What Successful People Say They Do: 10 Black Startup Founders And POC Share Advice

Avatar
Written by Dana Sanchez

If you want to be a successful startup founder, is it enough to do what successful people do? Can you really fake it ’til you make it? Is that even ethical?

“Faking behaviors, yes. Faking competencies, no,” writes Susan O’Brien, founder of Smigin, a mobile app for travelers who don’t speak the language. Building a startup from scratch is an exercise in humility and madness, O’Brien writes.

Content marketer Kevin T. Payne enjoys reading success stories about Black startup founders and compiled some of the items on this list. “As an African-American myself, there’s a sense of pride reading their stories. If they can do it, why can’t I?” Payne wrote in his blog.

For a look at what successful people say they do, Moguldom drew from Payne’s list and several other sources for this advice from 10 Black startup founders.

10 Black Startup Founders Share Advice

Black startup founders
Fubu CEO Daymond John attends the grand opening of the Shops & Restaurants at Hudson Yards on Thursday, March 14, 2019, in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

Daymond John

Get an executive physical

Daymond John at SXSW 2018/Moguldom

Daymond John is the founder of hip hop clothing brand FUBU, an author, TV personality, investor and motivational speaker. He is also a “shark” in the popular TV series “Shark Tank”.

John started out on a sewing machine in his mother’s house and a dream to make clothes for the coolest hip-hop stars. He built FUBU into a $7 billion-plus operation and his net worth has been pegged at $300 million.

John’s said he got his greatest piece of advice from his mother: “Money is a great slave but a horrible master.”

At SXSW in 2018, John spoke about the price he paid to that horrible master when his health began to fail at age 47. Feeling sluggish, he was advised to get an executive physical. “Somebody said to me, ‘It’s not free, it’s not cheap but go get it.’

“They put me through 15 different machines over the course of two days. They check every single thing in your body. They said, ‘Oh by the way you have a nodule on your thyroid, you need to go check it out.’ It was Stage 2 cancer.”

John survived. “I decided to tell people about this because we don’t take care of ourselves,” he said.

Black startup founders
Everette Taylor. Photo: Anita Sanikop/Moguldom

Everette Taylor, Founder of PopSocial

Focus on the product, not the brand


“Before even thinking about building your personal brand, focus on doing something worthy of a personal brand. Too often young entrepreneurs want the spoils before they want to put in the work. I think that’s a lot of people in general. I didn’t start focusing on my personal brand until the past couple years, and building my companies is always and will always be the first priority over personal brand but if leveraged correctly, it can have a large impact on your business. The key is to be strategic. My advice is that if you focus on building a successful company, the personal brand will come. Zuck ain’t out there trying to be a social media influencer, his work speaks for itself. – Excerpt from an interview with Huffington Post via Payne’s list.

Listen to GHOGH with Jamarlin Martin | Episode 06: Rodney Sampson

A pioneering name in economic opportunity for Black tech, Rodney Sampson is the founder of HBCU@SXSW and the Atlanta-based Opportunity Hub. In this episode, Rodney discusses investing in Atlanta blockchain startups Storj and Patientory, and the importance of connecting HBCU endowments to Black tech.

Shaun Johnson, co-founder and COO of Startup Institute

Show, don’t tell

“Show, don’t tell’ is a dynamic axiom, but it’s such a good one. For startups, being evidentiary about your value proposition is huge. So many upstarts talk about being the Facebook Killer, or the X for Y, loftily and prematurely positioning them among megasuccesses. Talking instead about what your company does and has achieved sets the stage for your vision in a way that is authentic, believable, and much less highfalutin. Always be a producer of value, so you can highlight current and translatable proof of what you factually can do versus what you aspire to become.” — From Startup Institute accelerator on The Muse, a job search platform.

Black startup founders
Lisnr founder Rodney Williams at Black Tech Week Miami, 2018. Photo: Anita Sanikop/ Moguldom

Rodney Williams, Founder and CEO of LISNR

Be willing to market and sell all the time

“There is a lot more business, and a lot more selling, than I thought there would be. Coming up with the idea is only the first step. If you can’t monetize it, you have no business. You will need investors and companies to continue moving along the path to market. That means selling—yourself, your idea, your ability to make it happen. And then selling some more. And when you’re tired of the selling, you sell even more.” – Excerpt from an interview with Forbes Magazine and featured on content marketer Kevin T. Payne’s blog.

Rick Desai, co-founder of Dashfire

The best entrepreneurs don’t seek risk. They seek to mitigate risk

From Startup Institute accelerator on The Muse, a job search platform.

Rick Desai is a partner at Listen, a brand-focused venture capital firm in Chicago where he leads investment strategy, sourcing and diligence, working closely with portfolio companies on marketing and technology initiatives. Rick is also a co-founder of Dashfire, a startup studio that built and invested in over 40+ companies since 2009 including 20 in Chicago. Rick was awarded a Clinton Fellowship in 2008 and spent a year leading social enterprise strategies in urban Indian slums. He previously was an investor at Madison Dearborn Partners, a Chicago-based private equity firm and was in Lehman Brothers Investment Banking Group.

Rick is an active supporter and investor in the Chicago tech eco-system. Rick is a graduate of Georgetown University and co-founder of Venturing Hoyas — from a bio at Kellogg Northwestern.edu.

Black startup founder
Frederick Hutson, founder of Pigeonly. Photo: Anita Sanikop, Moguldom

Frederick Hutson, CEO and co-founder of Pigeonly

Simplify everything

“Be bold, be creative, and simplify EVERYTHING. We knew that in order to get to where we wanted to go, we would have to leave where we wanted to go, we would have to leave where we were behind. Our future depended upon us breaking free from our ingrained established patterns. This forced us to look for creative ways to address new problems we faced as our business expanded to broader markets. In short, we had to innovate, and not complicate.” – Excerpt from his testimony shared in his LinkedIn article
and featured on content marketer Kevin T. Payne’s blog.

Black startup founder
Diishan Imira is the founder and CEO of Mayvenn, Inc., a tech company that reshapes how sale retail products are distributed. Photo: Anita Sanikop

Diishan Imira, CEO and co-founder of Mayvenn

Empower and trust your team

“In order to have true success, you have to empower others to be financially successful. Values should drive who you hire. When you hire the right people, you can be confident that they have your company’s best interests in mind. Diishan spoke about resisting the urge to be involved in every decision making cycle. Trust the organizational structure you’ve put in place [in your startup] and let others do the job you’ve entrusted them with. Trusting your internal team to make decisions builds leadership and strengthens the culture of your organization.” – from a talk during the ICA Growth Strategies course as featured on content marketer Kevin T. Payne’s blog.

Black startup founder
Brian Brackeen, founder of Kairos. Photo: Anita Sanikop/Moguldom

Brian Brackeen, founder of Kairos

Focus on what the market needs

“Don’t ignore the market. There are dozens of stories about extinct startups that never found a product-market fit or ran out of money before they could even build a Minimum Viable Product (MVP). Those companies likely failed to validate their ideas quickly and efficiently, or if they did, failed to act on the data and learn what the market needed. What the market needs is very different from what customers need. Far too often, startups are led astray by building custom features to close a deal or simply mimic what the competition are doing, believing that they need to match what already exists.” – Excerpt from a blog post by Nordi Capis as featured on content marketer Kevin T. Payne’s blog.

Black startup founder
Christopher Gray, founder and CEO of Scholly. Photo provided

Christopher Gray, Founder and CEO of Scholly

Tap into your past experiences

“By solving a problem you’ve faced, you will give your startup a story. Your value proposition relates to your own experiences and your pitch will feel natural. This helps your audience—be it investors, customers or press—better understand you and the problem your product is trying to solve.” – Excerpt taken from Christopher’s blog post as featured on content marketer Kevin T. Payne’s blog about Black startup founders.

Chris Bennett, founder and CEO of Soldsie and Wonderschool. Photo provided by Wonderschool

Chris Bennett, CEO of Wonderschool

Never underestimate the power of the word-of-mouth

“When entrepreneurs offer a tool that creates actual value and solves a problem that families are facing, your customers (become) your biggest promoters.” – Excerpt from his interview with Forbes magazine as featured on content marketer Kevin T. Payne’s blog about Black startup founders.