As the author of Proving Ground: A Memoir, Tarver’s faculty status at The University of Michigan’s Center for Entrepreneurship and College of Engineering finds him guiding aspiring business professionals and engineers to achievement in the business he’s found so much personal success in working. As an electrical engineer, he and his partners launched Telecom Analysis Systems (TAS).
Manufacturing advanced telecommunications instruments in a home basement, the company grew to make millions internationally before selling it to Bowthorpe plc (now Spirent plc), a UK-based company, for $30 million. Tarver went on to spearhead the development of Spirent plc, which led to sales of over $250 million. These days, Tarver continues to share his knowledge by teaching at the university level and through his community nonprofit The Red Bank Education and Development Initiative. Located in Red Bank, N.J., the organization works to improve the performance of children. Always dedicated to teaching, Tarver shares his reminders and tips on what he’s learned along the way to making millions.
BlackEnterprise.com: When you speak and make appearances, what are the key things you find yourself reminding people about?
David Tarver: I get a lot of questions in a lot of different areas. I end up reminding them that whatever their idea is, it’s important to get started on it. So often people have thoughts about going into business or ideas that they think about, but they never get off the dime or take steps toward getting something concrete done. Get started in some way. It’s easier to get started in things today than it ever was. It’s easy to do research on the internet.
What personal mistakes have you learned from along the way?
Early on, I spent six years pursuing what I thought was a business opportunity before I landed on the things that propelled me. But I was going about it the wrong way in that I wasn’t getting evidence from the market place. I knew what I wanted to do, and it sounds simple, but I didn’t put what I wanted to do in the context of what customers wanted. You’d be surprised the extent to which I see that today. We tend to get an idea in our head and don’t want to share it to not diffuse any fantasies we have about it. But it’s important to go out and get information from people and test it in the market place.
And what’s the third thing you want to share?
The third is related in that we often start businesses thinking in terms of an idea. But I try to focus people on using business innovation to solve a problem. To identify a problem that needs to be solved and one that is important to somebody and when you do that, you start out with the knowledge that someone needs what you’re doing. It’s not something neat or cool. It’s something that has a need that somebody is willing to pay money to have addressed.
What’s the key to success?
I would say determination. Business for me was as much a cause as it was an economic endeavor. My first order of concern wasn’t whether the business ended up being a big success or not. I just wanted to find out if I could do it. ‘Cause as a child of the civil rights movement, I grew up seeing a lot of firsts out there. I had not seen a Black person start an engineering tech company in their basement and grow it to be a multimillion company. There were no models out there. So it was a challenge to me to see if it could be done. But the thinking that carries me and my two co-founders who were black was the enormous determination that we weren’t going to let anything stop us. People talk about passion in terms in entrepreneurship and we had a passion for engineering and electronics and that was the discipline. But I would say, more so, you can be passionate about something. But what enables us is we were determined. We weren’t going to be denied.
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