By Nick Muscavage '16
By Nick Muscavage '16
More than a decade ago, Dave Salvant ’08 helped bring Grammy-nominated musician Ryan Leslie to perform at a party at UAlbany, an experience he believes gave him his first taste of business success.
“It was a big turnout, it was a lot of fun,” he remembers. “I was always entrepreneurial.”
Today, Salvant has channeled his entrepreneurial spirit into starting a business that landed on the 2021 Forbes list of the next billion-dollar startups and is, literally, on the cutting edge: Squire Technologies is a software development company aimed at making the business of barbershops more efficient.
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in political science in 2008, Salvant had a brief stint in marketing before finding a career in finance at JP Morgan, where he worked as a private banker for high-net-worth clients. From there, he joined the sales team of insurance giant AXA US, crafting and selling insurance products for financial advisors.
He left AXA after about three years to pursue his own venture, founding Squire in 2015 with his business partner Songe LaRon. Squire was accepted into Y Combinator, the startup incubator with an acceptance rate lower than Harvard that boasts alumni such as Airbnb and DoorDash. The startup only grew from there, Salvant said.
During its first four years, the company raised around $4 million, according to Salvant. Over the course of the next two years, the company raised about $60 million. In July 2020, it raised $40 million, and an additional $60 million this past July.
Squire, which has offices in Soho in New York City, now has around 250 employees.
But before Squire, Salvant was living with his sisters and single mother in Section 8 housing in Coney Island.
“I don’t really think about it until I have these conversations, but I’m a kid from Brooklyn,” he said. “I grew up with a single mom and two sisters in a two-bedroom apartment.”
Growing up was sometimes tough, he said, but it also taught him valuable lessons that he relies on to this day.
“I guess you could say that it helped me with my work ethic, but I think more importantly it helped me understand the differences between the haves and have-nots,” Salvant said. “We clearly were the have-nots. It instilled in me the sense of wanting to achieve more and wanting to accomplish something with my life.”
“The odds of me making it at this point were not in my favor, by a longshot,” he added. “But I’m here now by the grace of God, and because I believe in hard work, dedication and discipline and, frankly, a little bit of luck.”
Circumstances became “a little better” in his teens when he and his family moved to Spring Valley in Rockland County where he attended high school and played football as a fullback and defensive end.
“I think those years had a huge impact on me and made me who I am today,” he said. “When you’re in high school, you start developing what it is you subscribe to. I think for myself, during that time I became someone with high integrity.”
After nearly two decades of striving, Salvant takes nothing for granted.
“You’ve got to put in the work, you’ve got to work hard,” he said. “Nothing in this life is given to you, especially for folks from my background.”
Salvant pointed to a famous quote attributed to baseball legend Yogi Berra to describe his success: “The harder I work, the luckier I become.”
"You really have to work at what you want, and once you do that, the universe works in mysterious ways and gives you what you deserve."
“I really subscribe to that,” he said. “You really have to work at what you want, and once you do that, the universe works in mysterious ways and gives you what you deserve.”
Indeed, one could say the universe was working in mysterious ways in the early days of Squire.
When Squire was conceived, it was an app to book appointments with barbershops, but its founders soon found that the real opportunity was on the business-to-business side.
When Salvant and LaRon, a Yale-educated attorney who worked for a prominent multinational law firm, sought to transition to the business side, they wanted to learn how barbershops operated firsthand. To do so, the duo spent a third of the company’s initial funds to purchase a barbershop in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan in 2016.
“It was a big risk,” Salvant said. “It was $20,000 of the total $60,000 we had. So we kind of bet the house on it.”
The barbershop provided Salvant and LaRon firsthand business experience, serving as a test kitchen to teach them what products and services would best serve barbers, but it also created opportunity in another way.
While working the front of the shop, Salvant said he remembers a customer who provided a Facebook email address to book his appointment.
“I was like, ‘I’m going to ask him what he thinks about Squire,’” he recalled. “Worst case scenario I would have gotten a ‘No’ and that would’ve been it, but the best case scenario I think played out.”
The customer Salvant approached was Blake Chandlee, a former vice president of Facebook who now serves as the president of global business solutions at TikTok.
Not long after their chance encounter, Chandlee decided to invest in Squire, becoming one of Salvant and LaRon’s earliest backers.
“He was one of the first guys that Mark Zuckerberg really trusted back in the heyday of Facebook,” he said. “He was a real vote of confidence, and we’re fortunate we had him invest.”
Although customers can still download the Squire app and use it to book barbershop appointments, the product has since morphed into an all-in-one shop for barbers. It handles online scheduling, point-of-sale payments, payroll, marketing and inventory.
The core of the business, though, still revolves around haircuts.
“It just makes you feel amazing,” Salvant said. “Getting a haircut is one of those things that can give you that jolt of confidence. We all know that feeling where you walk out of the doors of a barbershop and you look your best, you feel like you can accomplish anything.”
Salvant recalls that when the weekends rolled around at UAlbany, he and his friends would get shaped up by his roommate who was a barber.
“Every Friday you’d want to get touched up a little bit to go out,” he said. “You’d want to look your best. We didn’t have the clothes, so at least we could look good on top.”
With Squire’s continual growth, Salvant admits that the pressure can be stressful at times, but he’s thankful for his partner LaRon, who was a close friend of his before their venture.
“I don’t know what the future holds, but I do know that we just want to continue to do right by our customers, be an inspiration to others, and really focus on being an example of excellence,” he said.
Along the way, he hasn’t forgotten where he’s from.
“There are many kids who look like me who also come from impoverished backgrounds,” he said. “If they see me become successful, they can then dream, they can hope, and they can start a business and start something, just like I started something, because they can have someone to point to and say, ‘If he did it, I know I can do it.’”