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Doing Good While Doing Well

Dominic EbanksDominic 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?Dominic Ebanks - Closeup
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.Dominic Ebanks - Bench

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?Dominic Ebanks - Volunteer
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.

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  • This article inspired me because I relate to and agree with a lot of the information written. I am also a first generation American and am beyond grateful to have the opportunity to live in a country with so much to offer. I agree with what Ebanks said about developing, I believe it is a key aspect in life. I constantly strive to become a better version of myself, to improve my work ethic, and to elevate my work itself. It is clear that ambition and persistence got him to be where he is at, which is so fulfilling. This article motivates me to move forward in my life with the same positive attitude as Ebanks.

  • I can relate to this story because despite being in one degree there are others that feel more passionate about. I hope to find what really makes me happy, but still just am not exactly sure what I want to do. Since I am almost done with undergrad, maybe if I go on to law school or graduate school I can find my dream job there.

  • The phases that you go through to get to where you are now is what defines you or call it “Personal Branding”. The real life and struggles of being an Entrepreneurial are mostly mistaken with having an easier and happy life. The most touching part of your story is the sacrifice you made during college days which were supposed to be the most enjoyable moments. I understand the struggle and importance of time when you know you want to make a change in the world. The change doesn’t have to be the huge one, doing little good is better than doing nothing.

    Also, I agree the most important part of being a CEO is not being your own boss or being able to whatever you want. It’s the relationships you make, the commitments you follow, the goals you achieve, and taking the initiative of being better every day. The reason I feel your story and your sacrifices is because I want to be an Entrepreneur and every day I prepare myself for being a better person. People often mistaken me for not being boring and not going out for dinners, parties, and trips. But it doesn’t bother me because I have set my goals and my pathway to achieving them.

    I would like to end by saying that entrepreneurship is not building a business, it is solving a problem for the betterment of people.

  • That’s really awesome for you! My dream is to become a cartoonist, and I would like to start as a freelancer. It’s not that common of a career but I have loved comics/cartoons when I was little, and I have always wanted to make some of my own to inspire others. I want to be my own boss and to have people who could possibly help me out with projects.

    I know that working on your own at first is tough, especially with the many competitors that you’ll undoubtedly face from many other people who are just as determined as you are. I understand that ethics and race can definitely play a role in on how some people will judge you, but even if you face negative judgment, you should let that stop you from achieving your goals.

    No matter what, I know I will always strive to achieve my goals, no matter what obstacles would stand in my way, and I hope that you will keep on striving to achieve the things you want to achieve.

  • This story was very inspiring since Dominic Ebanks was someone who enjoyed his job and also how it contributed to the community. More entrepeneurs should follow these steps to help society become a better place. As a business administration major at San Jose State, as a future businesswoman I want to contribute to my community just like Dominic with non profit organizations in making the world a better place!

  • I connect with this guy so much. I too felt like I was studying for a field that my heart wasn’t into while my heart ached for a secret passion. I respect and admire him for being able to become so successful in what he wants to do and not what others wanted him to. He played the game and didn’t let others play him, and currently, I’m trying to do the same.

  • Dominic’s story –his passion and determination—is an inspiration to me. Specifically, his career journey, lessons he learned, and what he believes and dreams resonate with me, which I can relate to as I map out my career path as a graduate student.

    What first attracted me to his story was the title: Doing good while doing well. As I read about how he is doing good while doing well, I got inspired by his work ethic and motto. Like he said, I too always loved helping others, and I became particularly interested in helping children, youth, and their teachers so that they could receive quality education. Believing that ‘everyone can make a difference’, I started working for a small nonprofit after college, which supported schools in rural Kenya. Although we were not sort of a big foundation or corporation that could pour out money for charity’s sake, we got to work with various small organizations and individuals from diverse backgrounds. And together we did make a difference: we were able to raise funds and give scholarships for local teachers to go to college and receive education and teacher training, and we were also able to hold workshops for teachers and camps for children during their breaks with volunteer teachers from Korea. Over time, I felt the need for ‘doing well’ in the field of international educational development, which brought me here to pursue my study further.

    Additionally, what I also learned from my work experience was the importance of personal relationships. ‘Team project’ is half of the work in the field of international development and education, because it requires an interdisciplinary approach in order to address educational issues around the world. For example, in terms of the project for literacy education in Nepal (after the 2015 earthquake) in which I have been involved, we needed not only educational specialists but also experts in technology, business, illustration and photography, etc. Similar to what Dominic shared, I learned that the more I tried to build personal relationships and a team spirit, the more I learned about them personally, about their work and skills, and also about myself. I believe that knowing how you communicate with people and how you relate to them are essential skills in working with others in various settings. Furthermore, I experienced how personal relationships could open up new possibilities in the career path, as Dominic said. Because people whom I worked with know my expertise, passion, and capacity, they became my strong allies and supporters, which from time to time has led to new opportunities in the field.

    Last but not least, I truly enjoyed reading how Dominic has dealt with the challenges he faced because of his race, ethnicity, or culture. Up until today I have also faced various challenges due to my gender, ethnicity, and race. When I was young, I got frustrated, upset, or devastated every time I faced such challenges or barriers. Over time, however, I learned that the only thing I can actually change was my attitudes toward the challenges. I then decided not to be a pessimistic person who focuses only on the things that I cannot change at the moment (i.e. direct or indirect discrimination, stereotypes or biases, etc.). Rather, I tried to find ways to tackle them and to develop my own strengths that could leverage my career; Indeed, diversity, flexibility, and new perspectives or insights that I could bring with me based on my personal backgrounds and experiences became my great assets.

  • From the perspective of somebody working in the nonprofit world, I’m excited to read about the author’s appreciation for the work and impact of small non-profits. I currently work for a small, community organization, and while we may not have the name recognition or the national/global reach of other nonprofits, our impact is real. The number of youth we work with may not match those nonprofits with millions of dollars in their operating budget but of the few hundred we see every day over the years, we know with certainty that we have made a profound impact on their lives. This impact extends beyond that one person and changes the lives of those he/she touches – starting with family members and the surrounding community to future generations. I hope other entrepreneurs/businesses will adopt this mindset of philanthropy and giving back, no matter how little or big a contribution – for small nonprofit operations, every bit helps us continue our work and mission. Thank you!

  • What an incredible story! I appreciate that your initial degree was in medicine, even though your heart was in business. I’m in a similar spot. I’m getting my degree in Gender and Women’s Studies and Creative Writing, but what I really want is to start a B-Corp that makes eco friendly products. I appreciate that B-Corps are designed from the ground up to be active, both in their business practices and in their communities and I hope I can do it justice.

    Thank you for sharing!

  • I think it is amazing how he was able to form his own business around his love of helping others. I am also interested in participating in non-profit work with my career as well. I am currently working my way towards my career goal by attending university and can relate and admire how Dominic Ebanks reached his goal in helping others.
    Similarly to when Ebanks was saving and to pursue his goal I am currently learning how to budget and invest so I can get the skills and education I need to support my career. I want to be financially literate like Ebanks and use that to make my career achievable.