Serial entrepreneur Anthony De Almeida spoke with MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price about his entrepreneurial journey, including his involvement with finance solutions services startup iMAGROW, which he co-founded at the end of 2021.
NAN PRICE: Have you always had an entrepreneurial spirit?
ANTHONY DE ALMEIDA: I’ve always been entrepreneurial. Even as a kid I tried to figure out ways to do things better and easier. And I was always frustrated when I’d work for somebody else. In the back of my head while I was doing it, I would think: Why are we doing it this way? This seems so silly. There’s got to be an easier, quicker way to do this.
As soon as I became an adult, the entrepreneurial drive really kicked in. I’ve never really worked for anybody. I always joke that I’m unemployable. I don’t think anybody would want to hire me because I think I know more than anybody else. That’s part of being an entrepreneur too—whether we’re right or wrong, we think we can do things better.
NAN: Tell us about your first entrepreneurial experience and how that journey has continued.
ANTHONY: I started my first residential mortgage company when I was 21. That was when internet was in its infancy, so we were toying with the idea of using the online space to market rather than doing what most other brokers at the time were doing conventionally.
We built that company in Canada and it became the largest online brokerage at the time. That gave us the opportunity to deal with a lot of volume, which then gave us the opportunity to look at efficiency, process, systems, which then morphed into other entrepreneurial endeavors.
I did that for about 10 years and then started doing more corporate and commercial finance. I’d occasionally work with some companies to provide fresh insight and sometimes even take some ownership. All along, I always had an interest in funding businesses. About 10 years ago, I started doing corporate commercial finance full-time.
NAN: Let’s get into iMAGROW. How did you become involved?
ANTHONY: I was involved with several other companies because, being an entrepreneur, you can’t just have one thing going on. One of the companies was focused on providing financing options for businesses—anything within the $1MM to $100MM space.
I started to recognize that there was a lot of frustration around the time it took get financing. And a lot of business owners, being entrepreneurs, want to do everything, but they don’t have the bandwidth. Often they’re stuck being in the business and don’t have the time to work on it and grow it. Some can’t afford to bring on a full-time CFO, so responsibilities end up dropping off and their focus is just getting revenue in the door. But you have to grow your business and you need capital to do that.
As I was helping these companies get money, I was noticing similar patterns with every entrepreneur. They were up against the same challenges: time, collection of data, packaging and presenting information to a lender, and figuring out what lenders wanted to see.
I was storing all this information in my head for years and I finally came to a point where I thought: There has got to be a system out there that can do this much quicker, because when you’re an entrepreneur and you’re growing, you need money, and you need it now.
Once COVID-19 hit, that became even more apparent. Nobody was going to wait around for eight to 10 weeks to keep their business going. So, it felt like the time start a company to meet those needs.
I couldn’t start something entirely by myself, so I reached out to two gentlemen I knew through Win Enterprises, David Tweedt and Pete Winiarski. We’d collaborated on projects and other companies and I thought they’d be great in building this with me. We brought in Cameron Gordon to help with marketing. It was a collaborative effort. There’s no way iMAGROW could have started with just with one person.
NAN: When did you officially start the company?
ANTHONY: After doing some research, we saw there was nothing doing what we were doing in the marketplace, so we felt the timing was right. We spent eight months testing and successfully launched at the end of last year. We were getting the results we were expecting and our partners were liking the way they were presented.
NAN: You had a lot of experience early on, but how did you learn to start and grow a business?
ANTHONY: Some people find it comes naturally to them and some people have to dig in and teach themselves. For me, it was a little bit of both. I’ve always been very approachable and I have the ability to drive people, teams, ideas, and concepts and move them forward.
I’m also very thirsty for information and knowledge. If I don’t know something, I want to learn it. With audio books and YouTube and everything else available online, there’s no reason why somebody can’t learn if they really want to. So, I utilize all the free resources available to me.
NAN: Any advice for others?
ANTHONY: There are a lot of really smart people with really good ideas, but everybody has a different way of processing things and working through a project. A lot of people are very impatient and, to be an entrepreneur, you have to be very patient because things don’t happen overnight.
I think most people are wired to do tasks, check them off, and get their paycheck. But when it comes to of being an entrepreneur, you don’t just complete tasks and automatically get paid. It doesn’t work that way.
You have to be very patient when it comes to starting a business—especially starting from scratch. You have to be okay with things not moving as fast as you’d like, because you don’t have all the control. People think entrepreneurs get to set their own hours, but you often end up working work way more hours than you would if you did a 9-5 because that’s what it takes to move past the startup phase.
NAN: In terms of “failing forward,” can you share anything you’ve had to learn the hard way?
ANTHONY: This is one of the most important questions. When it comes to entrepreneurs, again, people have to be patient. At the same time, people have to get over themselves when it comes to the failure part. At an early age, we’re programmed to think: pass or fail. And there’s a negative connotation attached to failure.
As an adult, it’s completely different. It’s the opposite. When you’re starting a business, you’re going to fail. You have to fail. A true entrepreneur has to get over that fact. There’s a bit of ego there. There’s a bit of pride there. You get bruised sometimes.
I’ve had many failures in my life. That’s the only reason why I’ve been able to figure out how to solve certain problems. If you’re too successful too early, you can get too confident and then you miss key elements of what you’re trying to accomplish. So, failure is absolutely necessary. And if you don’t accept that, you won’t be able to move forward and be successful as an entrepreneur.