3 Ways to Succeed as an Entrepreneur When You’re a Woman of Color

Disclaimer: This is sponsored content, but as always, all opinions are my own.  I partnered with  Capital One for this post because we share a commitment to diversity, inclusion, and community -- including seeing women founders and small business owners succeed.. Keep reading!

Black and Latina women have been launching businesses at a record pace. However, there’s more to that than what meets the eye. Businesses are also failing each day, and the startup landscape has a specific set of challenges for women of color. You know that I keep it real with y’all, and I’m so glad that I was able to partner with Capital One this past weekend as they powered digitalundivided’s BIG Demo Day so that I could bring these real stories and solutions to you.  My mission has been to teach you how grow and expand your businesses and brands through my blog, but this event was on another level! It was so inspiring to see young women of color with thriving businesses. You can catch the demos and fireside chats on digitalundivided’s facebook page.

Why is this so important?

Well, digitalundivided’s #ProjectDiane report found that of the few startups that are led by Black women, less than one percent of them receive venture funding. As usual, we continue making it work without resources, while it feels like our white and male counterparts have a huge head start. Why am I bringing this up? Because there are ways to succeed as an entrepreneur, even when it seems like all the odds are against you. Dr. Freada Kapor Klein of Kapor Capital said it perfectly, “We have to look at race and class and how these things intersect, even when we are talking about women.” We have to be conscious of the challenges, but not paralyzed by them. Digitalundivided’s BIGDemoDay powered by Capital One presented 6 startups led by Black and Latina founders. Below are the lessons I learned throughout the day that I hope helps to keep you motivated and pushing forward with your dreams.

Develop grit.

The day kicked off with Asmau Ahmed. While Asmau focuses on digital product strategy and innovation for Capital One, she is also the founder of Plum Perfect. She talked about her experience raising money for her patent-pending technology and being a Black woman running a startup. "I hope that your successes are defined by your capabilities, not by your gender or your race," she said. When I asked what kept her going, she talked about grit and always betting on yourself regardless of the color of your skin. So what exactly is grit? “Grit in psychology is a positive, non-cognitive trait based on an individual's passion for a particular long-term goal or end-state, coupled with a powerful motivation to achieve their respective objective.”

I want to bring your attention to a few words: particular, long-term, and powerful. You know what our problem is? Many times, we want short-term success from ambiguous goals that we pursue with mediocre motivation. I have said this so many times in the Glow Up Challenge, but how can we expect success when we treat our goals as after-thoughts? When we don’t blindly believe in ourselves? Once we get done working, dating, partying, parenting, and being everything to everyone, THEN, we deem ourselves ready to wholeheartedly pursue success. You know what happens in the meantime though? We get tired, we get distracted, and suddenly what we were working towards doesn’t seem that important to us anymore. Then, we change course before we ever truly give ourselves a chance to succeed.

While I’m no expert on grit (yet), I was an expert on doubt and procrastination. I can tell you from experience that those two things will constantly hold you back. By developing grit (read the book, it’s awesome.), you will have the mindset necessary to see things through. When I asked the founders in the room about their success, they echoed Asmau’s points. “To become exceptional, we have to first wholeheartedly believe in ourselves and our product,” said Christina Marshall Valdez, the founder of ecommerce platform Taelur. “We must approach any opportunity with a sense of expectancy. If we expect amazing success, we're naturally more willing to do what is required to create that success.”

Related: 27 Business Books to Get Your Mind Right In 2017


Make your business scalable.

Once you’re ready to work, you have to be ready to scale. The one thing that investors will always ask you about is your company’s scalability and its ability to multiply revenue while incurring minimal costs. If you find that you need to increase your team or your input in order to grow, your business model might not be a scalable one. (Service-based businesses have very linear business models and can be difficult to scale. Businesses that rely on processes, automation, and software, have a better chance of successfully scaling.) Mark Walsh, the Small Business Administration (SBA) Associate Administrator shared this with the founders and aspiring entrepreneurs in the room. “We’ve told entrepreneurs what to expect from the venture capital community, but there’s a gap in walking them through scalability. It’s a experiential gap, not a skills gap.” By embracing a growth mindset, identifying where and how to automate, and securing funding to invest in technology, scaling becomes more attainable. Resources like digitalundivided, accelerator programs, the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR.gov) fund, and Capital One’s Spark Business IQ provide founders with the tools and insights they need to succeed.

Perfect your pitch.

Regardless of your business model, you are constantly pitching your business to potential customers and investors. Your pitch needs to tell a story that will evoke enough emotion to compel your audience to buy into your idea with enough content to illustrate how and why it will succeed. One of the demos that particularly stood out to me for that reason was Christina’s. While she was the first presenter, her energy carried throughout the room the rest of the day. Every time I spotted her, she was deep in discussion with potential investors and other supporters. She made us laugh and was highly engaging, but most importantly, she let us see the value of her platform.

Another entrepreneur that blew us away was Kelechi of Zuvaa.com. She popped a  simple yet very impressive slide on the screen: Zuvva’s current and projected growth chart. She showed us that what her sales were each year, growing from $60K to multi-millions in just 3 years. She outlined what her team looked like, how she makes money, and how she planned to continue growing revenue. She let the numbers speak for themselves. Here’s how you can structure your pitch and be ready for your next encounter. Each conversation is an opportunity to learn something new and gain access to someone or something that can take your business to the next level.

  • Describe the core issue. Paint a picture of what is broken or wrong with your industry and position your startup as the solution.

  • Highlight the user. Who she is, what’s the problem you are solving for her, and how big is the opportunity in this market?

  • Showcase the value. Don’t spend the bulk of your time explaining simply how it works, but show how it does help the consumer and make money each step of the way.

  • Share the numbers. What are your sales? How much are you projected to make? What are your strongest assets? How high is your cost ratio?

  • Have a call to action. My favorite part of the pitch was the invitation to join the Taelur community by texting a short number. This allows you to connect beyond that initial moment and continue the conversation later.

I have been in business for 6 years and have tried so many different ways to make money. I can’t tell you how many times I ended up frustrated because I couldn’t handle the volume of inquiries. I was only one person and could only take on a certain number of clients at a time. Then I learned about passive income and decided to take everything I knew and turn it into a book. That way, I could help more people regardless of time or place. However, that’s only the beginning!  Digitalundivided’s BIGDemoDay powered by Capital One showed me the importance of having technology integrated into your business. Technology has changed the way business is done. It’s truly the future, and I don’t plan on being left behind. Stay tuned! Super grateful for Capital One giving me the opportunity to attend the event and bring you these insights. Who run the world? Girls!

Become a part of the Atlanta tech community and stay up to date on upcoming digitalundivided programs by following @digundiv on Twitter. Also, visit their co-working space in Downtown Atlanta. They have membership opportunities available, so you can surround yourself with the best of the best. To learn more about Capital One’s commitment to diversity, inclusion, and community, follow along on Twitter at @CapitalOne, @CapitalOneJobs and @YourFutureEdge.