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Entrepreneurship is hard, but billion dollar entrepreneurship is almost statistically impossible. Company’s valued a $1 billion dollars are so rare that they are called “unicorns”, with a little over 135 private entities existing in the US to date.
Many of the most influential founders describe launching, growing, and scaling a business to profitability as the hardest thing they’ve ever done. And the mountain is so much steeper if for those with the intention of reaching unicorn status. It is a game of vision, mindset, decrement, execution, resilience and, most importantly, foresight. You have to aim for the target even if it is too far away to see. While mentors and role models play an important part in the equation, founders facing barriers of race, gender and economic background are sometimes starting their journeys blindfolded.
Organizations like Black Women Talk Tech (BWTT) exist to ease the journey to the upper echelons of business growth by providing community, resources and access to the most historically underfunded but fasting growing entrepreneurial demographic — Black women.
Along with monthly events and newly-launched city chapters, BWTT’s signature event is a 3-day conference ambitiously titled, “Roadmap To Billions”. In its third year, the conference brought one thousand guests to New York city for panels with Black female founders and allies, fireside chats with guests like Backstage Capital founder Arlan Hamilton, workshops led by companies like Microsoft, a pitch competition sponsored by the New Voices Fund and a founders-only wellness retreat sponsored by Nike. While the conference was targeted to Black female founders, the advice was applicable for anyone ambitious enough to put in the physical and mental work to build something big from nothing.
Here are four practical things to remember as you move towards your next business milestone, whether it’s the dream of a billion or your first million:
The third day of the conference opened with a fireside chat featuring a woman who is the embodiment of the conference’s ethos. As the cofounder and former CEO of Zume Pizza, a California-based automated pizza delivery company, Julia Collins has raised a total of $425 Million in venture capital funding and scaled Zume to a $2.25 billion dollar valuation. She is unicorn among unicorns: a billion dollar Black female founder.
“You are the most important resource for your business, so make sure you pay yourself first,” Collins said after sharing her personal journey through serial entrepreneurship. She began the chat by leading the audience in meditation for mental wellness and ended the talk by underscoring the importance of financial wellness and stability for founders. Often, founders forgo paying themselves to reinvest money back into their businesses but that can be a recipe for disaster for those who don’t have the privilege of having other financial support. It’s important to make sure your business works for you as a founder.
When speaking about fundraising, Collins added, “When you get to Series A funding and subsequent rounds, it’s absolutely appropriate to take money off of the table for yourself [to cash out].”
2. Know what it really means to build a billion-dollar business.
It’s important to know what kind of business you are building upfront, what kind of capital you’ll need and how running the company will affect your lifestyle. A panel on “How to Fund Your Company Outside of Investors” explored the vast landscape of business capital including crowdfunding (both equity and non-equity), small business loans, grants, family offices and self-funding. Raising venture funding means giving away equity in your business and after subsequent rounds of venture funding, your “take home” from an acquisition could be a small fraction of the company’s valuation.
Aniyia L. Williams, founder and executive director of Black & Brown Founders, cofounder of Zebras Unite and founder of tech jewelry brand TINSEL, centered the conversation with an important statement when it came to what founders should be thinking about as they plan for the road ahead. “Know what it means to build a billionaire dollar business, “ she started, “because it might not mean three-week vacations and working from anywhere for you.”
A CEO’s life looks very different at the six-figure mark, the seven-figure mark and the ten-figure mark.
3. Be prepared to check your ego, no matter how much your business makes.
Ego doesn’t always manifest itself as bravado or aggressiveness, traits often associated with men. Ego can manifest in founders as not knowing enough but being too insecure to ask for help, seeking help only from people who make us feel comfortable or not feeling like we deserve success. On his panel, entrepreneur and investor, Rashad Howard declared ego the biggest barrier for entrepreneurial success and explained that it can also present as a retraction into ourselves.
“[As founders] we need to get to a point where we no longer look at excuses in our lives as reasons why we can’t succeed,” he said.
On the road to a billion dollar valuation, you are bound to make a mistake…or ten. How you bounce back from those mistakes is as important as your willingness to make them in the first place. The famous Mark Zuckerberg mantra rings true. You have to be willing to “move fast and break things” to get passed the good ideas to reach the great ones.
Rocket Lawyer founder and CEO Charley Moore is no stranger to breaking things and getting back up again. In continuing to scale his company after raising $46.2 million in venture funding, he’s launched products that weren’t immediate hits with Rocket Lawyer users. And he consulted with his team and board members to determine when it was right to let go of the things that weren’t profitable, despite the sunk cost.
But “retreat doesn’t equal defeat,” Moore said reminding us that successful entrepreneurs fail all of the time.
March 14, 2019 at 10:06AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs