Today I was the (virtual) speaker at the Founders Journey Lesson Lab for the latest cohort of It Takes A Village. The program is a pre-accelerator focused on helping female founders and founders of color be successful. The program lasts four months and culminates in a graduation/demo day event.
I chose an informal approach that allowed for a candid conversation. I shared my background, my transition from corporate America, and the highs and lows of my CCAW journey. I also learned more about each founder, the problem they’re solving, and what they’re currently struggling with. It was a good conversation. At the end, I let the founders ask me anything.
One of them asked me a pointed question. He wanted to know why he’d never heard of me before today and how he could find more founders of color like me who have experience building sizable companies. He said that hearing from someone he could relate to who has built a big company was inspiring. He wants more inspiration and to learn from the experiences of other successful founders of color. He doesn’t know where to find us.
I absolutely loved his question because it hit on a very important area where I’ve fallen short. Here’s how I responded:
- Personality – I’m a private person by nature and don’t like the limelight. I shy away from attention because it makes me extremely uncomfortable. But, through conversations with others, I’ve realized how impactful my journey can be. This far outweighs my personal comfort. I’ve started telling my story more.
- Heads down – Founders trying to build something big don’t have a ton of free time. They’re busy building a business. In my opinion, founders who devote time to giving interviews and getting press do so at the expense of their company, which will make substantially less progress because the founder isn’t as focused. Because founders building something great aren’t out and about and you don’t read about them, you don’t know they exist.
- First gen – Tech founders of color who started a decade or so ago (I call them the “first gen”) didn’t have a blueprint. No coworking spaces (e.g. WeWork) and few accelerators were available in Atlanta. It was a different time and we figured it out as we went. We did the best we could with the information we had at that time and learned as we went along. We got some things right and some things wrong. Some (not all) tech founders of color are realizing, looking back, that we made a mistake. We were too heads-down trying to make sure we didn’t fail. We didn’t spend enough time sharing our experiences in our community.
I’m so glad that founder asked that question. He was spot-on. The question reinforced that I need to continue doing more chats like the one today. No excuses. I should have shared more over the years. I’ve pledged to do better. I’d like to inspire and motivate rising founders of color to do something great. And I hope that other founders of color do the same if they can.
From those to whom much is given, much is required!