As Black female tech company founders, Amanda Spann and Sheena Allen, are rare, and their latest app– Alchomy mobile app — even more so. The location-based application is a drink location community through which users can share, save, and recommend adult beverages, and for most of us, this is just what the doctor didn’t order after a long hard day at work.
In founding Alchomy, Spann and Allen have joined a small percentage of Black female founders for tech companies. According to #ProjectDiane, a new study on Black female tech entrepreneurship, there only 88 tech startups led by Black women, with us making up “just 4 percent of the estimated 2,200 women-led tech startups.” Black female tech founders also receive less funding than others, which makes these partner’s fete even more impressive. “The average amount of funding for a Black female founder is just $36,000,” reported CNN of the study. “For comparison, the average failed startup raises $1.3 million–and the study notes that those are generally founded by white men. Black female founders made up just .2 percent of all venture capital deals from 2012 to 2014.”
Spann, a Florida State University and Georgetown grad, is actually a tech publicist by trade. Allen, who was a psychology and film major at the University of Southern Mississippi, actually got into tech with no technical background. When she came up with an idea for a finance/money organizing mobile app after a Walmart shopping trip that resulted in a super long receipt, she went on to found Sheena Allen Apps while a senior in college.
In a Q&A, Spann and Allen told us about their new app, what it’s like being Black women in tech, and what’s on the horizon in the field?
MadameNoire.com (MN): How and why did you two partner?
Amanda Spann (AS): When working on my previous company, Blerdology, we actually featured Sheena and the success of her apps on our blog, although I didn’t know her personally. A chance encounter on LinkedIn connected us years later. We grabbed a few drinks, hashed out a vision for where we thought Alchomy could go and the rest was history.
Sheena Allen (SA): We actually met through LinkedIn. Amanda ended up sending me a message and mentioned she was working on a mobile-first company. Maybe a month later, we ended up having a sit down in Atlanta, she pitched her vision for Alchomy to me and I was on board from that point.
MN: How did Alchomy come about?
AS: While traveling, I realized it was often easy to find a great place to grab a bite, but a lot more difficult to find a great bar that appealed to my taste. I wanted to be able to meet my own set of personal needs while exploring the cultural drinking norms and traditions of new cities, countries and communities in a curated and convenient way. Upon expressing my desire to fellow drinkers, I found that many shared my sentiments of wanting to learn, create, share, and discover more about craft cocktails and all of the interesting places we could have them. I also noticed that brands were struggling to engage with people like myself and retain our attention as recurring customers. I saw an opportunity to create customer-centric community that would create a two channel of communications and add value to both sides of the channel.
SA: Amanda is the original founder of Alchomy, so of course she had a vision in her head when she put the Alchomy team together. Like with any business, the more people you get on your team, the more creative thoughts and different perspectives you get, and the idea usually pivots to some degree. Amanda’s original vision is still there, the Alchomy team has just added the cherry on top.
MN: Why is Alchomy unique and how does it work?
AS: Alchomy is a drink discovery community for sharing, saving, and recommending adult beverages. We curate the platform by your taste and location to help you find the right drinks and the right drinks find you.
Consider that there’s a big difference between a review and a recommendation–reviews are critiques, recommendations are suggestions. We’re not looking to be another soapbox for opinions but more so a white-glove service for drinks. We ultimately want to grow Alchomy to be your quintessential drinking resource. Whether you’re staying in or going out, Alchomy will be the cocktail concierge that provides tailored suggestions on what you should drink and where you should have it.
SA: Alchomy is not just another mixology app. Can you go and search for over 16,000 cocktail recipes? Yes. Is that all we offer? No. The app helps you find bars and you can follow others on the app and see what kind of drinks they are making or drinking. The goal of Alchomy is that no matter if you are looking for a nice, simple drink to make after a long day at work or wanting to find a bar in a city that you are visiting for the weekend, Alchomy will be your drinking buddy.
MN: How are you marketing the app?
AS: Right now, it’s primarily word of mouth. We’re steadily establishing relationships with bartender and spirit enthusiast networks but our growing social media following is driving a number of the downloads.
SA: We built a nice size social following before the release of the app. We use the engagement from our followers to help push the app. We also have some amazing content and contests that will be coming soon. As a company, we really care about the engagement with our users and that plays a big role in our marketing strategy.
MN: How’d you get into tech?
AS: I am technology publicist by trade and the co-founder of Tiphub, an impact-driven innovation community for entrepreneurs in Africa and the African Diaspora. Prior to that, I was the CMO and co-founder of Blerdology. Blerdology was a social enterprise to support and engage the Black tech community and the first organization to host hackathons targeting African Americans. The company helped to spark Black interest in technology, assisted aspiring minority entrepreneurs get their apps or projects off the ground for little to no cost and bridged policy and innovation to combat social issues.
SA: I started my first tech company, Sheena Allen Apps, as a senior in college and the company currently has five apps and over 2.6 million downloads. I also founded FinTech company, InstaFunds, a company that focuses on financial organization, discipline, and resources. I actually went to college to be an IO (industrial and organizational) psychologist that would also write and direct movies. (Sounds crazy, but that was my plan.) However, I had an idea for an app and that was the birth of my passion for tech and I know what has been done so far is only a baby step into the full vision that I have, even as a non-technical tech founder.
MN: Both of you have had success in tech on your own, what has been different about teaming up together for this project?
SA: We bring in two different perspectives. I started my first tech company in college and I learned a lot by trial and error. Amanda was a tech publicist. Even when we are brainstorming, she may be thinking more from a marketing point and I am thinking from more of a product/creative point. Overall, it works for us.
MN: Do you feel tech is becoming more diverse?
AS: Absolutely. Technology above all things has a marketing problem–It’s critical that we support the organizations that are rewriting the narrative of who a technologist is, what they look like and how they innovative.
SA: I do too, but we still have a long way to go. Media coverage has helped to put the spotlight on the issue. In addition, events and programs like Tech808 by The Phat Startup, Black Tech Week, Tech Inclusion, Black Girls Code, CODE2040, and PowerMoves are all pushing the cause to get tech more diverse and I think they are all doing a great job.
MN: Are more Black women entering tech?
SA: I believe so. I hope so. I still talk with Black women that are interested in technology, but scared to take that leap. I tell them all the time, “JUMP!” I feel that media coverage is very much-needed and as a Black woman in tech, I am appreciative of media outlets such as MadameNoire. People usually aspire to be what they see. Kids aspire to be Lebron James because he is always on their TV screen or part of an ad when they walk into a shoe store. If people don’t see us, they do not know that we exist. The focus and coverage have helped and will continue to help give others that push and motivation that they can do it too.
AS: Yes, however, like Sheena, I often notice a great deal of apprehension from aspiring Black women founders or technologists about taking the next step. My advice to them is to simply start where you are and use what you have. There is a world full of people who are willing to support you if you can simply muster the courage to ask. Don’t let your fear cripple you. Accept that you will never know everything–and that that’s okay, but how will you ever know what you can accomplish if you don’t try? The worst thing that could happen is that you fail, and even then life will go on. You will be smarter, wiser, and more experienced. You will eventually have new ideas, new opportunities, and you will be better for it.
MN: What have been some obstacles you each have faced as Black women in tech?
AS: Overcoming my own impostor syndrome and learning not to apologize for my “superpowers.” When you’ve never seen anyone who looks like you who has gone where you want to go or do what you want to do, there’s often this innate insecurity that you are not worthy, adequate or competent enough for the task. But eventually you learn that that fear is simply a lack of faith. I had to build the confidence in my own abilities to feel constantly assured that I am not only qualified, but I am more than enough.
SA: The biggest obstacle I faced very early on was more mental than anything else. I felt that I was on a journey by myself. I didn’t know the proper way to find mentors or if anyone would even be willing to be my mentor. I was a girl from a small town in Mississippi and just felt like no one would understand my vision or want to take the time to try to understand it. Black women in tech is still rare. Growing in numbers, but compared to everyone else, those numbers are small. Another obstacle has been funding, but that is an obstacle that stats show that Black women in tech have as a whole. But we will keep building and it is going to happen one way or another.