In 2020, Salt Lake Community College honored Davis Smith with the Distinguished Alumni Award for being a successful entrepreneur who uses that success to do good globally.
“This award meant a lot to me,” he said. “The year I spent at Salt Lake Community College is really special to me. It gave me a place to prepare for my education and ended up being a huge stepping stone.”
Davis Smith grew up in Latin America, moving to the Dominican Republic from Utah at age four. A few years later, he would move to Puerto Rico, then Ecuador. Growing up in these places, he saw people living in terrible poverty firsthand. Memories of malnourished children lining the streets without clothing followed him back to Utah.
These early experiences instilled in Davis Smith a sense of duty and purpose. The desire to help others served as a compass that would guide him to be a successful entrepreneur and fulfill his mission of helping others.
He is now the owner of Cotopaxi, a prominent outdoor brand that, according to Outside Business Journal, has aided 822,000 people globally and, according to Davis Smith, that number will surpass one million this year. A part of the revenue made from Cotopaxi goes to the Cotopaxi foundation which distributes the money among non-profits focused on alleviating poverty.
While he was a student at SLCC, Davis Smith had the now-retired teacher Curtis Youngman, whose marketing class was transformational for him.
“He was phenomenal. He was such a dynamic teacher. So great at explaining concepts,” Davis Smith said. “A lot of the concepts he taught aided in my success and are concepts I still use to this day.”
Davis Smith attended SLCC for one year before transferring to Brigham Young University, where he met his wife, Asialene Smith.
“We met on a blind date after my sophomore year. We spent the entire summer together. We were engaged quickly and got married by the end of the year,” Asialene Smith said.
“We both like change and excitement. So, when he is starting something new, it is always exciting. But I am never nervous because I believe in him,” Asialene Smith said about life with the entrepreneur.
After graduating from BYU, Davis Smith co-founded his first business, Spencer Marsden, selling pool tables online.
Even though the business was a success, he did not know how to incorporate his mission to help people. As a result, he decided to sell the business and go back to school. He attended Wharton, earning two master’s degrees in an MA and MBA in international studies focusing on Latin America.
After graduating, Davis Smith partnered with his cousin Kimball to address the high price of baby products in Brazil with baby.com.br. However, according to Davis Smith, the business grew very fast, putting a strain on his relationship with Kimball. Ultimately the two had different leadership styles, and Davis Smith would walk away from the business; a harrowing moment for the entrepreneur.
“There have definitely been painful moments and challenging times,” Davis Smith said. “But you have to have the courage to push through those challenging times and the rejection that you will receive.”
One evening while lying in his bed, considering his next move, Davis Smith suddenly felt inspired and had an overwhelming sense of direction.
“I needed to build an outdoor brand that used its profits to sustainably alleviate poverty. I came up with the name Cotopaxi, named after the volcano near my childhood home in Quito, Ecuador, our slogan Gear for Good, the llama in our logo, and the early concept for what would be later known as the Questival race,” Davis Smith said in an article for Utah Business.
Cotopaxi is now one of the most prominent outdoor brands and has helped people in poverty worldwide. Even though Davis Smith is highly successful, he still has a soft spot for SLCC and loves coming and speaking to the students.
“I have visited Harvard and Stanford, but I really love the students at SLCC,” Davis Smith said. “I look out at the students and see people who haven’t had everything in life handed to them. They have had to overcome some real challenges, and that inspires me.”
Davis Smith was recently able to purchase his first business Spencer Marsden back. He converted his first business into a benefit corporation with a similar goal of helping those living in poverty.
“Dream big. Find a way to make an impact. Do something extraordinary,” Davis Smith said, offering advice to SLCC students. “Find a passion you have and find a way to use it to help the lives of others around you. If you do that, you’re going to find happiness and joy.”