Sevetri Wilson Talks Business and Being a Black Female Tech Founder

Sevetri Wilson, CEO of New Orleans-based ExemptMeNow, received the 2017 Founders Award in Lookfar’s annual Ada Lovelace Awards, which honors women in tech in the Gulf Coast region. She founded the company in 2016, which allows new nonprofit leaders to start their nonprofit, A to Z, without ever having to leave the ExemptMeNow website.

“We have reduced what the IRS deems takes 101 hours down to 10 hours or less,” she says.

More established nonprofits can use the subscription platform to help them run their organizations and ensure they’re staying compliant with local, state and federal regulations. In December, Wilson says, the company will launch an enterprise product that will cater to cities, private foundations and corporations.

We found out more about Wilson’s entrepreneurial journey and the problems she’s solving for nonprofits with her latest startup.

SS: How’s business? How interested are nonprofits in using your service?

SW: We are in our first year of launch but have received an overwhelming amount of feedback and interest for our product. Our customers have willingly given us incredible feedback regarding our delivery of service. We also just launched our partnership opportunity model, and are entering partnerships with nonprofit associations and other nonprofit service providers such as attorneys, accountants, and consultants across the country who often have members and clients seeking our service.

SS: Talk to us about the ExemptMeNow team. How many of you are there?

SW: ExemptMeNow is a true representation of what our city, country and world looks like and I take pride in that. We currently have four full-time employees and four contracted. Over the next several months we hope to at minimum double our full-time staff.

SS: You won the Ada Lovelace for tech founder and you’re in NYC now pitching to Chloe Capital. What do these recognitions and achievements mean to you?

SW: I believe awards as well as making it through an investor due diligence process further validates our company and is a strong indicator that our company is gaining traction and interest amongst the public and the investment community.

SS: We’re always careful about asking specifically about being a female fill in the blank (in your case, tech founder), because in some ways that sounds ludicrous that we would even have to make that distinction, but does anything come to mind when you think about yourself as a woman tech founder? Or a black tech founder? Or a black woman tech founder? Do you think there will come a day when we don’t have to make that distinction and can just say tech founder?

SW: I read a quote the other day that said, “You have been assigned this mountain so you can show others it can be moved.” The quote isn’t new to me but it was a reminder of what it means to do what I’m doing and why it’s important that other women and other black women see it being done. I know women who like to stay clear of being typed as a woman founder or a woman founder of color, but it’s something that I’ve embraced.

Will it not matter one day? I’m not sure, but I’m more concerned with leveling the playing field than whether or not woman is before founder when describing me. We know the numbers. Women-led startups receive less than 5% of capital funding, African-American and Latino founders receive only 1% and just 0.2% of venture capital funding goes to black women founders. Yet, women-led tech startups are more capital-efficient, achieve 35% higher return on investment and — when venture-backed—generate 12% higher revenue than male-owned tech companies.

It really makes you cringe when you think about the buying power and the number of women in the world.

SS: Can you share some candid insight with our readers about starting a business and being a founder? What do you wish you knew that you didn’t know, or what’s the hardest part about it, and how do you get through your biggest challenges, whatever they may be?

SW: Starting a business is hard. I know that sounds cliché but I don’t believe people really understand the amount of work and losses that go into winning and building a successful company. I learned a lot from building my first company, Solid Ground Innovations, which I grew from $0 to a seven-figure business, a company that I started when I was only 23. Because of that experience, I don’t make the same mistakes in ExemptMeNow that new business owners make whether that’s from company structure to hiring to negotiations.

The hardest part about it is scaling with limited resources. As a female founder, it’s difficult raising money. I’ve outpaced male-led companies in first year revenue and haven’t raised a fraction of what they’ve raised in capital. The saying goes male-led companies can raise money off of an idea where as female-led companies have to have proof. Now that I have proof and a proven business model, I believe that tide will begin to shift. It already has. Having solid advisors, a great network of colleagues and friends and determination has really helped me get through my biggest challenges.