Michiel Perry never thought in a million years that her Southern wedding dreams would lead to a cool $50K in a matter of months. At the time, Perry was happily engaged, planning a Charleston wedding, and preparing a home for her and her soon-to-be hubby. Upon doing research into the kind of wedding she wanted and the kind of home she wanted, Perry noticed a significant lack of black-owned vendors and lifestyle inspiration among the options of what she could do for her home or how she could bring her wedding dreams to life.
It left her feeling underwhelmed and uninspired, but it led her to realizing that she might be able to provide a solution to soon-to-be brides and homemakers who were in a similar boat as her. She had always had an affinity for decor and Southern lifestyle, and applied those things to her mission in compiling a list of black-owned vendors. After compiling her list, the creative with an entrepreneurial spirit decided to take things a step further and become a resource to women like her by launching her website, Black Southern Belle.
The site and its content grew quickly as the demand for Southern-inspired lifestyle tips and aesthetic became more prominent. Black Southern Belle was the remedy to a look and style that seemed to be scarce online. As the site's visitation grew, so did the monetization of the platform with, racking in over $50,000 within a short four-month period. The lifestyle branding expert and Founder and EIC of Black Southern Belle shares how her 9 to 5 helped her launch her platform and raise the funds to expand her programming:
Finding her niche
Perry fell into this niche on accident. “Most of my friends are Southern with an affinity for good food, black art, quality merchandise, home decor, and slow living. I didn’t see anything that really targeted us. So I started Black Southern Belle, which creates positive images and highlights of African-American families and individuals with a Southern connection, “ she explained. There’s several lifestyle brands in the market, but not everyone is able to gain the type of sponsorship that Perry achieved in such a quick time frame.
“I didn’t worry about Black Southern Belle’s performance in the lifestyle market. I knew I was bringing something different. It also helps that I’m a consumer of my brand. Everything I feature on my blog is a reflection of my background. While growing Black Southern Belle, I wanted to convince brands that my demographic is an engaging consumer and deserved ad dollars,” Perry shared. “Whether in the South or in another part of the country, there are Black Southern Belles and we were spending money on not only fashion but home decor, food and entertaining and I made it my mission to find brands both large and small that understand the Black Southern Belle customer.”
Using her 9-to-5 to help jumpstart her brand
Many people don’t realized that the skills they learn at their company can be essential tools in helping them pursue their entrepreneurial endeavors. “I worked for a fashion startup in Washington, D.C., and I gained so many skills from that experience. My previous boss was an accountant turned serial fashion entrepreneur, so I was inspired by her business success and passion. I learned about marketing with a small budget and how to develop a true lifestyle brand. From packaging to type fonts for a website, she made sure it worked well and looked stylish. I brought this experience to Black Southern Belle,” Perry shared. Learn as much as you can about the business side of managing a company before you put in that two-week notice. “I learned a lot about fundraising. I learned that growing a brand takes time and key metrics are needed to get funding. This allowed me to focus on growing one to two social media platforms instead of trying to tackle multiple at once,” Perry added.
Find a way to monetize
It might be easy to produce content as a creative, but how do you find ways to monetize your projects? Perry decided to monetize by expanding the BSB brand into events. “My strategy was to use ads to increase consumer growth, brand awareness and eventually develop an event extension to the growing online digital platform, which has now become a reality. In my role as an event planner and relationship manager for Google, I learned about event management and sponsorship. It’s important to have online consumers meet in person and engage with the brand. Not only is this value added for the brand, but it shows the consumer that we’re more than just an online brand,” she explained. Her goal was to make sure that her engagement existed offline and that followers of BSB and like-minded Southern tastemakers could meet each other, network and collaborate at her branded events. “Curated events will distinguish us from another brand and create loyalty among our target audience,” she added.
Outsourcing talent to reach her goals
Black Southern Belle had two Southern Tastemaker Summits (Atlanta and Charlotte), but after spending too much time planning, she decided to outsource for the expertise she needed to reach your business goals. Perry did just that when preparing for her conference in November, held in Charleston, S.C., featuring 100+ top Southern-based vendors. “I was adamant about outsourcing my event planning to a planner. This move allowed me to spend more time seeking sponsorships while utilizing their network of vendors, specifically for in-kind sponsorships. By being in the South I was able to connect with the brands and influencers who fit my demographic more directly and also gain inspiration for partnerships that I would never have been able to if I weren’t living in the South. No matter how much technology connects us, there is nothing that can replace an in-person meeting, especially in the South,” Perry explained
Her tips for success
Now that it’s been over a year since Black Southern Belle launched, Perry has learned a thing or two about keeping the business afloat. “Increase your metrics with at least one asset. Whether it's website views, Instagram or Facebook followers, increase your "numbers" in at least area. Also, be strategic about partnerships. Think of the unpaid partnerships you can do that will impress the people you want to pay you. The money won’t come overnight, but be very strategic about the unpaid opportunities; brands will take notice. Don’t be afraid to use LinkedIn and paid resources to make both near term and long-term connections. Treat your lifestyle brand as a business and invest in it the same way,” Perry said.
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Nicaila Matthews starts her day as a senior manager of social media marketing with National Public Radio (NPR), and by night, she's the creator and host of the popular podcast Side Hustle Pro — which debuted in the top 20 of the business category on iTunes. Matthews has established a platform that spotlights black women entrepreneurs who have successfully turned their passionate side hustles into thriving businesses. She shares weekly episodes to help listeners learn applicable strategies and to help get their hustles jumpstarted. Matthews took the time to chat with Blavity’s Creative Society to share some of her knowledge and expertise.
Why you need one too
Not only does she have a side hustle of her own, she strongly encourages everyone to have one as well. Including you.
“It’s an absolute MUST for everyone to have a side hustle. Side hustling helps you build up your skills outside of work, which makes you more marketable.”
It also expands your portfolio of interests and projects of your own. It builds a plethora of skills, increases confidence, and can even strengthen your character. It might even lead you to owning your own business where you call the shots — away from your usual 9–5. Plus, it can be fun exploring something that you are truly passionate about, and in turn, making a profit.
“I can’t emphasize enough that a job can be taken from you at any time, with a side hustle, you always have something in your back pocket.”
Why Everyone Needs A Side Hustle — Side Hustle Pro
Nurture your interests outside of work as a side hustle. Keep your skills sharp and you will always be confident in the value you bring to the table.
Balancing the side hustle with the main hustle
For most of us, having a full-time job is already tough enough. We have our plates full most of the time. It’s enough to get us by, pay the bills, and keep us well occupied. Plus, it's extremely time consuming. 40+ hours a week is no joke. Because time is such a precious thing, we should never waste it.
“It’s about how I squeeze time in the morning, during my lunch break, and then after work (I try not to go home first otherwise I’m headed straight for the couch).”
Matthews makes time when otherwise there is none. It’s about how you wake up, the commute to work, the commute back from work, and what you do in the meantime. A typical morning for her starts with her centering herself by reading The Miracle Morning Techniques by Hal Elrod. She later takes time from her usual lunch break and heads to a Union Station or coffee shop to get work done. Any time is a great time to start working on your side hustle. You just have to allow yourself to make time throughout the day. It is called a hustle after all. She even has an episode on her podcast devoted to this specific topic:
How To Side Hustle When You Have A Full-Time Job — Side Hustle Pro
Working a full-time job while having a side hustle is not for the faint of heart. Here’s how she juggles my main hustle with my side hustle:
Have a strategy
With any idea, you need to have some sort of strategy in order for it to get started. Matthews found ways to market herself and the podcast.
“My strategy was to be more consistent with content and be intentional about it. I planned out my feed and graphics. I also zeroed in on who my target audience was, and began “introducing” myself to these people online via social media follows, etc.”
She had a very small audience when she first started her podcast, but slowly gained attention — especially through Instagram. When asked about how to manage everything, she replied by saying that you need to “keep a notebook with you and write it down.” Journaling out your thoughts, especially in the morning, is vital. Anything that comes to mind, jot it down on paper. She seeks help from a core group of friends to let out frustrations and to also share her struggles. In terms of managing the hustle, she has looked toward automation tools. One in particular that she uses and that has been very helpful is Asana.
Big goals for the future
As you can tell, Nicaila Matthews is a busy woman. Her next big goal for herself is to start to create digital products.
“I realize personal branding is one area I take for granted, but could really assist others with. Additionally, I would love to create live events and opportunities to bring people together.”
With her podcast, she created a sort of imagined community where people can listen to influential black entreprenuers tell their stories as well as her own, but she also likes to interact with the actual community as well. One-on-one interactions are very enlightening, she says, and help establish a rapport with the core audience. She creates ways to challenge herself as well as her listeners.
“I currently think about the fact that I’m building a community and a movement. And I’m like, 'this is pretty darn cool and unexpected!'”
When asked about her elemental strategies for community building, Matthews had this to say:
“Just being transparent. I could pretend to have this ish all figured out and brand myself an “expert,” but instead, let everyone in on my journey as I figure stuff out, whether it’s how I grew my following or how I learned what equipment to get in order to do a podcast. Sometimes I feel like, 'should I be sharing this? Does this mess up my credibility if I don’t know the answer?' But at the end of the day, it’s real, it’s what I’m going through.”
And with that, we say thank you for sharing your story and the stories of others. Thanks to Matthews for the honesty and the valuable expertise. Keep hustling, Nicaila Matthews!
What is your passion? Do you have a side hustle? How are you taking steps to make it come to life? Let us know in the comments below!
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Temi Coker is a Texas high school teacher by day and a freelance photographer, graphic designer and creative director by night. At the young age of 23, he is helping others tell their story by way of photography and design. His captivating images help capture the essence of the people he shoots. He turns his photos into a vivid work of art. He had a moment to chat with Blavity’s Creative Society and talk about how he is living life as both an educator and a creative.
Coker was born and raised in Lagos, Nigeria but came to the U.S. in 2004.
“Growing up, I didn’t have many pictures of me and my family. I still don’t know what I looked like at age 5–8, and it was one of the reasons I got into photography.”
He first picked up his hobby in 2011, but started taking it more seriously in 2012. “Believe it or not, I’m not the best writer. I sucked in English and writing essays, so I think being able to take a picture and allow it to speak for itself was something I was drawn to. Pictures are really worth a thousand words.” From there, he started building his brand.
Currently, he is a high school commercial photography and Photoshop teacher and also balances this with his freelance work through various mediums.
“To be honest, it’s quite exhausting doing that and running my business, but I’ve just learned to make time for both, and I try my best to never bring school work home. When I leave school, I leave it at the school and right when I come home, I hop on my computer and start editing, designing and browsing the web for inspiration. Pretty much my day goes from 6:45 a.m. — 10 p.m. or 12 a.m. Some days I just get back home from work and sleep before my body crashes.”
Coker has built his hustle through the use of blogs and social media. Over time, his work has been well-recognized globally by many art enthusiasts. He has been able to work with many prestigious clients and brands. At the same time, he still makes time to pursue passion projects.
“To be honest, I’m still learning to balance both, but this year I’ve decided to MAKE time to do what I want to do. I think it’s important to create for yourself. Working nonstop for clients can make you feel like you’re in a box sometimes. It’s ok to MAKE time to fly.”
When asked about his favorite or most memorable project that he has worked on recently, he mentioned work that he did on his own accord and that helped him find his own voice:
Temi x Nigeria
In the Air: If Humans Could Fly
Mother’s Day Tribute
Dave + Kellee
When asked about how Coker markets himself, he simply replied by saying:
“I think people see that in my work and with who I am as a person in real life. I market myself through Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. I’m big on branding myself so I don’t have a separate page for my work. My goal is for brands and companies to be like: “We want to work with Temi Coker. You know?”
At 23, Coker still has big plans for the future. In the next five years, he sees himself still teaching and doing photography and design full time. He wants to continue to help big and small brands grow their businesses and be a creative director/consultant for those brands as well. He is also a musician and plans on dropping an EP in which he plans to fuse music with imagery and poetry. “It’s always been on my mind! Now I just gotta plant that seed and water it.”
He still has time set aside for dream projects and someday would love to do a photography/design workshop in Nigeria where a great line-up of creatives would speak and teach photography. In order to get in though, attendees would have to donate cameras. Coker would then donate those cameras to the boys and girls club or a small nonprofit that works with kids and teaches them about photography.
“My goal in life has been to always use my platform and gift to serve others. I didn’t get here by myself, so I can never think of myself higher than… It’s always good to be grounded.” Having a good circle around him and people who support him have certainly helped him achieve his goals as well keep him in check.
“I think what has gotten me this far has been God. I knew he gave me this gift and I’ve been faithful with it and serving others with it as well. Also by word of mouth and having relationships with others… Stay true to you. Be yourself. Everyone else is taken. When things get too hard, always remember why you started.”
What is your passion and how are you taking steps to make it come to life? Let us know in the comments below!
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Wednesday morning writer and genius grant recipient, Ta-Nehisi Coates was scheduled to be the opening keynote speaker at Hubspot’s #INBOUND16 Marketing Conference. The Between The World and Me author understandably went off script to address the national embarrassment that occurred last night when America decided to elect a fascist Cheeto into office.
“Why can we be in a situation where eight years after so much euphoria, we can find ourselves faced with a mortal threat. Not just to black people, not just to the country, but the whole world. 2016 wasn’t the first time we faced a threat like this. It was the idea of WHITENESS that ultimately brought the country to Civil War in 1860.”
Watch the full address below:
Watch on #Periscope: Ta-Nehisi Coates https://t.co/GRE7fwKlAG
— Taylor Stayton (@TayTayStayt) November 9, 2016
Of course, many of the white people in the audience were offended and uncomfortable by this dialogue. How dare Ta-Nehisi interrupt their thousand-dollar conference and bubble of privilege to talk about race and politics, right?
Ta-Nehisi Coates is outlining the racism against Barack Obama and linking it to Donald Trump. #inbound16 is not the place for this
— jrs76 (@jrs76) November 9, 2016
We did not come to hear your political view of the election! Get on with it Ta-Nehisi Coates. #INBOUND16
— Ashley Buehnerkemper (@ashleybuehn) November 9, 2016
@inbound. Didn't come here to listen to political opinions. Very disappointed in Coates! Seriously make it stop!!!!!!!
— TamraSue (@TamraRanard) November 9, 2016
trump supporter complaining loudly in a session at #INBOUND16 about Ta-Nehisi Coates' talk... I'm proud of @HubSpot for demo'ing boldness!
— Jamie Cartwright (@Cart_writing) November 9, 2016
Cannot believe how many people are denouncing that amazing keynote by Ta-Nehisi Coates on the #INBOUND16 hashtag and walking out.
— Hayley Thayer (@hayleythayer) November 9, 2016
The great irony here is that Coates' keynote address was originally supposed to address education, yet, here he was educating white people on their ignorance and people were walking out. What’s also puzzling is trying to figure out what people thought was going to happen after electing someone like Donald Trump. Did they think one of the most prolific writers of our time was going to walk into a marketing conference the next day and talk about SEO optimization and targeted marketing? No, Tanner. You don’t get to put the lives of millions of minorities at risk and then walk around the next day as if it’s business as usual.
Like Coates said, “We’re all endangered by this.”
What Ta-Nehisi Coates did today should teach us that if you have a platform, use it. If you have a voice, speak out. Especially if you're speaking to a diverse audience. Because what we have learned from this election is that we have been far too insulated in our tightly-knit networks to realize that the nation isn’t as progressive as we hoped it to be. We’ve been preaching to the choir, and we need to be preaching at Dave’s next investment Seminar.
So yeah, it’s going to take Ta-nehisi giving a group of white people a history lesson on slavery in the middle of a digital marketing conference to get the point across, but we really have no options left. This isn’t about taking on the responsibility of educating white people. The polls proved that people are either hopelessly ignorant, or willfully hateful. Disrupting “business as usual” might get across to the hopelessly ignorant. As for the willfully hateful? Don’t worry. Your day of reckoning is coming sooner than you think. This ain’t the 1950s, and we are not our grandparents. Try us if you want.
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Blavity's inaugural tech conference kicks off in a little under a week, and needless to say, we can't wait. Starting with startup and entrepreneurship programming on Friday, the opportunities, community and innovations to come are undeniable. If you'll be in attendance, get ready to hear from peers who are changing the game, talk to leaders who can help you achieve your goals and mingle with brands you already admire.
And although there are countless things we're looking forward to, these have to be at the top of the list.
1. Lit happy hours
Friday will kick off with a happy hour, a panel about starting up, a fireside chat with Airbnb about what it's like to be a black traveler, and even a meet & greet and book signing with Luvvie, NYT best-selling author of I'm Judging You: The Do Better Manual. Get ready for drinks brought to you by Gentleman Jack, and save some energy for a second happy hour sponsored by Twitter on Saturday.
2. A Milli: Life scaling your business after raising 1M+ in funding
One of the first morning sessions is with Porter Braswell of Jopwell, Rodney Williams of LISNR, Frederick Huston of Pigeon.ly, and moderated by Jason Townes of Groundwork. Raising a million dollars is hard, but this panel will talk about life after a milli and how these business leaders are managing their cash.
3. IRL: Being a digital brand and the media landscape
Hear from Everette Taylor of Skurt, Rashad Drakeford of REVOLT Media & TV, and Quinta B of Buzzfeed Video on branding yourself in the digital age. Social media has created many opportunities for people of color to build their own audiences and generate revenue - this fireside chat will be full of gems.
4. AMA with Ben Silbermann, CEO of Pinterest
The Pinterest Founder will answer all of our questions in this open conversation about startups, leadership and making it in Silicon Valley. This is a rare opportunity to have access to one of the top CEOs in the Bay area. His story to success is unconventional and we can't wait to get a chance to ask him questions.
5. The networking and recruiting office hours.
In between all of the awesome panels, be sure to mix and mingle with the incredible startups and entrepreneurs that will be around every corner. Companies such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, Uber, Automattic and Atlasssian will all be there to recruit —have your resumes ready!
6. Building apps without code by Tara Reed
If you're afraid about hopping into tech without a technical background, let Tara Reed's inspiring words motivate you to get back on track and not let anything stop you. Her lunch time session will be a hands on opportunity to take the leap of faith and build an app.
7. Start-up Survival: Building a Small Business from the Ground Up
This panel, brought to you by Ebay, will be moderated by Venture Capitalist, Chairman and cofounder of Cofound Harlem, John Henry; Andrea Harrison, owner and founder of It's In A Clutch; Odane Hanson of Second Life Mac and Emeka Anen, CEO of Throne. If you're in the business of startups, you need to be here.
8. Hack it 'Til You Make it: Acing Your Next Technical Interview
/Dev/ Color will help you prep for that interview that's been looming over your head. You got this, and this session will help.
9. The Blavity Team will be there.
Curious about how Blavity got started or the people behind the website? Well this is your chance! All of the four co-founders will be in attendance as well as more than 10 employees. Be sure to grab one of us and say hi!
10. Lightning talks
For a variety of chats with industry game-changers, you won't want to miss AfroTech's TEDx-style lightning talks. Catch Zim Ugochukwu, CEO of Travel Noire; Cedric Rogers, CEO of LookLive; Jason Mayden of Stanford d.school/Accel and Jessica O. Matthews of Uncharted Play, and get ready for some real conversations.
11. Do you like Soulection? Well...the after party will be brought to you by Toasted Life and features 3 celebrity DJs
And after all of the socializing, networking, business advice, startup expertise and overall great company, there's only one thing left to do — party. Join us at the official after party, hosted by the Bay-area gem Toasted Life.
So, what are you most looking forward to? Let us know in the comments below! We'll see you there.
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I receive many questions about how exactly I started my fashion brand. Was it a long time in the making? Did I have investors? Did my parents fund it? In all honesty, I started Shop Sarauniya on a whim. I always loved African prints and received many inquiries whenever I wore it, but it was never my dream to become a business owner. I come from a medical background and always knew that I wanted to pursue something health related. In fact, I had just completed my first year at Ithaca College, where I was pursuing a degree in occupational therapy. Yet somehow, I got a sudden urge to start a fashion brand.
I didn’t tell anyone what I was doing -- I kind of just did it. Three weeks after getting this idea to start a line, I had an online shop up and running. That was on July 24, 2014. In retrospect, having capital, a business plan, and a marketing strategy would have certainly made the journey easier, but that is the amazing thing about being young. It’s the freedom to not have it “all together” and that be okay. And I certainly don’t regret the leap of faith I took.
A few weeks into having my line and I quickly learned the difficulties in having an ecommerce business but what I also learned, just as quickly, was the importance of consistency. Consistency is showing up even when you don’t have a reason to so even when I had nothing to share, I had something to share. My first six months in business, I received a total of about 15 orders, but that did not stop me from marketing my business everyday. Social media, more specifically Instagram, single handedly propelled Shop Sarauniya. The effect of good photos, hashtags, and a professional look is often underestimated but in my case, went a long way. The internet also goes a long way and we often take it for granted. Having no prior entrepreneurial experience, I utilized the free business articles and videos I found on the web. I also read many books and made many prayers.
Money is a major concern for many people who want to start a business, and in most cases, it's the number one hindrance in starting. But when I decided to not make money a problem, the lack of it did not stop me. It certainly challenged me, but it did not stop me. I used personal savings from my part-time retail job to invest in my line. I started with a small quantity of products and when I sold that, I would use the profits to invest again. That said, I did not “pay myself” and up until today, I still don’t. I also saved wherever possible by designing my own logo and website as well as shooting and editing the photos myself.
After surviving my first year in business, I got a couple of friends together and had a rooftop dinner in the heart of New York City and since then, have made it a point to celebrate my business anniversary every year -- lavishly if I might add. I think it’s important to celebrate yourself. If I had waited for someone else to celebrate this milestone, they wouldn’t have. They wouldn’t even remember it.
Shop Sarauniya has been in business for two years now and I am always in awe at how far I have come. Our team has since grown, though. I still manage that majority of the brand’s affairs, and we have a business plan and marketing strategy among many other things. Two things remain, however. I don’t allow money to be a problem and whatever money I make, I use to invest. Our newest collection will be unveiled at Accra Fashion Week 2016, an achievement I am so happy about and humbled by, needless to say.
*Shop Sarauniya is one of three brands under the Sarauniya™ company, alongside Sarauniya Makeovers and Sarauniya Academy. The term 'sarauniya' means queen in Hausa, encompassing all that the company represents.
Hadiza Kassim is an undergraduate student completing her final year at Ithaca College. She founded Shop Sarauniya in 2014, at the tender age of 19, with the vision of bringing the traditional African print to the forefront of the fashion industry. That, paired with her passion for development in Africa is the very essence of what the brand is. All designs are created in New York City and sent to Accra, Ghana where they are transformed into beautiful garments by a small team of seamstresses. The motivation behind this approach is to create jobs in Ghana in the hopes of improving the social and economic status of women. Check out her website and Instagram.
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The Black Lives Matter movement has shed a bright light onto the disproportionate way African Americans are treated in the U.S. However, amongst all of the voices, how can we hear a solution..? Is it a top-down solution? Is it up to individuals? And what do we do when disproportionate force by police is coupled with high unemployment rates and sky high incarceration percentages?
With a (U-6) unemployment rate amongst 18-29 year old African American millennials at 15.2%, young people are getting left behind, or worse, ending up in jail. According to the NAACP, African Americans now constitute nearly 1 million of the total 2.3 million incarcerated population.
Well, the answer certainly isn't simple and, in all likelihood, will take time to implement. In the meantime, two businessmen in the mostly minority South LA, Karim Webb and Ed Barnett of PCF Restaurant Management, have taken it upon themselves to make a difference where they can. Even if it is mentoring one kid at a time.
“Part of our mission is to be a good community partner, provide job training and employment opportunities to the young people in the areas we serve," says Barnett.
Together, Webb and Barnett have created a successful formula for developing diverse young workers in underserved areas where they teach young men and women how to be independent, work hard and keep hope. Using their three Buffalo Wild Wings franchise locations (with three additional in development) as a teaching ground, the pair aim to impart real transferable skills that will give these young diverse workers the necessary tools to succeed in life. Giving them a brighter future by keeping them out of jail and off of welfare, which will in turn save US citizens tax money. Ultimately, it's a win, win. "If we can connect to employees' innate will to succeed, we can create something great. Show them you care about them succeeding as much as they do," says Webb.
What is even more impressive is that Karim and Ed are making a profit doing it. All three of their BWW locations have consistently outpaced regional and national sales trends within the industry and have produced double-digit sales increases. The Baldwin Hills location was recognized for achieving the highest sales percentage increase of any Buffalo Wild Wings in 2012, 2013 and 2014, respectively.
The pair strive to ensure their restaurants reflect the diverse areas they're in. In an interview with Nation's Restaurant News, Karim was quoted as saying, "If I go into a restaurant in a community that I know is diverse and I don't see people that look like my kids, I take note of that." An important fact both take to heart.
Karim and Ed have three additional BWW locations in development and continue to be an integral part of each community they move into. If you’d like to support them and their work within the community please check out www.lawildwings.com for upcoming community events.
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Not everyone has the unique opportunity to see things from the perspective of an entrepreneur and an investor. But Mandela Schumacher-Hodge has experience in both worlds, giving her a well-rounded vision of the world of start-ups, business and entrepreneurship in a super authentic way.
She's currently the founding portfolio services director at Kapor Capital, a startup blogger, the founder of MandelaSH Videos, was featured in Forbes 30 Under 30, was in the Case Foundation Top 50 Inclusive Entrepreneurship Champions, is the author of three Top 20 Medium Posts, is a TEDx presenter, and has been a featured speaker on more than 55 stages (including events at Google, Facebook, and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation). Safe to say, she's been there, done that. And she's sharing some of her wisdom with us regarding transitioning into tech spaces, embedding diversity initiatives into the DNA of companies, the intersections of education with entrepreneurship and more.
Get to know Mandela further before she presents at AfroTech this November, and read our interview with her below:
Blavity: What were your career goals early in life? And how did you transition from a teacher to an entrepreneur in tech?
Mandela Schumacher-Hodge: Up until the age of 20, I was a full-time student-athlete. For the most part, I took general courses in school (with no speciality in any one area), and I spent the rest of my time perfecting my craft as an elite soccer player, at the time I was the co-captain of the NC State Women’s Soccer Team. It honestly wasn’t until I made the decision that I did not want to pursue a career as a professional soccer player that I really started to reflect more on what I did, in fact, want to spend my life doing. It was also during this time that my father unexpectedly passed away. That experience absolutely rocked my foundation and forever changed my perspective on life. More than ever, I recognized what a precious gift life is, and that it isn’t something to take for granted or waste. My father’s death broke my heart, but it also emboldened me to make the very most of my life, and to do it on my own terms.
Thinking back to that time in my life, I didn’t necessarily have a huge vision for my career, but I also didn’t let the opinions of others (“You’re crazy for walking away from a full scholarship” or “You should do this...or be that”) sway me. I was OK with not having everything all figured out and giving myself some time to find my way. One thing I did know for sure, though, was that I needed to be in a different place; an environment with more diversity of people and career opportunities. So I packed up all my stuff into one car and moved from North Carolina to Los Angeles (thanks mom for driving with me; I couldn’t have done it without you!). Once in LA, I took a semester off from college to work at a law firm. Then I transferred to Pepperdine University, and immediately studied abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina, which was my first time traveling outside the United States. I ended up graduating from Pepperdine with a Bachelors in Intercultural Communication and a minor in Spanish.
It was a few years later and I was now 23. I still wasn’t positive what I wanted to do for a career yet, but I had gained some valuable experiences that made me more clear about which paths would suit my interests. One of those interests was educating others, particularly those who come from underserved and underprivileged backgrounds. I had grown up in a household with two civil rights lawyers for parents, who were extremely dedicated to uplifting and empowering historically marginalized peoples and communities. I wanted to contribute to this mission and en route to investigating options to join the Peace Corps, I stumbled upon a program called Teach for America. It felt like the right fit for me at the time, and that’s how I began my career as a teacher in South Central Los Angeles. I went on to get a Masters from Loyola Marymount University in Education Administration & Policy, and was then admitted into a top six PhD program at UCLA, and my concentration was Urban Schooling.
As you can see from my past, it was never my intention to pursue a career in tech. In fact, I had never taken a technical, business, or entrepreneurship course prior to launching my first startup in 2011. My introduction to this thing called a “startup” was via an event called Startup Weekend Education, and it was there that I bumped into this even bigger thing called “entrepreneurship.” And I’ll tell you this much: It was love at first sight! I felt like I had finally found my tribe — people who are “crazy” enough to challenge the status quo, courageous enough to propose alternatives to the way things are currently being done, and dedicated enough to put in the very hard work it takes to bring those ideas to life. Since that event, I have continued to identify problems that I'm passionate about solving, and I've stayed true to my passion to take action to bring about change versus just theorizing about what could happen.
And as I’ve learned more, my career has blossomed, and my network has grown, I feel like it’s my duty to bring others with me. Success in my eyes is not determined by my individual ascent; rather, it's about all of us getting the opportunity to succeed.
B: What motivated you to focus on the intersections of education and entrepreneurship?
MS-H: Entrepreneurship is all about being brave. Being brave enough to push back on the way things are currently being done, being brave enough to pursue a vision most others can’t see, and being brave enough to believe that all your blood, sweat and tears will pay off.
Entrepreneurship is an incredibly inspiring act to me, and I want to teach more people how to be brave enough to pursue that route. To not just accept the world they were born into, but to question it, challenge it, and create solutions that make it better.
B: What do you love about startups and the startup environment?
MS-H: I love startups because I love making progress and making it quickly. Startups are all about building, testing and iterating. Over and over again in a startup you’re taking deliberate actions to see how different variables influence your ability to grow and make a profit. There are constant challenges (e.g. competition, new legislation, changing technology) you have to work with, so there’s never a dull moment, which is also something I appreciate. Operating in a startup keeps you on your toes and makes you uncomfortable. And being uncomfortable is the best way to grow.
B: Where do you turn for inspiration?
MS-H: My biggest inspiration is the calendar. Being reminded that I have a finite amount of time here, and that I can’t get out of this life alive; that’s honestly my biggest inspiration. Remembering that there’s an expiration date to my life helps me consistently be courageous and keep my own doubts and the opinions of others at bay. I recognize life’s too short to put off pursuing what I really want to do and who I really want to be.
B: What are your biggest motivators? What keeps you going through your busy days and your packed schedule?
MS-H: Aside from the calendar, other places I turn to for motivation and inspiration are other entrepreneurs and creatives. I am in awe of the way they think, the big vision they have, and how they’ve been able to bring their ideas to life. Seeing them succeed inspires me to succeed. And because one major pillar of how I define my success is linked to helping as many people as possible, I am willing to invest the hard work required to build an operation that scales.
B: What do you do to unwind? How do you make time for you — for self-care and mental health days — despite being so busy? Do you have any go-to activities, musical artists, movies, books, etc.
MS-H: My morning rituals are a must: Drink a glass of water, engage in at least 10 minutes of guided meditation (I use apps like Calm or Headspace), writing in my journal (what I’m grateful for and what my intention is for the day); running around Lake Merritt in Oakland (~3.5 miles), and drinking a homemade kale, spinach and fruit shake.
I’m engaged (yes ladies, he put a ring on it! lol), and having a great relationship with my partner is also a high priority item for me. In order to create the loving, adventurous relationship my fiancé and I want, we do a few things consistently: Greet each other every morning and night, engage in a daily conversation about each other's day, have what we call a “Life Meeting” once a week (to make progress on our joint goals), take turns planning a weekly date night, taking a quarterly trip (even if it’s just hiking for a weekend), and attending pre-marital counseling (a good foundation must be deliberately built).
Also, I love documentaries and getting immersed in biographical films or movies that raise my awareness about topics that I’m interested in.
Maintaining my mental, physical, and social-emotional well-being are all non-negotiables for me. I’ve seen what life is like when I don’t prioritize my health and happiness, and I refuse to revert back to that place. Every day, I make deliberate choices to be healthy and happy.
B: What has it been like to work for Kapor Capital, considering they helped fund Tioki, where your tech/entrepreneur career took off?
MS-H: It’s been a great experience working at Kapor Capital because it’s given me the opportunity to see how “the other side” operates. I’ve been an entrepreneur, and will continue to be one, but I haven’t been an investor yet, so it’s been a very educational experience for me to see how investors make decisions, how their success is defined, and the various stakeholders they’re responsible for maintaining relationships with.
I’ve definitely built more empathy for the investor’s perspective and have been able to utilize that empathy to build bridges of understanding with the founders. I’ve also been able to help the investors gain more insights into the mindset and experiences of the founders, and more efficiently and effectively service their needs. I’ve pioneered new processes, programming and resources that are intended to scale the support we’re able to provide our portfolio of 118 tech startups of varying sectors and sizes. It’s definitely challenging work, but work I find incredibly worthwhile and exciting.
B: What do you find most rewarding about helping to develop the portfolios of early-stage tech startups? What do you find the most challenging about it?
MS-H: As I mentioned earlier, I’m absolutely in love with entrepreneurship and the people who pursue that route. Entrepreneurs are the special people who are on the ground doing the really hard work to create the things that the rest of us get to enjoy. Think about you reading this article right now. It’s only possible because of all the technology that entrepreneurs built — the internet, website, a computer, tablet or phone. Technology has advanced our lives, and it’s showing no signs of slowing up. So from my perspective, as the Portfolio Services Director at Kapor Capital, it’s a privilege for me to be able to be work alongside these innovators when they’re just starting their business and trying to figure out how to find product market fit and scale their solutions. Getting to lend my time and talents to the achievement of that end is incredibly rewarding.
Another cool perk of the job is being able to see the future before anyone else. Every time a founder pitches an idea or shares their three-year roadmap, I get a glimpse into what the the future may look like. I get to peer inside the minds of visionaries and it’s a spectacular sight to see!
It’s been exactly one year since I joined Kapor Capital as its inaugural Portfolio Services Director. It’s been an amazing ride already and as I look back and reflect on these first 365 days, I feel most proud of working with Kapor Capital Partner and diversity and inclusion (D&I) expert Dr. Freada Kapor Klein to launch the Founders’ Commitment, the first ever VC-backed diversity pledge. Never before has an investment firm required that their founders prioritize diversity and inclusion the same way they prioritize growth and revenue, and after nearly nine months of working with 82 tech startups on their Commitment, our team has taught countless founders and diversity advocates how to bake D&I into the DNA of their companies and has inspired a slew of other diversity initiatives to launch. By no means done (and by no means easy), I'm optimistic that a shift is underway for tech to finally become the inclusive industry we all know it can and should be.
B: Who can be a successful entrepreneur? Do you find there to be certain personality types or traits that are most successful? What strategies do you use to help people to hone in on their success?
MS-H: Anyone can be a successful entrepreneur. The problem, though, is not everyone’s given the opportunity to be a successful entrepreneur. My colleague, Mitch Kapor oftentimes says “genius is evenly distributed across zip codes, but opportunity is not.” I love this quote, because it drives home the point that everyone — no matter their place of birth, race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. — is intelligent and capable of achieving success. However, the issue is with access; access to opportunities that allow everyone to not only survive in life, but thrive and contribute their talents to the advancement of society.
2% is a powerful statistic in tech. 2% of all employees at major tech companies are black. And when it comes to the employment creators, less than 2% of all VC-backed startups are led by black founders. (Blavity’s own founder, Morgan DeBaun, is a part of this very small percentage.) There’s a clear underrepresentation of blacks in tech when you compare that 2% to the total population of blacks in the U.S., which stands at 12.6%. Simply put, it’s not a level playing field, and that’s really important to acknowledge. Because until you’re willing to acknowledge it, you can’t fix it.
Another problem I think is vital to call out is that fact that entrepreneurship is really, really hard. I’ve seen many people — from all different backgrounds — be given the opportunity to build a company, but the fact of the matter is, not everyone’s cut out for it. It truly is one of the hardest things you could ever pursue. So my advice to folks is that before you leave your life jacket at shore and take the plunge into entrepreneurship, really take some time to learn what the life of an early-stage founder is really like. I refer to becoming a founder as entering “Sacrifice Central,” and in this video I pull back the curtain and let you see behind the scenes of entrepreneurship. It’s not always as glamorous as it may seem.
And if you do decide to become an entrepreneur, start yourself off on the right foot by watching “4 Qualities That Make a Great Entrepreneur.”
B: What can we expect next from you?
MS-H: Every week, I publish a new video and article where I give people insights and advice on how to accelerate their success in both business and life. I just filmed an interview with Blavity founder and CEO, Morgan DeBaun, and you can sign up here to find out when it gets published. You can definitely expect more of this kind of support from me for entrepreneurs and anyone interested in advancing their life or career.
B: Anything else we should know?
MS-H: My Instagram Stories are poppin’ with daily inspiration, tidbits of wisdom, and tons of fun adventures. Follow me @MandelaSH to keep yourself on your A-game.
For more from Mandela Schumacher-Hodge and other game-changers, get your tickets to AfroTech! We'll see you there.
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The BET show Music Moguls highlighted quite a few impressive work habits of some of hip-hop’s finest, including Baby of Cash Money, Snoop Dogg, Jermaine Dupri and Dame Dash.
But with success comes risks, and vice versa. Viewers of the show might remember one huge risk that Dame Dash took, uprooting himself and his girlfriend Raquel M. Horn from North Carolina to be closer to his daughter in Los Angeles. He left behind his public access show and his home. Although he seemed to be optimistic about the move, it was easy to understand why Horn was near tears about leaving that kind of stability.
Anyone who has ever made the big decision to relocate knows how stressful this is: Finding a new home (or rental), starting a new job and moving away from family/friends can be hard. In Dame’s case, he was leaving two of the three behind to get closer to the latter. But as the former co-owner of Roc-A-Fella and the former manager/business partner of Jay Z, this is a man with almost two decades of entrepreneurial experience who has made millions. (Before the season ended, he’d already shown off his new American-made clothing line venture.)
However, in a job market full of aspiring millennials, million-dollar salaries might be hard to come by in the early stages. According to Forbes, two-thirds of graduates owe approximately $26,600 in debt after earning their college degrees. It might be easier to believe that seasoned employees and entrepreneurs, who also may have home ownership, would feel less stressed about moving for better financial opportunities. That’s not always true.
According to Chicago’s UrbanBound relocation software company: “Homeowners are slowly losing their majority representation of the relocating population — which is causing people to land in some tricky situations. Some home-owning transferees are being forced to leave homes in their original location in foreclosure or short sale situations.
Others simply cannot sell their homes due to a market that remains poor or volatile. They might be in a negative equity situation or in a situation where they will be facing a significant loss on sale. (Source: “Renter Policies: What You Need to Know” ebook)
So this could leave college students turning down lucrative jobs for fear that they can’t afford the move. And seasoned employees might be worried that they’ll be in more debt by giving up their homes. Working with an attorney to fully understand what should be in their job relocation package and/or how to handle home ownership decisions could make the process less stressful. There are no state or federal requirements in terms of what an employer must offer an employee in a relocation package.
Here are the top things to make sure are in the written contract before agreeing to that new job:
1. Home sale services
Employees should try to negotiate home sale services into their relocation package. For example, the employer refers the employee to a real estate agent that is experienced in selling homes in a short period. Additionally, the employee should try to negotiate for the employer to cover the employee’s closing cost.
2. Lease cancellation fees
If the employee is a renter and still has substantial time left on the lease, (s)he should consider negotiating with the employer to cover lease cancellation fees in the relocation package. Alternatively, if an employee decides to sublease the apartment to avoid lease cancellation fees, (s)he may want to make sure the sublease includes an assignment and release clause. With an assignment and release clause, the employee limits liability if the sublessee fails to make the rent payments due under the lease.
3. Temporary housing expense
Paying a security deposit and first month’s rent for a new apartment or putting down an earnest money deposit on a new home can be a major financial setback. Negotiating for an employer to pay for the employee to live in temporary corporate housing, an apartment or rental home provides the employee time to save money to put toward a security or earnest money deposit.
Johnetta G. Paye, Esq., the lead attorney of J. Paye & Associates in Chicago, has a wealth of experience in entertainment law, business law and real estate law.Follow Johnetta onTwitter, Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn.
Shamontiel L. Vaughn is a copy editor and a freelance journalist for various print and online publications for over a decade. Visit JPayeinBrief.com to find out more about the writing team. Follow Shamontiel onTwitter, Instagram, Pinterest and LinkedIn.
The information contained here is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered but should not be construed as one-size-fits-all legal advice. Speak to an attorney specifically about your particular relocation agreement for specific terms and conditions.
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