearing our podcasts, check us out at CBRbiz.com.
Chris: There you go. Let’s get this…
Andrew: No, I’m sorry, it’s CharlotteBusinessResources.com.
Chris: Check it out for sure because that was my thought is that, and I know this. There’s so many great people that are doing these things. And so I wanted to go to the next layer. And the next layer was real simple which was why are some entrepreneurs successful and others aren’t? And that’s what I wanted to teach on. And have you ever noticed that there are some entrepreneurs out there that have the best idea? It is hands down a great idea, and then maybe we cobbled together an MVP. Can we put that in one of the buckets?
Chris: Minimal Viable Product. So they cobbled together some kind of Minimal Viable Product, and it’s spectacular. And the company tanks. And have you ever noticed that there could be like five yahoos at 9th and Brevard street who put a bunch of PowerPoint slides together, and they’re successful?
Chris: Yeah, me too.
Andrew: Living proof.
Chris: And the answer is there’s something about the skillset of that person, the entrepreneur that makes the company successful. And it’s not the physical thing.
Andrew: Makes sense.
Chris: You have done very little talking during this whole thing.
Andrew: That’s because you’re doing a very great job.
Chris: I thought we dialogue.
Andrew: We are dialoguing.
Chris: How do you think it’s going so far?
Andrew: Well, so far, we’re not at the point where we’re going to have to repeat the entire thing over again.
Chris: Oh gosh, it’s a lot later than I thought.
Andrew: Yes. Our dialoguing has gone very well.
Chris: I’ve talked the whole time, Hayley.
Hayley: It was good. I’m just not on a mic.
Andrew: Yeah. Hayley is not on mic, but we’re doing a lot of nodding over here. So are you doing the exact same thing at Queens?
Chris: Yes. And with one kind of small but big impact change.
Andrew: A shorter commute?
Chris: Yeah, it’s a much shorter commute, but not from my house. It actually takes me longer to get to Queens than UNCC, and I live in like right outside of Belmont. If that makes sense.
Andrew: It does make sense.
Chris: So the thing at Queens that’s a little bit different is that we’re introducing kind of an experiential, I think, that’s the word for it or maybe a more hands on learning approach. So when we talk about certain things, so we may in two or three classes talk about a concept and then in the fourth class, we’re actually going to a company to experience it.
Andrew: That’s great.
Andrew: That’s pretty rare.
Chris: Yeah. And credit to Queens, that was kind of their desire that they wanted to get students out mixing with the business population, not in an internship. We didn’t get to talk about our internship program, but I just absolutely love it. Can I say a real quick thing about it?
Andrew: You may absolutely say whatever you’d like about…
Chris: So here’s the classes I teach to our interns. I teach, today our class is on innovation and next week it’s going to be on success. And then it’s going to be on goal setting, communication, presentation skills, mindset, and then happiness.
Andrew: So you’re doing all these in terms of the baseline so that then when they become entrepreneurs they understand the difference between their entrepreneurship that could, you know, go very well versus if I didn’t practice–have and then practice–all these great skills with a great product and then feel.
Chris: It’s true. I mean, it’s completely true. And we wanted to give our interns more than just, you know, my internship was great. I had a good time. I worked at the Met Museum of Art. I was on the Charlotte Film and Video Festival. I had a great time just watching independent films, and you know, just being around the people. But I copied. I did a lot of copy, and I got people something to drink and stuff like that. It really wasn’t…
Chris: Yeah. Our interns, we expect them to do something, and we want them to get something out of it. So, anyway.
Andrew: Because it’s not the whole entrepreneur’s spirit anyways of, you know, you dive in and do what you see that needs to be done instead of just waiting for someone to tell you what to do.
Chris: It’s true, I mean, that’s the kind of people that we need working for us because we haven’t talked about this, but Thursday we introduced MasterCard, the partnership, and then the 300 million wasn’t just for MasterCard, was a venture firm in Quebec that manages all of the…moving on there, a pretty big deal
Andrew: And you charged for it.
Chris: Yeah, and we charge a lot.
Andrew: Not 10,000.
Chris: But over the last two years, we’ve gotten close to 600 million in funding. And that’s a lot of money. I mean, and one of the things that I tell my students and one of the things that the company has to know is that when you get 600 million, they don’t start giving it to you because they like you, or you know, think you’re cool; they’re expecting a lot back from us. So I’m excited about it. It’s putting a lot of pressure on the business to be scalable and to be, you know,…
Chris: …nimble, there we go, yeah.
Andrew: Is that the fifth one?
Chris: Yeah, yeah. So, it’s good.
Andrew: That’s great. So if you have one or two sentences of advice to give to an entrepreneur listening to and or hosting this podcast, what would you say to an entrepreneur?
Chris: Let’s do two. I know you’re trying to keep it brief, although no one in this room is believing me at the moment.
Andrew: I was thinking 10 words or less, and then I was like, he’s got all 10 fingers so he could probably do it.
Chris: What’s…? Oh, no. POG life. Yes, two. And I only have to think about it. If you want to be a successful entrepreneur, you have to be a fantastic salesperson. Fantastic salesperson. And when I say salesperson, the first thing that people think is, ”Well, yeah, that’s true. I’ve got to sell my stuff.” But here’s the thing, is that a lot of entrepreneurs won’t do that. They say, “Well, I need to hire some salespeople.” You can’t do that. You’ve got to sell it yourself, and you’ve got to be better than anybody selling it themselves. I think that’s my wife calling, should I answer it? No. But the other thing is you have to sell your investors, you have to sell your board, you have to sell your advisors and you have to sell them. Here’s the biggest one, yet. And this is the one that got me, you have to sell your family. Now my wife is really supportive. I mean, she’s great.
Andrew: She’s calling. You said this would be 30 minutes, but I’m seeing 45 for you.
Chris: But her extended family was really difficult, really difficult. The first year that we were in business at Avid, I got my car repo’d. And it was a Nissan Altima, and there’s nothing more affordable than a Nissan Altima. You can imagine how devastating that is, so.
Andrew: It made you who you are today.
Chris: It did, it did, and I have a really nice car. You have to be a fantastic salesperson, great salesperson. Okay. That’s number one. Two, is that I say new entrepreneurs…I usually say young entrepreneurs, but they’ll always paint the picture that they’re young people, which is true, but this kind of runs the gamut. You could be in your 50s and be an entrepreneur, but you’re new to it. The advice that I give them is that, I select on something that you wanted to talk about that the thing is far less important than the journey or the process.
And I always like to say the car is way less insignificant than the journey because it’s the physical journey that makes you who you are. It’s not the thing. The thing will, you know, whether it’s a product or it’s a website or it’s an app, that’s the thing. That is far less important than actually going on the journey because the journey, well, actually is what produces the real fruit. So I’ll end on fruit.
Andrew: Fruit. Fantastic. Well, that timing was great. Your wife called, and we’re just about out of time. So, Chris, we are officially coming to the end of our show. Is there anything you would like to add before I close it up, anything about this book you’re about to hand me, so everyone knows what it is we’re talking about?
Chris: I would like to say that I want to give to the entire podcasting crew the only book that’s the only book that exists, only children’s book about Accounts Payable automation. Do you have kids?
Chris: Do you want some? I can send you some. I have plenty.
Andrew: I have two dogs.
Chris: Well, read this to them. Don’t look at the back of the book because we won’t be friends.
Andrew: Look at the back cover?
Chris: Yeah. Go ahead.
Andrew: It’s not you that wrote it.
Chris: Yeah, that’s me.
Andrew: Without a beard?
Chris: It’s me without a beard.
Chris: It’s devastating.
Andrew: This is very devastating. You thought there’d be tears on this podcast, you didn’t know they would be from me.
Chris: I got to change the picture. But this is a book called “The Princess in the Paper” and it’s the only book ever written for children about the accounts payable automation.
Andrew: Well, sometimes you have to bring the reading level down a little bit, right?
Chris: Well, actually, I wrote it so Executive Board members could understand. It’s a great book. People love it.
Andrew: Awesome. Well, I can’t wait to get into it and then share it with the rest of the team. So if our listeners wanna learn more about you, and if they like to ask you questions about entrepreneurial stuff or AvidXchange, where can they find you?
Chris: I’m okay with email. Is that okay?
Andrew: Sure, email works. Electronic…
Chris: Yeah, I’m good with email. It’s email@example.com.
Andrew: Or Google search, right? Chris Elmore.
Chris: LinkedIn is good, too. I would love to connect with people on LinkedIn.
Andrew: LinkedIn, okay. That’s the first thing I’m going to do when I get back to my desk.
Chris: Just do that.
Andrew: This is Andrew Bowen, and this has been another episode of CBR’s B2U podcast. Until next time, we and Chris and Hayley, we all mean business. For past and future podcast, please visit us online at cbrbiz.com and follow up on Twitter @CBRbiz. Thanks, Chris.
Chris: Thank you.
Chris: I’ve only been on one other podcast before and I did have to do it twice.
Andrew: We won’t do that.
Chris: And I thought the magic in…are we recording now? I thought the magic was the first time was way better. I couldn’t recreate it.