Exeleon Magazine

David Pawlan: Creating the best B2B payment experience

David Pawlan Exeleon magazine

In a world where anyone can innovate freely, there is still a barrier because software development is a pain point for far too many.

Driven to fix the problems in this process, a 24-year-old entrepreneur started to find sustainable solutions for it. David Pawlan is the founder of Aloa— a platform for outsourcing software development for startups. Four years later, since his college days, David has grown Aloa to a multi-million-dollar business.

As an ardent believer in changing the world, he is also involved in social initiatives like Fifth Star Funds. David, along with other Chicago entrepreneurs, recognized the inequality in the entrepreneurial landscape and decided to make a difference by helping startups grow.

His ultimate goal is to create wholesome environments that empower innovators to plan, experiment and build incredible things. In an Exclusive Interview, David talks about his journey and Aloa.

What according to you makes one a transformational leader? How do you integrate the same thought into your leadership?

In my opinion, all leadership should be built upon the values of transformational leadership. An effective leader is one who empowers those they are leading to a point where the leader is no longer needed. That is exactly how I view it as an integration to business leadership. My goal is always to eliminate my own job, and it’s the most fun part of it. In this way, I’m helping to build an effective and self-sufficient organization.

Talk to us about your growing up years. What prompted your interest and subsequently your foray into the tech space?

I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit, but I really was never a tech kid. I didn’t play video games; they never really caught my attention. My interest in tech I think is just a consequence of the way the world is moving.

Brief us about Aloa and what led to the inception of this platform.

Aloa is a platform for outsourcing software development for startups. You can think of us as software outsourcing infrastructure.

While in college, we were building out apps and doing student tech consulting. We wanted to expand our development team, so we began looking for resources. We looked domestically, but it was too expensive, so we outsourced. We had a horrible experience. To us, that didn’t make sense. Why haven’t we been able to figure out a predictable and consistent experience for software, the most remote industry there is.

At Aloa, we believe in a world where anyone can innovate freely, and at this point, we see software development as a barrier to innovation for far too many. So, rather than trying to build a blanket solution as a dev shop, we studied the pain points themselves and fell in love with the problem of outsourcing software development itself.

Four years later, since those college days, we’ve grown Aloa to a multi-million-dollar business. We’ve vetted through 10,000+ software firms around the world and have qualified just 8 to be in our Network.

We built Aloa Manage so anyone, even non-technicals, can manage their dev team. We built AloaPay so clients don’t have to deal with foreign transaction fees or international tax compliance. A dedicated Account Manager will curate a match to the proper firm in our network. We’ll build out custom development strategies and continuously audit. The beauty is that we’ve automated so much of our process that we can do all of this at the same rate as other outsourcing competitors. In our opinion, just providing you a developer isn’t sufficient.

Being the Co-Founder, what role do you play in the day-to-day proceedings of the company?

As a Co-Founder, you’re wearing tons of different hats. My main role is definitely sales and lead generation as ultimately that is what keeps the lights on. However, most recently I’ve been spearheading a lot of our marketing efforts as well as working on process and operational efficiency. I’ll also serve as our legal liaison and help out with taxes. There are no two days that are the same!

What is the approach followed by the company when it comes to providing optimal client satisfaction?

We’re a very mission driven company, so that is what truly guides our decision-making. Each one of us tries to act selflessly: what would I truly do if I were in their position? We lead with empathy, resonate with the client experience, and ensure that we prioritize the core mission of what we’re doing. As long as we maintain our integrity and quality of service, the profits will come.

You are an ardent believer in changing the world. Talk to us about some of your social involvements and why it is important for you.

The most important social involvement I have is being the Co-Founder of Fifth Star Funds. Along with other Chicago entrepreneurs, we recognized the inequality in the entrepreneurial landscape and decided to dedicate our nights and weekends to make a difference.

Only 1% of VC capital goes towards Black founders, and more curiously, from 2009-2017, only .0006% of VC funding went to Black women. Now, let’s take this one step further. The average Black-owned startup has roughly $500 of outside equity when starting. The average White-owned startup has roughly $18,500 of outside equity.

Fifth Star Funds is a venture philanthropy evergreen fund seeking to address the funding epidemic in America where only 1% of venture capital is awarded to Black founders. We accomplish this by investing in Black tech founders in Chicago at the early stage “Friends & Family” round. We believe the funding gap at this stage is the most critical to address, as centuries of inequity have prevented these potential entrepreneurs from having the initial capital to start their businesses. 100% of all returns from our investments are reinvested into the fund, so as the startups we invest in grow, the fund inherently does too, making our impact compounding.

What has the journey been like for David Pawlan over the years? Looking back, what would you have done differently if you were to start again?

It’s been a journey of perseverance. I’ve always been starting things, always trying to build companies. When talking about it to others, I always say it just feels like I’m playing a real-life version of Rollercoaster Tycoon. I always had a little side business growing up. My Senior year of High School and Freshman year of College I dove into my first official startup. It failed. I learned a ton. In my Senior year I joined the Aloa founding team and I haven’t looked back ever since.

This second part of the question is pretty funny to me because I’m actually working really hard on myself to avoid that thought exercise. I need to stop looking back and questioning every little decision, it’s debilitating. So, I guess in this context, I’d say that I’d tell my younger self to stop looking back. Be present. Live in the moment. The past is the past. You can learn from it, but your mind should be on the present, on what is in front of you, not behind.

What would be your advice for aspiring and emerging business leaders?

The two biggest lessons I’ve learned are actually related to one another. The first is to fall in love with the problem, not the solution. If you are in love with the problem, then any roadblock or set back is actually a step forward, because you found another way that doesn’t work. In the same vein, do something because you’re passionate about it, not because you’re chasing the money.

Entrepreneurship is really hard. Money won’t come right away. You’re going to fall. You’re going to cry. You’re going to question everything. Only passion, a true intrinsic motivator, a belief in what you’re doing, will be sufficient to push you through the journey with a smile on your face.

What has been the biggest roadblock during your journey? What has been your biggest learning?

I myself am my biggest roadblock. I’m really hard on myself. Confrontation scares me. I take things too personally. I’m not sure what my biggest learning is yet because I’m still in the thick of it.

Finally, what does the future look like for you and Aloa?

We believe in a world where anyone can innovate freely. We want to change the world, and we won’t stop short of doing just that. Today it’s software, creating a pathway where non-technical entrepreneurs and tech-giants alike can predictably build their technology. I’m so proud of our team and what we’ve accomplished, but we’re far from the finish line.

I don’t know what we’ll be in 10 years, but I do know that as long as we continue to follow our mission, we’re going to create the proper environments to let innovators do some truly incredible things.

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