November 27, 2017

The Black Founder Perspective

Just because someone has a higher position, doesn’t mean they have a better perspective

Over the weekend I was fortunate enough to help black founders focus on avoiding the death zone and getting to traction. I didn’t want to spend my free time advising white men and graduates from top schools where they were already grossly overrepresented within tech — I didn’t need my left brain to tell me that it wouldn’t be me adding value (talk less of my heart).

When I read CB Insights report that less than 1% of black founders get VC backing it didn’t surprise me because most people build products that they want themselves. With many VC’s inundated with applications, they end up focusing on the ones they immediately understand; founded by people they are already connected to.

Founder & Investors who get it, grow together
Tristan Walker, Founder of Walker & Co, has a story that intertwines serendipity with a bit of good old-fashioned hustle — not dissimilar from many of today’s success stories. While at Stanford he gained early exposure working at Twitter and Foursquare (his words on persistence and knowing where his skills lie).

What I align myself with is the fact that he was willing to be a student of the game; identifying opportunities that gave him first-hand experience of what it entails beyond research — in the end, all he had to do was find an investor who could relate to him.

When Tristan was pitching Bevel, a single-blade trimmer designed for those with coarse, curly hair many investors may have been better off laughing, than downplaying the size of the market. That stopped when none other than Hip Hop legend Nasir Jones (aka Nas) put his money where his mouth is.

Tristan & Nas both have their own unique stories, but they come together when it comes to understanding the problem of the trimming experience for black men.

Hard Sell or Hashtag Winning?
This article isn’t about them. However, it’s about you.

Black founders, if you believe getting funding is your problem, be prepared for a string of “No’s.” However, I would advocate mastering your understanding of your users, testing the most effective distribution channels, getting to the core value of your product and making incremental improvements to your funnel to have a proven understanding of how to scale before the hard sell.

My experience managing and developing products forced me to focus on understanding user behavior, so we can win more games and get to traction.

We can all understand bias, but it doesn’t mean you can design against it

Just because someone doesn’t understand your perspective doesn’t say it’s a bad idea. When you’re pitching an idea, there is a high chance that availability heuristic, confirmation bias and the “curse of knowledge” is at play so divergent thinking isn’t the lowest hanging fruit for your typical investor.

That’s why I firmly believe it’s more important you have your numbers right.

So what’s your perspective?

Having a good understanding of a particular customer segment is a viable strategy, and some businesses change their whole market approach this way. This means access to the customers who look and sound like us are an unfair natural advantage.

There are also channels to customers such as being members of closed Facebook Groups, knowledge of social influencers and offline circles that you may have access to.

Partnerships. If you can authentically create a win-win you could leverage this in a way that benefits all parties involved; the advantage is that you will see opportunities that others miss if they are not required.

Your perspective, the customers you have access to, the distribution channels you can transact in, and even your story is unique to you. When the Airbnb concept first came to light, people thought it would be a limited service for hipsters and today is one of the fastest growing and most valuable companies of our time.

With the rise of #blacktwitter, it has become clear that we share problems, humor, and tastes in places like Canada, European countries, and the States. Once you understand that users across borders have similar needs, you’ll begin to see how you’re ideally positioned to serve a segment that’s others find hard to reach.

If this helped you to understand the advantages of having your perspective, please hold 👏to give me a signal. Have a great week!

James Ojo

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.