Todd Belveal is one of those serial entrepreneurs that makes it all look easy. But that’s not how things started for him. His college summer internships were at Tiffany’s. There, he worked his way up – literally – from the role of elevator operator to sales in crystal. Under the tutelage of one of the company’s most celebrated salespeople, Ms. Sein, Belveal flourished. Later, Tiffany’s offered him an Operations Manager role – and became the company’s youngest person in history in that leadership position. Along the way, they paid for his MBA.
Back in 2012, Belveal and his team were amongst the first in the world to create connected cars. Via mobile phone, rental, measuring the gas consumed, unlocking the car, and so on, was possible. Silvercar simplified the car rental experience for the business traveler. One make, model, and color of car (silver Audi A4) and one rental price standardized across the US quickly made the company a business traveler’s favorite. By the time there were buying thousands of silver A4s in 2015-16, Audi took notice, too.
His first exit
Audi invested in Silvercar then later acquired it in 2017. Following that exit, Belveal decided to take on one of the lowest tech industries around: public laundromats; but he did his research first. “It [public laundry] hasn’t even advanced as far as the parking industry,” he lamented when citing some of the surprising statistics. “One in six households, which is more than 40 million Americans, rely on public washing machines. And 80% of the 26,000 plus laundromats are operated with quarters.” Belveal decided to change things up.
With a multi-million investment in a technology platform to uplevel the experience from quarters to smart phones, Belveal quickly grew the business. Washlava already operates with two business lines: college residences and laundromats. “We’re already on ten campuses,” he said, “Campuses are rapidly moving towards mobile credentialing, but laundry is still way behind.”
In August, 2021, Belveal was one of the VIP panelists at the Grit Daily Congressional Startup Day in Tampa, FL. Around that time, he stepped away as Washlava’s CEO to take on a Board Emeritus position.
Advice for entrepreneurs
On the topics of startups and entrepreneurship. Belveal has a lot to say. “You need to understand the difference in philosophy of beginning a startup that’s designed to scale fast and a small business. Startups get a little too much hype but there’s a lot of failure, more than in small business. You have to believe in the idea almost more than you believe in yourself.”
When it comes to investment decisions, he quipped, “I’ve never bootstrapped any idea – it’s too slow. It didn’t take long to get the seed round for Silvercar once I assembled the right team. You need help to impress the right investor.”
A friend of mine who does startups a lot calls them “oscillating psychodramas.”
He emphasized the grit and tenacity that entrepreneurs needs. “Once you take other people’s money, you can’t quit. You might fail because your business fails but you can’t quit for any reason. It’s a thing that people don’t understand – it’s not like a job. You can’t quit until you’ve exhausted every option to generate a return. The research shows that it takes 7-10 years for any liquidity event so you’d better be prepared for that.”
When Grit Daily asked Belveal if things have always been easy and gone his way. His response was an emphatic no – and a deep chuckle. “All that you’re doing as a founder is raising money. I’ve been sued by people who didn’t have the right expectations, I’ve had nasty things written about me in the paper. And you have your own struggles: the stress that it puts on you and people can underestimate the risk and the constant accountability what that can do to a person. Acknowledge burnout and acknowledge when you’re behaving badly. When you are the founder of a startup, you’re going to take a lot of shit from all sides. Get your funding round done, go out for dinner to celebrate, then start planning to do your next round.”
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