In a career that can often pull you in a thousand directions, Setzer has learned to remain disciplined in his goals and consistent in his pursuit of them.
This post is part of The Founder Factor, where we bring you behind the scenes with South Carolina’s most impactful entrepreneurs so that you can discover the strategies, ideas, and mindsets you need to unlock your next business breakthrough.
When you think of entrepreneurship, what comes to mind? For David Setzer, it’s the dairy farm his dad grew up on in rural North Carolina. In fact, he calls farmers the original entrepreneurs. It was this sun up to sun down mindset that shaped Setzer’s view of hard work. This perspective, plus his early love of law, politics, and business, set him on the path to entrepreneurship. After graduating from The University of South Carolina with a degree in Finance and Entrepreneurship, Setzer worked as a law clerk, where he considered entering the legal field. “I decided that I couldn’t go to school for 4 more years,” he states. “I wanted to get out in the world and produce something.” This need led him to Greenville, where he began working for his family’s business. During this time, Setzer helped bring the business online during the 90s when the internet had yet to be fully embraced.
After gaining some experience through his family’s business, Setzer decided it was time to embark on his own project and, in 2000, launched what is now Mailprotector, a SaaS-based B2B email security platform. During the next decade, Setzer learned many lessons about his role as a Founder and CEO. “There are so many things that I have done wrong I could write several encyclopedias on what not to do,” he states. “But we did get some things right, and by 2019 we had grown the business to about 35 employees when previously we were running on about 6 to 10 team members.”
He compares his early years of the company to guerilla warfare, in which his small team did whatever was necessary to make it. “It was a probably good year and a half at that point that I trained myself to get up and just get the job done,” he says. “Honestly, sometimes you have to just grind and get through it to accomplish what you need to, knowing things will ultimately change.” While entrepreneurship is often sold as freedom from the tyranny of a 9 to 5 desk job, the mistakes and growing pains that every entrepreneur’s faces have their own set of challenges that Setzer has faced during his years.
Looking back on these early growing years, Setzer can identify the places he should have focused on more. “It’s easy for me to get distracted by things,” he explains. “I wish I had implemented more structure and purpose into what I was doing at the time.” However, it was through learning to focus on his company’s purpose that he began to see growth into what is now a business with over 35 employees. Company growth in and of itself is a new challenge to take on. “I have heard an adage that, “Every time you triple your growth, you blow everything up,” he states. “I wasn’t prepared for how we had to blow up our systems, processes, and communication, all of which overlapped with COVID..” But as the pandemic slowed its course, Setzer emerged with an ever-growing business that speaks to his leadership and consistent pursuit of his goals for the company.
Things really began to change for Mailprotector when Setzer decided to accept funding for his project. A decision that was made after years of seeing better-funded competitors bringing ideas to the market that he and his team had had years earlier. Accepting outside funding has helped Setzer achieve his goals quicker.
“We are returning email to what it was meant to be,” he explains of the company. “Email was this beautiful calm experience that made people’s lives better, but now it is something you have to manage every day.” Seeing this issue and spending years developing a team of experts in email security and privacy, Mailprotector is blazing a new trail. While accepting funding helped catapult the company, Setzer feels that the timing of this decision was when it needed to be. “While I have looked back and thought that I wish we had accepted funding earlier, I don’t know if we were ready,” he says. “I think there were things that we needed to learn before we were ready to start. It may have been the wrong thing earlier and could have even been destructive.”
When it comes to the sacrifices an entrepreneur has to make daily, Setzer admits that it might not be the job for everyone. “This is only something to do because it’s not a job; it’s a lifestyle,” he states. “For me personally, I couldn’t do anything else.” His early passion to create things and release them into the world drove Setzer to start his company, and for those with a similar draw, Setzer provides some advice. “What is your passion? What are you good at? And what can you get paid for? Start where those three things overlap,” he states. “Don’t be afraid to take a different path if you aren’t finding traction. Often the difference between winning and losing is not fighting.” If Setzer’s journey depicts anything, it is his consistent fight in the face of challenges and hardship to accomplish his goals.
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