One of my personal beliefs as an entrepreneur is that if you want to be successful, do what successful people do. That is why I enjoy reading success business stories, especially about Black startup founders. As an African-American myself, there’s a sense of pride reading their stories. If they can do it, why can’t I?
In today’s post, I will be sharing the most valuable lessons I have learned from the most successful and respected Black startup founders today.
The startup founders that we will be learning from today come from different backgrounds, and their startups are involved in various industries. Even their journeys are unique. Yet, many of these startup founders share similar lessons when it comes to building and growing a startup.
These are just some of the lessons I observed many of these Black startup founders share:
*Companies were chosen based on their websites Domain Authority, Alexa rating, and the startup founders social signals on Twitter/LinkedIn. Follow and comment below to gain access to the extensive list of 100+ black startup founders upon this post update.
Having a business idea only the beginning
If you want to want your startup to become successful really, you need to have a detailed—yet simple—strategy, especially when it comes to your marketing campaigns. Break up large, complicated tasks into smaller milestones. That way, you and your team would not feel overwhelmed.
Be emotionally and mentally prepared
Launching a startup can be extremely demanding of your time, effort, and resources. If you are not careful, you will not only run the risk of burning out but also experience conflict between your team and family. Understand and expect that there will a lot of setbacks and challenges along the way. Don’t take them too personally. Instead, charge these as learning experiences that will motivate you to go further.
Build a secure and stable team
Behind every one of these successful startups is a strong team made up of talented, like-minded professionals with complementary skills. Make sure that you take the time to choose people who share your vision and purpose carefully. Of course, make sure that you take time to care for them as well.
25 business lessons from 25 Black startup founders
1. Zim Ugochukwu (Founder and CEO of Travel Noire)
You have to be willing to take risks
"With no risk, there’s no reward, and you either get comfortable with certainty and not knowing where you’re going to end up, or you settle and you live this life that you don’t want to live.” - Excerpt from an interview with Xonecole. *Recently became part of Blavity Inc.
2. Larry Baker (Co-founder of Bolstr)
Follow a simple methodology
“Growth is deliberate. While there is no magic formula for success, we do believe that adapting a lean startup methodology, measuring everything, and raising growth capital will help set the course.”
3. Camille Hearst (CEO of KIT)
Prepare your mind and body
“Fundraising is really, really hard. My main piece of advice is to prepare yourself mentally and emotionally, and…I found a great article on mental toughness for high school girls’ basketball coaches that I actually think applies to fundraising and entrepreneurship as well. The advice in the article is awesome and I found it incredibly encouraging when things were tough.” - Excerpt from an interview with Tech Ladies
4. 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
5. Morgan DeBaun (Founder of Blavity)
Accept that "no" is part of the process
“It’s the job of startup founders to take risks, push the envelope, and ask things that don’t yet exist. Getting a ‘no’ from partners, clients, and even from teammates is part of the process. View any type of decline as a learning opportunity. A ‘no’ is just another step to a ‘yes.’ It’s part of the process and something that should be appreciated and respected.” - Excerpt from a panel interview with Jopwell
6. 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
7. Reham Fagiri (Co-founder and CEO of AptDeco)
Monitor your business expenses very closely
“As a founder I had to quickly learn the art of juggling things many things at once. Focusing the growth of the business was exciting and fun, but it came at the price of monitoring our [startup’s] financial health more closely. [Although] our business was reaching amazing heights…I was amassing a huge bill and it dropped like a hammer in one month. Thankfully, it was a lesson we were able to rebound from, and now [we] monitor every dime we spend.” - Excerpt taken from her her interview with Her Campus
8. Tristan Walker (Founder of Walker & Company)
Do something you are uniquely qualified to do
“What is that one thing you are uniquely qualified to do? If you can really answer that, you need to chase it. [That’s because] that alone is your strategic advantage and it will be your strategic advantage for a very long time.” - Excerpt from an an interview with AdWeek
9. Kelechi Anyadiegwu (Founder and CEO of Zuvaa)
Building a strong team is crucial
“When I first started Zuvaa…I was confident in my vision and that kept me motivated to grow it. However, I don’t think I was diligent enough with building my team. [As a result], I was doing a lot of things on my own and that caused me to burn out, and not be as productive as I could have been.” - Excerpt from an interview with Essence Magazine
10. 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.” - Taken from talk during the ICA Growth Strategies course
11. 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 your biggest promoters.” - Excerpt from his interview with Forbes magazine
12. Dr. Paul Judge (CEO and co-founder of Luma Home)
Use milestones to accomplish a big idea
“Choose a problem that is sufficiently big but that you can actually tackle. One mistake that I see people make is choosing a problem that is so big that they have no reasonable path to [make] it happen. Break a big idea into stages. Mark Zuckerberg [for example,] started Facebook with a simple social fun website, turned [it] into a destination for Harvard, other schools, and then [finally as] a global social network." - Excerpt from an interview with TechCrunch
13. Ricardo Villadiego (CEO of Easy Solutions)
Simplify your solutions
“Seek simplicity in your solutions. Make sure that they are all working together to deliver information wher the sum is greater than the parts. [This will prepare you] to evolve because the criminals on the other side certainly are. [This will also] make sure that your trusted partners and solution providers have the capability to support this evolution of threats over time.” - From an interview with Network Products Guide
14. Frederick Hutson (CEO and co-founder of Pigeonly)
“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
15. Ama Marfo (CEO and co-founder of Airfordable)
Be resilient and do whatever it takes
“I’ve been faced with so many obstacles in my startup journey. One that I’m very proud of overcoming was keeping Airfordable alive when I had no money to hire a team. It was hard convincing anyone to quit their job and come work with me. I could have easily just thrown in the towel at that point, but the conviction I had about Airfordable and the problem we’re solving was so strong, I couldn’t just give up. So I did everything from marketing, business development, operations and product management. I learned how to code to the point of the understanding the basic programming concepts that way when I brought on a technical co-founder or developer I would be able to communicate with them effectively. I’m proud of myself for being resilient and not giving up and now because of this, I have two amazingly smart co-founders who’ve joined me in bringing the vision of Airfordable to life.” – Excerpt from interview with Essence Magazine
16. Dr. Tye and Courtney Caldwell (Founders of ShearShare)
Maintain a healthy work/life balance
“[When starting a business with your spouse] make sure when it’s business, it’s business. When you get home, you can talk about it, you can dabble with it here and there, but do not breathe it all of the time. When the day is over and we’re both exhausted, and we’re both mentally drained, we say: “We’re going to go home and watch a movie” or “we are going out tonight and have a glass of wine.” Then, it’s easy to talk about the other things that are going on.”
“For us, our marriage is definitely number one. It just so happens we both run our business together. I always tell Tye there’s no one else that would trust with my life, so it’s easy to trust him with business decisions. We’ve heard horror stories from different co-founder teams about trust or people stepping on each others’ toes, but we fortunately don’t have that because I trust him with the biggest decisions and the smallest decisions. It makes for a really fun working environment.”
- Excerpts taken from their interview with Dallas News
17. Natasia Malaihollo (CEO and co-founder of Wyzerr)
“Always, always perform tests. Founders are often trapped by the constant stream of new ideas, and fast execution has become a trend among young leaders. [For me], performing tests before building something has become a ritual of its own. Be it before executing an idea, product or other forms of innovation.” – Excerpt taken from an interview with Yahoo!
18. Tonje Bakang (Founder and CEO of Afrostream)
Have a clear vision, but stay grounded
“People don’t realize how tough being an entrepreneur is. Entrepreneurship is being able to envisage the future while still being anchored in the present. You will have an idea, you start imagining what you will create, but you have to convince other people to believe in you and most of the time, they think you’re crazy or a dreamer. This is the biggest struggle.” – Excerpt from an interview with Leaders League
19. 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
20. Joah Spearman (CEO and founder at Localeur)
“Patience is a virtue. It sounds like a cliché, but the reality is that when I started Localeur in 2013, there were a dozen other startups talking about ‘local’ and ‘travel’ and yet we are one of the only ones still alive nearly four years later not because we raised more funds, made more hires or got more users, but because we have been fairly disciplined about letting our business evolve, adapt, and fulfill its mission without getting too distracted by the Silicon Valley rat race.” – Excerpt from an interview with Abernathy Magazine
21. Jessica O. Matthews (Founder and CEO at Unchartered Play)
Be willing to be uncomfortable
“I believe that discomfort breeds innovation. I love being uncomfortable. You have to be open to the situation or adversity in front of you. Take it as a learning lesson and stay hungry and humble.” – Excerpt from a panel interview with Jopwell
22. 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 buiding 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
23. Stephanie Lampkin (Founder and CEO of Blendoor)
Surround yourself with the right people
“Be very conscious and deliberate about the people you surround yourself with. [Time] is highly valuable, [and] the people you choose to spend it should be worthy of it. Your founding team, your staff, and your partners need to be aligned with your values and the exchange of time and energy should be a reciprocal one. For me, this is also important within the work ethic of my company. I can tell that everyone is really inspired by how hard I work, and the mission of the company, and that’s why it’s important to have people working under me who have the same belief in our successes, who are equally self-motivated.” – Taken from an article by Female Entrepreneurs
24. Clarence Bethea (Founder and CEO of Upsie)
Listen to your customers
“Listening has been huge for my company. We see a ton of companies that just don’t listen to their customers. Listening allows you to improve both professionally and personally. We had early adopters of our app come to us with ideas for how to make the sign-up process easier, and we listened. They were right! Soon after, we launched for an update and made an announcement to thank them for helping us make things better.” – Taken from an interview published in IdeaMensch
25. Helen Adeosun (CEO, President and co-founder of CareAcademy)
Be willing to learn from others
“We have learned that having the right members on our team is something worth waiting for. We’re at an exciting point of growth and so much of our focus is on hiring. We’ve learned so much from folks like Jay Batson [of Sigma Prime Ventures] and resources like Who: The A Method for Hiring [by Dr. Geoff Smart and Randy Street].” – Excerpt from an interview with She Starts
What’s the most important lesson you have learned?
Did we miss anyone who should be on this list?
If so, please share in your comments below the name of the Black startup founder, and what was the valuable lesson you learned from him or her that made a positive impact on your business. I plan to expand on this post to 100 black startup founders.
Otherwise, which of the lessons shared here you find the most valuable and why?