Arlyn Davich is the founder and CEO of PayPerks. Once upon a time, she was voted, “Most likely to sell a ketchup popsicle to a woman wearing white gloves.” She’s always wanted to put that on her resume but, until now, could never find the right spot. Prior to founding PayPerks, Arlyn worked in various facets of Brand Management for companies including Louis Vuitton, Time Inc., Rubenstein Public Relations and Dannon. She developed a passion for social entrepreneurship while getting her MBA at Columbia Business School, and developed the idea for PayPerks while enrolled in the school’s Greenhouse incubator program. She currently serves as President of the Bowdoin Club of New York.
Q: Please share with us the story of how your professional journey began and has brought you to where you are today.
A: A series of lucky accidents.
Accident 1: I didn’t get the job I coveted at a big advertising agency straight out of college. Instead, I landed at a smaller PR firm where I learned how rewarding – and fun – working in an entrepreneurial environment can be.
Accident 2: One of my best friends was applying to business school and somehow – probably because I wanted to see her more– I ended up enrolled in her GMAT class. From there it was a slippery slope: infosession…application…admitted students weekend…sold! Not just on business school but on using business school as a launching pad to start by my own business. If only I had an idea…
Accident 3: I was researching a (bad) business idea I had in the couponing space when I stumbled upon the un- and underbanked market. I was shocked at how large this group was, how much money they spend in financial services fees and how few technology enabled start-ups were focusing on creating disruptive solutions.
Q: What are 3 characteristics that you believe define great leadership?
A: The best leaders I’ve encountered 1. lead by example 2. can identify – and draw out – star quality in just about anyone and 3. are able to adapt their leadership style depending on who they need to lead (or follow).
Q: What’s your best advice for an entrepreneur in an early/bootstrapping phase?
A: If you can define your company by solving a problem as opposed to offering a product/service, there’s really no way you can fail. Just make sure you’re focused on something that’s a really big problem for a lot of people.
Q: Can you share a story of how networking led to a great success?
A: It’s hard to pinpoint just one story. I email senior people who I have no business talking to almost every day. More often then not they respond, are kind, and are willing to help if they can.
Q: A great negotiation can be game changing for one’s business or life. Studies have shown that men are much more comfortable negotiating and asking for what they want compared to women. What’s your advice to women who are uncomfortable negotiating?
A: I would give myself a ‘needs improvement’ in this area. It’s amazing how comfortable I can feel ‘negotiating’ when I’m focused on coming up with creative solutions that benefit both parties but how uncomfortable I can become when it comes to issues where someone has to win.
My interim solution has been to rely on my business partner to take the lead in those moments. It’s helped quell my fears a bit to see him consistently ask and then get!
Q: If you had the opportunity to give advice to your younger self at say the age 13, what would you say?
A: Dearest Arlyn,
I know you think it’s pointless to practice (patch…piano…math…) but getting good at practicing is the point of practicing, and being good at practicing is what allows you to get great at the things that aren’t pointless.
O yea, and skip the bangs phase. You’ll thank me.
Older and wise Arlyn
Q: What do you think is the key to happiness?
A: Loving family, loyal friends and California Chardonnay. Mix whenever possible.
ON Taking Risk
Q: How do you overcome feelings of insecurity, fear or discomfort when deciding to take a risk?
A: I remember the first time my mom called me brave: I was simultaneously proud and confused. Brave girls climb trees, and I certainly wasn’t that type of brave. But in that moment it occurred to me that 1. I wanted to be brave and 2. That I was capable of doing things that scared other people. I suppose I think about that a lot…that someone else thinks I’m brave.
Q: Oprah has that great section in her magazine “What I know for sure”. What do you know for sure?
A: It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.
Q: Which book(s) has had the most significant impact on your life and why?
A: A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby. Not because I liked it, or even finished it, but because it was the inaugural book read by my now 10-year old Book Club. The ladies in the club have had much more of an impact on my life than any one book we’ve read, or not to mention any names, skimmed, on the subway en route to the monthly meeting. Having a group of such smart and ambitious women be such a constant in your life really raises the bar for what you’re supposed to accomplish with yours. I guess it’s the best kind of peer pressure there is.