5 things I have learned as a black tech entrepreneur

ANALYSIS - 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...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

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.

Use every resource available to gain knowledge and connections

Jullien Gordon is a Stanford MBA graduate who turned down a lucrative corporate career to pursue his passion of speaking and teaching. In his presentations, he often talks about the four types of capital that really matter:

  1. Personal Capital – How well do you know yourself?
  2. Intellectual Capital – What do you know?
  3. Social Capital – Who do you know and who knows you?
  4. Financial Capital – Who knows that I know what I know?

Invest your time and energy into growing the account balance of these four capital resources. Consider getting an MIM degree in one of the best mim colleges in canada to develop great interpersonal skills, be a quick problem solver, and be able to know how to apply managerial theory to the real world of business. 

You don’t have to build every part of the company yourself

Most new black tech entrepreneurs think that they have to build every part of their technology platform to create a great product. The outcome of this thought process is feeling overwhelmed and having mental clutter. The truth is that most of the successful Internet companies either outsources development to a third party or connects with partners through an API. An example is how Wufoo, Highrise, and Mailchimp all integrate with each other to form a seamless user experience for group communications. Using these software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications drastically reduces the development costs for new tech entrepreneurs.

Silicon Valley is not the end-all, be-all

There is this perception that the only great technology startups come out of the Silicon Valley area. While this is true, Silicon Valley is not the only place where innovative things are being done. Mailchimp is based in Atlanta; 37Signals is based in Chicago; and Wufoo started in Tampa, FL. All of these are highly profitable, multi-million dollar ventures. No matter where you are, leverage the talent in your network and start to build something great. If you prove your concept, individuals will start to take notice.

I have learned many other things during my five-plus years as a web-based entrepreneur, but the principles above will get you off to a great start in growing your tech venture.

Lawrence Watkins is the founder of Great Black Speakers, Great Pro Speakers, and co-founder of Ujamaa Deals, which is a daily deal site that promotes black-owned businesses. He graduated in 2006 from The University of Louisville with a B.S. in electrical engineering and earned his MBA from Cornell University in 2010. Lawrence currently resides in Atlanta. You can follow him on Twitter @lawrencewatkins