We had the good fortune of connecting with Lara Hodgson and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Lara, what was your thought process behind starting your own business?
The best companies are born not from a great idea but first from a great problem. Ten years ago I was growing my company, Nourish, which sold a patented spill-proof bottles water for children, and as I sold to larger and larger customers it took longer and longer to get paid. I realized that more businesses GROW out of business than GO out of business. Everyone told me that I should get a loan or a line of credit or try factoring but none of that made sense to me because essentially I was the “free bank” to my customers when I delivered my product or service, sent an invoice and waited to get paid. An invoice is a free loan. I didn’t want debt on my balance sheet (or personal guarantees) and anyone who has factored knows that “factoring” is the “F word.” I decided there had to be a better way and that someone had to relieve small businesses of the burden of funding the bulk of the economy and as a result being unable to grow. I was at lunch one day and it occurred to me that retailers never have to wait to get paid (they used to when they offered house accounts, tabs or charge accounts but those all went away when the credit card system was introduced), because they accept credit cards for payment. When they accept a card, they receive their actual revenue immediately (not a loan or factoring) and they pay a service fee for the service of getting their revenue immediately. When and if you pay your VISA bill is not the retailers’ risk. But credit cards are used in less than 2% of B2B or B2G transactions. So I created NOWaccount, the first payment system that enables a small business to get paid immediately in a way that feels like accepting a credit card for payment (not a loan or factoring) when the customer will not pay with a card and wants an invoice with terms. Most people comment that I am not a banker – no I am an aerospace engineer (food for “rocket science” jokes). A banker would never have come up with this because most innovation comes fron the demand side of a problem and I was on that side with a problem.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I have never had a job that someone had before me. Many people strive to think outside the proverbial box but I have never had a box. I realized early in my career that if your goal is “success” then you are not thinking big enough. Success is finite and it means you won the race or the award, but the loftier goal in life is significance. Significance is infinite and it means you did something that impacted someone else who impacted someone else and so on. This mindset changed everything about how I approached my job, my career, ultimately my company, my family and my life. People often say that “You have to be passionate about what you do” but I disagree. If you are striving for significance then you have to be passionate about the “so what” that you do… the impact. What I found is that if your ego is in “what” you do then you inherently don’t listen because it is human nature to defend your invention. But if your ego is in the “so what” that you do then you are all ears because the “what” can change and it doesn’t matter as long as the impact remains and grows. Getting to where I am today was not easy and for that I am most thankful. I am not successful despite the challenges put in my way but BECAUSE of them, I learned early on that I should fail fast and fail forward. Each failure led to another opportunity. The key is to be open minded and curious. The NOWaccount brand is the culmination of my experience as a serial entrepreneur, an inventor and a small business owner. We are obsessed with elevating small businesses, giving them a voice and changing the economy.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
New York has the reputation of being a great place to visit but not a place you would ever want to live. Atlanta is the opposite – it is the best place to live but I think it would be a difficult place to visit if you did not have a resident to take you around. If my best friend were visiting I would take them to the top of Stone Mountain where they could see that Atlanta is the most heavily wooded city in North America. I would take them to Centennial Olympic Park where they can feel that Atlanta as a city is an entrepreneur – she is really shouldn’t exist, but for the end of the railroad, yet she dares to think she can do things like host the Olympics. We would, of course, walk the campus of Georgia Tech, which graduates more female and minority engineers than any university in the US (and likely the world) GO JACKETS! to experience the beautiful, global diversity that makes Atlanta one of the few cities where you can come from the outside and in a relatively short period of time, become influential in business, arts, community service, politics… We would have lunch at Souper Jenny at the Atlanta History Center and dinner at Yebo Beach Haus and go for a run on the beltline trail and enjoy some shopping on the Westside and in Virginia Highlands.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Shoutout to all of the entrepreneurs and business owners who are the true heroes of our economy. They are scrappy and inventive and they create the vast majority of the jobs in the U.S. Despite the fact that the business ecosystem is set up for them to fail and for them to stay forever “small.” They drive innovation and they ARE the American Dream. They inspire us to work harder and to be better. They are NOWaccount clients and I am in awe of each and every one of them.
Twitter: @nowaccount or @NOWaccountLara