ShareYourself has been in the works for six years, bootstrapped by the founder himself, Stu McGowan. Zoom out and it’s been in the works for three decades. McGowan, for some 20 years, ran an operation in Vermont called ShoeLess Management (among other businesses), which handled both property management and construction, primarily in Burlington’s historic Old North End. His son Evan Watson, heavily involved in ShareYourself, also turned out to be an entrepreneur.
At the age of 19, Watson dropped out of entrepreneurship school to co-found BrandYourself.com. Leading the company with his co-founders, he built the company from nothing into a hugely successful business with millions of users and millions in yearly revenue. This is the story behindShareYourself’s success: a father with a lifetime of boots-on-the-ground entrepreneurial experience and a son doing the same thing on the digital frontier. They learned from each other; McGowan was BrandYourself’s first investor, and learned everything he knows about the SaaS industry from his son.
This brief history brings us to where ShareYourself sits today. After years of hard, diligent work building the company, it has reached an inflection point. It’s ready to truly announce itself on the world stage. With four new Sales Development Representatives hired in the span of two recent months, the company is poised to move to the next step. The father-son McGowan duo recently traveled to Haiti to quite literally take those first steps.
Haiti is a proud country. Colonized by the French, the Haitian people revolted, achieving victory in 1804. Their bravery ultimately triggered the end of slavery in all French colonies. As many readers may know, that revolution sadly did not fully bring a prosperous end to years and years of suffering. When a magnitude 7.0 earthquake hit Haiti in January of 2010, the world watched in horror as news outlets spread images of devastation.
The toll the 2010 earthquake took from the people of Haiti is staggering. Up to 300,000 dead. The same number injured, if not more. 1.5 million people instantly displaced. 3,978 schools damaged or permanently destroyed. Fast forward to 2020 — just months after the 10-year anniversary of the quake, Covid-19 had the world in its grip.
Miraculously, Haiti escaped the worst of the pandemic, even as it proliferated in the neighboring Dominican Republic, which makes up the other half of the Caribbean island, Hispaniola, where Haiti is located. At the time of writing, the latest numbers out of Haiti are 14,931 infections and 321 coronavirus-related deaths since the start of the pandemic. Compare that to the numbers out of the Domincan Republic: 297,119 infections and 3,642 deaths.
The purpose of this article is not to focus on Haiti’s experience with the coronavirus; read up on that elsewhere. The purpose is to discuss the moves ShareYourself is making in Haiti, and how those moves lay the foundation for a greater global push as the company grows. McGowan and Watson landed in Haiti on May 6, 2021, and before they left 10 days later, they’d set the groundwork for a staggering number of projects, mostly concerning schools. Remember the statistic about destroyed schools a few paragraphs up? ShareYourself, in those 10 days, got the ball rolling on a project that will ultimately build 500 schools across the country.
Used to slower, more expensive construction projects back home in the United States, McGowan was pleasantly shocked at the speed and cost of construction down in Haiti. They hired a local man, Mitch Tercius, to guide them on their initial mission. They’d traveled there for one very specific reason: Damabiah Orphanage had begun building a school, but they needed guidance and funds to finish the top floors and start a second building.
Once Tercius and the ShareYourself crew arrived at Damabiah Orphanage, it took them just three days to get everything in place for the planned school, including a schedule: the construction process was to begin at the end of May, and end before school began, by August 30, 2021. At the time of writing, construction, which started on May 28, less than two weeks after the duo returned to the States, is ahead of schedule.
You might be wondering how a 10-day trip to build a single school turned into an ambitious plan to build 500 schools. One part of the answer is McGowan and son’s history with construction and entrepreneurship; the other part is the situation they encountered on the ground in Haiti.
Haitians have never had it easy, even after they achieved revolution. The country’s people have been forced to learn how to live with little, and to get the most out of every resource. Says McGowan, on how construction works there, particularly in regards to rebuilding after the 2010 earthquake: “They start rebuilding as soon as they have the money and build one floor at a time. They leave the structural rebar sticking up four feet so they can easily add a second floor when they have the funds. Those funds could take up to a decade to materialize; when they do, the process is repeated, with rebar sticking up for the third floor.”
After achieving a full plan for the Damabiah Orphanage School in record time, and starting the fundraising process, McGowan, Watson, and their guide Tercius readjusted the scope of their focus. Tercius took them to the rural town of Cavaillon, where three relatives of his lived in a home still devastated from the last hurricane. He had already raised funds to begin construction on a new home just feet away, but it was far from completed.McGowan, with his decades of construction experience, asked how much money was needed to finish the new concrete three-bedroom home. Tercius said $3,000, and McGowan repeated the number in shock. The same project would cost 10 times that back in the States. McGowan promised to raise the money; he seeded with his own investment and built a project page on ShareYourself — within the first three days, small donors around the world had already contributed 8 percent of what was needed.