‘Have A Network You Can Lean On’ Says Entrepreneur On Challenges And Opportunities In Black Tech
“Even in the digital age, paper is still king so handling incoming mail is a major pain point for most along with incoming faxes. Although digital, emails present several challenges. Now, add to that mix all the documents/data that are created internally and received from partners and you can quickly envision the chaos that companies face.”
Moguldom: How did you get interested in tech?
John McCullough: When I was in elementary school my mom introduced me to computers. Early on I showed a leaning towards being analytical. She saw an ad for a little Timex computer you plug up to the TV and you can program it. I taught myself the basic program language. When I graduated I bought another computer — a Radio Shack. I started a little business doing some work for my dad. He was a contractor for HUD. I wrote a program for him. My last year college I interned with a young startup, DMDT (1988). We developed a small application for the oil industry.
Moguldom: What’s the biggest issue facing a black tech entrepreneur, and what’s the solution?
John McCullough: One of the biggest issues is raising enough capital. If you’re always having to worry about raising money, it takes away energy from the business. Being a black person we have to create a feeder foundation that people can go to. Relationships drive everything. Blacks are already disadvantaged not having enough situations getting someone comfortable with us to get a fair shot. We have to build an infrastructure where black entrepreneurs can connect. When we were starting at WisePoint, someone wanted to give us some seed money in exchange for some ownership in WisePoint. (The potential partner) said, “I don’t like black people but I like you.” We decided not to do it. Luckily we didn’t need the money. We already had a $250,000 contract in place. Not all money is good money. When you’re a young company, you need money. I borrowed from family and friends. My advice is explore all your options, utilize your network. One of the most important things is having that network you can lean on.
Moguldom: What are some of the challenges of being a black-owned tech firm?
John McCullough: Walking into an environment where you’re talking to decision makers and feeling you have to present a certain image about black people. Being in the tech industry, there’s always been a certain amount of pressure where you’re the only black developer or coder in a team. You always feel like you’ve got to be the best or be more efficient. It’s always in the back of your head. The work has to be exemplary. There’s that added amount of pressure. I have to be better than good.
Another challenge is understanding that in certain social environments you have to be careful. You go to a conference and then go out to dinner. You feel pressure to behave a certain way — can’t be loud, can’t drink too much — because I know there’s eyes on me that may unfairly judge me. That’s an added challenge a black entrepreneur has. As the founder of a black business you are the face of the business. I’m always faced with trying to make sure what I do is above board so there’s no question of competency.
Moguldom: Have you thought about later-stage funding?
John McCullough: My partner (WisePoint co-founder Jeff Kirk) and I are fully vested — no debt. We own the company 50-50 but we are at a point where we need to expand. Do we do it organically? We’re debating the options: grow organically, try to accelerate that growth by taking on debt or giving away some of our equity. We’ve been able to run pretty lean. We have five employees plus a team in India and Vietnam we contract with.
Moguldom: What new ideas are you working on?
John McCullough: A friend of mine reached out to me with an idea for a mobile app called Junction411 where you can find black-owned services or businesses in a geographical area. I’ve been working with her on shaping that idea. It’ll show you restaurants or someone to fix your hot water heater. There are other things we can do to build a network across the country. There are business opportunities. That’s something I’m working on the side. We’re trying to launch in the third quarter. I’m excited about that. I can see it mushrooming into something bigger.