African-American entrepreneurs in the tech space are scarce. This was especially true five years ago when I started my first company. Here are five important lessons that I’ve learned over the past few years that will make your journey into tech entrepreneurship a lot smoother.
Develop a product so great that you cannot help but be confident in selling it to customers
I started my first company, Great Black Speakers, immediately after I finished my undergraduate studies. I did not plan on entering the professional speaking field. In fact, I did not know that it even existed. Therefore, you could understand my shock and amazement when I heard of speakers getting many thousands of dollars for an hour speech. My initial thoughts were that no one was worth that amount of money, especially if the same information was available scattered across the Internet. This mindset hindered me during the sales process, because I did not fully believe in the product that I was trying to sell.
Things changed as I started to attend speaking engagements booked for my brother, Dr. Boyce Watkins. When I would go to colleges to hear him speak, I saw first hand the impact that he was making on the lives of the students in the audience. I thought about the things that Dr. Michael Eric Dyson and Dr. Cornel West mentioned in speeches on my college campus that I remember to this day. Eventually, I started to fully believe in what I was selling, which resulted in skyrocketing revenues for my newly-created company. I also learned that smart entrepreneurs are not compensated based on the time spent doing a task, but on the value they bring to the table. But most of all, you’ve got to believe.
Know what you are selling at its core
This is a principle that I did not come to fully understand until I built my second company, Ujamaa Deals, with Tre Baker. The concept of knowing what you are selling is actually the first lesson that they teach in most MBA core marketing classes. The example often used talks about the railroad industry’s fight for existence and their unwillingness to adapt when trucking and air-freight transportation methods were picking up momentum. When railroad executives were asked what business that they were in, they would say the “railroad business.” In fact, they were in the “transportation” business.
When we started Ujamaa, I thought that we were in the daily deals business — basically a black Groupon. Actually, we are an organization whose goal is to consolidate the buying power of the black community and transfer some of that wealth back to black businesses. The daily deals format is just a means to an end. Great Black Speakers is not a speakers bureau, but an information disseminator whose goal is to deliver powerful messages to the masses. Thinking in these terms has made me a more innovative entrepreneur and allows me to evolve with changes in the marketplace.