At 49, he's just getting started, he says, after authoring eight books. After going from making about $2,000 a year in 1993 to owning a Porsche and a Lake Wylie home in 2018. After the '80s hair-band look, and later the button-down business look. After growing out the beard and getting the tattoos. And after securing his reputation as a startup wizard who helped build a $ 1.4 billion company from scratch.
By any measure, Chris Elmore has made it. He recently celebrated his 25th wedding anniversary with a woman he won't stop talking about. He has four kids who look up to him. And he has unending respect from his peers and employees. But as we walk around the fifth floor of Charlotte-based AvidXchange Inc., the fast-growing financial-technology company where he was the first hired employee, he talks more about possibilities than accomplishments.
He can see AvidXchange, which helps businesses automate their accounts-payable and payment departments, growing its revenue fivefold or more. He can see himself moving on to another life as a teacher and speaker.
And, at this exact moment, he can see Dennis, who's walking back to his desk with a cup of coffee.
"Dennis can tell you everything you want to know about smooth jazz," Elmore says. Dennis laughs, hard. "We were doing [a team-building activity], and Dennis and I were matched up, and they said, 'Write down what triggers you.' And Dennis wrote, 'Smooth jazz,' and we've been friends ever since."
It's like that, a constant string of jokes and laughs, throughout my time with Elmore on a fall morning. He calls himself the "company's evangelist," and the connection does feel somewhat spiritual --that he's as much a part of AvidXchange as AvidXchange is a part of him. He's lighthearted but goal-driven, someone who wants to take the business around the world but cherishes time at home with his kids. He's the kind of person who's learned how to perform Whitesnake songs on a ukulele and who can transform an office that performs the most mundane of tasks--helping businesses process payments--into one of the most dynamic workplaces in the South.
To understand him and how he became the vibrant personality for a premier Charlotte startup success, you have to go back to the middle-school classrooms of Watauga County in the '70s and '80s.
It's there that Elmore learned how to see the world in a different way.
Growing up in Boone--"where we put our major appliances on the front porch because we [were] proud of them," he likes to say--Elmore was the son of a schoolteacher and a college professor. Throughout middle school, he tried to hide something: He couldn't read, at least not the way the other kids read, because of dyslexia. He still remembers the agony of being called upon in class.
"It was completely humiliating," he says. "It was devastating. I can feel it right now, and this was 40 years ago. It was like a burning-hot sensation. But it wasn't anger. It was pure, flat-out embarrassment."
He learned to deflect, make jokes and develop a personality that would overpower his disability. It worked with the kids for the most part. But it only made the teachers, who then had little grasp of dyslexia, more frustrated. So they'd call home.
"Chris is just trying to be 'Mr. Funny Guy,'" they'd say. "He has a lot of friends, and he's always joking. He just needs to focus."