Episode 54: Sharing Lessons in Entrepreneurial Resilience While Expanding Access to Cash for the Underserved

Hello listeners, and welcome back to Tech Forward! On this week’s episode, I spoke with D’ontra Hughes, serial entrepreneur, and founder and CEO of fintech platform SPARE. By turning any cash register into an ATM, SPARE helps merchants increase foot traffic and underbanked consumers avoid costly fees. If that sounds familiar, you may have caught his appearance on Shark Tank earlier this year. D’ontra is also a motivational speaker who shares valuable lessons for entrepreneurs about resilience, team building, and finding the right business partners. Today on the show, he’ll share the story of how he built several businesses from the ground up, as well as his advice for other entrepreneurs.

While employed at JP Morgan, D’ontra witnessed firsthand how influential financial services are in our everyday lives, as well as how certain consumers could be disenfranchised by these services. For the 20% of the population who are underbanked, the average ATM fee of $4.69 per transaction can make a significant impact on their financial wellbeing. With SPARE, one of D’ontra’s goals was to reduce or eliminate the fees consumers pay simply to access their cash. “It became clear as we did our troubleshooting that the perfect partners [for these consumers] were small businesses in the community. Those small businesses wanted to increase foot traffic into their stores, and they wanted a cheaper, more secure alternative to ATMs.” Merchants on SPARE tell the network how much cash they want to offload, which brings in nearby consumers in need of that cash.

Though SPARE is gaining traction in the West Hollywood neighborhoods where it has been implemented so far, D’ontra is very forthcoming about how the popular narrative behind entrepreneurship often obscures the true nature of the journey. “To be called an entrepreneur is a badge you earn. It’s a journey and it’s tough.” D’ontra’s work developing SPARE — as well as his previous companies — taught him valuable lessons about resilience and the importance of partnerships rooted in a passionate vision. From couch surfing to debt to the struggles of making grandiose ideas work within the limitations of reality, D’ontra has certainly put in the work to earn the badge of entrepreneur.

When it comes to resilience, D’ontra describes himself as “naive to a fault,” a relentless optimist even in dire situations. A core of resilience nurtures a fearlessness which he says is one of the determining factors for entrepreneurial success. His advice for anyone looking to build their own resilience muscle: schedule time to break away from the vision. “Whether you set an alarm on your phone, or have someone come to your house and physically take your tech out of your hands, do it. Because there are things in your life you might miss that you can’t get back if you didn’t take that breath… Your subconscious mind puts the pieces together and sends you an a-ha moment while you’re focused on something else.”

D’ontra, thank you so much for coming onto the show and sharing your entrepreneurial expertise and the work you’re doing with SPARE. Thank you, also, to everyone out there listening, sharing, and reviewing the show. See you next week!

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