A Slice on Brigham Tomco, Co-Founder and CEO of Emmersion
Growing up with nine siblings and too poor to pay for Little League Football, Brigham Tomco’s mother told him that if he wanted to play football he needed to make the $200 to pay for it. So at age 10, in the fifth grade, he had his first experience as an entrepreneur raising the $200 by doing odd jobs for neighbors. Since then, Tomco has founded 11 companies, most recently Emmersion.ai. Emmersion leverages AI and machine learning to assess user’s language abilities via speaking, writing and grammar assessments with results in under 10 minutes. In its series B round, it is now utilized by multinational organizations, and in over 600 universities for placement and progress.
Brigham likes to joke that he is “an over-educated entrepreneur” as he has an undergrad degree in accounting, a law degree and an MBA. He attributes his unique educational background to his style of building businesses. In addition to building his businesses, he’s also been building his family. He’s been married and had five kids the entire time he’s been an entrepreneur. Getting his entrepreneurial start early, paying for Little League is when Tomoco realized that, “If I ever wanted to get paid what I thought I was worth, I was gonna have to pay myself.”
He got his first job at age 12 walking dogs, he was supposed to walk each dog around a looped path in the woods, but Tomco soon realized that if he ran the dogs around the loop instead, he could walk more dogs and make more money. Continuing to innovate and work hard, by high school Tomco had his own landscaping company.
Scaling up from there, and after his education was complete, he started three venture-backed startups with the help of institutional investors, which led to him getting a job working for a billion-dollar family investment office in New York. Tomco had an “early life crisis” when he turned 30 and realized that he just wanted to be an entrepreneur, he wanted to build companies and didn’t want to live in New York anymore.
Back in the entrepreneurial game, years later, Tomco touts that it was a mixture of his type A personality and naivety that led him into some of his first ventures. “You have to have enough confidence to go, and then stick to it and figure it out along the way. It’s going to be hard no matter what, so knowing that going in and also knowing it’s going to take longer than you think. Entrepreneurial success usually isn’t an overnight thing. It’s those who can stick to it long enough to find product-market fit in their area and then scale it from there, and that product-market fit sometimes takes six months, sometimes it takes two years.” Even in the midst of hard times, Tomco anchored to what mattered most, his family and friends, which ended up keeping his blood pressure a lot lower.
Speaking of things that raise an entrepreneur’s blood pressure… fundraising. Tomco shared that he finds bootstrapping to be more important than raising money right off the bat. With this approach, a founder is able to retain ownership for as long as possible. He shares with young entrepreneurs that, “I think it’s way cooler when I hear about entrepreneurs who are able to build a cool business without raising outside capital. I think that’s probably a contrarian view that I think young entrepreneurs should have in their mind is, it’s better to build a business without having to take money.”
He adds that once an entrepreneur does decide to take money, to again consider the tradeoffs he/she will have to make. Once board members and outside parties are involved they will have influence in decisions. His advice to those just starting out is to develop a thick skin and get ready for a healthy amount of rejection.