‘I Would Have Loved Some MailChimp Credits vs. Some Onesies’: Zuley Clarke’s Business Gift Registry Solves For That

Ebony Grimsley-Vaz
Written by Ebony Grimsley-Vaz
Business Gift Registry
Zuley Clarke came up with the idea for The Business Gift Registry at her own baby shower. “I would have loved some MailChimp credits versus some onesies,” she told Moguldom. Clarke’s crowdfunding platform lets friends and family support entrepreneurs through gift-giving. Photo provided

Zuley Clarke came up with the idea for a new business when she was at her own baby shower.

There were about 100 people there. A serial entrepreneur, Clarke was struggling as a founder in another business at the time, but when she was at her baby shower, she felt the love and support.

“I remember looking around and thinking, “Where was this energy when I was starting my company? I would have loved some MailChimp credits versus some onesies.”

Kickstarter is a great platform if you have a product. It’s not so great when you’re at the start of your journey, validating your idea. Our platform is for activating your own personal and professional network, the people who believe in you and want to see you succeed.

Zuley Clarke, founder of Business Gift Registry, a crowdfunding platform that lets friends and family support an entrepreneur through gift-giving.

Most entrepreneurs need a financial hand to help grow their business. Crowdfunding has raised $5.5 billion, according to Startups.com but the average campaign receives $88 and lasts around 9 weeks. Traditional bank loans are difficult if you have no clear path of paying it back.

Clarke founded the Business Gift Registry as an alternative way get the things you need to run a business. The crowdfunding platform lets friends and family support an entrepreneur through gift-giving.

Businesses can create an online registry for the business items they need, much as a couple might create a gift registry for a wedding or baby shower. The Business Gift Registry works similar to online retail registries. However, instead of adding dinnerware, you can add any business-related product or service such as Facebook ads or attending a conference needed for growth.

Once the business registry is approved and goes live, founders can invite family and friends to purchase items on the registry. Founders are encouraged to host an actual shower, access a community of other entrepreneurs and they can earn rewards as their campaign reaches milestones.

Clarke is betting on her Business Gift Registry to help entrepreneurs connect with their own network.

“Your business is your baby. So, treat it like one and throw a business shower,” her website says. The Business Gift Registry is running a successful registry for MyTAASK, a personal planning platform dedicated to getting stuff done in real time using machine learning to automate everyday tasks. MyTAASK’s “shower” is 85-percent funded with more than 70 days left in the campaign. Moguldom spoke to MyTAASK earlier this year.

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The Business Gift Registry is not Clarke’s first business and she is no novice in tech. She earned a degree in mechanical engineering from Carnegie Mellon and a master’s in digital media from Georgia Tech. She has more than 15 years of experience at media and tech companies including the Economist, Showtime Networks and Shutterstock. You can catch her at SXSW 2020 in Austin, where she’ll speak on the panel, “The Selfishness of the Sharing Economy,” with of Vice Media and Thomas Rush of ConsenSys Labs.

Moguldom spoke to Clarke about how she came up with the registry idea, lessons learned from being a serial entrepreneur and what the next five years look like for her company.

If you’re a Black woman starting a business, we are doing well. We’re one of the fastest-growing groups of entrepreneurs, and it’s because we have that hustle and insight into what markets want and what our community wants. What we want to create is likely very much needed in the world. We’re the only ones who can do it.

Zuley Clarke, founder of Business Gift Registry, a crowdfunding platform that lets friends and family support an entrepreneur through gift-giving.

Moguldom: Can you tell us why did you start the Business Gift Registry?

Zuley Clarke: The idea came to me when I was at my own baby shower. I had another business at the time experiencing a lot of highs and lows of being a founder, but when I was at my own baby shower I felt so loved and supported. I had about 100 people there, and I remember looking around and thinking, “Where was this energy when I was starting my company?” I wondered, “Do the people in the room even know the name of the company or what it is I do?”

I would have loved some MailChimp credits versus some onesies. These thoughts started going through my mind. I felt so lucky and supported in this journey into motherhood, but I did not feel the same way when I was starting my company. So, I thought, “why couldn’t I have felt this way” and “why aren’t there more milestones celebrating people when they’re starting a company?” I pinned the idea since I was still working with my first startup.

I left the initial startup about a year later, and when I was thinking about my next steps, I asked some friends what they thought about the idea of a business gift registry. They thought it was a brilliant idea because it’s so simple. It’s taking the tradition we all know and love and applying it to this new type of milestone. I went on the journey of talking to a lot of other women, specifically black women, about what it was like starting their companies. They all shared their experience of being nervous about starting a company and their friends and family were also nervous about the risks of starting a company. And, of course, there were a lot of shared feelings on how difficult it was fundraising and there is no real way to bridge the first round of funding you really need to get your business off the ground. Most of us have to look at being self-funded.

I took all of those stories and I started thinking there’s a real need for us to activate and mobilize our community to support us. I thought I could build a platform, where you could create a registry the same way you do when needing a crib, or a stroller. Why couldn’t we have a registry where you can help an entrepreneur by giving them some Facebook ad credits or help them with their Squarespace hosting or a ticket to a conference, they need to grow their business?  

Business Gift Registry
Zuley Clarke came up with the idea for The Business Gift Registry at her own baby shower. “I would have loved some MailChimp credits versus some onesies,” she told Moguldom. Clarke’s crowdfunding platform lets friends and family support entrepreneurs through gift-giving. Photo provided

Moguldom: Why should businesses go this route over going Kickstarter or another crowdfunding platform?

Zuley Clarke: Kickstarter is a great platform if you have a product where you need to take pre-orders. It is really great for physical products or art projects, movies or things where someone could contribute in a way of receiving a product. But it is not so great when you’re at the start of your journey, validating your idea. It’s not helpful when you’re in the beginning trying to get your business off the ground and you haven’t had a chance to build up thousands of people on your email list. Our platform is for activating your own personal and professional network, the people who believe in you and want to see you succeed. This allows your network to help support you in a very tangible way.

It’s also different from setting up a GoFundMe campaign because that’s really seen as charity or for helping someone out of a situation. It’s not really for setting you up for success for your business. Our platform hits a really great sweet spot of allowing your friends and family to feel like they are supporting you in an easy way. And of course, there’s an event to it too, where you can get everyone together and in your own words explain what you’re doing. The registry is a great way for people to feel connected to your story and your message.  

Moguldom: This is not your first business. What are some lessons from your first company you were able to bring to this one or even new lessons learned this time around?

Zuley Clarke: Entrepreneurship is like CrossFit or weightlifting. You have to keep at it, learning your lessons or taking the licks on your own. You really learn the lessons faster the more you’re in it. The first time around was a great journey but I’ve taken some of those lessons and applied it this time around.

One is to really focus on who my customer is and making sure that I’m developing something that they need. It sounds simple, basic and obvious enough, but it’s something where, the first time around, I thought bigger and broader. I didn’t really have a great handle on who I was trying to create for then. Knowing that now has made a world of difference for me in the ways in which I talk to my customers and the products that I’m developing for them.

Being in the tech industry when I started the first company, the first thing I thought we needed to do right away was raise money. I felt like I was making a lot of decisions that would look or be investor-friendly. This time around bootstrapping it, I’m really just focused on how I make a good foundation for a great business. Then depending on where I’m at later, if I need to scale up, I can look at other options. This time around, fundraising is not the first thing on my mind.

The success of a company is based on its team. It takes a really strong team to develop something powerful and successful. Being there for (another company’s) growth firsthand and seeing what we were able to do and what we were capable of is what gave me the gumption to quit and start my own company.

Zuley Clarke, founder of Business Gift Registry, a crowdfunding platform that lets friends and family support an entrepreneur through gift-giving.

Moguldom: You’ve worked with The Economist, Showtime Networks, and Shutterstock. What are some of the lessons from working at those brands as they grew that you’ve been able to incorporate for your company?

Zuley Clarke: One, in particular, was my experience at Shutterstock. I joined when there were around 100 employees and I left when it was like 900 employees and still growing. I saw many different stages of a company’s growth firsthand. Working closely with so many amazing people I think one key thing that always stuck with me is the success of a company is based on its team. Some of the smartest greatest people I’ve ever worked with were there and that really stuck with me. It takes a really strong team to develop something that’s really powerful and successful. Being there for the growth firsthand and seeing what we were able to do and what we were capable of is what gave me the gumption to quit and start my own company. I don’t think I would have done that if I had stayed working at some of the larger brands. I thought, “I’m smart enough too and if I can get a really great team behind me, I can do it too.” That was the biggest lesson, and that’s why I’m here. I always had a nagging thought in my mind that I would want to do something one day but definitely during that job I thought “I can actually do this!”

Moguldom: As a serial entrepreneur, are there any things you would share with other young Black females who want to become a founder?

Zuley Clarke:  There’s the practical advice. If you’re starting a tech company and have been obsessed with reading all these stories about companies raising money, you’ll think raising money would be easier than it is for you. With the first company, even though we did raise some money, we didn’t raise as much as we expected or as much as we needed to raise. And that was hard. There are many different factors, but I think when you just look at the facts, Black women raise less than other women and men, you understand the challenge of fundraising. One of the things you’re going to have to realize is that you’re going to need to support yourself unless you’re in a situation where you’ve saved or you have friends and family to support you. You need a cushion to live. If not, it will cause stress, and you don’t want to make decisions based on stress. Anything you can do to alleviate that stress even if you have to have a job or side hustling for a little while before taking the leap, do so.

Just be practical and make sure you’re covered with how you’re going to live. Because a year or two speeds by and it’s also the amount of time you need to give yourself in order to see if your idea is going to be successful or not.  So, having a two-year plan is super helpful. On the positive side, if you’re a Black woman starting a business, we are doing well. We’re seeing problems that folks who are starting businesses aren’t seeing. We’re one of the fastest-growing groups of entrepreneurs, and it’s because we have that hustle and insight into what markets want and what our community wants. With that kind of spirit, we have to keep forging ahead and doing it because what we want to create is likely very much needed in the world. We’re the only ones who can do it.  

Moguldom:  What do the next five years look like for your company?

Zuley Clarke: Right now, I’m definitely starting with the entrepreneur in mind, and thinking about the ways in which we can help support other entrepreneurs by getting them the time, connections and resources they need to grow and be successful. I always look at the mission of how do we increase the odds of success and if there is anything more that we can do to increase your chances of success? I hope we fulfill our mission.

I’m not naive to the fact that resources and capital is an injection needed for people to sustain themselves. However, my future vision is how do we activate our community to become investors? When I look at our community there is so much potential among us within our community. We have high net worth individuals that might not be angel investors or might not be investing in early-stage companies now and they have the potential to unlock our community to have successful entrepreneurs. When I think about the future, I think about potentially unlocking future investors as well.