October 10, 2017

My ‘Get Out’ Experience With Investors

“I was the only black person in a room full of middle aged white investors and fellow white entrepreneurs pitching for investment. Of course it felt awkward, of course I was nervous, of course I didn’t feel as if I belonged.”

The account below was a story shared with me by one of the readers of my content who has grown to become a friend. He is an entrepreneur building AI for the Recruitment industry and shares a true to life experience below that many people of colour can relate to.

The longest I could hold a job down for was 9 months, the shortest time period was a week. Entrepreneurship had to be considered an option!

From a young age, I knew one thing and one thing only…that was to become an entrepreneur, this stuck with me throughout school, college and even working full time. Everything that I have experienced to date has moulded me into a better entrepreneur.

Over a decade after jumping in and out of jobs, the desire and hunger to succeed as an entrepreneur has only grown in strength. I remember the birth of my daughter and feeling even more motivated to succeed in business and afford better opportunity for her than I had.

“The new life brought into this world gave me new cause”

— Quentin Miller, Progress.

The Set Up

One of the most difficult hurdles as an entrepreneur building software is gaining access to early investment to help build out a proof of concept and win business. This is not unique to people of colour although the struggle is so real when investors can’t relate to your background, ethnicity or culture.

Last year, I stumbled upon a quarterly event where local based Angels in Milton Keynes gather and invest in winning ideas pitched by budding entrepreneurs. The event format consisted of pitching and followed by Q&A then networking. As soon as I entered the venue before the event began, things started to feel weird to me. I found myself drinking wine I don’t even like, pretending to laugh at conversations I couldn’t even relate to and listening to people that were not interested in listening to me. However I was focused and determined to pitch and walk away with initial funds to get my idea off the ground.

This was it, I knew I could kill it, this was my moment.

Walking into the room, it was a classic ‘spot the elephant in the room’ situation. Looks of surprise and intrigue surrounded the room as it was all eyes on me. Odd coughs and small murmuring’s could be heard as the investor audience began to quiet as I got ready to pitch. Sweat trickled from my brow, I could hear my heart thumping on my chest and took a deep breath before I began.

I pitched my idea, and watched as expressions of shock almost surrounded the room as it seemed foreign that a young black man was pitching an idea on Artificial Intelligence (AI) as if it wasn’t a problem someone from my background could relate too.

Just because I am black doesn’t mean the problems I solve are unique to just the black community.

Call me bias but I was proud that I presented a solution to a macro problem I thought was colour blind and impacted a mass audience. The winning idea on the evening was a demo by a young white girl who shared an idea for an app that maps your local gyms and available classes, similar to Class Pass. That day I left feeling genuinely defeated and with low self esteem, doubting my ability to convey my idea simply to a crowd. I began questioning whether I needed a white ambassador to pitch on my behalf. Would that improve my success rate?

4 Tips to Angel Investors Trying To Improve on Diversity

  1. Make founders feel at home regardless of class, social-economic background, ethnicity, age or gender by creating inclusive events and inviting them to the conversation.
  2. Seek first to understand, then to be understood — even if this involves speaking to others to try and understand the problem entrepreneurs are trying to solve.
  3. Do you recognise that ‘lazy’ low risk investing (pattern matching) is creating a “mirrortocracy” rather than a meritocracy?
  4. Educate founders upfront on your investment criteria so that they can tailor their approach an be judged on equal footing.

So many investors say they invest in the founders and their team first, yet my experience to date hasn’t validated this to be true. My ask is that beyond ethnicity, gender or class that investors go further to scout and understand founders from differentiated backgrounds. There is huge untapped pools of investment if investors are willing to ‘go the extra mile.’ We are seeing this in the US with funds such as Backstage Capital and Intel Capital’s Diversity Fund. I am still on the hunt for investment, pitching where possible and I hope investors read this post before investing in me.

“There was a time America wouldn’t let us ball, those times are now back, just now called Afro-tech” — Jay-Z, Legacy.

Andy Ayim

Andy is Managing Director of Backstage Capital London. Previously a Product Manager who has traveled and worked in over 40 countries in the last five years. He is passionate about telling stories about founders & investors from diverse backgrounds and improving Tech Inclusion.

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