Black Americans have always had to be entrepreneurial. Shut out of traditional paths to corporate leadership, they start businesses at higher rates than the rest of the population — and those rates are only growing. If you’re looking to take the leap, OZY and Ally are teaming up to bring you these inspiring tales from entrepreneurs about how they did it, and how you can too. Just as OZY breaks the media mold in bringing our readers diverse and surprising perspectives, Ally was built to serve customers digitally since day one — a relentless financial ally for all things money. We hope you’ll be as inspired as we are by these tales of success.
One consistent theme in our conversations: A business has to be a labor of love, and you’ve got to commit upfront to giving it your all. For Noel Durity, who founded Twist It Up, a company selling a specialized comb for Black hair, all he needs to do is remember the subway scene from The Pursuit of Happyness, in which Will Smith and his son spend the night on a public restroom floor, to motivate himself to avoid financial struggle.
2. Have a Plan and ‘Have a Pain’
Powerful business ideas often come from a societal need. Andrew Hill, co-founder of LiftEd — a mobile app that coordinates communication between special education teachers, school administrators, parents and counselors — offers a starting point. “The way that you get out there and start is by talking to the people you believe have a pain,” he says. This “pain” is what your potential product seeks to address, and it’s only by sharing your ideas that you’ll know if your “pain point is really a pain point,” Hill explains. Before writing his first line of code, Hill spoke to 132 educators across the country to validate if what he “was solving for was painful enough.”
Durity (pictured), whose hair care brand saw $1.2 million in sales last year, says that getting rolling can be as simple as tapping into publicly available resources, not chasing some hidden network of business bigwigs. “My first year I spent a lot of money going to trade shows and just trying to get the product out there,” he says. “Had I learned how to target and work Facebook marketing the way that I did in year two, I would have gotten sales that much faster.”
4. Don’t Count Yourself Out
Climbing the ladder is tougher for Black Americans in so many respects. But don’t let self-doubt creep in. “When I started my company, I had a bit of an inferiority complex and believed that it would be harder for me to grow it because I was Black,” says Daniel Ndukwu, founder of software company KyLeads. “I realized most people don’t care. They just want a product that works as advertised and excellent customer support. Give it to them.”
5. Find Your Passion
“It might sound trite,” says Hill of LiftEd, but identifying something that really fires you up is “huge” on his list of what it takes to be an entrepreneur. “If you’re not truly committed to the problem you’re solving, whether for you or for someone else, you’re going to lose steam.”
6. Dream Big
Anna N’Jie-Konte didn’t see Black women with a successful marriage and children — women like her — in the financial planning industry. But the founder of Dare to Dream Financial Planning tells Ally how she refused to let that stop her: “I was overwhelmed by messages telling me to ‘slow down … don’t try to get too big … don’t try to do too much … everything in due time.’ I was living a life that wasn’t as bold and as big as what I wanted for myself. But I knew that I could achieve more.”
This series, sponsored by Ally, offers advice on the tools and mindset needed for budding entrepreneurs to succeed in business.