Welcome to another look back at our most recent Ask Me Anything with Black Female Founders' Erin Horne McKinney! We had some wonderful questions posed with some fantastic answers. If you missed the event, you can get caught up right here on our blog!
Q: What inspired you and your co-founders to start #BFF?
A: We started #BFF because we saw a void in the tech space when it came to a community for Black women in tech ... specifically founders of tech companies and tech leaders. When there were events held for women in tech, we would rarely see women of color represented. When there were events held for Blacks in tech, we would rarely see women represented. We decided to create a way for us to connect and support each other globally and share resources and information.
Q: Hey Erin, can you tell us a bit about the difficulties of trying to run a startup as a Black woman
A: Unfortunately, there still exists a significant amount of barriers for Black women in tech. We often hear about the data from a few years ago that highlights the less than .2% of VC funding that goes to Black women, but we don't often hear about current predictions that this number is even lower now. Why is that number so low when data shows us that Black women entrepreneurs outperform and outpace their male and female counterparts? What we hear from our members, and we have also seen in recent news reports, is that there continues to be significant bias when investors ask questions of women and minority tech entrepreneurs. But a lot of this also comes down to personal networks and access to capital. At the end of the day we still are not in the right rooms and do not have a seat at the table in large numbers.
Q: Hi Erin Horne McKinney, could the funding gap between races/gender also pertain to the types of products/services that we typically focus on? For instance, are there certain products that may warrant strong investor interest over others?
A (McKeever Conwell): No because that narrative is just BS as I think Erin might agree with this. There is plenty of VC investing in so many other verticals; not just the high tech ones with all the hype. So while people are talking about Ai and Block Chain but there are another 1000 verticals to invest in. - McKeever Conwell
A(Erin McKinney) I would agree with McKeever E. Conwell ... #BFFs are not just creating niche products and services. Many are in popular and mainstream areas, yet they still do not receive support.
Q: Hi Erin have you found minority and Women's bank receptive to the idea of Woman startup?
A: Unfortunately, traditional banks (whether they're a minority- or woman-owned or led) typically find tech to be high risk. Education on tech investments and a better understanding of this industry is critical to getting more traditional lenders involved and supporting early-stage startups.
Q: What would you say are the 3 most important tips a black woman startup entrepreneur should know?
A: The 3 most important tips for #BFFs are:
1) Be able to clearly state your business in one sentence (also known as your elevator pitch): your name, company name, what SPECIFICALLY your company does ( the type of product or service), and who is the target audience. Too many entrepreneurs cannot articulate this in a way that people who are completely unfamiliar with you will understand. The goal is not to tell someone about your entire business but to catch their attention and make them want to ask more questions. This sentence will go through numerous iterations and will be slightly different depending on your audience (e.g., an investor, a user, etc.).
2) Know and understand your financials. Even if you don't have a financial background, as the founder, you need to know your #s inside and out and how you arrived at those numbers.
3) Always tell the truth! Do not fudge numbers or try to make something up. You will quickly lose credibility, which is hard to get back. People in this industry talk and you do not want to develop a bad reputation.
Q: What's your recommendation on commitment to working on an idea before expecting to see some signals of success? Weeks, months, years?
A: Good question! Every tech business is so different, and a lot depends on the industry, the founding team, funding, timing, etc. Someone may have a great idea, but if consumers are not ready to adopt that technology, it will go nowhere. With the right pieces in place, a business can move very quickly. However, the barriers are even greater for women and minorities in tech, and we have to be prepared for a longer runway. At the end of the day, you have to be patient with your process and do your due diligence to determine market opportunities and viability. That can take months or years, depending on the technology.
Q: Is there a list of mentors/ development partners friendly to the idea of women startups?
A: There are plenty of lists ... depends on what type of partners and mentors you're specifically referring to and how they support tech companies. For example, you can look on Crunch Base or AngelList (and sometimes LinkedIn) to see who is investing in who and who is advising or mentoring a company. But there are other articles and lists, depending on industries and stages of the company. Feel free to be more specific here or DM me.
Q: Any suggestions on burning thru capital while building your brand?
A: Try not to burn through capital when you can! There are a lot of free resources that entrepreneurs should take advantage of before burning through capital, which includes free programs and your social capital network. Always start with the local small business or economic development agency in your community, city, state to see what resources are available. Also, check out Meetup, Eventbrite, FB Events, etc. to get connected to the ecosystem and find out what organizations and resources are available and what other entrepreneurs are doing to boot strap. Also, bartering your skills for others skills is a great way to get the services you need!
Q: Hey Erin! My question to you that I feel that would really help me put things in perspective for my journey to becoming a business owner. How did you prioritize the different Avenues it takes to start your own business?
A: Great question! Time is money and your time is extremely valuable! Prioritizing how you spend your time, who you talk to about your business, etc., is critical to not wasting your time. The first rule is to not waste your time talking to individuals that "don't get it" and/or they're not really a decision maker who can help you achieve your goal. Find the programs, people, organizations, etc. that are the right fit for you and your business, and then work that circle of opportunity!
Q: Who are the up and coming BFFs in the DC area that we should be paying attention to?
A: Oh goodness! There are quite a few (and please forgive me if I miss your name) ... Angel Rich, Charlene A. Brown, Kimberly Moore, Stacie Whisonant, Jessica Dew, Janice Omadeke, Marissa Jennings, Geneviève Nixon, DeShuna Moore Spencer, Maude Okrah, Rakia Finley, Aisha Bowe ... and many more! When we have #BFF events, the room is always packed! There are so many amazing #BFFs that are finding new and unique ways to scale their businesses and get their name out there. I am so proud of all of these women (and the ones I may have missed)!
Q: Do you have a formula you could recommend about burning thru capital while building your brand?
A: Reposting here: Try not to burn through capital when you can! There are a lot of free resources that entrepreneurs should take advantage of before burning through capital, which includes free programs and your social capital network. Always start with the local small business or economic development agency in your community, city, state to see what resources are available. Also, check out Meetup, Eventbrite, FB Events, etc. to get connected to the ecosystem and find out what organizations and resources are available and what other entrepreneurs are doing to boot strap. Also, bartering your skills for others skills is a great way to get the services you need!
Q: To piggy back on Justin Maddox's question, what areas are some of the BFFs companies focused on?
A: Based on the ones I listed for DC, these companies focus on areas such as ed tech, financial literacy, and services, hair care, events, tech services, etc. However, when you look at our membership globally, you will find #BFFs in almost every industry. I think that's amazing and awesome. However, I'm disappointed that we rarely hear about them.
Thanks to everyone who participated; and special thanks to the one and only - Erin Horne McKinney!
That's all from Erin Horne McKinney. Stay up to date on all of our upcoming events on our Facebook page and make sure you check out our Impact Venture Pitch starting on September 17th!