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Billion-Dollar Bumble

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Whitney Wolfe Herd Bumble

When Whitney Wolfe Herd started planning an October launch party for a new product at Bumble, America’s fastest-growing dating-app company, she was deliberate in her choice of venue: the Manhattan space that for 57 years hosted the Four Seasons restaurant, where regulars like Henry Kissinger, Vernon Jordan, Edgar Bronfman and Stephen Schwarzman created the ultimate power lunch.

The space now has a new name, new management and a new menu. And, as Herd insists, a new perspective on business. “The power lunch is no longer just for men,” Herd announces to the mostly young, mostly female crowd, before ceding the stage to the popstar Fergie. “We all deserve a seat at the table.”

That table surely now includes the 28-year-old Herd, who has changed the tenor of dating dynamics. By letting women make the first move, Bumble has amassed over 22 million registered users, to closest competitor Tinder’s 46 million, and at more than 70% year-over-year growth, to Tinder’s roughly 10%, it’s closing the gap quickly.

Bumble began monetizing via in-app purchases only in August 2016 and crossed $100 million in sales in 2017, a figure that – aided by the introduction of tailored, hyperlocal advertising – is projected to double in 2018.

Herd turned down a $450 million buyout offer from the Match Group in early 2017, according to sources with knowledge of the conversations. And these sources maintain that Match approached the company again later in the year to discuss a valuation well over $1 billion. This 30 Under 30 honoree retains 20% of Bumble, a stake that makes her a centimillionaire. (Match declined to comment.)

It’s a stunning comeback. As cofounder and vice president of marketing at Tinder, which has reinvented how people date and mate, she was part of one of the great business success stories of the smartphone age. But then she found herself in one of the era’s great public dramas.

In June 2014, she sued Tinder for sexual harassment, alleging that her ex-boss and ex-boyfriend Justin Mateen called her a “whore” and “gold digger” and bombarded her with threatening and derogatory text messages, which she attached to her complaint. She also alleged that Tinder, owned by IAC and then by its Match Group spinoff, had wrongly stripped her of a cofounder title.

The company denied any wrongdoing, but Mateen was suspended and then resigned. Sean Rad, then the CEO of Tinder, told Forbes in 2014 that Herd bore part of the blame for the bad blood between her and Mateen. The suit was quickly settled for a sum that Forbes previously reported to be approximately $1 million. (The settlement bars the parties from discussing the case.)

There’s no question who the founder of Bumble is. Rather than sulk about Tinder, Herd decided to compete against it. In doing so, she belatedly entered one of the most crowded and established digital fields (over 90% of online dating start-ups fail) and nonetheless quickly carved out a lucrative space by focusing on the needs of one segment: women.

Whitney Wolfe Herd Bumble

Whitney Wolfe Herd in the Bumble headquarters (Photo by Kristen Kilpatrick)

More than 10% of Bumble’s users pay $9.99 for a monthly subscription to access perks like extra time to decide whether a suitor merits a message. At Tinder, just about 5% of users pay for a similar service, according to a report from the investment firm Jefferies. It helps, of course, that her segment also happens to represent a majority of the population.

“I just don’t harbor resentment toward anything or anywhere or anyone – I’m too busy,” Herd says. But if success is the best revenge, then nine digits in three years flat offers the kind of vindication people make movies about.

READ MORE: Karlie Kloss – Coding’s Supermodel

Herd’s path to Bumble was unintended. In the months between filing suit against Tinder and settling, she experienced the sort of online abuse that’s all too familiar to women who make public sexual harassment allegations. “I was being told the ugliest things by complete strangers, and they were having full debates about me,” Herd says. “I wasn’t running for office. I wasn’t trying to be on a reality show. I was just a girl who left somewhere.”

When that abuse turned into rape and murder threats from strangers, she deleted her Twitter account. Panic attacks and paranoia followed. A Salt Lake City native who attended private school and is a third-generation legacy at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, she retreated to Texas and the family of her then boyfriend Michael Herd, who’s now her husband.

“I was broken,” she says. Trying to give some purpose to this trauma, Herd began sketching out a women-only social network called Merci, which would focus on positivity. “No compliments on physicality,” she says. “Compliments about who they are.”

Then came an unsolicited e-mail from someone with an unfamiliar address and a Russian name, Andrey Andreev. Born in Moscow and based in London, Andreev in 2006 had founded Badoo, an online dating network that is today the world’s largest, with over 360 million registered users in 190 countries.

Herd had met Andreev at a dinner in 2013 while she was at Tinder, and she’d made an impression. “To be honest, I immediately fell in love with Whitney’s passion and energy,” says the thick-accented Andreev, who has acquired a reputation as a recluse because he rarely grants interviews. “I thought she was a very cool lady and that I should be watching her very carefully.”

When she didn’t reply, his team e-mailed Herd’s lawyers, wishing her well with her legal battle and adding that he’d like to work with her. “My original idea was to get her as CMO at Badoo,” says Andreev, who’s 43.

As it turned out, Herd had plans to visit her little sister at cooking school in Paris, and she made a pit stop in London. She didn’t want any part of his job offer. “Dream on – I’m not for hire,” she recalls saying. “I’m starting a company, and I don’t want to be in dating.” She did pitch him on Merci, though.

While Andreev liked the idea of a women-centric social brand, he thought Herd should stick to her forte and his: the dating sector. They spent days walking around London’s streets and parks together, exchanging ideas. Andreev told her he wanted to pair her innate talent for marketing and branding with the infrastructure, capital and resources at his disposal after almost a decade at Badoo.

After she settled the Tinder lawsuit in September 2014 – which, conveniently, did not contain a non-compete clause – she took Andreev up on his offer. He’d make an initial investment of about $10 million for launch marketing and commit additional funds to fuel growth, taking 79% of the company. She’d be the founder, the CEO and a 20% owner, with all the autonomy those titles imply, while tapping into Badoo’s infrastructure and Andreev’s know-how.

Both have come in handy. At Badoo, Andreev has a decade’s worth of A-B tests, data on the effectiveness of various monetization efforts and experience bringing a product to scale that have no parallel in the dating market. When the time came to start charging users for in-app perks, for instance, the team at Bumble was able to develop sophisticated technology to support subscriptions from day one thanks to input from Badoo.

From September to December of that year, Herd flew between Texas and London around 15 times. She and Andreev brought in two of her fellow former Tinder executives, Chris Gulczynski and Sarah Mick, to design the new app’s back-end and user interface. (The two left Bumble in April to launch their own agency but still share the 1% of equity not held by Andreev and Herd.)

Whitney Wolfe Herd Bumble

Whitney Wolfe Herd (Photo by Jamel Toppin for Forbes)

One night, over cocktails, Herd stumbled upon Bumble’s special sauce. “I always wanted to have a scenario where the guy didn’t have my number but I had his,” she recalls telling Andreev. “What if women make the first move, send the first message? And if they don’t, the match disappears after 24 hours, like in Cinderella, the pumpkin and the carriage? It’d be symbolic of a Sadie Hawkins dance – going after it, girls ask first. What if we could hardwire that into a product?” It was the kind of brilliant tweak that comes from someone who understands the target demographic because they’re in it.

After toying with names, the two settled on Bumble, confident that branding details like hives and bees would prove a marketing boon. The app went live in December 2014 and garnered over 100,000 downloads in its first month. “Women were ready for this,” says Dave Evans, an industry consultant who has chronicled hundreds of bad experiences women have had with men on dating apps. “Women got scared years ago. This goes way back.”

It’s 105 degrees outside Bumble’s new headquarters in an otherwise residential neighborhood in north Austin, Texas. The oppressive August heat hasn’t stopped passersby from gawking at the building’s exterior. For its grand opening, artists have covered the sunflower-yellow roof and walls with thousands of oversize pastel balloons. It looks like the inside of a gumball machine. Pedestrians take selfies in front of it; cars linger, drivers asking the name of the company inside. At Bumble, even something as ostensibly mundane as a crosstown move is a marketing opportunity.

READ MORE: Zedd – The $85 Million Classically trained DJ

Bumble has 70 employees, approximately 85% of whom are women, including in all the top jobs, Andreev aside. The new office reflects that, from posters and neon signs espousing various Bumble mantras like “You’re a Queen Bee,” “Be the CEO Your Parents Always Wanted You to Marry” and “Make the First Move.” When Bumble hands out its cream-and-yellow sweaters as gifts at events – the familiar honeycomb logo on the front, along with the word “Honey” – there’s invariably a scramble.

“I think it’s part of feeling empowered, being proud enough to say ‘I’m on this service,’ ” Evans says. “On the street, if I was wearing an AdultFriendFinder shirt, it’d be a different story.”

The bee theme and Bumble’s signature yellow are front and center in the app, which works like this: When two users of the opposite sex match by swiping right on each other’s profile, the woman must send her potential date a message first or the connection is void.

By giving women control over the initial contact, Bumble feels more polite and walled-off than competitors, avoiding the unsolicited photos – including the occasional male genitalia – that plague online dating. Last year Bumble banned shirtless mirror selfies (common in male profiles on Tinder); they were the most-left-swiped photos. This doesn’t mean Bumble can prevent all abuse or unpleasant experiences – but it does undercut them.

The more controlled environment has resulted in surprising dividends. Hundreds of thousands of women indicated on their profiles that they weren’t there only for love. They also cared about friendship and career. Hence BFF, an offshoot that focuses on platonic connections between women, and Bizz, which launched officially at the October party at the old Four Seasons in New York and offers a challenge to LinkedIn, with the same women-first interface that Bumble’s users have grown accustomed to. “We’re taking out the soliciting nature and the sexism that exists in networking,” Herd says. “We think we have a chance.”

Success for these offshoots has been modest so far. Bumble BFF has been tried by over 3 million users, but just 500,000 are active in a typical month. Bumble Bizz is too new to evaluate, but like taking on Tinder with a product customized for just under half the workforce, even modest success carries huge potential.

“To be able to test at that scale is something most start-ups can’t do,” says Evans, the consultant. “They can seed that network with millions of people on Day 1.”

READ MORE: Kendrick Lamar: The Conscious Capitalist

Of course, there’s at least one other dating start-up that also has the scale – and enough men and women – to delve into such areas. Rad, who is still at Tinder running its mergers and acquisitions arm, Swipe Ventures, declined to comment for this story (as did Mateen). But the company is obviously taking notes on Bumble’s moves: Last year Tinder also expanded into platonic relationships with an investment in Hey! Vina, a fast-growing female-friendship network.

And then there’s the keen interest of Tinder’s parent, the Match Group, which remains the biggest player in the online-dating business in the United States. The publicly traded company, which in addition to Tinder owns Match.com, OkCupid, PlentyOfFish and other niche dating sites, would clearly like to add Bumble to its roster.

“Look, Match has been lucky, because they have 45 different brands,” says Brent Thill, who covers the dating-app market for Jefferies. “But probably the one brand that seems to have caught everyone’s imagination is not theirs.”

Herd wouldn’t comment on the attempted buyouts, but selling to Tinder’s parent and folding Bumble under the same corporate umbrella would, of course, serve as a poetic coda to the ugliness of 2014. Indeed, among those at the headquarters dedication were representatives of a high-profile Hollywood production company that is contemplating making a movie about her saga. It is, Herd acknowledges with a laugh, a pretty good story. – Written by Clare O’Connor

Entrepreneurs

Bill Gates Gets Why People Are Doubting Billionaires—And He Has A Defense (Even For Mark Zuckerberg)

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The once and future richest person in the world (once the Bezos divorce finalizes), Bill Gates will happily apply the dispassionate, sharp-elbowed logic that made him one of the most fearsome business minds of the past century—even when the subject, abstractly, is him, as well as the other, suddenly unpopular members of the Three Comma Club.

“I think it’s fascinating that for the first time in my life people are saying, ‘Okay, should you have billionaires?’ ‘Should you have a wealth tax?’ I think it’s a fine discussion.”

It’s a discussion that took place yesterday just a block from Trump Tower, home of America’s first-ever billionaire president. “My opinion is that there should be an estate tax and maybe even higher than we have today. Among The Forbes 400, I don’t think we’d get a majority—Warren [Buffett] and I are sort of against interest on that,” says Gates. “So I think there’s plenty of debate about how capital should be taxed, how estates should be taxed.”

READ MORE | Jeff Bezos Says National Enquirer Owner Tried To Blackmail Him

But as for the kind of disincentivizing economics lamented by the Beatles in “Taxman” and increasingly championed by America’s far left, Gates remains clear: “The idea that there shouldn’t be billionaires—I’m afraid if you really implemented something like that, that the amount you would gain would be much less than the amount you would lose.”

In looking at how Gates now deploys tens of billions philanthropically—both the money he and his wife Melinda put into their eponymous foundation, the world’s largest, and that given and pledged by Buffett—it’s critical to understand that perspective.

Just as Gates views, correctly, that a tax system moving from progressive to confiscatory creates less wealth and innovation overall, he and Melinda examine issues systemically.

“It’s more evocative to say you’re saving one life than to say you’re saving a million,” he says. “It’s a weird thing.”

That worldview comes through in the 2019 edition of the Gateses’ annual letter, released this morning. Ostensibly, this year’s letter, which lays out their philanthropic observations and priorities, focuses on nine surprises that have inspired the Gateses to take action. In reality, it’s a valentine to the power of philanthropic investment—the idea of giving not to salve problems, but to solve them.

“I think it’s fascinating that for the first time in my life people are saying, ‘Okay, should you have billionaires?’”

The Gateses write about Becoming A Man (BAM), a group counseling program that helps teenage boys stay in school by channeling their anger. (Bill Gates says he had a “touching experience” sitting in on a group, and even took his turn to vent—about learning that global polio cases were going up.)

And their “toilet fair” in Beijing, designed to inspire a next-gen toilet that can alleviate sanitation issues. Their fixation on Africa, whose young population promises to transform the global labor force.

All of these initiatives tell a similar story. They’re about “picking novel ideas” or “off-the-wall theories,” as Gates says, and then proving that the concepts work. “Once you find a solution and want to scale that up, it’s usually government money.”

That’s a sticking point when dysfunctional Washington can’t enact even the most obvious forward-thinking policies. Take foreign aid, less than 1% of the U.S. budget and an expenditure that, since the Marshall Plan, has consistently generated positive ROI, in terms of creating stability and vital trading markets and stemming deadly diseases.

While Congress rejected President Trump’s proposed foreign aid cuts, Gates remains worried. “It just can’t be ignored, given the intensity of political debate over domestic issues—and if you have one party saying, ‘Hey, helping foreign countries, that’s kind of a sucker’s deal, does it even benefit us?’”

This shortsighted nationalist streak is a global issue. “We’re very worried that if Brexit goes poorly, at least for a time, [the U.K.] might not see [foreign aid] as a priority at all,” he says. “If the French domestic stuff gets too painful, will they stay generous?”

In education, Gates has faced similar headwinds. “You get into political policy things in terms of what you’re trying to achieve. It’s tricky.” The most obvious example here: his previous battle for the Common Core education standards, which critics like Diane Ravitch undermined by terming such efforts a “billionaire boys club.”

READ MORE |Facebook Profits Defy Critics – Zuckerberg Vows Company Has Changed

“The attack that ‘Why should you even have a say in setting the agenda?’—that has a certain resonance to it,” admits Gates.

So why should billionaires get to choose what problems we’re solving?

“Philanthropy is there because the government is not very innovative, doesn’t try risky things and particularly people with a private-sector background—in terms of measurement, picking great teams of people to try out new approaches,” says Gates. “Philanthropy does that.”

Philanthropy, as practiced by the Gateses, also takes risks in the existential terrain political leaders would rather bury their heads in. Bill Gates still worries about nuclear proliferation, an area his partner-in-crime Buffett has championed. He’s been the global leader on the risks around pandemics and also, to a lesser degree, climate change, where his $1 billion Breakthrough Energy Ventures fund makes big bets.

Artificial intelligence looms on the horizon as the newest threat brought on by innovation. “In the long run,” says Gates, “AI is a tough problem.”

Notably, Gates does not feel that way about social media. Last century’s boy wonder, who faced scrutiny for what the federal government saw as Microsoft’s monopolistic tactics, clearly has empathy for this century’s boy wonder, Mark Zuckerberg, now a lightning rod for Facebook’s role in the erosion of democracy, as most recently outlined by Facebook investor Roger McNamee.

“I think what Roger [McNamee] has said is completely unfair and kind of outrageous,” says Gates. “They’re blaming Mark for everything. I mean, Trump was not elected because of Facebook. They say ‘filter bubble.’ All these polarization things. … Well, be clear. I get to read whatever I want to read, I get to listen to right-wing radio, I get to listen to Fox News. You kill Facebook and I can still live in my filter bubble. But filter bubble is not just my Facebook feed, so acting like, ‘Hey Mark, wake up someday and solve the filter bubble problem.’ No, Roger McNamee has no practical solution to the filter bubble thing.”

“They’re blaming Mark for everything. I mean, Trump was not elected because of Facebook.”

(“It’s hard when you’re in this vortex,” adds Gates. “I was in such a vortex once upon a time. A little bit different because mine was more of a court-related thing than the broad view of whether the software was good or not.”)

Ultimately, Gates, whose net worth, even after large donations to the foundation, approaches $100 billion, views philanthropy as a vital force for good. And he thinks that potential critics—even a loony potential British prime minister—will come around to that view.

“When I met with Jeremy Corbyn for the first time, does he view me as the billionaire guy who collected more money than he thinks anybody is supposed to collect?” recalls Gates.

“Or does he view me as the philanthropist who’s helping improve Africa and hopefully learn about education? Fortunately he was very nice, he viewed me as the second. But I’m sure he had to hesitate: ‘This guy is one of those people that maybe there should be none of’.”

-Randall Lane, Forbes Staff

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The Coffee Farmers Betting On Blockchain To Boost Business

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 On a bustling street near the shiny new international airport in Ethiopia’s capital is a small coffee roastery with big dreams. 

Nearly 40 Ethiopians – a third of them women – sift, roast and package prized Arabica beans for export to Europe under the Moyee brand, founded by a Dutch social entrepreneur.

The roastery, together with the innovative use of blockchain technology to ensure the supply chain is transparent, represents an attempt to keep as much of the profits as possible in Ethiopia, one of the world’s poorest countries.

“It’s the world’s favorite drink. We drink over 2 billion cups a day,” said Killian Stokes, who set up the Irish branch of Moyee.

“The industry’s worth $100 billion and yet 90 percent of coffee farmers in Ethiopia live on less than $2 a day.”

That is partly because most exporters process the beans elsewhere, but also down to price fluctuations and other factors that make coffee growing a precarious business.

READ MORE | Ugandan Firm Uses Blockchain To Trace Coffee From Farms To Stores

To make things fairer, Moyee has created unique digital identities for the 350 farmers it currently works with – meaning buyers can see exactly how much each individual grower is paid, with prices set at 20 percent above the market rate.

Now the brand, whose slogan is “radically good coffee”, wants to use blockchain to take that to the next level – allowing buyers to tip farmers, or fund projects such as a new planting program, through a mobile app.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said in a recent report that blockchain had huge potential to address challenges smallholder farmers faced by “reducing uncertainty and enabling trust among market players”.

The technology, used to underpin cyber-currencies like Bitcoin, allows shared access to data that is maintained by a network of computers and can quickly trace the hundreds of parties involved in the production and distribution of food.

Once entered, any information cannot be altered or tampered with.

‘BIGGER THAN THE INTERNET’

Siobhan Kelly, an advisor to the Food Systems Programme at the FAO, said blockchain would ultimately be “much bigger than the internet”. 

“Within 10 years – it’ll take probably 10 years – it’s going to be a major revolution, for everything,” said Kelly.

Fruit farmers in Caribbean nations are also looking at using blockchain to attract better-paying customers, bring traceability and build a credit trail. 

“It’s an innovation that is poised to empower local farmers in the Caribbean region,” said Pamela Thomas, executive director of the Agriculture Alliance of the Caribbean (AACARI), a regional network of nearly 100,000 farmers.

AACARI’s project has two components: auditing by accredited professionals to ensure farmers adhere to the Global GAP (good agricultural practices) standards, and a digital marketplace where buyers can find detailed information about the produce. 

Global GAP is a voluntary standard required by many European and U.S. supermarket chains.

Vijay Kandy, whose company is building the blockchain platform, said the auditing process would allow farmers to deal directly with buyers – bypassing the middlemen that many currently rely on – and make access to credit easier.

“One reason why buyers from faraway places or different countries go through middlemen is because they rely on them to make sure farmers are following these good practices,” he said.

One such buyer is London-based Union Hand-Roasted Coffee. 

The company sources its coffee directly from growers’ cooperatives to ensure higher quality, pays farmers more than minimum price set by the global Fairtrade organization, and works with more than 40 producer groups in 14 countries.

“We currently undertake direct interviews to verify farmers have been paid, but it’s very time- and labor-intensive to do that and to record all that data,” said Steven Macatonia, who co-founded Union in 2001.

“So to have a much more simple system where we can get a confirmation that payment has been received and how much that is, that could be hugely beneficial,” he said.

Price fluctuations and the impact of climate change make coffee a particularly challenging crop to grow.

“Large companies’ profits usually increase when prices are low, but the profit for farmers does not, and in some cases it may cost them money to produce coffee,” said Aaron Davis, head of coffee research at Britain’s Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. 

Davis’s latest research shows climate change and deforestation are putting more than half of the world’s wild coffee species at risk of extinction.

Ethiopia – the birthplace of Arabica, the world’s most popular coffee – is of particular concern. Up to 60 percent of the land used to grow coffee could become unsuitable by the end of the century, Davis found. 

“The more a farmer is paid, the more resources he will be able to devote to climate resilience,” he said.   

Both Davis and the FAO’s Kelly however cautioned that blockchain technology was not going to be a “quick fix”, with farmers around the world facing multiple challenges.

“Farmers need access to affordable seeds, to affordable finance and credit when they need it … and these things are not going to be given by blockchain,” said Kelly. -Reuters

-Thin Lei Win @thinink

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What Will It Take To Close The Funding Gap For Black Female Founders?

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If you’ve heard the statistics once, you’ve probably heard them a thousand times: Of the nearly $100 billion in venture funding that goes to entrepreneurs in America, less than 3% goes to female founders and just 0.2% goes to black female founders. 

There’s a growing consensus that venture capital’s race problem needs to be fixed.What’s less clear is precisely how to start closing the massive gulf. And at the inaugural Black Women Raise conference in Manhattan on Friday, a gathering of some 80 black female founders, a series of candid conversations laid bare the frustrations around the lack of an obvious path forward. In several raw moments of interchange, however, some answers started to emerge.

Investors “could ask different questions,” Charles Hudson, founder and managing partner of Precursor Ventures, said during a panel conversation with BBG’s Susan Lyne, First Round Capital’s Hayley Barna, and Female Founder’s Fund Sutian Dong. “There are all these questions—‘Well, do you think she can recruit? Do you think she can hire?’—I know what’s behind that question.

It’s ‘Do you think she can get people to work for her because she’s a black woman?’ And people ask these, what on the surface sound like innocent enough legitimate questions about investments, but they’re not innocent. They’re loaded. And you learn a lot by the questions people ask.”

Despite the existence (and, arguably, preponderance) of these loaded questions, Hudson and the others cautioned the entrepreneurs in the room against becoming disillusioned with the traditional venture capital community. Instead, they said, minority founders should prioritize investors who have a track record of investing in entrepreneurs who look like them.

“Vet investors up front. Don’t let them waste your time only to give you a half-ass answer after you spend an hour with them or even two weeks later,” said Barna, who started her venture capital career after successfully cofounding e-commerce darling Birch Box. “Just ask, ‘Is this in your sweet spot?’”

Dong noted that investors should be self-monitoring for where they’re over- and under-indexing, too. “We’ve said we don’t like the ratio of founders in our portfolio. About half are nonwhite, but only two are African-American. So we asked our network who we should be talking to,” she said.

It can be hard, in an open and on-the-record forum, to ask the hard questions about investing in underrepresented founders—much less to receive forthright answers to those questions—but to the credit of the Black Women Raise attendees, no one shied away from speaking about the reality of her experience as a founder of color.

“Everyone talks about the ‘friends and family round.’ I raised $63,000; I am the friends and family round,” quipped Star Cunningham, founder and CEO of health management platform 4D Healthware. But underpinning her self-funding, Cunningham continued, was a lack of capital access. “I have debt, because I had to get it, because no one wanted to give me any money. So what are you, as investors, going to do to look at our companies differently?”

Barna’s reply: Don’t be afraid to talk about your distance traveled. “The same stories about people getting straight A’s from Ivy League schools isn’t what gets us fired up; it’s instead hearing about how someone put themselves through med school from driving an ambulance,” she said. “You might think that you’re not supposed to talk about your life story, but I think it’s an important data point in helping [investors] make the right decision.”

This isn’t to say that a little bit of information and clever storytelling will fix the funding gap for founders of color. Viola Llewellyn, cofounder of African fintech platform Ovamba, pointed out as much, saying that many of the investors she’s come across don’t seem interested in asking the questions that lead to the sorts of decisions Barna is referencing. 

“Here’s the problem: No one gets punished intellectually, emotionally, or financially for saying no to black women or to Africans. You will instead be congratulated if you don’t make the ‘foolish mistake’ of investing in something that doesn’t fit into the preconceived ideas of what success is,” Llewellyn said to Hudson, Lyne, Barna and Dong. 

“At what point do we find a way to tell the story of the fool that said no?” she continued, to applause from the room.

Hudson waited a beat, and responded with empathy.

“There’s a million reasons [for investors] to say no, but until we have more success stories, I think there’s always an easy out for people to say, ‘No one has proven to me that investing in this way and this type of person works out.’ It’s intellectually lazy and it’s wrong,” he said. “You have every right to be angry.”

Angry, yes, but also motivated. Among the clearest takeaways from the conversation is that one of the best ways to change the system is to start from within. In Silicon Valley and Arlan Hamilton parlance, fight pattern-matching with pattern-matching.

“More black women need to control capital, in whatever form that may be,” Dong said. “More black women need to be controlling capital to put that into companies run by black female founders.”

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