Excellence in Action


Tidemark Founder Dave Yuan interviews Jennifer Davis, Co-Founder and former CEO of Davisware.

Jennifer Davis is the co-founder of Davisware, a vertical SaaS for commercial service companies in various industries from food equipment service to HVAC. Jennifer ran Davisware for over 30 years, mostly bootstrapping it before selling a majority stake. Davisware is not only a Bootstrapped Legend, but also a great case study for extending through the value chain (a concept you may recall from Tidemark’s Vertical SaaS Knowledge Project). As a VSV that served both the commercial service providers as well as Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs), Davisware built a multi-stakeholder platform that at its peak had close to 90% of the food equipment service industry’s warranty transactions flowing through its systems. 

Jennifer’s personal story is equally compelling. Davis grew up on a farm in Wisconsin, the daughter of a serial entrepreneur and the sixth among nine siblings. Her first job was coring out transmissions in cars, and she learned bookkeeping from her mother. She says, “Our family did a lot of work, and when we were done working, for fun, we worked, and then when we were done with that, we worked.”

At the age of 17, Jennifer met her husband and they started Davisware together. Davisware is a shining example of the power of grit, customer obsession, and a get-stuff-done attitude. Building Davisware was a labor of love that involved many unique and unusual approaches. Some of our favorite examples include:

  • Hiring remote employees all the way back in 1991, when state tax agencies didn’t even know how to handle them
  • Starting out in the commercial kitchen, petroleum, and HVAC industries and extending through the value chain into distributors and manufacturers
  • Getting creative with customer contracts and prepayment to bootstrap the company
  • Living an “integrated life” with little to no separation between work and home life

We hope you enjoy this conversation with Bootstrapped Legend Jennifer Davis.

If you’re interested in staying in the loop when new episodes of Bootstrapped Legends launch, you can subscribe here. If you're a Bootstrapped Legend who wants to tell your story or learn more about working with us, please reach out to us at knowledge@tidemarkcap.com.

Dave: Well, Jennifer, thank you so much for being a guest on our Bootstrapped Legends series. Jennifer Davis is the co-founder and former CEO of Davisware. Davisware was one of the early leaders in vertical SaaS. Jennifer is a heck of an entrepreneur; she has a unique perspective on living an integrated life, and I’m just really excited to have her on as a guest. Thanks so much, Jennifer.

Before we get into Davisware, we’d love to hear the Jennifer Davis story.

Jennifer: My story is, I guess, a little bit crazy as I think about it in hindsight. Hindsight is always 20/20, and you see it very differently. 

I grew up in a really large family in Wisconsin. I have eight brothers and sisters, so I always describe myself as being the sixth of nine—statistically irrelevant. You’re just one of the numbers. I’m sure my parents didn’t see it that way, but when you’re raised in a big family, it feels that way a little bit.

I grew up on a farm. My dad was a serial entrepreneur, so he spent most of his life in multiple businesses, often in the automotive world. My first paid role was coring out transmissions in cars. That was the first real job I had, but obviously, in the farm world, you’re doing a lot of farm tasks. I did that throughout my high school years. My mom actually hired me to do bookkeeping, which helped me a lot as Davisware launched. I was [doing] trial balances, payroll, etc., probably before I could drive, to be honest with you. 

I left home at 17, graduated from high school early, and headed to Texas for the summer. That’s where I met my husband, and that’s where we started Davisware. A pretty crazy story when you’re thinking about it outside the box, [though] at the time, it just felt normal.

Dave: From farms to transmission to trial balances to software. Maybe share a little bit of the linkages. Those are some great leaps.

Jennifer: Yeah, so a couple of things. I would say my dad was a serial entrepreneur, and all of his entrepreneurial pursuits were in support of the farming that he really loved. In the ’70s, the farming industry was a terrible place to be, but he loved it. He would always pour all of his money back into the farm. We suffered a lot of financial woes as a result of it, but he could always find success in entrepreneurial pursuits.

The primary one was a transmission shop. He had about 10 transmission bays, which for rural Wisconsin was quite large. As a kid, you spent time sweeping the floors and doing all of those things. He [also] had a 500-acre farm that I would call a hobby farm. 

Our family did a lot of work, and when we were done working, for fun, we worked, and then when we were done with that, we worked. [Laughs] It prepared us, I guess, for the software world.

Once I got a little bit older, and my parents’ business was growing a lot, I took an accounting class in high school – I was probably 14 – and I really loved it. My mom had the big ledgers, and she taught me how to do the reconciliation for trial balances. I did that for a couple of years for her, and then I helped produce payroll and did all of it, but it was all pencil and paper. Years later, once we owned the software company, we actually implemented our software in my parents’ business.

Dave: That’s awesome. You were raised to be an entrepreneur in various different pieces and threads. It all came together. That’s amazing. 

For those folks that don’t know Davisware, maybe boast a little bit. Tell us about the company and the success you’ve achieved.

Jennifer: Boasting is hard [but] I’ll tell you the story because the story tells it of itself. [When] we started the business, I was 17, my husband was 22. It’s truly all I’ve done my whole adult life. I graduated from high school, as I mentioned, early. He is five years older than me, so he had already been studying at the University of Chicago.

His brother had a heating and air conditioning business, and in that business, they were using a product called S2K, which became a competitor of Davisware. They described it as the world’s best dispatch board—it was the first digital dispatch board. He loved that but didn’t feel confident around accounting and all of the other products that it really needed to be connected to to support. So he hired us that summer to write software for his business.


I went away to college, and while I was in college, I kept doing this. (And I graduated from college with a degree in elementary education and Russian history, which obviously never got used.) That was the beginning. We started in the HVAC world and then grew, shortly thereafter, to the commercial food equipment service world, which really became the main stake of Davisware. 

We exited in 2019 with the majority sale – we still were minority owners of the business – and at that time, we had over 200 employees globally and offices in Chicago, Boston, and Hyderabad, India. We had really built quite an impactful business in the food service world. We also were very dominant in the petroleum equipment world and HVAC, where we started—specifically the commercial side.

Dave: Awesome. That’s a heck of a run. And this was no overnight success. My understanding is that this was over a couple of decades; is that right?

Jennifer: Yeah. We actually owned the business for almost 33 years.

Dave: That’s a heck of a run.

Jennifer: No overnight success.

Dave: [Laughs] Well earned. 

We discussed earlier that Tidemark is a big vertical SaaS investor. We had the pleasure of actually investing in maybe a modern instantiation of part of your business, a business called ServiceTitan. Maybe describe this in the vertical SaaS framework: you started out in a couple of different areas, commercial kitchen, petroleum, and HVAC, and it sounds like you extended your value chain into distributors and manufacturers. Tell us about that because that’s actually quite rare.

Jennifer: As I said, those are the three markets that we focused on. We were in some others, but those were really where we were at. I think actually our first acquisition was a company called Service Management Group.

I think what made Davisware different was that Dan and I didn’t know about the industry, so we spent an enormous amount of time learning and sitting beside [our customers], becoming a part of their businesses, and really learning what they needed. We learned that one of the main friction points in their businesses was around warranties. One of our customers shared with us that his warranty included 20% of his revenue but 80% of his overhead. Warranty, specifically in the food equipment service business, is how they got in the door with new customers. They needed to do the warranty work, and they saw it as kind of a loss leader. His description was that he had to turn that around.

The company, Service Management Group, was in the warranty processing business, but it didn’t eliminate double entry. That product was very good for the manufacturers, but it wasn’t good for the service companies. It outsourced, effectively, all of the entry for the manufacturer, but offloaded it to the service company that already wasn’t making money on that transaction. And so what [our customer] asked us to do was write a warranty product.

We tried to buy Service Management Group for a period of time. They were not interested, so we wrote our own warranty product called Global Warranty and partnered with a few of our customers through that process. Then, just before it was getting ready to launch, we were approached by Service Management Group, saying they’d had a change of heart and they were looking to be acquired. We paused [our product], bought the company, and then it was much less disruptive to the industry, transitioning companies from one product to the other, as opposed to having to go out and sell it.

Dave: That’s really interesting. You essentially started selling to multiple stakeholders, first by product introduction and then acquisition. Really a product that serves both of them at the same time. Did you thereafter start selling more product to the manufacturers or to the distributors? Or did you keep it at warranties?

Jennifer: A little bit of both. In food equipment, and actually some of the other industries, it’s pretty common that the distributors and the service companies are one and the same. It’s very common that the service company is a distributor or vice versa, depending upon what their primary business is. With that said, the software that we had developed always had a distribution leg to it.

We described our perfect client as somebody whose business model was a three-legged stool. [The perfect client] had the primary part as service because of the level of complexity. They had a construction or installation side, and then they did some part of parts procurement, inventory, that type of thing. That was what we considered the trifecta.

When you’re thinking about vertical SaaS companies, oftentimes, they’re focused on solving the problem for their individual customer. But what they aren’t solving is a way to make it seamless to do business with others. I think that was really what set us apart, what made us different. We were focused on not just solving the problem for the service company, but solving the problem for the service company and the manufacturer and how they do business together.

Dave: Our language is to become an industry platform, meaning you think about the needs of multiple stakeholders, and by building both software and also trust amongst both of them, you can take a lot of inefficiency and cost out of the system and provide a better experience for your customers. I wasn’t aware that you guys were that far along on that front. 

I think I read that at one point in time, you had 80% of the industry’s warranties on your platform. Is that right?

Jennifer: I would actually say that probably close to 90% of warranty transactions, Davisware touched some part of. It wasn’t necessarily that the manufacturer was [always] processing with us, but either the manufacturer or the service company or the distributor, some part of that transaction, we touched. When you think about that in terms of holistically growing and helping the industry, the amount of inefficiency that you eliminate just by partnering with the industry, as opposed to one of the three stakeholders in the industry, [is incredible].

Dave: I also love that functionality because, in some ways, as you mentioned, the warranty is lead gen and driving demand to your service providers on one hand, and then, for the manufacturers, the warranty is a way to engage with a key cost center or key customer experience. You’re kind of solving both.

There are different incentives for those two stakeholders, right? In some things, they have opposite incentives. How did you create a system that everybody trusted that was fair? How did you serve the industry, in your words, rather than a specific customer base?

Jennifer: I would start by saying none of it was easy. [Laughter] Everybody’s looking for what the magic bullet is. I think it’s an immense amount of time and an immense amount of energy investing in the industry. Oftentimes, that meant not getting the financial rewards right away. 

One of the struggles that we faced immediately, and that we saw Service Management Group doing wrong was the cost of the software itself was being incurred wholly by the manufacturer. They had no stake in the game in improving the transaction’s viability. We transitioned it to become a conversation around both communications and data. Imagine a world where, as a manufacturer, I’m providing this limitless data to the service companies. In that data, the service company provides a better warranty experience for their end customer. If both of them are focused on what the end customer’s game is, they both have a vested interest in a final end-user who is happy.

Dave: Love it. That tends to be the value prop that works the best, really changing the experience for your customer, and everybody benefits. That’s amazing. 

Well, we’ve kind of backed into a case study on vertical SaaS because we’re vertical SaaS gearheads over here, but let’s keep going. 

You didn’t take any money. Which is quite rare these days, although maybe back then, it was a little bit more common. Let’s talk through that journey. Start from the beginning, from the ideation process. When did you and Dan have the idea? What drove it? Put yourself in that time. What did you think you were going to do for a living prior to that? [Laughs] How did this happen?

Jennifer: There’s so much there, right? [Laughs] I was going to school to be a teacher. I love kids, so that’s what I was going to be. Hindsight, again, is always 20/20. I didn’t realize that being an entrepreneur was in my blood. Then I realized that all 18 of my aunts and uncles are entrepreneurs, so I probably was going to do that regardless. I always used to say that my dad’s life was like being henpecked to death by chickens, and then six weeks after I leave home, I’m like, “All right, I guess I’m going to do this.” That was the beginning. 

When we first started, we were working in the back of my brother-in-law’s business. We didn’t take money, but we certainly took help; he helped us. 

I remember we went to a bank at some point early on, maybe five or six years in. At the time, we had a decent quantity of customers. We had proven ourselves as an employer. We were official. And the bank literally laughed at us. It was like, what kind of inventory do you have? How many printers do you have in stock? I was like, no, we don’t have any inventory. It was such a stretch. They could not comprehend how we could be a sustainable business without an actual product to deliver. I remember one banker. I gave him my pitch and everything, and he looked at me and said, “We cannot leverage your head. We can’t leverage your brains. We can’t leverage what’s in it. So you aren’t going to get a banker to talk to you.” That was really our first experience in banking. 

Ironically, how we ended up getting a relationship with a bank was truly a banking error. They accidentally debited our entire federal tax deposit twice or three times, so all of our employees’ checks bounced. I was freaking out. I couldn’t figure it out. I went into the office, just bawling my head off because I was trying to figure out what in the world happened. Did I balance my checkbook wrong? Did somebody fraud us? [The bank] created a line of credit because it took them about six months to get the money back from the IRS. 

But truly, that was never part of the operations and the business. There was no option for borrowing money. We had to make enough money and continue to put it back into the business in order to succeed.

Dave: That’s amazing, the fact that you don’t have assets. That’s the good part. [Laughs]

Jennifer: Right.

Dave: So, banks aren’t going to lend. You decided not to raise money, though it sounds like you did get some borrowed time from some free office space. How did you finance yourself? It takes time to build these products, so how did this get going?

Jennifer: I think you hit on that earlier. I always talk about [how] we were a 30-year overnight success. It took a long time, and certainly, had we had more dollars in the bank or on the balance sheet, we probably could have built it faster. Although, we were also children, so we were learning as we went, too. I would say our financing was just extraordinarily creative. We did a lot of prepaid contracts with customers. We spent a lot of time doing consulting.


Dan probably averaged well over 80 hours a week for at least a decade, maybe two. When you’re working two and a half times what everybody else is working, you actually get there faster. The Kobe Bryant story—I’ll never forget—they said, “He only shoots an extra 300 baskets per day. Of course, he’s good.” [Laughter] In many ways, I related to that. I thought it was very easy to say we were lucky, but when you outwork everyone else, you can make mistakes and still find success. We were both creating billable opportunities whenever we could. We were spending nights and weekends building software and building out Davisware University and all of the things that went with it.

We had built a reputation of trust with our customers. I think one of the questions that people ask a lot is, “What was the magic bullet?” I would tell you, one hundred percent, it’s relationships. And I am the best in the business at relationships—not only at creating them but investing in them, valuing them, and being valued on the other side of it.

When we went to buy Service Management Group, we made probably 10 phone calls to customers, eight of them prepaid, large contracts, and we had the money to buy that business. We spent a lot of time doing things like that, getting customers to prepay. When they trust you, it’s not hard to get there.

Dave: And your first product, was it just you and Dan exclusively, or did you have help?

Jennifer: We hired people pretty early on. I can’t remember exactly when, but our first employee that we hired was a woman by the name of Nancy, and we always joked that we hired her before I could vote. I look back, and I wonder what in the world caused her to trust us. She actually just retired from Davisware recently, but it’s like, boy, you really trusted two children. [Laughs] She was really instrumental in the early years.

Another really funny story – we had an employee that we hired in Ohio very early on. We had met him through a consulting opportunity, and he decided to come to work for us directly. Well, we spent about a decade fighting with the State of Ohio and the State of Illinois because they weren’t adjacent states, and they had no clue how we could employ somebody who didn’t come into work. 

We were doing remote employees in 1991. Today, I don’t even think it’s possible for people to understand how revolutionary that was. The only way to explain it is to say that two states spent a decade fighting over who should collect the unemployment on this employee. Neither one of them could figure it out. That kind of gives you an idea of the different world that it was. 

We were running 9600-baud modems, and we thought we were really killing it. [Laughs]

Dave: I remember those modems. Took forever for the screen actually to load as it came up. [Laughs] So, you worked two and a half times harder than the next folks. You were amazing at relationships. You innovated on work. It sounds like your success was an amalgamation of various tactics and doing things differently. 

We do find that, when we look across most bootstrapped companies that have reached scale, in retrospect, they are doing something different. It may not be a silver bullet. What were some of the other things that you think you did that were different, that allowed you to scale really without much capital at all?

Jennifer: I’ve thought a lot about that, and I think a lot of it was, Dan and I, our perspective on life is just “Put a shoulder into it.” Just figure out how to get it done, and get it done. If you’re in the fight, if you’re in the game, you’re going to figure it out.

For us, it was all about building those relationships. It was about being trustworthy. It was demonstrating our value to our customers and what we were doing, and being honest and loyal to our customers. I think that all changed the trajectory of what we were doing. 

And probably a lot of it was we just didn’t do what everybody else did. I remember when we first got married, all of our friends were out partying and having a good time, and we were working. [One] Easter Sunday, we went to my mom’s house, [then] we went straight back to the office, and we worked. If you do things, if you stay focused on your goal – and our goal was to create a successful business – it just is a different mentality.

I think another thing that kind of leads me to what I’m doing now is the whole idea of living exponentially. I used the word exponential for decades before I realized it was actually my theme song. Part of it was this whole idea of work/life balance. Everybody talks about work/life balance, and they think about it in equality, but that’s actually not balanced. The definition of balance includes sway, and sway means things are moving, right?

People think about life in terms of equality. They think for some reason that you have to work from 8 to 5, and you have to be home from 5 to 8. It just simply isn’t true. I think that mentality kills so much success. I think it kills success for employers employing people. I think it kills businesses. 

One of the things that we did—there was no segregation between our work life and our home life. We only have one life, and for us, it was all together. One summer we spent three weeks in our camper with our kids, and we went and saw about 40 customers. We would stop and see customers in between going to the theme park or whatever it happened to be.

The whole idea is that if you think about your life holistically, you find success that used to exist in both families and communities in the 1800s and early 1900s. It wasn’t until the advent of suburbia that the whole idea of that segregation [between work and home] really came to be. Once people stopped living above their shops and started commuting, there became this gulf between what they did at home and what they did professionally. That really has stifled so many entrepreneurs. You just can’t do that.

Dave: As a person on that wire right now – we’re two years into Tidemark and definitely getting swayed – I love and hate this concept of an integrated life. I mostly love it. But I do want to explore this in a little bit more detail at the end.

If we flow through on Davisware and round out the story, as you’re living this integrated life… There just seems to be a ton of resiliency in who you and Dan are, in addition to hard work, but what were the hardest parts of the journey? What were the toughest times for you guys?

Jennifer: I mean, cash flow was always hard. From a mechanical standpoint, I would say cash flow was very hard, trying to figure out what your balance was and where your priorities were. Fortunately, our customers oftentimes were our biggest advocates. They were also the people that we relied upon for a lot of business advice. But I think that was probably the hardest single thing: cash flow.

Also, if I had to think back on all of the different things, it was that there was just a lot of stress in not having any margin for error. I will never forget when Y2K happened. Just before that, we had gotten delivery of a product called Progress, coming out with this new graphical user interface—which is obviously what we’re doing today. Dan put it onto his computer, was testing some things, and he looked at me and said, “This took me 10 times longer than it used to take me.” We don’t have 10 times the cash. We can’t charge our customers 10 times more. We were backed into a corner. It was truly just the pressure that we were always under. I mean, pressure creates diamonds, right? 

How much of our success came out of that pressure? I couldn’t tell you because I don’t know the alternative.

Dave: Were there any things that made it easier through these challenges? Were there heroes that you guys looked up to? Were there architects of success? Or were you guys kind of figuring it out by yourselves?

Jennifer: Within the software industry, I would say the answer is no. We were so early, they just weren’t there. One gentleman by the name of Sean Hoyt owned a company called S2K, and for me one of my biggest professional successes was buying that company. They were who we aspired to be from a technology perspective very early on, and then, ultimately, we bought them. I respected what they did and maybe took some lessons from what they did. 

If I thought about who my heroes were, they were our customers. They were these companies who were trying to build really good service companies and were giving us the permission to ride sidecar with their success and learn from them how to build our own business and also be good stewards to their businesses.

Dave: You ultimately decided to sell to a private equity firm. Tell me about that decision. You put over three decades of work, effort, and passion into building this great business. What ultimately led you to decide to sell?

Jennifer: When you think about it, a decision is never unilateral. There isn’t one reason. There was a collection of things that happened. I’ll start with the earliest, which was a letter that I wrote to myself when I was 17, saying that I would stop working for money when I was 50 and I was going to spend the rest of my life making a difference in the world. We sold three months before I turned 50. That was definitely part of the conversation, but it certainly wasn’t the biggest driver.

We were the last privately held software product at most of the industry events, so the pressure was on us. Companies – you mentioned ServiceTitan earlier; you know, they have limitless amounts of cash to compete against us. We felt like the writing was on the wall from a marketing perspective. 

We also knew that some major investment had to be made into the software, and we had mortgaged our house over and over again. We had done everything we could on a personal level. At 50 and 55 years old, we weren’t interested in taking those risks yet again. I think that had a lot to do with it. 

And then, the multiples were crazy. It was just a crazy time. All of those things came together in a time that made it worthwhile.

Dave: That makes sense. If you had to do it all over again if it was available to you, would you have taken venture money, or would you do it exactly the way you’ve done it from a financing standpoint?

Jennifer: I think we would have done some things differently, absolutely. A lot of our success came because we didn’t have somebody else on the outside that we had to report to and to tell us what to do. I think there’s a balancing act. Maybe 10 years before we sold would have been the time that I would have probably taken money, if the right opportunity existed.

Dave: Just on that piece, every company is kind of a snowflake. Were there specific parts of conventional wisdom that you thought would be pernicious and painful to deal with with an outside investor? Or was it a broader thought that we want to figure this out on a first-principles basis and do it our own way?

Jennifer: No, it wasn’t the latter. It was more that we were working so many hours. The whole concept of having to give an extra 5 or 10 hours a week to meetings with somebody else, reporting for somebody else… 

We knew every grain of sand on the beach of our business. I didn’t need reports of many types. When we did go to sell, it was so interesting because we were finally creating reports and data around information in our business. There were so few surprises, almost none. As I look back, that was what we didn’t want to do. I just didn’t want to have to report out and get somebody else up to speed on what we had spent all this time learning.

Dave: That’s great. If you look back on those three decades, what are you most proud of? If you think about your legacy as a company, as an organization, as a product.

Jennifer: Wow. That’s actually a big one. What I’m most proud of is how we were able to help all of these small businesses create family legacies. We were like putting rocket fuel in rocket ships. We were taking very nontechnical businesses and making systemic and exponential changes in their business. I’m really proud of that. We helped thousands of businesses grow into family legacies.

I feel the same way about our employees. I said Davisware had three assets. Our number one asset was our people, our number two was our customer, and our third was our product. We fundamentally changed the lives of so many people, internally as well as externally.

You had asked some of the things I’m proud of—we opened India before some of the major companies were there. We were there before Smith-Klein. We were there before Baxter. Microsoft opened, I think, the year before or the year after us. Dan went to India for the first time in 2002, I believe is when it was. There were no IP phones. He bought a one-way ticket  and said, “I’ll come back when I figure it out.” 

When we had that realization over Y2K that there was no way we could build this business without changing something fundamentally, we knew we had to figure out how to outsource. We went to India the first time and failed. We went to China and failed. Then we went back to India, and we realized the first two failures happened because we were trying to buy labor and not invest in people. The minute that Dan went there and incorporated and became a business, an Indian corporation, was when our lives changed.

Dave: Let’s close with what you’re working on right now and this concept of an integrated life. One thing that maybe not everybody knows is in the three decades while you were building Davisware, you were also raising 10 kids. Your life was probably more integrated than most. [Laughs] Maybe talk a little bit about that. Pull on that thread.

Jennifer: We have 10 kids, as you said. Seven are biological; three are adopted. We actually took in my husband’s niece, and at the time, she was almost 14, and I was 21 if it gives you some perspective. [Laughs] We had to have an integrated life from day one.

I think [this is] what my parents demonstrated to me growing up. Our business was on the same property. My mom cooked lunches and dinners for our family but also for our employees. It was integrated at home, so I think I just…it was natural. I didn’t know any different.

Our son Adam was in nine countries and 13 states before he turned 1. I took him everywhere with me. I nursed all of my kids, so they had to be with me. Our office had a full kitchen, and we bought an office building right next to our kids’ school so that we could make that work. We coached every single sport so that we could control the schedule. When we couldn’t control the schedule in baseball, then Dan became the VP of the league so that he could map out all of the… [Laughs] That was when you knew it was probably getting a little too crazy. [Laughter]

Dave: That’s a pro move, actually, to coach so you can control the schedule. That’s smart. My kids are about to graduate from high school, so it’s too late for me, but maybe for others. That’s clever.

Jennifer: We did it always. I coached cross country and volleyball, and Dan coached basketball and baseball. Our kids were all multi-sport athletes. It was always integrated. It was always the way it was. 

By the way, it wasn’t just that way for us. It wasn’t unusual for an employee to bring a baby in for a few hours or to stay at home with a sick kid. All of that is commonplace today, but back then, it was unheard of. People couldn’t grasp that.

One thing I want to share is that is actually kind of out of place here, but you asked me earlier, so I apologize. I’m going to blow up your interview and go backward.

Dave: No, that’s great.

Jennifer: When we were making one of the acquisitions, purchasing S2K, I called our lawyer. Our lawyer had been our lawyer since I was 17, so we had a longstanding personal relationship with him. I said, “Joe, we signed a contract to buy another company.” 

He said, “Great, where are they?” 

I said, “Well, they don’t have an office. They’re virtual.” 

And he’s like, oh, where are their servers? I’m like, It’s in the cloud. He’s like, well, where’s the software? It was on the hard drive. 

He was furious. He actually hung up on me. He said, “You’re buying nothing. What are you buying?” He was so angry at the thought that we were making such a vital, critical decision and we were going to torpedo ourselves. 

It’s just a common theme throughout everything we did. When we opened India, Dan came to me and said, “I need a million dollars.” I’m thinking [Laughs], That’s so cute that you think that. I don’t know where that’s coming from. We ended up taking out a home equity line of credit. At the time, the banking system was broken, and they were letting you take out a line of credit at 120% of the value of your home. Our home in no way was worth that, so we built a bigger house. And if we did the work ourselves, we doubled our money just by doing the work ourselves. We made every part of the house bigger that was cheap—so big bedrooms, but the kitchen didn’t change. Again, that sounds like that is the craziest thing I’ve ever heard, but that’s how we opened India.

Dave: Wow. That’s awesome.

Let’s end with what your mission is today. You published a book called Living Exponentially, and I think it became a bestseller in all of 10 or 12 days. There’s clearly a big demand for your ideas. You’re now running an organization called Be Exponential. Let’s end with that organization’s purpose and how you’re spending your time today.

Jennifer: My personal mission probably has never changed. It’s just gotten more refined, and this gives me the opportunity to focus exclusively on that. 

Family is really important to me, and at Davisware, we did a lot of work with family businesses. My Be Exponential organization is now all about creating a community to support mom-preneurs and women who really want to figure out a world where they’re not trading joy for success. 

What I’ve seen so often is that’s a decision women make. They don’t realize it at the time, but they trade in what creates joy for them. My goal is to redefine that and help women think about it in terms of joy being their measure of success; then, the success comes as a result. Once you’re joyful in everything you do, that happens. It’s an online community. Right now, we’ve got about 600 members online. I’m pretty proud of that, having launched it in January.

It’s a B2B business primarily, so we’re working with businesses to teach them how to successfully employ people who are part of families—which is virtually everyone—and help them build a business around that sustainably and create a culture similar to Davisware.

The top of the pyramid is doing retreats. I’ve just finished up my second retreat with a group of C-suite executive women. We hosted them in Florida for a four-day event. Pretty fun stuff, and so rewarding to see these people fundamentally change what they’re doing and how they view what they’re doing—yet the outside world sees nothing but them putting rocket fuel in their own ship.

Dave: That’s so awesome. What a great way to spend your time, and what a great way of giving back. 

Jennifer, thanks so much for being a guest and sharing your personal story and the Davisware story. I think everybody is going to really enjoy it. Thanks for coming on.

Jennifer: Thank you so much for your interest and for all of your time. It was great.


Dave Yuan

Founder and Partner, Tidemark

September 2023

The information presented in this post is for illustrative purposes only and is not an offer to sell or the solicitation of an offer to purchase an interest in any private fund managed or sponsored by Tidemark or any of the securities of any company discussed. Tidemark portfolio companies identified above are not necessarily representative of all Tidemark investments, and no assumption should be made that the investments identified were or will be profitable. For additional important disclaimers regarding this post, please see “ Purpose of the Site; Not Investment Advice; No Recommendations” and “Regulatory Disclosures” in the Terms of Use for Tidemark’s website, available at Terms of Use (tidemarkcap.com).

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