We are not a gimmick: we are proud of our blackness—but we don’t pimp it.

A black-centric business must rely on more than slogans and the culture.

By Doug Spencer, Co-founder of Bold Xchange.

The strategy vs. culture debate is an age-old battle. Which one is more important? For what it’s worth, at Bold Xchange we think that a strong culture will be more critical during our growth. Even though we favor culture, we still spend a crazy amount of time thinking about our strategy.

Let me be clear: the culture I’m referencing is the culture within our startup and not the black culture we represent and support as an online marketplace featuring black-owned brands.

Of course we’ve drawn much of our inspiration from black culture, though. The boss moves of titans such as Oprah, Robert F. Smith and Reginald Lewis are always floating in our heads. And then there’s a social justice element in us that pulls from intellectuals and activists of the black struggle — who bring that heat — such as Brother Malcolm, Nelson Mandela and James Baldwin. We also keep our eye on potential moguls-in-the-making like Tristan Walker, Arlan Hamilton and John Henry, striving to one day sit at the table with them.

But to gain perspective on what it’d take to create a large-scale, socially conscious business, we’ve had to constantly step outside of the African diaspora. There simply isn’t a plethora of accessible narratives about successful black businesses. Why that’s the case is a topic of discussion in countless blog posts, but not this one.

We are a pro-black organization, but we are not anti-others, and not so vain that we can’t learn from the successes and failures of non-black entities. We keep tips from sources like The Tim Ferriss Show and Shark Tank on deck, too. But we’re nerdy; we like books the most.

In the months leading up to our launch — which feels like it was more than one week ago — we read, reread or revisited several books. None of them are by black authors.

Quote from The Third Wave by Steve Case, Co-founder of AOL

Excluding black authors was absolutely unintentional. As I’ve already said, there aren’t tons of touted black business success stories. But it’s all good: we understand the black experience; my co-founder and I live it daily. So what we are constantly in search of is business knowledge. Business has its own language. We rarely have time to fret over the subject being white, blue, purple or green. It’s our job to give what we learn the proper context so that it can be used to help our black-owned vendors and our customers, whom it’s safe to assume will be predominantly black. Maybe someday a success story will be written about Bold Xchange and it’ll help propel ambitious founding teams.

Since we launched, there’s been almost zero time for reading — execution is the name of the game now. But we’re glad that we took deliberate steps, through books and other means, to prepare for our trip down the startup runway. That work has improved the odds that we will get off the ground before our runway comes to an end.

Below, I’ve organized our pre-launch books into four categories: strategy, customer experience, social good and marketplaces. All four categories are key components of our startup. In some shape or form, we’re always balancing these elements.

If you’re not a business man or woman, most of the books are in narrative form and could still bring value (definitely ignore the first three)! If you’re in business, hopefully you’ll consider picking up at least one of these books. We think they’re all worth a read.

Strategy

  1. Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies
  2. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t
  3. Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck-Why Some Thrive Despite Them All
  4. Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action

Customer Experience

  1. The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact
  2. Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose
  3. Sam Walton: Made in America
  4. Wild Company: The Untold Story of Banana Republic

Social Good

  1. The Third Wave: An Entrepreneur’s Vision of the Future
  2. Wages of Rebellion

Marketplaces

  1. The Upstarts: How Uber, Airbnb, and the Killer Companies of the New Silicon Valley Are Changing the World
  2. Alibaba: The House That Jack Ma Built
  3. The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon
  4. Matchmakers: The New Economics of Multisided Platforms