When you have the opportunity to ask some of the most interesting people in the world about their lives, sometimes the most fascinating answers come from the simplest questions. The Thrive Questionnaire is an ongoing series that gives an intimate look inside the lives of some of the world’s most successful people.
Thrive Global: What gives you energy?
Davis Smith: I’ve always loved adventures and adventure travel. Planning and executing these experiences is something that stimulates me and keeps me excited about life. I’ve recently organized adventures including: Kayaking from Cuba to Florida with a few entrepreneur friends where we also worked with local Cuban entrepreneurs; Last year I spent five days with my cousin surviving on an atoll in Belize where we speared fish, ate coconuts, and slept in our kayaks on top of a reef at night; This month my CFO, COO, and I went on a 100 hour survival trip in the Mexican Yucatan where we spent only $159/each for the entire trip (including flights).
TG: What’s your secret life hack?
DS: Injecting my deepest passions into my work would be my life hack. After 10 years of entrepreneurship, I decided to focus on building a business around my passions. This brought me to Cotopaxi, which has my life’s passions of travel, adventure, the outdoors, gear, and giving back to others built directly into the business model. It makes life so much more fulfilling when you LOVE going to work every morning.
TG: When was the last time you felt you failed and how did you overcome it?
DS: Right after college, I started my first business. My business partner and I ended up spending 10 years building two different businesses together. Our last business saw some incredible growth where we grew to 300 employees within 18 months of our launch. During those years, we struggled to maintain a unified vision, and my partner explained to me that I wasn’t doing a good job managing my team. I wasn’t getting the most of them because I wasn’t holding people accountable. My management style was to hire exceptional leaders and let them execute their jobs without handholding. I was simply too hands-off. The truth is, he was right. Ultimately, I decided step down from my role as Co-CEO. I was devastated and my psyche was damaged. I ultimately launched another business and created processes that would allow me to tackle some of my weaknesses. I wanted regular feedback as CEO, so we implemented monthly one-on-one meetings where every employee has a two-way feedback session with their manager. Not only do I give regular feedback to my direct reports, but I also receive feedback in return. We set goals that allow us to perform better together, and we report on them in the next one-on-one. There are still plenty of things I’m working to improve, but I have done a better job of setting expectations and holding people accountable to goals. One of the proudest moments of my professional career was last year when my company, Cotopaxi, was named the “#1 Best Place to Work in Utah” out of 3,898 companies, which I largely attribute to that painful failure I experienced in my previous business.
TG: Share a quote that you love and that gives you strength or peace.
DS: My favorite quote is by Dieter Uchtdorf: “The desire to create is one of the deepest yearnings of the human soul.” I believe as humans we innately want to build and create things, and knowing that allows me to focus on doing things that create enormous personal satisfaction and peace.
Davis Smith is the CEO and Founder of Cotopaxi. Davis was previously the Co-CEO of Baby.com.br and Dinda.com.br, Brazil’s Startup of the Year, and he also founded and sold PoolTables.com, America’s largest pool table retailer. Davis holds an MBA from Wharton, an MA in International Studies from the Lauder Institute, and a BA from Brigham Young University. Davis co-founded Cotopaxi with the goal of building an outdoor gear company that could make meaningful strides toward helping others. After spending much of his childhood and early adulthood living in Central and South America, Davis realized he could build a company with a supply chain that drastically improves people’s lives while raising awareness about staggering global inequalities. Davis teamed up with business school classmate Stephan Jacob and, together with Cheri Sanguinetti, they founded Cotopaxi in 2014. Cotopaxi creates innovative outdoor products and experiences that help alleviate poverty, move people to do good, and inspire adventure.