- Michael Barnes American-Statesman Staff
At a charity dinner earlier this year, David Rubin set what seemed like an outrageously aggressive goal for Court Appointed Special Advocates of Travis County, the nonprofit group that trains and oversees volunteers for children and teenagers marooned in the Child Protective Services system.
“We will be the first urban CASA chapter in the country to cover all the kids,” stated the magnetic entrepreneur and president of the charity group’s board of directors. “That’s what we want to be.”
Last year, CASA of Travis County served 1,847 children, or about 76 percent of kids in the area’s CPS system. Seven hundred more youths still need a volunteer.
“We are at 750 volunteers,” Rubin, 48, says. “We need a total of 1,000. Our budget stands at $4 million, and we need to be at $6.5 million to hire enough staff to train and supervise the volunteers. Yes, it’s an ambitious goal. That’s what we are going to do.”
Always starting a business
New York-born David Rubin is pretty fearless when it comes to setting goals and making sure that they are reached. Curious and competitive, he grew up in New York and Dallas. His late father was an entrepreneur, too; his mother was a nurse before she was disabled by an accident.
“If you met the broader family, you’d realize where that competitiveness came from,” Rubin says. “We handed out trophies for the family tennis tournament. We held card tournaments. I was also always independent. I had my own thoughts about things.”
At the University of Texas in the 1980s, he studied economics, history and philosophy. He was always going to start a business someday.
“I didn’t leave with a degree in anything after five years,” he says with a smile. “I had in my mind that all great entrepreneurs drop out. But the great ones dropped out earlier.”
He actually founded his first business in college after his dad’s company went bankrupt and his parents were left without money to help with college.
“It put me through school,” he says of Campus Carpet. “I’d go dumpster diving behind carpet distributors and find pieces plenty big enough for dorm rooms. I papered Jester Dormitory with flyers offering carpet for from $60 to $120. I sold all the carpet that I could find around Austin. When my customers left the dorm, I picked up the carpet, steam cleaned it and then resold it.”
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Meanwhile, Rubin served as the head of the UT chess club. He also was paid to run an after-class chess club for St. Andrew’s Episcopal School.
“Add a little bit of poker and billiards,” Rubin says. “That paid for five years of school.”
After college, he worked for Houston-based Computize, the largest independent Apple dealer at the time, and quickly rose to the top sales position. Then he started a company within the company.
“They were doing all retail,” he recalls. “I asked them to let me start a corporate sales program. I flew around signing big sales deals. We went from zero sales to $60 million. Then I realized that I could do this on my own.”
In 1995, Netscape came out with a web browser.
“I realized that the internet was going to be a big thing,” he says. “So I moved to California and with a $6 million investment started Bitsource, a pioneer in electronic software. We digitized corporate software licenses. Fifty of the world’s biggest software publishers used us. Unisys was our biggest customer.”
He sold that company for $14 million in 1999 and became a vice president of the public company that purchased Bitsource.
“That’s not what I wanted to do,” he says. “So I sold the stock before the NASDAQ crashed and moved back to Austin.”
Profit and nonprofit
In 2000, Rubin initiated HomeCity Real Estate, a pioneer in online real estate services. Before the advent of Google Earth, his company used aerial photography and masses of data to help customers see land and houses remotely.
“You could see the lot for the first time,” he says. “It’s a profitable brokerage still. I’m still chairman. We do $450 million real estate in sales a year. And we spun out the technology to Opcity.”
In 2002, he started ProfitFuel, with no outside investment. It became the largest search engine optimization company in the U.S., with 220 employees and 12,000 customers.
In 2011, Yodle acquired ProfitFuel. He served as chief revenue officer, managing 800 salespeople across five sites with tens of thousands of clients. He joined Yodle’s board of directors and sold the company for $342 million in cash last year.
His latest company is OJO Labs, a technology company that helps real estate agents “turn prospects into clients for life.”
The father of three, who doesn’t seem to slow down on or off the job, learned about CASA at a church event 13 years ago.
“I wanted to get more involved with kids,” he says. “When they talked about how the kids are separated from their parents and how the volunteer advocates speak in the best interest of the kids, I realized it was as tough a situation as possible for a child.”
He later attended a CASA event to learn more about the group. He gave money. Then the group’s executive director at the time reached out to see whether he was interested in volunteering. He did that for 2 1/2 years.
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“It was amazing,” he says. “I ended up with a pretty complicated case. It turned out that it was not possible to reunify the kids with their parents. We instead found great adoptive homes for both children. It was more than eye-opening to go to family court and seeing the reality of what CASA does every day and the need that is there.”
A lot of folks in the social service area of the nonprofit world talk about “putting themselves out of business” by doing such a great job of helping kids or animals or people struggling with a particular illness. They also make big claims and announce bigger goals.
Yet rarely has this reporter heard a nonprofit leader talk so frankly and openly, as Rubin did in front of a banquet room full of guests, about taking care of 100 percent of the group’s potential clients. CASA of Travis County heads to that goal with some advantages, such as family court judges who are deeply invested in this kind of advocacy.
“I don’t think there’s another urban program currently that serves a bigger percentage of the kids,” Rubin says. “It is one of the model programs in the country.”