When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States, Pete Snyder ’94 saw small businesses struggling to stay afloat. Using his background in business, he started the Virginia 30 Day Fund, aimed at providing short-term, forgivable loans to small businesses throughout the commonwealth. But as the pandemic raged on, the scope of the project grew, and with it, his ambitions. Now, the 48-year-old College of William and Mary alumnus is running for governor of Virginia, hoping to secure the Republican nomination in 2021.
At the College, Snyder was a walk-on wrestler, a member of Sigma Chi fraternity, class president and a government major who studied abroad in Moscow. Snyder speaks fondly about his time in Williamsburg.
“It was awesome,” Snyder said in a phone interview. “I absolutely loved being in the ‘Burg. It truly changed my life, and I’m not being hyperbolic about that.”
After graduation, Snyder, at the age of 26, started New Media Strategies, one of the first social media marketing companies in the United States.
“I quit a decent paying job, for a 26-year-old, and when I gave notice and told them what I was doing, everyone thought I was insane, everyone thought I was crazy,” Snyder said.
The company was successful, and after 12 years, Snyder eventually sold the company to a larger firm. He then shifted his focus to his new startup: Disruptor Capital, an angel investment company that works directly with entrepreneurs. Apart from his business ventures, Snyder also served on the College’s Board of Visitors and was a commentator on Fox News. But his latest venture, the Virginia 30 Day Fund, is different.
When the COVID-19 pandemic struck the United States, Snyder was on vacation at Disney World with his wife and daughter. After returning to Virginia, Snyder and his wife, Burson, realized that small businesses were in trouble.
“We took a look around for first day and we thought, ‘oh my gosh, what is going on?’” Snyder said. “I’m a William and Mary guy, but I don’t have a medical degree, nor does my wife, so we were really kind of useless on the front lines there. But we do know something about small business.”
Snyder and his wife quickly founded the Virginia 30 Day Fund, a nonprofit dedicated to providing small, forgivable loans to small businesses throughout the commonwealth.
“Our mission was to save as many jobs and small businesses in Virginia as possible,” Snyder said. “When you’re dumb enough to name your nonprofit the ‘30 Day Fund,’ you think you’ll only have to be around for, I don’t know, a month? Maybe 45 days? Nobody ever thought it would be 10 months, 11 months later.”
Though the Fund was meant to be a short-term solution, it rapidly grew into a much larger enterprise, funding over 900 small businesses in Virginia. Snyder also helped to create 30 Day Funds in other states.
“We open-sourced what we do at 30 Day, to allow others in other states, if they want to start a 30 Day Fund in their state, we would give them the nonprofit status and also our technology so they can accept applications and help them with the process,” Snyder said.
Two other College alumni serve on the board of the Virginia 30 Day Fund: Todd Stottlemyer ‘85 and Will Payne ‘01, both of whom have held positions on the College’s Board of Visitors. Snyder says that Payne and Stottlemyer were critical in making the fund a success.
“What started as an itty-bitty idea between a couple of William and Mary people turned into the largest COVID-related charity in America, focused on small business,” Snyder said. “And we’re still going. We’ve helped save 2,500 small businesses in the past 10 months across America.”
“What started as an itty-bitty idea between a couple of William and Mary people turned into the largest COVID-related charity in America, focused on small business.”
From the 30 Day Fund’s success, Snyder was able to see the economic consequences of COVID-19 in Virginia.
“The economic devastation has nearly been as bad as the human capital,” Snyder said. “In fact, sometimes worse. We’ve lost over 6,000 lives in Virginia, but we have also lost tens of thousands of livelihoods and hopes and dreams. And that’s intolerable.”
Snyder says that the economic repercussions of the pandemic, along with Governor Ralph Northam’s response, inspired him to run for Governor of Virginia on the Republican ticket.
“I decided to run for governor because we are in a horrible mess right now, in Virginia,” Snyder said. “I think anyone — whether you’re a Democrat, a Republican, or an Independent — you would say that Virginia has faced its worst crisis in at least the past 100 years.”
Snyder cites what he sees as mismanagement of testing, vaccine distribution and overregulation from Northam as critical problems in Virginian politics.
“Virginia was near the bottom of the barrel when it came to testing,” Snyder said. “And the executive order to shut down, the kind of ham-handed regulation up and down from the governor, have crushed our economy and truly destroyed hundreds of thousands of businesses across Virginia.”
In his run for governor, Snyder’s platform rests on three key ideas: aiding small businesses, promoting civil liberties and opening schools. Though some view opening schools as risky, given the high COVID-19 case numbers in Virginia, Snyder points to sources who say safe reopening of schools is possible.
“Follow the data and follow the science,” Snyder said. “President Biden’s very own coronavirus task force says that it’s perfectly safe for teachers to be teaching in the classroom with kids right now. The CDC has said several times that it’s perfectly safe to have our teachers, and our teachers should be back in the classroom now.”
The Biden administration’s COVID-19 taskforce did indeed make reopening schools a priority, pledging to reopen the majority of K-8 schools within the first 100 days. But elementary and middle schools are not the only elements of Snyder’s agenda: he also has policy ideas that would impact higher education. Snyder says one of his goals would be reducing tuition at public universities across Virginia due to online learning.
“If you walked around campus, I don’t think anyone that you talked to would say that they had the true William and Mary experience over the past year,” Snyder said. “And what are you paying for that? I don’t think you had massive discounts. The product that you’re getting is very different than what was promised to you, and you’re still paying full rate. I think that’s absolutely wrong, and if I were governor, we would be having $2,500-a-semester universities.”
Though Snyder recognizes the problem of rising student loan debt, his solution is to lower the cost of college, rather than eliminate the debt entirely. He says that throughout his time on the Board of Visitors, he noticed the steady increase in tuition with little change in the College’s curriculum.
“Over the past 30 years, costs have gone up by four digits — thousands and thousands of percent,” Snyder said. “That’s wrong. We need to get costs under control. I would want freezes on tuition, especially if we’re still in some sort of COVID environment, I would want drastic discounts. If you’re only getting a third of the offer, you ought to only pay a third of the price.”
Though Snyder ran for lieutenant governor in 2012 and ran Republican Ed Gillespie’s campaign for governor in 2017, he has never held public office. However, Snyder sees this as an advantage.
“I’m not a career politician, I’ve never held elected office,” Snyder said. “I wear that as a badge of honor.”
Overall, Snyder believes his business background qualifies him for the role of governor.
“I am an innovator, I’m a disruptor — I’ve disrupted industries — and I’m also a problem-solver, and I think we need all three of those things,” Snyder said.