We Need More Black Perspective Startups, Not Black Issue Startups
Michael Seibel didn’t make his millions from just thinking about us.
I had an 11:59pm deadline yesterday, so I had to act quickly. I texted one of my best friends, “You busy?” He responded, “In Taiwan.” I followed up, “Do you have a quick sec to run through our [pitch] deck? I have to start getting this thing out tomorrow.” Like a true best friend, he called me to go over it.
He told me that it looked great except that I was missing a value proposition and needed to paint a better picture of what the world is like without us. I initially was floored because I had spent nearly the past 96 hours ironing out every detail of our business. I literally woke up in the middle of the night to change one word on the title of a slide to more technically correct phrasing. I think I would have included what we stand for as a company by now.
But he was absolutely right. It wasn’t in there. After getting off the phone with him, I thought about it and came up with the following for the title page — DuckFox: Helping Social Media Influencers Authentically Monetize By Having Real-Life Experiences With Their Followers (emphasis in original).
The most important day of my life was January 5, 2013, when I got saved. The second is July 1, 2017, when I get married. However, I’m pretty sure my first day of funding as an entrepreneur is top 5. My fiancee certainly would agree, much to her chagrin.
As scary as it is to start fundraising, I feel very confident about our product, especially after fleshing out our value proposition. No company has ever tackled the issue we’re facing, largely because many people don’t even realize it’s a problem. They see social media influencers as entertainers. We saw them as entrepreneurs.
Social media turned everyday people into personal brands called influencers. Most don’t have managers or know how to capitalize from their newfound popularity. Some people (i.e. everyone but Black people) have figured out how to make money from social media content. It’s called YouTube. All other social media influencers are faced with a Hobson’s Choice: make no money from your influence or promote a commercial product to the people who still see you as an everyday person. That’s why you see so many people pushing what has been called the “Holy Trifecta of Instagram ads”: diet teas, waist trainers, and teeth whiteners.
I figured there had to be a better way for talented individuals to make money from social media besides YouTube and pissing off followers and the FTC by pushing sketchy products. My cofounder (who is White btw) and I noticed some influencers were promoting meet and greets and workshops to their followers, so we thought about creating an experience marketplace for influencers and their followers. We’re starting with social media influencers, but our goal is for every person to be self sufficient doing what they love. It’s like the old saying, “Give a man a fish, he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish, he eats for a lifetime.”
It turns out the problem was bigger than we thought. We were expecting a 1% positive response rate from cold emails to influencers, but we were getting closer to 5%. We even sent some shot-in-the-dark emails to celebrities, who, surprisingly, wanted to know more. The biggest validator for us was when we approached MTV Wild ‘N Out cast member and social media superstar Timothy DeLaGhetto (YouTube, Instagram) to be our brand ambassador, he said he’d take equity in lieu of compensation. Nobody does that. I’ve even had people with “just” 100K followers ask me what I would be paying them to create experiences on our platform. Girl, bye.
I would have never come up the idea had I not seen so many talented people who look like me give away their magic for free. I used to think, “Dude, you’ve amassed 550K followers from creating the newest dance trends, why don’t you make money by traveling the country and teaching dance classes?” (he’s now on DuckFox). Influencers from every race can stand to benefit from DuckFox, including my own (she’s now on DuckFox).
All too often, however, I hear about Black entrepreneurs solving problems that only affect the Black community. For example, in light of the recent press coverage of Airbnb’s platform having a racial bias against Blacks, at least two new startups, Noirbnb and Innclusive (formerly Noirebnb), have sprung up. Obviously, my former employer is fixing our race problem, and these companies will have no value proposition. This is the way it happens, people. The squeaky wheel gets the grease.
You may get some money thrown your way, but you cannot build a unicorn startup with an issue that just focuses on Black people. Leave that FUBU mentality in the 90s. Michael Seibel’s companies have all been platforms for the entire world. I can’t speak for him, but I’m almost 100% certain his perspective as a Black man guided his decision to tackle the issue of online video. Silicon Valley would look much different if Blacks (and all underrepresented groups) created companies based upon our unique perspective.
After all, isn’t that what Jessica Alba did as a mother who had serious allergic breakouts growing up? She was a millionaire actress before The Honest Company. She wasn’t just trying to start a “squeaky wheel” company. She did it because she felt deeply passionate about making toxic-free products for children and realized that no one was addressing the issue.
Finally — and I feel like I have to address this before all the hate mail — this article is not shade at Walker & Company. I have the utmost respect for Tristan Walker. I am only saying that it is more difficult to achieve his level of success by addressing a race-specific issue than to address a general problem. At the end of the day, we’re both trying to change the face of an industry that has locked us out for too long.
On that note, I’m going back to bed, because it’s 5:15am and I have a long first day of fundraising ahead of me. I’ll revise for grammar later on.
P.S. Feel free to read our deck and pass it around ;)