The popular Sims games series have sold more than 100 million copies worldwide. Most of us like these simulation games because they give us an opportunity to be, among other things, the mayor of a burgeoning city and practice our financial management skills with no real life risk. In Sims, we often give in to the temptation of borrowing too much money, spending it on features that please the citizens of “Ourville”, only to find that we go bankrupt in the end. When you think about it, this financial disaster scenario has become the reality for many American families struggling to get back on firm financial footing. EverFi is one company that is trying to change this prevalent pattern of over borrowing and over spending where it matters most—with young people. It is a new kind of education company that offers simulated software to train high school kids on financial literacy and university students on educational loan management. They have most recently added software-based training on alcohol education and digital living. If the goal is to see our great Union survive and thrive into the coming ages, then let’s hope the message of EverFi quickly reaches those of us who can most benefit from its teachings.
You have very credible statistics that you use in your website. They tell a story of the American public, especially young people, who are burdened with high debt and also with a general lack of knowledge in the mysteries of personal finances. This is great information to be shared with the public at large, but how do you turn this information into a viable business?
TD: For too long, people have segmented social problems away from the problem sets that entreprenuers typically go after. Whether it be intense poverty, financial illiteracy, obesity or disease eradication, there has been this belief that non-profits or non-governmental organizations will typically step in. But there is a unique place for innovation and entrepreneurship in these social dilemmas. If you can help solve some of these problems via a successful business model, people will pay a fair price for your product. More and more financial services companies are looking to incorporate financial education into their products, including mortgages, credit cards, and other accounts. We cheer for people who are building social applications that offer coupons for beer at bars. We should be doing the same for folks tackling some of these socially problematic areas.
Why does the world need EverFi?
TD: I don’t think anyone who has resided on this planet in the last two years would have any doubt that financial illiteracy is a major crisis. Every year we turn out hundreds of thousands of young people into the marketplace who have absolutely no clue as to even the basics of personal finance such as credit, stock markets, savings, compounding interest and other areas. It would be like not teaching driver’s education in schools and being surprised when there are wrecks on every corner. It’s crazy that we don’t teach personal finance in every school in America.
When you list your customer segments, a major one is conspicuously missing, and that is commercial entities, specifically employees working for corporations. In general, corporations provide financial training to their employees using their 401K partners. Isn’t that like wolves guarding the sheep? Why aren’t you focusing on this segment?
TD: You’ll see something from us in the employee and human resources space shortly. Companies have definitely seen how financial pressure at home can create a spiral effect in the workplace and are looking for an answer to that. We see financial education as the next corporate benefit.
MB: How do you make money from your services?
TD: We offer our products free to schools but sell our technology platforms to corporations, foundations, family foundations and others who then donate them as part of their broader mission to schools. It is a unique model – simple, but definitely not easy. We have an amazing group of some of the largest corporations, celebrities, athletes and others who provide our software on their dime to schools. It is really humbling when we look out at the network, now over 2,500 schools.
MB: We couldn’t help but notice that you incorporate a lot of humor into your bio. Is this just for show, or is EverFi actually a fun place to work?
TD: When your bio is that weak, you need some humor to distract the reader. I think it is a pretty fun place to work. We unchain our employees from their desks at 9 p.m., so you can ask them directly if you’d like.
MB: You became a state legislator in Maine after college. Can it happen today? Why did it happen in Maine in 1994?
TD: It can, and does, happen today. I think young people are uniquely positioned to leverage the new technology and social networking platforms to spread their message. I was elected in a very similar environment as the last mid-term election cycle. In 1994 the Republicans swept in as they did in 2010. I ran as a Democrat and won, but it was a bit lonely. I knocked on over 30,000 doors. It was an extraordinary experience and one I would encourage anyone to do. I wish many of the people I dealt with in business had the business-sense that most politicians do. We’d all be better at our jobs.
Massive budget cuts abound, Washington’s belt tightening will surely make it to the classroom soon enough, with possibly devastating effects for students. EverFi attempts to meet the needs of students, who otherwise may never get the skills they will need throughout their lives.
EverFi has built an entirely new framework to finance and deliver innovation into schools in such areas as Financial Literacy, Student Loan Management, Digital Literacy, Substance Abuse, Nutrition and Obesity.
EverFi is enabling students in 3500 K-12 and colleges in all 50 states this year. By utilizing the latest technology, including media, high definition video, diagrams and avatars, EverFi is attempting to educate children and teens on subjects that will carry them throughout their lives.
MB: How did you get involved with TED?
TD: I was lucky enough to get invited four years ago and have gone back every year since. It’s hard to explain to people who haven’t been to the TED Conference but luckily most of the talks are now online at ted.com. These are all people, for the most part, who use their time and money to attack huge problems in the world. You have so many influencers at the conference that a good idea can take hold quickly across a wide group of people and geographies.
MB: Why did you select the Metro DC area for your business?
TD: I think DC is a wonderful place to do business. In particular, I love being in the heart of DC where people hustle and move. It is a city of great substance, of ideas and passion. People work hard and they play hard. I often forget how lucky I am to live here and how many people would give a lot of blood and treasure to trade places. It’s a great place to find talent and I think it has the best network of young professionals that I’ve seen and I’ve lived in a lot of places.
MB: How is doing business in Maine different than DC?
TD: I never ran a business in Maine, so I don’t have the best reference point, but I’d hire a Mainer to do anything. From a startup perspective, DC obviously has a significantly larger entrepreneurial and technical community, which we’ve thrived in. But I wouldn’t mind a little satellite office on the Maine Coast in mid-August!
Photography by Ray Ally