All Articles Tagged "entrepreneurship"
As anyone involved in the music industry knows, public relations is an ever-important part of launching (and maintaining) one’s career. How you handle your relationship with your target market could either help or hurt, so having someone on your team whose job it is to manage and leverage those relationships is crucial.
Meet Sasha Brookner founder of boutique public relations firm Helio PR. Over the past 16 years, Brookner has worked with artists such Ceelo, N’Dambi, Katt Williams, Goapele, Ledisi, and Lira. We chatted with Sasha about her background, what it’s like being a publicist, and how she believes the branding and publicity paradigms are changing for emerging and established artists.
Check out the interview below!
MadameNoire (MN): What inspired you to be come an entrepreneur and launch your own PR firm?
Sasha Brookner (SB): When I was growing up, my mother and grandfather both had their own businesses. I was able to see the freedom they had as business owners. That was always in the back of my mind.
I went to UCLA and majored in history. During my last year, I didn’t have enough credits to graduate on time, so I decided to do some internships in publishing, A&R, promotion, and the last one was publicity. It was cool because I was working directly with writers to develop stories. I didn’t have to deal directly with the politics of music executives and labels. That was the beginning where I figured out I could do this.
As soon as I graduated, I got a job at Red Ant, a subsidiary of BMG, as an assistant publicist. When Red Ant went under, an associate called me up and wanted me to come over to The Courtney Barnes Group. I worked there for a couple of years and branched out and started my own company.
MN: What were some challenges you faced early on?
SB: When you start your own business, you have to be the rainmaker. At the time, I had saved up enough money so that I really wasn’t stressing it that much. Public relations is great because there wasn’t a lot of overhead. I started working at home. There weren’t a lot of hurdles because I was already seasoned as a publicist. Everyone told me that if I really did a good job and focused on whatever I was doing, things would spread word of mouth.
Another challenge was that I had to be very creative because I was working with independent grassroots artists who didn’t have radio, marketing, or worldwide tours. We were up against corporate firms who are already established and working with major label artists. In the beginning, you had to be much more creative with pitching.
MN: Who was your first client?
SB: N’Dambi. She had such an interesting story. Before we knew it, we got her in L’Uomo Vogue and Vogue Hommes. She was getting so much press even Erykah Badu (who she sang background for) was like “Wait, who’s doing your press?” This was before the female neo-soul thing took off. Now, it would be almost impossible to get a background singer selling CDs out the trunk of her car into these outlets.
We get 85 percent of our clients through referral. That started with N’Dambi. Then, Ledisi and Goapele were calling me. I saw artists that were falling short in marketing. That was our niche in the beginning. We expanded to painters, graphic designers, actors, and spoken word artists.
MN: What is it like to work with mainstream celebrity clients versus more grassroots artists?
SB: It’s easier. We started working with Katt Williams during the end of his Wildin’ Out season on MTV. He was taking off with Pimp Chronicles. When you’re working with someone who everyone wants to interview, it’s more work, but it’s not as challenging. It’s not like you have to pitch. Then again, there are problems such as personalities and missing photo shoots. When there’s a lot of money involved, there are a lot of issues and then you have to do crisis management.
Grassroots artists are my favorite and more satisfying. You’re taking people who normally wouldn’t get this type of exposure who are seasoned in their craft and helping them get to a plateau that they probably would not have.
With bigger artists you don’t want to over-saturate the market because you are getting so many requests. With independent artists, you want to do as much as you can that is quality press.
MN: How has the PR world changed over the years?
SB: The biggest shift has been the digital world. When we first started off, it was just magazines and television. Magazines worked four-to-five months in advance. Now, you can do a story and 24 hours later the story is up on an online site. The pieces are much more topical and newsworthy.
When I started off with music artists, they were just in musical publications talking about music. Now, the majority of my clients are all using fashion (and other creative avenues) as outlets to promote whatever projects they have.
MN: Why has celebrity branding become so prominent in our culture?
SB: The word “branding” has become a buzz word. I like my clients to be more fluid. I like to go and let it happen organically as opposed to typecasting someone, putting them in a box, and then selling that to the media.
However, I understand the importance of creating an identity that is recognizable to the people and the fans. Some people skip over the “Why are you important? What void do you fill?” You definitely have to live your brand, master your craft, and be known for something.
If it doesn’t match your personal brand, you shouldn’t do it. There are people like Taylor Swift who turn down movie scripts all the time that don’t reflect who she is. Or, someone like Immortal Technique, a rapper, who turns down corporate endorsement deals.
Reinvent yourself. Beyonce is the paragon of this. Do it so that it is an evolution and not a marketing scheme.
MN: How would you advise the everyday woman trying to build her brand?
SB: Interacting on social media is important. You have to figure out a way to mix the professional and personal. I’m really big on presentation. Find a good photographer and good writer for your bio.
That’s really important and is the first thing that you should do. When you’re dealing with media, they are top-notch English majors that went to journalism school and know their stuff. You can’t just hit them with something that is wack.
Network. I’m on Facebook all the time. I realized that all these people (like editors at Vogue) who may not have gotten back to me before were following my political tirades on Facebook. They loved my radical ideas and were like, “If you need anything, just shoot me over an email.” I realized that I was creating more relationships when I wasn’t even trying to.
Go to the sites that you want to be on and look for the Contact or About Us in the masthead. You can reach out to editors just to establish a relationship.
MN: What has allowed you to get so far in your career?
SB: Picking clients wisely is important. I won’t take on a client if I don’t think I can get them any press. I don’t care how much they’re paying. The industry is so small. People talk. We get 85 to 90 percent of our clients via word-of-mouth. I don’t want anyone unhappy. We’re very selective, however, yes, you do have some pay-your-bill clients.
Be proactive. Meet people. I always tell people, “Be careful. You could meet a guy at a party. He could have on ripped jeans and Birkenstocks and you pay him no attention. He could be the brother of the CEO of Coca Cola. You never know who somebody is.”
Be organized and get back to people. There are a lot of publicists I know who don’t. Even if I get back to say that an artist isn’t available or we can’t do it at this time, I make a point of trying to get back to people. I know publicists who worked at major labels and ignored everyone. Then, they branched off and started their own PR firms and those same editors won’t deal with them.
MN: Where do you see Helio PR going in the next few years?
SB: People have been asking me that for years, but it’s really just been consistently what I’m doing such as finding new acts that are dope. I don’t see myself being in a high-rise or corporate entity.
Although I only have four to six clients at a time, they are clients we are really invested into. What I do sustains my lifestyle. I get a lot of freedom. I get massages. I sleep eight to nine hours. What I do affords me the ability to live my life and do what I want to do.
Over the past few years, the market for natural hair and body care products and services targeted specifically to women of color has increased. Many Black female entrepreneurs have found their space in the industry, becoming household names and providing inspiration to women (and men) around the world.
Meet Chris-Tia Donaldson, Harvard graduate, full-time lawyer and CEO/founder of natural hair and body care company, Thank God I’m Natural (TGIN), whose product line launched in 2013. In March 2015, TGIN started selling its products in Target stores nationwide, a process which the team documented heavily on social media.
We spoke with Chris-Tia about her business journey, what it’s really like to launch in Target, the difficulties of being a Black female CEO, and her advice for other small businesses that want to take it to the next level.
MadameNoire (MN): What inspired you to launch TGIN?
Chris-Tia Donaldson (CD): My story is one that is very common to most Black women. I was in law school, and in my final year, I decided to stop relaxing my hair. There weren’t really products on the market that were for women with curly hair.
There was a small movement on the website, Nappturality. I used that as a resource to learn as much as I could about natural hair. I wanted to take the experience and compile it into easy tips for those thinking about going natural or wanting to learn how to care for your hair. It turned into a 300-page book Thank God I’m Natural: The Ultimate Guide to Caring For Natural Hair. The book came out three months before the movie Good Hair. We got alot of press and publicity. I went on a book tour, talked to different women, and did events everywhere.
There were a lot of products with great packaging and marketing that didn’t deliver on promises. I thought there was an opportunity to come up with something with high quality ingredients. We wanted something that would give women versatility, but also soft, manageable, and moisturized. That’s what we stand for.
MN: What were some of the challenges you faced while transitioning from author to product developer?
CD: Procrastination was one of my biggest challenges. Fear of starting was my biggest handicap. I didn’t have a background in chemistry, ethnic hair, packaging, bottles, sourcing ingredients, or shipping containers. There was alot of things that I didn’t know that I had to quickly come up to speed along the way. There’s still a lot of things I don’t know.
MN: How did you know TGIN was ready to be in Target stores?
CD: I don’t think you can ever be ready for this experience. People aren’t telling you everything you need to know throughout the process. I think we knew we were ready because we knew we could produce, had a quality product, and had the building blocks that could be scalable. Our [items] came in a shipper. Our labels were good. Our production was running well. We had a system for ordering and making sure that we weren’t out of stock. For Target, we had to take what we were doing now and multiple it by “x,” but the process stays the same.
MN: What are some business lessons you learned from this Target experience?
CD: It’s all about connections. You go out looking for one thing and the next thing it’s like, “What? You are the Target people? Okay, let’s connect.” You might meet a person [and tell them your story] and they put you in touch with someone.
You have to be what the brand is looking for. Your image, packaging, who you are as a founder, your story, your business acumen, etc. Any retail outlet wants you there because you are bringing them new customers. It’s a partnership. I can’t speak for all, but most retail outlets want to work with people who understand that. You have to come to the table ready to say, “How is this relationship beneficial to both of us?”
MN: How did going through the process of selling in a large retail store affect you?
CD: You have to let the hell go. People always asked me if I was excited. Honestly, I was more stressed than anything. On one hand, I was working on my Target paperwork which was: Identify the product and ingredient. What percentage of your sales does this account for? On the other hand, I was working with my financial institution to help me figure out a way to finance the initial inventory. With that, they needed a new life insurance policy, a lien on my car and various assets, articles of organization, documentation of who was making my stuff, and what my Target projections were. There was no real process. You learn a lot along the way.
MN: Are you going to try to get into other major retail stores?
CD: I want to master this one first. I tell people, “You don’t come to the Olympics to come in 10th place.” My philosophy has been to keep things tightly focused. That’s why we are not a company where we have a shampoo in 20 fragrances. I like to do things on a small scale and do them well.
MN: How did you get your customers excited about your Target Launch?
CD: The Target people originally told me they were expecting me to be in stores between March 1 and March 15. I met with people before March 1 and they asked me what I was going to do if I wasn’t in stores before March 1. I told them I didn’t know.
We turned it into a contest with our followers. We said, “If you don’t see us, ask for us.” It caused our customers to go out and pull stuff off the shelf. We made finding the product a fun experience versus me knowing the exact date of when we would be in stores. On May 29, it will be in every store. We capitalized on the uncertainty. We turned not knowing into something that people could become excited about.
MN: What other business benefits have you seen from launching in Target and expanding your retail reach?
CD: Before we were a major retail outlet, people bought from us online or in beauty supply stores. I’ve learned how Black women shopped. Now that we are in Target, there are people who see us in Target and will come to our website and buy it. A lot of women will see it and hear the hype, but they want to do their research. People take you a little more seriously. We were the same company before March 1, but it’s like you move to a new level. There’s a new perception of your ability as a business woman.
A lot of people said to me, “You have a Harvard degree and you are selling cream out the trunk of your car?” You damn right I am. Guess what? I’m in Target now, 250 stores. There were a lot of people along the way that thought I was another girl in the park selling soaps and shea butter. Maybe I was, but I knew how to do this thing in a way that you get a certain result.
You can take a “natural,” “earthy,” or “personal relationship-driven” business, and with the right business structure to it, take it to the next level. You can have a passion and still be grassroots and do business on a large-scale.
MN: What is it like being a Black CEO in the beauty industry today?
CD: Being a female CEO and a Black female CEO, sometimes it’s hard to say you want to be number one. People look at you like you are crazy. People think that you should be happy to be here at this level. Like I said, you don’t go to the Olympics to come in 10th place. As women, we have a hard time embracing each other in the quest to be the best. Women are not taught to be competitive. If a little girl in ballet says she wants to be the soloist [and is chosen], we are taught to think, “Oh my gosh…they chose me! I’m so lucky!”
As a Black female CEO, some people are taken aback by you wanting to be the best. You have to give yourself permission to say you want to be at the top. A lot of women struggle with articulating that or thinking it’s acceptable.
MN: What’s next for TGIN?
CD: When you first get into Target, you are on a probationary period as part of an evaluation. Once we get over that, I’d like to take a vacation. In terms of the company, I want to see it do well. I want to get into more stores, beauty supplies, Whole Foods… I want to knock all of that out.
Recently, I had the pleasure of taking my daughter to a brunch with a group of young, Black female actors in Harlem. What an experience it was. The interesting fact most all of these young ladies were “working actors.” Some, like Eden Duncan-Smith, had been in movies like “Annie” and others had been in Broadway plays. My friend deduced that all were divas. My daughter has enjoyed many things, but I’ve found that her desire to act is her only true passion to date. So, I told her…”lets go to work!”
When I came up, I always “worked” even as as kid. My dad offered me my first job and subsequently was the first person to fire me too. He was an industrial arts teacher that was a builder on the side. He would build onto existing houses and my brother and I were his helpers. Even though that was not my passion, it taught my a lesson that would thread through my life: you gotta hustle. It also thought me the importance of setting work ethic early on. Last, but definitely not least, it taught me that business-for-self was the way to go.
At the “Keep The Drama On The Stage” brunch, young ladies 18 and under celebrate their ability to work together in the business and not fight each other as they rise to the top. It seemed to be working. The girls were taking selfies, eating, and being openly mentored by other women. Olamide Faison, an extremely talented musician, even serenaded the girls. It was all great fun.
I had another agenda that lurked underneath the obvious.
I want my daughter to get to working now. It took me a long time to get myself going in life, but when I did, I went to work. I openly admit, I was not the best student. In college though, you couldn’t find a person “worked” harder than I did in college. I did the the Black student paper, the regular paper, was a DJ at the school’s radio station, helped book artists on campus, programmed events through several organizations, and even had a few hobbies. And then I had a jobs that paid me like stacking books at the library or being a camp counselor for kids. One thing is for certain, I went to work. In this day and age, we have to instill these values in our kids – that they must learn the value of hard work.
For me, I also want to teach my daughter the value of entrepreneurship and doing for self.
Over the past few years, I have taken my daughter with me to “work.” This means she attends some of my speaking engagements or is present when I have having meetings. She seems me working all the time. An odd thing happened when it came to the actual “Take Your Child To Work Day” last week. We really didn’t have anything to “do.” I could have taken her to my office, but I typically don’t go to the office my parenting days. Thanks to the internet, AllHipHop.com allows me to come and go as I please for the most part. I totally flipped the script on her. I put her to work.
She started to write her first script and I helped her lay down the foundation. I drew a clear line between this effort and the other mini-movies she’s done with her cousin and friends. After the script is done, we’re going to shoot this summer. I also let her sit in on my meetings and we talked extensively about business. This is important stuff. All the actresses at the KTDOTS brunch are little businesses within themselves. They may have parents that guide that business, but ultimately the guardians are only a part of the echo system around the business. We have to teach them business and their value in it.
Most of our kids are smarter than we were, but the world they are growing up in will be harder if we parent don’t do our job well. They need to start working now so they can get a head start on good habits, work ethic and maybe…just maybe…they will strike gold on the way to adulthood. I know the young ladies at brunch are betting on it.
Special shout out to clothing store RUUM clothing store in Tribeca and TweenGirlStyle.com
Every few years, we get to see the ascension of a new generation of fresh thinkers, new talent, and trailblazing innovators. The next crop of Black women making their mark in a variety of industries are influential and driven, setting new trends and bringing new philosophies and art to the forefront. Let’s take a look at the group of twentysomethings who’ve got next!
Say what you want about Kandi Burruss of Bravo TV’s The Real Housewives of Atlanta, but just don’t call her broke. While other housewives readily floss their reality star incomes and material trappings, Kandi is busy building an empire. We’ve seen her launch businesses and stage plays, all doing well enough that she can buy new homes—with cash.
Now, for the first time, Kandi is preparing to share her business acumen with the world via Empower – The Businesswoman MasterClass, scheduled for Saturday, April 11, in Atlanta. Here, she talks about what attendees can expect, as well as the a-ha moment that sparked her own entrepreneurial fire.
MadameNoire: Why did you decide to launch the Empower MasterClass?
Kandi Burruss: Well, basically, I’m the friend in my crew who’s always motivating everybody else to do something different or something extra to make more money. I have helped a few people to make some lucrative decisions, and they say that every time they talk to me they walk away with something that helped them.
MN: Why do women need to attend, even if they’re not entrepreneurs?
KB: Overall, you’re going to learn something. Some people may not be trying to start their own business, and that’s okay. But maybe you’ll just get a little inspiration on how to better your financial life, period, because sometimes we just need to learn how to save better or learn how to put things in perspective so that we’re bettering our whole life. And I feel like anytime you’re around a bunch of women who are like-minded, and who are all about taking things to the next level, that’s a positive thing anyway.
MN: Should all women consider entrepreneurship?
KB: I feel like some people are worker bees, and some people are queen bees. In my mind, the world needs worker bees in order to keep going. That’s how the world is pollinated, and if you’re a worker bee, that’s okay. But I’m not a worker bee—and by worker bee, I’m talking about a person who has to know that they’re getting a certain amount on their check every single week. And sometimes they become a slave to that job and sometimes they’re doing things that they don’t necessarily want to do because of the check that they have to get every week.
But a queen bee, she’s going to think outside the box. She may sacrifice more so that she can end up doing the things she loves to make money. Instead of having to work to build somebody else’s business, she wants to build her own business, and she’ll sacrifice and do other things until she’s able to get to the level of having worker bees under her. To me, it’s all about being happy, being able to provide for your family and doing what fulfills you. I’m all about trying to find ways to do something that I love to do so that it doesn’t necessarily feel like work, but I’m still able to make money doing it.
MN: When you were singing with Xscape, at what point did you realize that you needed to take more control over your financial destiny?
KB: When I started in the music industry, that was my first job. I was 16 when I signed with So So Def Records. I was still in high school, and then we had this instant success. My mom always preached to me and said, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket; you need to put money aside for college just in case it doesn’t work out.” She was always focused on the negative, which can sometimes get on your nerves, but sometimes it’s just realistic. So I’m like, “OK, she’s right. What if this group falls apart? How am I going to maintain my lifestyle?”
After a while, I had gotten so comfortable being in that group that I didn’t necessarily see what my next move was. When we got to the second album, I had just bought a house, and we found out that one of our group members wanted to go solo. So that messed up negotiations for our third album. I had bought this house thinking we were about to do our third deal and get all this money, but the label wasn’t about to give us all that money when it was clear that Xscape wasn’t going to last much longer. So when I realized my destiny was tied to my other group members, I realized I need to figure some other stuff out.
That’s when I really started focusing on writing songs and doing other stuff to have a backup plan and be able to maintain my lifestyle. And by the time the group broke up, luckily, my songwriting had taken off. And from that point on, I knew I never wanted to be in a position where my livelihood was dependent on someone else’s actions.
MN: So your mom was a key influence in your financial decisions. Did you have any other mentors early in your career?
KB: I always tell people that Queen Latifah was my mentor, and she didn’t even know it. I’ve never met her; I do not know her. But when I was 19, I was still in the group at the time, and we were at an awards show. Queen Latifah had won an award because she had a management company, managing other artists; she had her television show; she was acting and she was a producer; she had her career as an artist. So she had multiple things that were all successful. I watched her win that award, and I looked at Tiny and said, “I’m going to win that award one day.” And that moment, for me, was when I realized that I need to do multiple things within my career. She was the one that made me realize you can do a whole bunch of stuff and make it work.
MN: Is it possible to do too many things? Can you have so many streams of revenue that things start to get watered down?
KB: When you have multiple businesses, you’re definitely going to have to have business partners and people that help you keep it going. You can’t do it all yourself. For me, I have Don Juan, who keeps my whole day-to-day in check and keeps everybody from each business tied together and communicating. And I have my business partner, Peaches, who keeps the day-to-day of my Tags boutiques going. And I have my partners with Bedroom Kandi. Not only do we have Bedroom Kandi, but we have Bedroom Kandi consultants, so we have hundreds of women across the country who are part of our network. So, obviously, I would not be able to do that alone.
I think a lot of people are scared to partner up with other people, and I understand that. But it’s important to be open to working with other people who are business-minded and who have their stuff together. And if you get the right partner, you can do all kinds of stuff. But I do feel like you need to solidify your first source of income and then add on.
MN: I’m sure people are constantly reaching out to you to try to work with you, so what do you look for in a potential partner?
KB: When it comes time to partner, I want to know that this person can handle the day-to-day because I cannot partner with someone who needs me to do everything… but they may not be able to market the company and get the word out, or other things that I’m strong at and can help with.
MN: What advice do you have for women who may read this and be inspired by your career, but who also feel that they don’t have the capital to really get a business off the ground?
KB: For one thing, it depends on what kind of business it is. Right now, you’re seeing so many people who are able to start their businesses online, so it’s not like they have to have the capital for a physical space. And one thing I tell people in that situation is, make sure your website is up to par and it’s looking like something, because I can’t stand when people say that have something going, but their packaging and everything else for their business looks bootleg.
But if you come to me and tell me that you have a business and you want me to be a part of it, but you have nothing to invest in what you’ve done—you can’t even afford a website or anything—that shows me right off the rip that you are bad with money. You are not willing to invest in yourself. Some businesses don’t take that much money to get started, but if you can’t save anything toward yourself—you can’t even get some decent business cards—that tells me something. And I mean that a lot of people are living above their means. They’re not willing to sacrifice for their own business. You may need to downgrade your lifestyle so you can save some money for your business.
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.