This month’s newsletter is guest-written by two of our Scroobious Beta founders: Joel Francois, Co-Founder of Helius Power and Philip Toussaint, CEO and Co-Founder of Ecopreneur Media, Inc. Joel and Philip wrote their pieces separately, but when we read them, a double narrative appeared. The two pieces support each other and showcase some of the immense challenges that Black founders face in their quest toward launching businesses at venture scale.
My experience with investors has been that of polite access. Just enough to stand at the door, not enough to sit down and eat.
It seems our paths to a connection are totally different.
For a black founder it’s KNOW > LIKE > COMFORT > TRUST
For a non-minority it’s KNOW > COMFORT > TRUST > LIKE
When we are comfortable with someone our guards are down, our biases are minimized, our conversations are more transparent, and our connection more organic.
“You have something here.” It sounds innocent enough, almost a positive statement about your venture. But for a Black founder like myself, it should be where we start the conversation, not where it ends.
Fundraising is not as fun as it sounds. Sure, you get access to money to pursue your goals of building a formidable company - but that comes with a price of its own. Quite ironic honestly! Back in summer 2019, I was just getting things off the ground for my environmental media company, Ecopreneur. I was excited and contacted a prominent investment firm with a social impact branch. My outreach worked and I managed to land an in-person meeting in Boston on a hot summer day.
I recently ran across a quote that captures the black experience to me:
“Life’s a forge! ...You’ll be roasted, smelted, and pounded... But stand boldly to it! Metal’s worthless till it’s shaped and tempered! More labor than luck. Face the pounding, don’t fear the proving; and you’ll stand well against any hammer and anvil.”
- Lloyd Alexander, Author, Taran Wanderer (1967)
Kinda sounds like founding a startup, doesn't it? Add in some roadblocks like prejudice, limited resources, restricted access, and you have someone that America has essentially battle-tested daily to handle the founder’s journey.
I arrived early for my 2pm meeting. I waited and waited. Before you know it, it was 2:45 pm and I was just about to go when I was finally shown into my meeting. One of the partners greeted me without acknowledging the long wait.
So, we do a little talking and I go into my pitch … or at least part of it. The partner keeps interrupting me and finally asks me to get to the point of why I am looking to fundraise. I went ahead and stated that this was a company I wanted to build to change the world for the better and that I was more looking for resource support rather than immediate capital now.
He did not seem pleased to hear that.
A couple of weeks ago an investor I was on a panel with asked me, “What do you (Black founders) need?” I responded:
1. Respect my unique journey, it is an asset. I raised money, bootstrapped, built, pivoted, learned, and progressed outside of the ecosystem. Now imagine what I can do inside the system.
2. Allow for the unexpected. I am ready to scale. I can build more than a record label, barbershop, fashion line, or nightclub.
3. Equal expectations. I shouldn’t have to be perfect to get funded. Let me make mistakes, learn, fall down, get up, and support me the whole way.
Here is the part that threw me off.
He said, “If you came to me and told me that you were a young Black entrepreneur looking for help, I would have backed you right then and there.” I looked at him in shock and asked, “What does that have to do with anything? I would never even think to pull that card. That isn’t professional at all.” He chuckled and asked me to leave. The meeting lasted a total of 12 minutes. I’ve learned my lesson as to who I choose to speak to and definitely to do my homework on people rather than just the firm.
In reality, “A shitty business idea will always be a shitty business idea,” no matter the race of the founder. Investors need to be comfortable enough to allow the same expected outcome for all of us.
While investors are looking for that “rockstar CEO” that fits the same ole profile, truly great ideas and opportunities are being missed. And last time I checked, hip-hop is still the top-selling music genre in the world.
Both Joel and Philip are fundraising and actively launching their companies. If you want to support them please contact them or ask us for an introduction. To date, every founder who has joined the Scroobious Beta self-identifies as underrepresented in terms of gender or racial identity. We will continue bringing you their stories in their own words over the coming months.