Dominic Ebanks always loved helping others. Now he runs a consulting firm that provides technology solutions for nonprofits and has built his business by helping organizations that are making a difference in the world.
What is your job title and what industry do you work in?
I am the Co-Founder and President of Acuta Digital, a full-service Information Technology firm that works primarily with nonprofit organizations and government agencies to build their brands. A brand is the way that an organization or business tells the world who they are, and we help them build that, usually starting with their website.
One thing that I love about the websites we build is that they’re functional as well as beautiful. So often, an organization will have a team build a gorgeous website that doesn’t really meet their operational needs or create a really great technical solution to a problem that doesn’t engage the audience they’re trying to reach. We make sure that we do both well.
What is your ethnicity and gender? How has it hurt or helped you?
I’m a first-generation American of Caribbean heritage. My family comes from a rural area of Jamaica. I go back to Jamaica a lot, to do volunteer work or just to visit family, and I think it gives me a much different perspective on the world. Seeing life outside of the US makes you realize how many resources and opportunities we have in America compared to other countries. There are definitely barriers here, but as long as you have two arms and two feet, why not take advantage of what’s here? The road may be difficult, but at least there’s still a road there at all.
I really try not to focus on the challenges that I’ve faced because of my culture or race, because I’d rather tackle those challenges head-on and come out on the other side. I fight back against the stereotypes about who I am or the surprise that I’m the person leading the company by doing good work and letting that speak for me. Every time I face a challenge, I get focused and try to figure out how to get past it and get to my goal.
How would you describe what you do? What does your work entail?
My job at the company as the CEO and President is to create our overall strategy and direction and make sure that all of our stakeholders are satisfied at the end of the day. That means not just our clients, but also our partners, nonprofits that we support, and the staff. It starts with building relationships – meeting people and telling them what we do, why it’s important, and how it can help them. Once we have a client, I work to make sure each project stays on track and that everyone is happy with the end result.
What was your journey to doing this kind of work? How did you get here?
I went to college as a pre-med student, but my real passion was for business, so I went to work in the corporate world as a business consultant after graduation. I was able to learn a lot of hands-on skills in the corporate world, from business development to negotiation skills to people management, but in the back of my mind, I always knew that I’d eventually want to leave.
I started preparing for my last day from the beginning – I never let myself get comfortable financially and take the exotic vacations or go to the high-end restaurants that my friends did. I invested most of the money I made into stocks and lived as simply as possible. And when I was ready to quit my job, I had enough saved up to go back to school for a master’s in business without having to work during my studies. Once I got there, I was drawn to the idea of starting my own business and I started my entrepreneurial path after I graduated in 2007. I thought it would give me more freedom and give me the opportunity to give back to people while making money.
I always say that I started a business at the best possible time – at the beginning of the recession in 2008. People questioned my timing, but when you start a company during lean times, everyone learns to live very frugally instead of just throwing money at issues. The resources were lean, so I built a slim operation, just the way I had personally when I was saving for graduate school. Now we have a presence in three cities– Pittsburgh, New York City, and Atlanta – and a core staff of nine, but we still remain nimble.
Do you love what you do? Do you think you’ve found the right path?
I love the work that I do, but more importantly, I love being able to decide who I do it for. We do a lot of work with and for small nonprofit organizations. In this new digital age, you don’t have to be a big and well-known organization to make an impact, but not everyone will give smaller nonprofits a chance. We do.
We work with smaller organizations on a sliding scale and give clients the option of picking somewhere for us to donate a percentage of the fees they’ve paid us. The money comes out of our bottom line, but it goes to other nonprofits that need a voice and resources to be able to succeed. One great thing about being the boss is that you can have a vision and build a company that reflects it. Our company culture is a reflection of who I am.
What kind of challenges do you face?
It’s a big virtual world out here. We work with clients around the world, but our competition also comes from around the world, particularly in places that have a much lower cost of living and can offer competitive pricing. On the other hand, we also compete with firms that are a lot bigger than we are. So a lot of my job is relationship building and persuading people that we’re the ones they need to work with. It’s like going on a job interview in your best suit and tie two times a week.
What is the single most important thing you have learned outside of school about the working world?
Sometimes people are too narrow in their focus and throw away experiences and relationships that don’t directly relate to their goals. But the personal relationships that you develop and the skills that you learn always make you a better person, and that makes you a better business person. The more you develop personally, the more likely it is that your career develops along with you.
If you could write your own ticket, what would you like to be doing in five years?
I love what I do, so I’m going to keep on doing it. I do think the company is going to change to try to touch more people. Right now, we provide services, but there’s a limit to how many people we can really touch doing that, because you run into issues with how much time there is in a day and what resources you have available. If we start offering products, our reach can be so much wider. I also want to get other small businesses to do the type of charitable work that we do – so many times, business owners think that all philanthropic work is powered by big foundations and corporations, but everyone can make a difference.