Evan Burfield is a co-founder of 1776, driven by his passionate belief in entrepreneurship as the engine for solving the major problems facing America and the world today—from education to energy efficiency.
Evan became an entrepreneur in 1996 when he founded netDecide, shortly after graduating from the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. Before he turned 25, he built netDecide into the leading provider of enterprise wealth management solutions for top tier financial service firms. After netDecide, Evan served as the Director of Strategy and Technology for Oakwood Global Finance, where he led the London-based private equity firm’s analyses of new global markets, new business models in financial services, and data-driven investment strategies. In 2006, Evan returned to Washington, D.C. to found Synteractive, a consulting firm that builds innovative social apps for startups, corporations, and government agencies.
Evan holds Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from the University of Oxford. While at Oxford, he won the Webb Medley prize for outstanding work on the effects of organizational incentives on knowledge sharing. Evan currently serves on the Board of the Rothermere American Institute at Oxford, dedicated to the study of American history and politics.
My Definition Of Success | Before I co-founded 1776, I thought a lot about what I wanted my next adventure in life to be. I decided that I would do something that provided me with rewards along four dimensions. First, I need to do something that stimulates me intellectually. Second, I need to do something that I think it important, namely to helping people live better, richer lives. Third, I need something that allows me to compete and win—in measurable ways. Finally, I want to be rewarded financially for winning.
At 1776, we’re provided with all four rewards. It’s incredibly interesting every day. As you can see from this great profile in the Irish Times, we’re building a global movement of start-ups who are interested in solving big problems and helping them transform industries that effect human essentials around the world.
We get to measure our successes on a regular basis—with clear tangible wins. And finally, if these companies are massively successful, then we’ll be rewarded as well.
The Difference Between Good And Great | In a single word: passion. It’s very hard to be truly great at something unless you utterly love doing it.
A Key Talent | The ability to communicate is critical to my success. The ability to take complex ideas and distil them down to simple, compelling stories is the foundation for strong communication. The ability to then deliver these stories with passion, sincerity, and tailored to the understanding of an audience is what makes someone a great communicator. I work hard at the craft. I’m constantly telling stories about the startups that we support at 1776—or more broadly about how we can work together to change the world—and seeing what moves people, tweaking a bit, and trying again. I study how other people communicate effectively and I’m not at all shy about borrowing techniques if I think they can make me more effective.
Principles I Live By | It’s every leader’s responsibility—as a human capable of reason, if nothing else—to really think about their principles and values. For me, I’m guided by the idea of categorical imperatives—one should act only according to ethical rules such that you can, at the same time, believe that the rule should become a universal law. Put more simply, do unto others as you would have done unto you.
Dealing With Doubt | Anyone who tells you they don’t feel self-doubt, fear, or negativity is either lying or a sociopath. For me, I started out building startups at 18 years old with a healthy dose of confidence—but building a startup will test every aspect of your belief in yourself. Now, at 38, it’s easier to brush negative thoughts aside by looking back on 20 years of experience persevering through difficult situations.
Performing At My Peak | Building anything worthwhile will take a while—most likely years. They’re more marathons than sprints. While there are absolutely certain times when you have to push harder than usual, I really try to take care of myself with consistent sleep, exercise, yoga, healthy diet, and lots of water. I’m usually pretty good at it, but travel will often knock me sideways. When I’ve been travelling a lot, particularly internationally, I have to remember to find the time to let myself recover.
The Meaning Of Life | The meaning of life is love. More precisely, life is best when you’re living it with compassion in service to your community. I think of communities in terms of concentric rings. At the inner ring is my wife (and hopefully children someday soon). Next are my parents, siblings, and life long friends. Beyond that is whatever team I’m leading. And eventually I arrive at humanity. The most important thing I can do is take care of my wife and family. If you’re blessed with exceptional energy and abilities, then your compassion and service can extend around the world. I can’t imagine that there are many people who lie on their death bed and think, “Wow, I should have spent less time loving and helping others.”
Advice On Building Wealth | Find something you’re good at and passionate about and do it better than anyone else.
On Inspiring Others | Craft a mission worth following and culture worth joining. And communicate with sincerity as often as you can.