Business owners often overcome significant obstacles to launch and grow their businesses. In Anne Courtney Olson’s case, the obstacles would have been insurmountable to many people. The founder of Q and D Driver in Amarillo Texas, she’s overcome bad credit, addiction to drugs, significant health problems, and even a criminal record to build a business that is thriving. Here’s how she did it.
In 2009, Olson found herself confined to a wheelchair for about a year after back surgery. She slowly regained her ability to walk, but realized she wouldn’t be able to go back to her former career in restaurant management.
A recovering addict, she was living in a group home at the time, and began to drive other residents to appointments or to run errands. They complimented her on her people skills and suggested she look into driving a taxi. She found work with a taxi company and discovered she enjoyed the work, but was unhappy with the condition of the cars the taxi company assigned her to drive. They were so bad that she gave herself an ultimatum: if the car she was supposed to drive broke down again, she would quit.
When that happened, Olson was prepared. She had already researched what she would need to do to drive for herself. (This was in 2014 before Uber had come to Amarillo.) She started with a “little Mazda 3” she says. She had tried to buy a larger car, but her credit score was in the low 500s and she couldn’t get financing.
She drove customers in the Mazda 3 until a wealthy friend stepped in and cosigned for her next car. “She really struggled with the idea of financially backing an addict in recovery,” Olson relates. “It was huge that she found it in her heart to help me.” The Chevy Impala she acquired with her friend’s help wasn’t her first choice. “It’s hard for customers to get in and out of,” she explains. But she didn’t let that stop her.
By providing excellent customer service, she continued to grow her business.“My biggest goal was clean cars and a nice pleasant environment.” She also stocked amenities such as snacks, water bottles and hand lotion— perks not often found in taxis.
Olson also took the time to establish relationships with several local hotels, and her willingness to show up on time for early trips to the airport ingratiated her to hotel employees and brought her regular business. “I often say I’ve made $100 before most people are out of bed,” she laughs.
While she was working on her business, she was also working on her credit. “In my drug addiction, I had written bad checks,” she explains. She hired a credit repair firm and with their help, numerous negative items were removed from her credit reports. That brought her credit scores to the 630—640 range. She knew the next step was to build positive credit references.
That’s when she found Nav and signed up for a free account. “I used (Nav’s MatchFactor) to find a couple of credit cards, and was approved.” Paying those credit cards on time helped her rebuild her credit even further. Then came the news of the Equifax breach and Olson said it shook her. She realized, “I have a business and I can lose a lot.” So she upgraded to a Nav premium account which provides identity theft insurance along with other benefits.
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Her credit score is now over 700 with one of the major credit bureaus, and in the high 600s with another.
As her credit scores rose, she was able to finance a better car. “I went to a car dealer and I got the Mazda CX-5,” she says. “My business doubled the first month I had it,” she says.
Keys to Success
Olson says that her biggest key to success has been her ability to listen to her customers. “I’m a good listener. It’s almost like being a bartender,” she laughs.
An on-time guarantee sets her business apart. If she doesn’t show up on time for a scheduled ride, it’s free. One time she was late picking up customers who had been hunting and were going to fly home with their deer meat. They asked her about her guarantee. Would she pay for the missed flight and the spoiled meat if they didn’t make their flight? She didn’t miss a beat; “Yes,” was her reply. (Fortunately they made their flight.)
She doesn’t worry about Uber or Lyft as threats to her business because she’s found her ideal customer— someone who needs reliable transportation from someone they can trust in a clean, pleasant environment and is willing to pay for it.
Many of her customers are regulars, and include elderly riders—a few with dementia. She remembers the locations they need to go, like their bank or doctor, even if they forget. One elderly customer’s family has sent her cards and gifts.
Olson credits her Christian faith for her success as well. “There have been a lot of ‘God moments,’” she says, referring to circumstances that worked out in ways she felt were divinely guided. “Some people say I am a walking miracle,” she adds.
Olson recently entered a business competition through Square Mile Community Development, a non-profit organization. One of just a few entrepreneurs selected for the program, they are helping her take her business to the next level. She is receiving free consulting help to help her incorporate her business, hire better employees, improve her business plan, and even create a social media strategy.
And recently, one of her customers gave her a van she plans to retrofit to accommodate handicapped passengers, allowing her to expand to serve even more customers. As long as she can find reliable employees who embody her values her business will continue to grow.
Olson says she had “literally nothing” after her surgery. Now she meets customers from all over the world and has a business that lets her get paid for doing what she loves. It doesn’t get more inspiring than that.