All Articles Tagged "entrepreneurship"
Behind The Click: BOSS Network Founder Cameka Smith On Creating A Digital Destination For Women Of Color
Favorite read: The Millionaire Mentor by Brendon Burchard
Recent read: Kingdom Woman by Tony Evans
Most inspired by: People who have the courage to be original in a world full of copycats.
One quote that inspired you: “In between the promise and the payoff is the process.” – George Fraser. It reminds me that all I have to do is do great work and everything else will take care of itself.
Ultimate goal for 2015: To have a successful BOSS tour. We launch an event tour this June in four cities: New York, Washington, DC, Houston and Los Angeles.
Favorite apps: Instagram, Mint, Techstars, AngelList, Hopper and HotelsTonight.
The digital space has provided numerous opportunities for aspiring and seasoned entrepreneurs. Black women create businesses more than any other group, according to statistics. Actually, six times the national average. Cameka Smith, a Chicago resident, took her love of education and created an online community geared toward providing young professional women of color with a network and resources to take their professional careers or entrepreneurial ventures to the next level.
The BOSS Network, which launched in 2009, has grown to include 50,000 women. The founder and CEO has received various accolades such as the Top 40 Under 40 Entrepreneur by Jet magazine, and The BOSS Network was named one of 50 Best Websites for Entrepreneurs by Inc. Magazine and one of Forbes’ Top Career and Entrepreneurial Websites for Women.
MadameNoire caught up with Smith to discuss her booming online community, the best business advice she’s every received and how social media has led to opportunities.
MadameNoire: What is a day in the life for you? How do you balance running a robust network?
Cameka Smith: My day begins with a ‘Power Hour,’ I learned this from one of my mentors Dee Marshall from Girl Friends Pray. I start my day with prayer, meditation and working out my physical body. As a BOSS, you have a lot of hats to wear so you have to be mentally and physically sound. I balance running a network of over 50,000 women by taking care of me first, so I can put our every resource and opportunity into The BOSS Network. I also have an amazing team that I work with daily to make sure we are keeping up with the ever-changing technology of an online business.
MN: What inspired you to create The BOSS Network?
CS: I was an educator for over 10 years and I created academic and mentoring programs for students. I loved my job and after a successful career, I was hit in the economic downfall and was displaced. I didn’t get down on myself about losing a six-figure job, I decided to ‘Become My Own BOSS.’
MN: When you first had the idea to create The BOSS Network, what steps did you take to get it off the ground?
CS: When I first decided to start BOSS, it was organic. As a new business owner, I was looking for resources and a network of like-minded women to connect with and do business. I did not find one, so I created it with the intention of giving women the tools to be successful in business.
MN: What type of support is provided?
CS: How important is community and relationship building for women looking to advance their career or business? As an educator, I am a huge advocate for lifelong learning, so we provide professional development through on-line and off-line workshops and seminars. We also provide all kinds of resources on how to grow in your career or entrepreneurial endeavors.
MN: What’s the best business advice you’ve ever received or given?
CS: Never give up! I mean never, never, never ever give up. “The race is not given to the swift, but to those who endure to the end.” (Ecclesiastes 9:11) There will be obstacles and failures, but that’s how you reach success. Ask any successful person.
MN: How has the social media and digital boom created more opportunities for women?
CS: Never before have women had the opportunity to showcase their talents and consumer society gets to say if it’s a winner or not. When I started BOSS, I set out to create the Facebook for professional women of color. Within six months, we were listed by Forbes among the ‘Top 10 Websites for Entrepreneurial Women.’ It was our online tribe that made people aware of the power of BOSS. Also, I was a finalist in the Techstars Risingstars program last year and 50 percent of the tech companies were owned by women. There is so much opportunity for investors to see our businesses and actually invest in the future of technology.
MN: What’s next for you and The BOSS Network?
CS: I am working on world domination (laughs) because I know when you change the life of a woman, you change the world. My goal is create the #1 website for professional women of color. This space will continue to be a resource where women can learn how to grow their businesses and women business owners and brands can promote their products and services.
Kamryn Johnson and Saniya-Symone Scott (Kam and Niya for short) are nine and eight years old, respectively, and they’ve already started a business. What are you doing with your life? Now I don’t say this to be condescending, I say it to knock down the many excuses we often use to justify our complacency. If they can do it, you can do it!
“I don’t believe you are ever too young or too old to chase your dreams,” Niya told MadameNoire.
Through the power of social media, Kam & Niya empower all of us to channel own youthful, carefree can-do attitude and aim for the stars — anyone who tells you that you “can’t” should rue the day they ever doubted you.
When faced with skeptics, Niya says, “I don’t believe them; [I tell them to] watch me show them how it’s done!” Yeah — she’s eight.
Now, without further ado, let’s hear what Kam & Niya — and their mothers Keshla Johnson and Ebony Towns — have to say about their new entrepreneurial endeavors. Get ready for the cuteness overload!
MadameNoire: Why did you two decide to start this children’s empowerment business?
Niya: Kam and I want children to know that they can accomplish adult-sized dreams. We wanted to inspire other kids to just be who they are, and don’t let other kids affect them by what they do or say. We also wanted kids to be confident and work on their dreams.
Kam: We wanted to inspire other kids to just be who they are, and don’t let other kids affect them by what they do or say. We also wanted kids to be confident and work on their dreams.
MN: What is it that you love the most about empowering others?
Niya: I like that we can make kids feel good about themselves. I see a lot of teasing and bullying and I want kids to know that it’s not cool to make other kids feel unhappy.
Kam: We like knowing that we’re helping kids of all ages, and can be a person that they look up to. Then maybe they can be someone that other people can look up to.
MN: Kam — We will see you on HBO’s upcoming biopic, Bessie! How was it working on set?
Kam: It was really fun because everyone was so nice! Ms. Latifah, Ms. Tika, Ms. Khandi, and [the director] Dee were super sweet and helpful. Mike [Kenneth Williams] was soooo funny. I can’t believe I’m going to be on HBO! Last year I got to work on my first movie with Jordin Sparks in Left Behind. She is so awesome!
MN: Alright. Let’s turn this over to the moms. What is @KamAndNiya all about?
Keshla Johnson (Kam’s Mom): @KamAndNiya are on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Their social networking pages are built to showcase past and present history makers, children entrepreneurs, and overall youth positivity.
Ebony Towns (Niya’s Mom): Social media can be such a negative place with cyber-bullying, videos on fighting, “twerking”, etc. We wanted to show the positive things that our youth and children are doing, and hope they encourage others to use their platforms wisely. It’s sad that many don’t realize how what you post today can haunt you tomorrow. Also, with its popularity, we thought it would be a great marketing tool for their upcoming business ventures.
MN: What made you decide to team up your kids and start this children’s empowerment business?
Keshla Johnson: Our kids are both passionate about being entrepreneurs… They are always coming to us with their grand ideas, so we thought why not work together, and let the dynamic duo do amazing things together.
Ebony Towns: Keshla and I are behind our children 100 percent in all of their personal and joint endeavors. Our kids saw a need to empower children and we believe in the cause as well.
MN: What inspired you to instill entrepreneurial values into your little girls at such a young age?
Keshla Johnson: I feel it is important to remove the fear of failure from our children at a young age so they won’t be scared to take risks. Many things we are instilling into our children now are ideals that took me many years to possess.
Ebony Towns: As a full-time mom, student, and entrepreneur myself, I wanted my daughter to be her own boss, and be skilled in many arenas… I believe if you have something of your own that drives you, and you’re passionate about, do it! If it can be profitable, that’s even better. Invest in yourself.
MN: How do you plan to evolve the children’s empowerment campaign into a profitable business?
Keshla Johnson: Kam and Niya are currently building their brand. They are working on building their YouTube and social media following as well. The girls are currently finishing up their first book which will be out later this year. The brand in which they are building encompasses speaking engagements, books, and workshops. The plan is to become a profitable business while remaining focused on the overall goal which is empowering all children.
MN: Any advice for women with kids who want to start a business as well?
Keshla Johnson: Many times moms feel guilty for wanting to fulfill their dreams, go back to school, or enter the workforce. I think it’s about finding a balance and that you have a goal in mind. Keshla and I work in corporate America, run multiple businesses, and take care of home. I believe that when you put your all into the things your passionate about and create positive energy, God will send you the resources and people that you need.
Keep an eye out for @KamAndNiya and be sure to check out Kam, who plays the younger version of one of the greatest American blues singers, on HBO’s Bessie on May 16.
The Civic Center, located in New York City’s technology hub, Silicon Alley, was filled with Black women and Latinas of all hues on Thursday night. It’s not your typical scene when it comes to the tech space. However, it made the statement we are here and present—and we can talk tech with the best of ‘em.
Technologists, developer evangelists, community leaders and journalists came together to discuss women of color in technology. Powered by Nkonde & Associates founder Mutale Nkonde, the event provided attendees the opportunity to network and direct questions toward panelists, which included Calena Jamieson, community outreach lead at Black Girls CODE; Christina Morillo, information security expert; and Majella Mark, co-founder and CEO at Beau Exchange. There was a common theme woven by all speakers from Nkonde and Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer to keynote speaker, Kathryn Finney, founder and Managing Director at digitalundivided: Black and Latina women in tech are a necessity, not an option.
The numbers tell a different story. The diversity data released last year shows at big name tech companies such Google, Twitter and Facebook, among others, African Americans and Latinos make up no more than two percent of the workforce. When it comes to African-American-led startups, less than one percent receive funding nationally. Digitalundivided (DID) is invested in filling the tech-talent pipeline with women of color and, thus far, has helped 30 percent of its FOCUS Fellows receive angel and investor funding, Finney mentioned during her keynote.
“Tech is overwhelmingly white and overwhelming male, and because of those two things it really colors the atmosphere around tech,” she said.
Finney, who was one of the first fashion bloggers, launching The Budget Fashionista in 2003, shared statistics that highlight why women of color in tech matter. The DID leader noted that women control the majority of private wealth, Black people have over a trillion dollars in purchasing power and Black women create businesses more than any other group (six times the national average). When it comes to Latinas, reports show that we’re the decision makers and shifting to the breadwinners in our households.
The largest issue is producing scalable businesses. However, tech-focused social enterprises such as DID and NewME, as well as diversity initiatives powered by Dreamit Ventures and Techstars look to support and take participating startups to the next level.
“Women bring unique experiences to teams that can solve real world problems,” says Nkonde.
Take Zuvva, which is revolutionizing the way you purchase trendy, yet traditional African fashions. Founder Kelechi Anyadiegwu saw a problem—one that’s unique to her and many other women—and came up with a solution. Since launching, her e-commerce platform has gained a great deal of traction.
You see, diversity breeds diverse ideas and, ultimately, more revenue. Don’t believe us? Just watch.
Based in New York City, Janel Martinez is a multimedia journalist who covers technology and entrepreneurship. She is the founder of “Ain’t I Latina?” an online destination geared toward Afro-Latinas. You can follow her up-to-the-minute musings on Twitter @janelmwrites.
Is ‘Buying Black’ Hurting Us? Author Angela Jones On Why Black Business Owners Should Break Through The Black Ceiling
The term “glass ceiling” is often used to describe the obstacles many minorities and women face when climbing the corporate ladder, despite their high qualifications and experience. Is there such a thing as a “Black ceiling” that many minority business owners face that hinder their ability to grow their businesses? The US Census Bureau 2007 Survey of Business Owners reported Blacks owned 1.9 million nonfarm US businesses, but only accounted for 7.1 percent of total US nonfarm businesses and 0.5 percent of total US business receipts that year. (Note: 2014 Survey results will be released later this year.)
We spoke with author and entrepreneur Angela Jones, author of the book Breaking Through The Black Ceiling, to discuss her thoughts on Black entrepreneurship, diversification in business, and why Blacks need to start thinking more strategically about their long-term business plans. The mantra behind “buying Black” may be what’s hurting the Black economy. In her words, “As altruistic as the [concept] may be, money is green and diversity makes dollars.”
MadameNoire: What were you trying to accomplish by writing Breaking Through The Black Ceiling?
Angela Jones: I wanted to change the mindset of Black business owners to embrace diversity, provide better customer service, leverage technology and understand business is meant to make a profit. How you go into it will determine how successful you are or are not. Being able to adapt to the business environment is essential for your business plans. Just because you’re Black doesn’t mean others will buy from you when you go into business. You can’t have that expectation, because that is not the reality.
MN: Though you focus on Black people most of your chapters can be generalized to other populations. Some people might say that makes your book not as strong. Was that on purpose?
AJ: We are a global economy. Even though I wrote the book and want African Americans to read and learn from it, anyone who has a business might still benefit. I can’t say be diverse, participate in a global economy but not have areas of the book that wouldn’t apply to every business owner regardless of race. I’d be a hypocrite.
MN: Why is building diverse relationships within the Black community so important for the future of the Black economy?
AJ: Part of it comes from having the mindset of competition. A lot of times people think, “If I don’t have it, I don’t want others to have it.” We don’t have to be that way. Black business owners can sit back and pray that Black people will buy or they can create an environment that people want to buy regardless of race. If the product is made for a different ethnicity, then target it for all and make your money. Blacks are also concerned about where they are going to sell. You have to find people who need what you have.
There are other situations where business owners start out by making products in their home, then their business grows. Next thing you know they are bought by a larger company and are making millions of dollars like Lisa Price… When you’ve got mouthpieces worth billions of dollars telling people how awesome your products are, that is great. She was smart.
… A lot of companies file for bankruptcy. Guess what! Get over it. It doesn’t mean they are broke. It just meant that they had to make some change and liquefy for cash. Now she’s able to say, “Look what I did.” Her legacy is that of a Madame CJ Walker. She will go down into history for that. Some people critique her for selling to a predominantly white-owned company. So what? Why not?
MN: A lot of business owners may be afraid to diversify their product offering. Do you think Black entrepreneurs get caught up in wanting to only offer products that “please” the Black consumer?
AJ: I once saw a Black business owner in the service industry on Facebook complaining about how all of his customers are White from Ohio. I didn’t understand what the problem was. What was the issue? The only thing he could say was that he wanted Black people to buy from and support him. Your consumer exists… Why do you care what color they are if they are buying from you?
When you have the opportunity to open yourself up to another person that doesn’t look like you, do it. There’s a feeling of obligation to the Black community where we feel that we can’t pursue other avenues because we feel like we’re selling out. No, you’re selling your product. Selling out is allowing yourself to go out of business because of your Black pride and only wanting a consumer who looks like you. We can’t feel like our businesses are our cemeteries.
Lisa Price is smart because she had an exit plan strategy. Black business owners don’t think about what will happen to their businesses one day. What are you going to do when you reach that $1 billion dollar mark? They think their businesses are going to go on forever but are not planning how that is going to happen. Carol’s Daughter will go on forever because it was bought out by a larger cosmetics company that has been around forever and will keep it in their portfolio. Lisa, if she wants to, can continue making products or she can start another business.
There’s so many opportunities. Having the ability to adapt is a very strong character trait in a person. When one door closes, they find another door to walk through. Many of us in the Black community think that when one door closes, it’s over. For instance, Mark Cuban sold Yahoo for billions of dollars and went and bought a basketball team. Two completely different things… Too many of us are holding on to multi-billion dollar businesses that are failing in our hands because we don’t want to let go or fear diversification and partnership.
MN: At the same time, do you think there is some type of obligation Black business owners should have to the Black community?
AJ: I think the obligation is to give excellent customer service and to be an example to others behind us who also are considering becoming entrepreneurs or business owners. Give back to the community in ways that matter. Ways that matter and how you give back are going to be determined by how successful you are. You can mentor, volunteer your time, or support a nonprofit. Being philanthropic in some shape or form with the money that you do make is just as important as making the money.
MN: How do you see your book helping to open up the conversation on the idea of the “Black ceiling?”
AJ: I’ve already started working with one of the Black chambers here in Michigan to put together programming for entrepreneurs and small businesses. I am also going to develop workshops and webinars based on the content of the book and am working on a followup book called Estrogen Economy which is about the female buying power.
Leaving the stability of a job to pursue your dreams of being an entrepreneur is never easy. Often what keeps us stuck in a miserable pattern at a dead end job are simple excuses. You’re not alone in your feelings. Confront your excuses and take the first step into the murky but rewarding waters of opening your own business.
With an estimated buying power of $1.3 trillion by the year 2017, how and where African Americans spend their money will become increasingly important to business and to the Black community. One Minority Development Business Agency report showed that though the amount of minority-owned businesses are increasing, “they are still smaller in size and scale compared to non-minority-owned firms.” Supporting minority-owned businesses will be crucial to the growth and development of the minority economy in coming years.
De J Lozada is the founder of My Culture Hub, a minority-owned online retailer for online shoppers seeking to buy quality merchandise from ethnic vendors worldwide. De J built the company around her mission of tapping into the spending power of the African, Latino, and Asian-American community by providing e-consumers with a shopping destination that celebrates their heritage and reflects their culture.
Check out her interview below to learn more about why “spending with a purpose” is so important to the mission of the organization.
MadameNoire (MN): What inspired you to start My Culture Hub?
De J Lozada (DL): I was trying to find a doll for a young niece that looked like her. What followed was five stores and a couple of frustrating conversations with store managers all telling me, “Yeah, we had two or three and when they are gone it’s hard to get them in stock.. If you call and complain maybe they’ll send more. Go online…” That whole experience made me feel like my cultural needs were an after-thought. The concept of conscientious buying came to mind. I said I don’t want to shop in stores that take me for granted.
MN: Why are “authentic” ethnic items so hard to find offline and online?
DL: In the past, if you want something that is authentically made, you had to do destination shopping. You can easily go to eBay or Amazon and get a “Chilean” blanket, but when you receive it, it’s stamped “made in China.” We can and should do better. It takes people three to four times as many searches to identify websites that sell authentic items geared towards ethnic communities than it takes to locate similar items that are geared towards mainstream shoppers who are looking for items that appeal to those with European heritages. For example, Irish lace made in Ireland is easier to find versus Kente cloth made in Ghana.
MN: How does My Culture Hub work?
DL: Our goal is to develop an online web portal that speaks to ethnic identities and provides quality unique merchandise at an affordable price. We don’t just sell merchandise. We tell stories. People who care enough to create ethnic items are people who care enough to tell the history and legacy that comes with the item. You can go on our site and learn how cloth is woven back in Africa. You may then pick up a baby doll for someone on our site that is dressed in that same cloth.
We include information about who and how the product is made. You won’t get items on our site stamped “made in China.” The item becomes an heirloom and something you can use to reinforce your culture with your family and friends. We are seeking a conscientious shopper — that middle, upper class, or person who may not have the means but understands the value of saving up to purchase what you want. Some people think our items are too expensive. I say to my staff, “Remind them: That which is cheap is most expensive in the long run.”
MN: How is the internet helping you to reach your customer and carry out the mission of the site?
DL: The internet is the great equalizer. If you live in a community that doesn’t readily have the product you are looking for, you have to turn to the internet. There’s a great growth opportunity there. Blacks and Latinos are the new emerging markets in online shopping. What are we buying? Where is the thoughtfulness behind what we buy? Is it that we only desire the cheapest product and don’t care about quality? I reject that. There are plenty of people of color who make decent livings, are educated, and are thoughtful in their purchases that would like to have items in their homes that reflect who they are and celebrates their identity.
MN: What makes My Culture Hub so different?
DL: The untapped market is the ethnic market. While everybody is chasing that traditional customer, we’re very content to spend our time in ethnic communities who are just really starting to realize their spending power and deciding purposely to shop online and not in the stores that are just around them. Online shopping opens the world. How do you know where to find what you are looking for? That’s the beauty of our model. We’ll do that for you. We’ll find products that are representations of what destination shopping should be instead of going to Kenya or Mali to find that special item for your home.
We are operating a cooperation that is 100 percent self-funded by people of color. It takes a lot of money and time. The thing that has sustained us is talent. There are very few sites that who actually reflect the cultures that they represent. The majority of my leadership team is comprised of people of color. It’s important to have people making decisions about what we buy based on sound practices and personal experiences being people of color.
MN: What challenges have you faced while building My Culture Hub?
DL: TD Jakes has a quote that I use often: “ You should never try to share a giraffe decision with turtles. They will never be able to see what you see.” We [constantly] have to explain, “Other sites lack the sensitivity. You can go to sites and not see a Black model or obviously Hispanic model anywhere. You go to sites and women are all size 0 or 2. That’s not a reality in communities of color.” No one is really speaking to the truth of the African-American community at large. People tell us they don’t think it will work. People won’t buy on your site. They won’t support something that is Black-owned. We’ve heard it all. We’re doing it anyway.
MN: Why are minority-owned companies so important?
DL: There is nothing wrong (and everything right) about also supporting your own community interests. We need to be focused on growing Black wealth in the United States. With money comes freedom. It’s not always okay to have to ask someone else for permission to do what needs to be done in the best interests of your family. When you have wealth, you have the power and the freedom to do some of the things that we all know we need to do to strengthen our standing in society on a socioeconomic value. We need banks that lend to African Americans and Latinos and not be limited by somebody’s else’s possibility bias for our success. African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans in 2017 will have $4.5 trillion worth of spending power in the United States. We’re spending that money. We’re not investing. It’s very important that while we spend, we spend with a purpose.
As people of color get more education and become more aware of the world and what their place in it is, there will be a demand in higher quality merchandise that is fair trade [and] ethically made. We have the ability to pick what we buy. Because we are sensitive to us, nobody has to come in to train us, we don’t have to hire a group of people to come in and run an “ethnic division.” We are the ethnic division.
MN: What are your future plans for the site?
DL: In addition to having our mainstream board which has some amazing people on it, we also will have a junior board where we have young people (18 and younger) making decisions. We are going to groom those students to be the next leaders in business for our future. Learning how to fail is part of learning how to be successful. It’s really unfortunate in minority population communities that our kids don’t get that opportunity to learn how to fail. We have a low tolerance for risk because we don’t have a safety net.
MN: How will you measure your “success?”
DL: Our success will be measured by how much an impact we can make on our communities and our students. Of course we want to make money. Our biggest goal is to be an example of what can be accomplished when we work together as a community. We’re always thinking about how we can give back as we grow at the same time. It’s part of our vision that we have to support education, student entrepreneurship, and commercialization. When people come and shop on our site, they know that they are reinvesting in their own communities. Where else can you do that?
Renowned celebrity chef Roblé Ali has now added ‘perfumer’ to his resume and growing culinary empire. On November 7, Chef Roblé debuted his fragrance CLIQUE by Roblé on ShopHQ (formerly ShopNBC). The line will be the only new fragrance line to premiere this holiday season on the network.
On what inspired the fragrance, Roblé stated, “It started with the idea of developing an irresistible fragrance recipe that could maintain the freshness of a citrus cocktail on top, with an alluring and sensual dessert base containing notes from one of my favorite signature dessert recipes – French Toast Crunch.” The line includes an eau de parfum, body butter, shower gelée, and scented nail lacquer.
We got the opportunity to chat with Roblé about the fragrance line and how he manages his multiple business ventures. Check out what he had to say below.
MadameNoire (MN): What makes Clique by Roblé so unique?
Chef Roblé Ali (CR): I thought it would be a great idea to have a fragrance created by a chef because there are so many parallels between the art of fragrance making and the art of cooking and culinary arts. We work with a lot of the same ingredients. It’s about blending, palettes, and making stuff delicious. It made perfect sense for me. I’m still shocked that no other chef has done this yet.
MN: Why the name “Clique by Roblé” ?
CR: I work in a lot of social environments. Fragrance is something that is social, something that you talk about and compliment each other on. It makes you think about a group of friends, your closest people.
MN: Why did you decide to launch the fragrance on ShopHQ instead of having a retail debut?
CR: Direct sales are always good. It’s a way to build your brand. We’re a small operation. We’re not a company that has a lot of products in the stores already and tens of millions of dollars for advertising. ShopHQ is the most prestigious of the television shopping networks. I felt like that was the perfect home for us. It’s a slow build. We’re going to start off this holiday season on Shop HQ and I would expect by Mother’s Day that you will see us in retail.
MN: What kind of feedback have you been getting throughout the pre-launch phase?
CR: I’ve met a lot of people in the beauty and fragrance industry and have gotten great feedback. I get tweets and mentions on Instagram of people that are ordering directly from cliquebyRoble.com. Every person that I’ve heard from is really pleased.
MN: Over the past years, you’ve really worked on growing the Roblé brand. How important is your business to you?
CR: I personally never liked working for other people. I always knew that I would be an entrepreneur since I was a kid, but you can’t just go from 0 to 100. You have to work with somebody at some point. You build as you go. You make contacts. You make plans. You set long-term goals. You focus and you work hard. I was able to do that to a point where I didn’t have to work for anyone else. Now I employ other people. I want to employ more people and start new businesses. I have all different kind of projects that I’m working on. An app… things like that.
I wish I had more time. There’s not enough hours in the day. There’s no way I can do it all by myself. I have a small team that helps me get everything done and keeps me on track.
MN: What’s the best business advice you’ve ever received and how has it helped your career?
CR: Never burn bridges. Maintain relationships. You never know what might come back around. You never know when you might need a certain contact or connection so make sure you do a good job. Treat people how you want to be treated.
MN: What are you most excited about in these next few months?
CR:We have another women’s fragrance in our back pocket that we may put out later. We also have a men’s fragrance that we are working on. Starting in January, I am going to be doing daytime television and that’s been a big goal of mine. That’s where it’s at. I’ll be in front of all of America five times a week being a chef. I’ll always have have my foot in other [industries… but] food is my first love.
Technology entrepreneurship offers an extensive amount of opportunities. But flip through most magazines and websites that delve into the space and, at times, it seems as though the content isn’t speaking to you, more so at you…and in another language. It’s a concern that The Phat Startup (TPS) team—Anthony Frasier, James Lopez, Jesal Trivedi and Jahde—recognized and aimed to disrupt.
Influenced by Lean Startup methodology and hip-hop culture, The Phat Startup is an integrated media company that develops premium content for new to serial entrepreneurs. Known for their well-attended NYC events, where they’ve brought tech heavyweights such as Reddit founder and serial investor Alexis Ohanian, VaynerMedia founder and social media expert Gary Vaynerchuk, and Ben Horowitz (a.k.a Nas’ bestie), co-founder and general partner of the venture capital fund, Andreessen Horowitz, the Phat Startup is entering a new chapter, hosting their inaugural Tech808 conference on November 21 at New York University. The conference, which is in partnership with the Clive Davis Institute, will explore the world of entrepreneurship through the view of those who are grinding and hustling to make power moves.
MadameNoire caught up with The Phat Startup co-founders to discuss tech entrepreneurship, starting your own venture and why Tech808 is a must-attend conference.
Lopez: I was inspired to start TPS because I noticed that the similarities between hip-hop and lean were a perfect way to educate aspiring entrepreneurs that resonated with the hip-hop culture. Buzzwords are cool, but if you don’t understand them you cant learn from them, or apply those lessons.
Frasier: What played a big part of me jumping into The Phat Startup is being constantly asked questions about becoming an entrepreneur. When I got together with James, and we began to see we could use the culture as a way to get entrepreneurs interested and informed, it was magic.
How did The Phat Startup go from an idea to a platform to a movement, which entails events and now your conference, Tech808?
Frasier: The blog was the first step. The content was the second. The content played a huge part in our journey. When we wrote resource guides and conducted interviews, we weren’t talking to a white kid at Stanford. Sure, anyone could relate and benefit from our content, but we had a certain demographic in mind. We wanted to ask questions a single mother in Newark, NJ could relate to. I wanted to create a guide that a college dropout in Oakland would vibe with.
As a result, it helped us gain a following. The largest reason people follow us is because we present the same resourceful, quality information you would get anywhere else, but with a cooler voice. It’s less intimidating, and people love that. We love hip-hop, so when we wave our flags we do it like any hip-hop movement would. We wear our T-shirts; we make sure the logo is visible on our products. It makes people want to join the squad and be part of something. Hip-hop taught us that.
What can attendees expect from your inaugural conference?
Lopez: For Tech808, we decided that having people talk about the come up wasn’t as valuable as them telling you how to create your own come up or movement. We wanted to get off the usual background information and have all speakers leave the community with executable advice that they can start implementing the day of in a TEDx style conversation.
We want to educate our community, so Tech808 is pure executable advice, no self-promotion.
Talk to me about the inspiration behind the name Tech808
Frasier: The Tech808 name came from our founding members: Jesal Trivedi and Jahde. The 808 is the most famous bass sound in hip-hop. It has a boom to it that is unmatched. Bringing tech together with that represents the convergence of the two cultures. It also means we not playing games out here!
How will Tech 808 be different from a lot of the other technology conferences happening in other tech hubs such as San Francisco, Austin, Atlanta and New York?
Lopez: Tech808 is different because we wanted to focus on the lessons learned from founders in the trenches right now. People like Mark Zuckerburg are super special, but the tactics they use now can’t be used by a company that is just launching. All of our speakers are building their empires from an early stage and their tactics are the ones our community needs to implement now.
Frasier: I agree with James. What also makes us different are the same reasons we were able to attract our audience. It’s the culture. It’s the comfort level [of] people asking questions and not feeling dumb, or left out. We are for the people. You don’t get that vibe when attending a larger, more popular conference.
For those aspiring to be tech entrepreneurs, what advice would you give them about starting a business in the tech space?
Lopez: As Nike would say, just do it. There will never be a perfect time to start. Start now and learn how to overcome the obstacles that you’ll face. There isn’t a blueprint to follow, but you can learn from how others over came adversity. Do that and grind!
Frasier: My biggest piece of advice for aspiring tech entrepreneurs is to learn and build as much as you can. Learn how to code. Don’t have the time to learn how to code? Learn how to prototype! Learn how to build wire frames. Learn how to communicate your vision to a technical person. But, as much time as you spend learning, you have to start building and making mistakes. Making mistakes is how we get better and, trust me, you will learn to love making mistakes in the tech world. Making mistakes is actually better than reading articles and books.
Based in New York City, Janel Martinez is a multimedia journalist who covers technology and entrepreneurship. She is the founder of “Ain’t I Latina?” an online destination geared toward Afro-Latinas. You can follow her up-to-the-minute musings on Twitter @janelmwrites.
When consumers visit Sneakah Boutique, Nailah Wright wants them to discover “original, fresh and modern” products but also feel “the retro lifestyle.”
The online boutique retailer, founded in 2013, is owned by Wright, 29, along with partners Whitney Bryant, 25 and Ernest Freeman, 22. The New Jersey company specializes in international street wear, footwear and accessories that echo what Bryant refers to as “a skateboard life.”
In just over a year, Sneakah Boutique has found its niche in the fashion world and has already launched its exclusive Bee Dope capsule line with Cross Colours, the leading street wear brand, which was founded by Carl Jones in 1989. The collaboration will allow the two entities to put out a five-piece collection, which will all be available this fall.
As Wright, Bryant and Freeman continue to branch their brand internationally, Freeman said the company will continue to “bring about retro brand awareness.”
With Wright’s background in business, sales, media, photography and film; Freeman’s expertise in finance and investment; and Bryant’s experience in the entertainment and fashion fields, the partners feel they have what it takes to make Sneakah Boutique the future of retro.
MN: How did the three of you come together to launch Sneakah Boutique?
Wright: The Sneakah Boutique concept came around in the summer of 2013. I was working for a Fortune 250 company and I’ve always liked fashion and art and I wanted to come out with a retro-style sneaker store. So one day when I was driving home, I came up with an idea and a concept and I brought it to Whitney and Ernest’s attention. They liked the business plan and the concept so we went forward with it.
MN: In just over a year, you have taken great strides in the street wear industry. How have you maintained your focus?
Bryant: Everything goes hand in hand and I think how we are branding, how we are doing our marketing plays a big part in success. For us, there has been this driving force behind how we have been able to make our presence known and how we have chosen to brand ourselves and that is what is behind some of the creative alliances that we are making. We were able to pigeon-hole and target the industry that we wanted and we went after it aggressively.
Her last name may be Smalls, but if you pull the curtain back on Tionna’s growing empire, you’ll notice just how big she’s doing it.
The megawatt personality got her start with a small investment from her mother to self-publish her first book, Girl, Get Your Mind Right!, at 22 and the rest, as they say, has been history in the making.
In the eight years since she became a published author, Smalls has added television personality (What Chilli Wants, Girl, Get Your Mind Right), relationship expert and columnist (Gawker), boutique owner (Tasty) and screenwriter (Brooklyn Bred) to her growing resume.
I recently caught up with Tionna to learn more about how she launched her various businesses, what it’s been like navigating the entertainment industry and how she’s been able to consistently reinvent herself while ultimately staying true to who she is.
MadameNoire (MN): We know you as an author, television personality, retail shop owner, and soon as a screenplay writer with Brooklyn Bred. With so much on your plate, how would you define Tionna Smalls?
Tionna Smalls (Smalls): I like to say that I’m the ‘Tionna’ of all trades. I can do a lot of things well. I am a serial entrepreneur and I have a lot of interests in things and I’ve always been someone who believes that you should go after the things you want in life no matter what. I’ve never listened to people’s opinions of what they thought I was capable of because I’m too busy grinding. I may not be the master of every industry that I [have a business in] but the one thing that I am the master of for sure is knowing how to grind and get [stuff] done.
MN: You wrote your first book, Girl, Get Your Mind Right! at the age of 22 and was cast as the relationship expert along side Chili from TLC not too long after that. How did that opportunity come about?
Smalls: The book was the catalyst for everything. Back in 2006/07 my friends and I were all single and dating in New York when I started noticing a trend with the way guys were moving and dealing with women, so I wrote about it. Once the book came out, I reached out to several media outlets, including Gawker who eventually hired me to be a columnist, and many of the critics who reviewed the book started calling me a relationship expert and the title just stuck. From there, I guess the producers for the What Chili Wants show learned about me and thought I’d be the perfect person to help her get her love life back on track. At that time, giving relationship advice was something that came natural as a hobby, but now almost 10 years later I can definitely say that I am an expert.
MN: Where did you work prior to publishing your book?
Smalls: I’ve always been a worker and I’ve always felt that before you can be a boss you have to be a worker. I started working when I was 17 at Burger King and I had a sales job. I’ve also had jobs in the nonprofit space before I became an author and entrepreneur. As I was working these different jobs, I realized that the ‘9 to 5’ life wasn’t for me; I craved freedom.
You’re never going to get to your dreams if you’re just working a job, unless your dream is to help someone else achieve their dreams.
MN: How did you finance your businesses? Did you take on any outside investment?
Smalls: With my first book my parents gave me the money to publish it. And after the book, I ended up getting a job at Gawker [as a relationship advice columnist] and I was doing marketing on the side. I invested every cent that I made into the pursuit of my goals. And then once the TV show opportunity came, I was able to finance everything else that I wanted to do at that time.
With some of the bigger things that I want to do now, I know that I need investors but it’s a difficult process because everyone wants a return right away. And then you have those people who could pour resources into your ventures but they’re hesitant because deep down they don’t want you to become bigger than they are. My advice and approach has always been to finance your business yourself. You’ll get more respect that way and may attract the right type of people to you.
MN: What was one of the most surprising things you learned about the entertainment industry?
Smalls: The thing that surprised me the most was that the people who you may have grown up with or who look like you are the ones who don’t necessarily want to see you succeed. In the industry it seems as if no one wants to help anyone else, and in a sense it’s a little bit like the drug game where everyone wants to make sure you’re not ‘selling’ on their block. Learning how to navigate the business can be depressing but ultimately you have to get to a position where you have the money and resources to afford the freedom to focus on the projects that are important to you. When you’re dependent on other people, they’ll try to tell you what’s best for you and what’s best for the culture, even when they’re not living it.