The Founder 15 is a blog series where we profile founders of Work Tech companies in their own words. Today, we bring you Donald Thompson, the CEO and co-founder of The Diversity Movement, a suite of employee experience applications that personalizes diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) for your organization and delivers real-world business outcomes. He is also the author of the book, Underestimated.
- “Tell me about you.” How do you answer that question? I’m the son of a football coach. I share that with people because I learned determination and teamwork matter, if you work hard, you can achieve big goals, and people cheer for winners. And so, I wanted to be one. I’m a husband, father, and serial entrepreneur with a couple of exits under my belt. I’m a competitive learner, a reader, and a dream chaser. Not having knowledge of something has never slowed me down from jumping into a new lane. I’m comfortable with being bad at something for a while to get good at it–that’s one of my superpowers. Most people aren’t willing to be bad at something for a while to develop the proficiency to be good.
- What’s your company’s origin story? The Diversity Movement started out as a digital. learning tool to help corporations facilitate diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). It was the outgrowth of our work at a marketing firm, where our customers asked us how to create optics around multicultural marketing versus authentic marketing to specific demographics. We saw an opportunity to link DEI to business outcomes that no one in the market was thinking about. We didn’t set out to build a company. We set out to help a handful of customers do better. Then we found that because of our business, marketing, and technology background, we were coming at DEI from a “how to get shit done” perspective versus a theoretical perspective of how the “kumbaya world” should be. We want the world to be a better place, but we understand that there’s a higher chance that more people will change if it benefits them somehow. So, if we can help leaders do their jobs better, win more, increase profitability, and grow bigger and better brands, their heartstrings will be pulled over time. However, we know the financial objectives of organizations are what drive things.
- Why is your company different? It’s pretty simple. We blend technology, training, and data by offering micro-videos, real-time education, and analytics that facilitate data-informed decision-making. These components allow us to create DEI success at scale for five-person start-ups to fifty-thousand-person multinational corporations.
- Why do you do what you do? I wanted to do something that created meaning in my everyday work and walk. By building a company where the charter is to create a better workplace for all, a voice for the voiceless, and an environment where everyone feels like they can win at work, I established a motivational linkage from my heart to my wallet, shareholders, and goals. It’s super cool and kinda fun.
- What do you know now that you wish you had known before you started your company? How insanely time-consuming, challenging, and difficult it is to grow a business and raise money simultaneously; you need to make strategic choices about how and when you raise versus build and grow clients. We launched TDM during the pandemic and decided to raise money in an environment where people who look like me have more of a challenge in doing so. However, we still managed to move the needle and grow the business pretty significantly in 2-3 years. We went from $0 to close to $4 million in revenue, and we have 7-8 technology products in our portfolio that we cobbled together with dreams, hopes, and a little duct tape and superglue here and there. We’re kind of a MacGyver of DEI, but it’s coming together in a really magical way. As we strengthen as a business, our next raise will be stronger because our logo candy is legit and growing. We have a bunch of happy customers, which has helped to even the playing field as we continue to go out and raise.
- Who is your go-to person for professional advice? Grant Williard. He’s the founder of I-Cubed, Joulebug, a friend, mentor, and incredible product innovator. He gave me my dream shot as a sales professional in the technology space many years ago and ultimately green-lighted me to be the president and CEO of my first technology company (I-Cubed in Raleigh, NC). That was the opportunity of a lifetime, and I will always honor him for that.
- What professional accomplishment are you most proud of? Helping multiple people, probably close to 20-25 folks, become millionaires throughout the process of the businesses that we’ve grown and exited. I’m really, really proud of that.
- What’s your favorite album and why? Run DMC’s King of Rock. That’s #1. Why? Because “the king of rock there is none higher!” It’s the boldness, the fun, the Adidas sneakers back in the day, Kangol caps, and big chains. Really, these were folks at the forefront of rap music when people thought it might be a fad. Now, when you fast-forward 30-40 years, hip-hop, R&B, and all that good stuff is literally part of the fabric of America.
- What book are you reading now? A lot of different books. One of them is called Burn After Writing. It’s a book of prompts that you can answer about yourself honestly, like “who do you admire and why? What are the top three things that, if you didn’t have any fear, you would pursue right now?” The goal is not to carry your responses forward but to reflect so that, in a sense, you can be your own coach and mentor.
- What was your worst job? Being a security guard in a warehouse where I was guarding nothing. It was a warehouse with nothing in it! Haha! When I asked my supervisor why I was there, they said, “in case the building catches on fire, we want you to be able to call the fire department first!”
- Have you ever been fired? Yes. From a company called Alphatronics. I was hitting my sales numbers, doing my thing when they were acquired by a company with their own sales force. I walked in the first day after the acquisition, put my headset on to dial for dollars, and they gave me a box. I remember telling the HR person then, “yeah, I cannot get fired today,” and eventually, I negotiated another three months at that job which allowed me to get settled. However, I share this story because up until that experience, I understood that if you lost your job, you must have been doing a poor job. I was so naive in business that I didn’t understand you could get fired because of business circumstances and no fault of your own. That was tough for me to get my head around.
- What career advice would you give your 21-year-old-self? Your network is your net worth. If I had known that, I would have been bolder, more serious, and more focused on building, growing, and cultivating my network. Hands-down. It’s the biggest thing that I would do differently. Eventually, I grew my network, and I’m seeing the benefits now that I’m older and have some wisdom under the belt; that’s what I’d tell my 21-year-old self.
- What’s the one thing you would like to be remembered for? Being a voice for the voiceless and a champion for people who don’t have a platform (it’s why we’re in the business of DEI and why TDM was birthed.) For my board service on Easterseals for folks working through disabilities and needing a hand up so they could live the lives we all deserve and want to live.
- If you could have dinner with any fictional character, who would you choose and why? Yoda from Star Wars because Yoda has wisdom beyond the present moment. That’s somebody I’d wanna hang out with and spend time with.
- What’s your most memorable celebrity encounter? Being a ball boy at the University of Pittsburgh for Dan Marino, Hall of Fame quarterback. My dad was on the coaching staff at Pitt at the time, and I got to hang around him and fetch different things. That will be one of my top celebrity highlights of all time.
Note to readers: This is a series for Work Tech Founders. If you’re interested in being a part of it, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.