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The Art of Scaling: How Black Business Owners Can Overcome Obstacles and Achieve Success

With Sylvia Atsaves, Daryn Dodson, LaToya Williams-Belfort, Mignon Francois, and Danielle Young

52 minutes

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Scaling your business is a critical step toward long-term success, but it can be especially challenging for Black entrepreneurs who face unique obstacles in accessing capital and resources. This panel explores the key strategies and tactics that successful Black business owners have used to scale their businesses and achieve their goals, including best practices for managing growth, finding funding, building a strong team, and leveraging technology to streamline operations.

Additional resources

Sylvia Atsaves
Sylvia Atsaves Director of Strategy and Business Development and Chief of Staff at REVOLT
Daryn Dodson
Daryn Dodson Founder and Managing Partner at Illumen Capital
LaToya Williams-Belfort
LaToya Williams-Belfort Executive Director at Fifteen Percent Pledge
Mignon Francois
Mignon Francois Owner of The Cupcake Collection
Danielle Young
Danielle Young Journalist, Host, Producer

Tara Lewis: Now we’re going to talk about scaling, specifically how Black business owners can overcome obstacles and achieve success. Danielle, Sylvia, Daryn, LaToya, Mignon, please join me on the virtual stage. Danielle, I’ll let you take it away.

Danielle Young: Thank you, Tara. Hello, Yelp Summit Black in Business. This has been so amazing, tuning into all these amazing panels. And now we’re here to talk about the art of scaling. I’m Danielle Young, I’m a journalist, host, blossoming Black girl entrepreneur, and I am joined by an esteemed panel of Black in business people. I mean, I’m going to have to let y’all talk about yourselves a little bit because I’m so thoroughly impressed by what you’ve been able to do in your careers, and I want everyone watching to know what y’all’s resume looks like. So if I could go through and have y’all tell me one by one a little bit about yourself. I’m going to start with my beautiful bald sister, LaToya.

LaToya Williams-Belfort: Good afternoon. How’s everyone doing? LaToya Williams-Belfort. I am the executive director at the 15 Percent Pledge. I am so excited to be here this afternoon on the second day of National Black Business Month. At the 15 Percent Pledge, maybe you are aware, but if not, we are an economic justice and a racial justice organization started by Aurora James, our founder, and we work with corporations and major retailers to contractually commit 15% of their annual spend to Black businesses.

And on the other side of our business, so to speak, our organization impact approach, we cultivate and steward and develop a community of Black businesses, and scaling is at the core of what we do. We make sure that businesses are ready to move into the ecosystem successfully of our corporate pledge takers and develop long-term sustainable revenue generating partnerships. So excited to be here today. I’ve been working in the advocacy and the human service sector for over 20 years, working with a variety of populations that are fighting for equitable access ultimately. So excited to talk to entrepreneurs and ultimately continue our work at the Pledge to create a more inclusive economy for everyone. So looking forward to this chat.

Danielle Young: Amazing. LaToya, thank you so much. So excited to get into the 15 Percent Pledge. Next up, another gorgeous sister, Mignon, tell us who you are and a little bit about yourself.

Mignon Francois: My name is Mignon Francois and I am the founder and director of joy at The Cupcake Collection. I’m also the author of the new bestselling book Made from Scratch: Finding Success Without a Recipe. I was able to write a memoir that showed people what they could also do if they believe. It was on the last $5 that I had for dinner one week that I took this challenge to be able to gamble my money in order to create an opportunity for my family that we would be able to eat on for the rest of all time. And so I took that $5 for dinner and turned it into ingredients that I could use to start my business. And so I’ve been flipping that same money for the last 17 years to the tune of over 5 million cupcakes sold. The key is that I did this with no business knowledge, no experience, no money, no credit even losing the house where my bakery exists today. And I just want to show other people what they can also do.

Danielle Young: Listen, y’all take out your notebooks because Mignon’s got some stuff to tell us. Okay, that’s impressive. I’m definitely doing Ladies first, Daryn, so I’m going to go to Sylvia next.

Sylvia Atsaves: Hi everyone, great to meet you. My name is Sylvia Atsaves. I am the chief of staff and director of business development at REVOLT, which is one of the very few Black-owned media companies in the space launched by Sean “Diddy” Combs, love, whatever you would like to call him back in 2010.

Danielle Young: Oh no, did we freeze? We’re going to pray for the internet. Oh, you froze for a second, Sylvia.

Sylvia Atsaves: Sorry about that. Sorry about that. Let me be quick with my intro. So formerly trained as a neuroscientist, got really interested in how we actually build and scale businesses. So did strategy consulting for Fortune 500 companies for many years. I was so passionate about understanding how we create value as a community, did my MBA at Harvard Business School, and that’s where I really became passionate about how can I direct this towards our community and the Black community because we’re obviously so underserved in that space. And that’s what really led me to REVOLT where we can essentially solve this question from both sides. So how do we empower creators and other businesses in our space with our platform? And then as a Black business ourselves, how do we scale and how do we grow when we’re going up against giants like Disney and Netflix? So I’m really excited to have this conversation from both perspectives today.

Danielle Young: Amazing. And it’s so great to know how brilliant you are too, Sylvia, I’m so impressed. And last but not least, Daryn Dodson.

Daryn Dodson: It’s great to be here with everyone. I’m Daryn Dodson, I grew up in Washington DC. One of the greatest kind of parts of my life as I got to know, all four of my grandparents, many of them were entrepreneurs. So try to think about carrying on their work of economic empowerment within communities. And everything that I do. I run a private equity fund called Illumen Capital, and we work to educate investors on the too often overlooked and underestimated value of women and people of color entrepreneurs, and particularly the intersectionality of women of color, particularly Black women.

So it’s great to be here today and think together about what needs to happen in order to accelerate capital flows to our respective communities and look forward in how to transform and accelerate the speed of wealth building, capital raising, et cetera in terms of respective communities. So that’s a little bit about me. I also studied business, often in the classroom at Stanford Business School, working with MBA students and future MBAs, trying to think about these critical issues of how to not underestimate and overlook the incredible genius and potential and actual value that so many of us bring to businesses that we’re joining and strategies that we’re leading. So looking forward to sharing more later.

Danielle Young: Amazing. This is our brilliant and bold guest of panelists here today to talk about scaling. And as y’all know, scaling your business is a critical step towards long-term success. And it can be especially challenging for Black entrepreneurs who face obstacles that are unique to us in assessing the capital that you have spoken about, Daryn, and resources. This panel is exploring the key strategies and tactics that successful Black business owners have used to scale their business and achieve their goals, including best practices for managing growth, finding funding, building a strong team, and leveraging technology to streamline operations. So let’s get into it. I would love to know, and I believe from each of you, and I’ll pinpoint who can start, but can you tell us how you got into the business of business? And I’ll start with Mignon.

Mignon Francois: So I’ve been working since I was 10 years old. So for me that’s 40 years in business. I never liked to play with baby dolls. So when all of the rest of the girls were playing with the famous Barbie, I was playing business. So I was all about collecting coins from the beginning. And so I watched my mother who was always leading a crew, and I didn’t realize how much I really was patterning my life and my play behind her.

So my first experience with business was knocking on neighbor’s doors at 10, making cookies and trying to sell those things in exchange for money. And I don’t know that that I needed anything as far as money goes, I just wanted the accomplishment to be able to say, I did this, I got this from you, I got you to enjoy something that I was doing. And from there I began to think all these different ideas. And I think that I always was treated as if I were sort of like a silly blonde when in fact this was in fact ideation and it was a gift and that ideas would come to me and those things were something that I could use.

Danielle Young: I love that, you always going to end up being who you are. That’s pretty cool to see that you were selling the baked goods back then as well. I’m going to jump to you, LaToya. How did you get started in the business of business?

LaToya Williams-Belfort: So I think we all remember 2020, which was so far ago, but still so close. And the world was turned upside down by the pandemic and kind of the biggest national conversation about race, at least in my generation that we’ve experienced. Our founder, Aurora James, who is an entrepreneur and a social activist, in that moment when many corporations were releasing huge statements of support for the Black community, everybody was talking about systemic racism. Again, it was during the time of the unfortunate killing of Mr. George Floyd. And we were all kind of grappling with how do we move to a more inclusive economy, a more inclusive society? And Aurora challenged corporations and retailers to dedicate 15% and 15% is indicative of the approximate population of Black people in America. And she said, “The way that we solve many of these problems that we are talking about in 2020 is to create opportunity for Black entrepreneurs to build generational wealth.”

We’ve been historically and systemically excluded from the process. And what we know is that once we can have an economic justice framework where we can have access, then a lot of the things that we need to start figuring out systemically, we’ll have different pathways to solution. So through that challenge, the 15 Percent Pledge was created. And even when we think about supplier diversity as a model within a business framework, we know that Black entrepreneurs are still the minority percentage in that supplier diversity universe.

So at the Pledge, with Aurora’s vision, we are saying that we’re working to increase Black representation in business ultimately. And in the DNA of our work, there’s economic justice, there’s DEI, but our work is really about creating a framework that creates a go forward strategy for equitable business. How can Black entrepreneurs have an opportunity to build generational wealth and ultimately work to close the racial wealth gap or to fingers crossed close, but with our best efforts to reduce the racial wealth gap, which we know that that is again, good business, good economics, universally for all people, not just Black people.

So my business of business is the work at the core of what we’re doing at the Pledge is to create opportunity for equitable economics, and to change the landscape for Black folks to be able to build generational wealth, again, with this trickle down proposition of that wealth, being able to circulate through the Black community and help to continue to repair some of the systemic challenges that we’ve been dealing with from the beginning of time.

The other thing that I think is really important, which was also mentioned a little bit early, is that the pledge is a Black founded, Black woman led organization. So in many ways we are also on that dual trajectory when we think about the business of our organization becoming a sustainable advocacy organization. A lot of times people don’t think about nonprofit as business, but we need to be in business for the long haul to be able to continue to push this proposition forward for Black entrepreneurs.

So the same advocacy work that we are doing on one side of our house to create opportunity and partnership for Black entrepreneurs, we’re doubling down on that as a three year old organization. Again, Black founded and Black led, and how do we create a sustainable business so that our organization will be around in the long term, we are working to generate $1.3 trillion through our work with corporations and Black entrepreneurs to flood into the economy. So we need to be sustainable. And so far we’ve been able to generate $14 billion between our 29 partners and our Black businesses that are part of our business equity community.

So all of that is a proposition of business. How do we create business relationships? How do we become a sustainable business? How do we continue to get deal flow flowing into the economy to create a more inclusive landscape? And I think it’s really important, again, as a nonprofit, people always understand the economic justice. People always understand the DEI. But corporations that sign this multi-year pledge, what they know very quickly into this work is like, yes, it checks the social responsibility box. Yes, it checks the DEI box, but when this application is applied the right way, it actually generates a good business. So all throughout our proposition, we’re thinking about business, how do we develop, create, sustain, and ultimately drive revenue, which for us, impact equals revenue.

Danielle Young: I love that. We’re going to put a bookmark in a lot of the things that you said I want to circle back to, especially when it comes to the economic justice of it all. And I think Daryn, you have a lot of skin in the game as well when it comes to social and economic justice and the impacting of funds that can help bring some equity to the world. So I would love to hear about what your business of business is.

Daryn Dodson: Sure. The markers of the industry that we’re in is that there’s $84 trillion in capital of that. Of 1.4% is managed by women and people of color combined despite 40 years of at or equal performance. So then we all have to ask what is stopping capital flows from moving that one 1.4% to 50% or increasing it by $30 trillion or $40 trillion or $42 trillion to where it would likely fall if there wasn’t something stopping it.

If you thought of it as a dam, there’s an entire dam on the other side of the dam instead of water, there’s capital, there’s capital that would flow to outperforming Black, Latinx female Led founded companies, et cetera. But for what we would suggest at Illumen Capital is bias towards Black, Latinx, indigenous women led businesses and communities. So part of what we do is we require 10 years of implicit bias training and addressing specific biases related to investment allocation in order to dampen the impact of these biases, address them, and unlock the flows of capital to people who’ve already demonstrated excellence per LaToya’s earlier points.

So we also did our own study in collaboration with a number of Stanford professors, and we found that after systematically testing over $4 trillion in asset allocators, that systematically they chose White-LED funds, and the higher Black LED funds performed, the less they were chosen. This is probably also indicative of what might might happen if it were allocations to companies as well. So there’s some really powerful and important things to look at from neuroscience and other parts of the way that the brain evaluates Black led companies, but the end result is still the same, which is less capital flow.

So that’s something that I’ve been really curious about in learning more and working with people that want to make returns to sort of address these biases and see this unlocked economic value that in many cases is right behind the incredible work of underrepresented people of color led funds or Black led funds, et cetera.

Danielle Young: Well, you said it real cute, but what I heard is that racism knows no bounds, my God. Put in a bookmark in that one as well. We’ll turn around and come back to that too. But Sylvia, can you tell me about your business of business before we move on?

Sylvia Atsaves: Yeah, of course. And I’m going to give you a bit of the personal and then get into REVOLT’s business of business, but similar to Mignon, I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about my mother and just how she instilled in me as a Black woman who came from Liberia as an immigrant at 19, building a life for herself and her children. That just speaks to how entrepreneurial, a lot of the women in our community are. So she instilled that in me. So I’ve always kind of had this drive.

And then in terms of REVOLT, similarly going back to 2020, I think that was a huge unlock in our business in terms of the brands and the advertisers coming to the table and saying, we want to make this pledge. We want to work with you because the ad industry is billions of dollars and Black media gets 1% of those dollars. And it’s interesting to us because Black culture drives a lot more than 1% of the cultural impact that we see today, so there’s a huge gap. And one of our core beliefs is that we need to start owning our narrative as a community, and the funding needs to be a part of that. We need to be capitalized in order to tell our stories accurately and empower our community.

So I’m really excited about our role in the way that we try to tackle this problem because I think we can be really creative about it as a media company. So not only are we thinking of how can we employ Black creatives and Black production companies, we spend 50% of our production budget with Black vendors, but also thinking about our content that we put out, how can we put out content that educates our creatives, that educates people in our community? We have a show called Bet on Black, which is essentially a Shark Tank type show that’s focused on Black entrepreneurs, Black business mentors, and show [inaudible 00:20:44]

Danielle Young: No, it always gets Sylvia when she’s making a point, honey.

I’ll give you a second. Hopefully it’ll catch up.

Sylvia Atsaves: … lack of ideas or capability. It’s really that lack of opportunity and funding.

Danielle Young: We lost you for two seconds, Sylvia. Can you hear me?

Sylvia Atsaves: I’m so sorry about my internet connection. I’m going to try my best. Yes, I can [inaudible 00:21:16]

Danielle Young: So we might have to move on-

Sylvia Atsaves: … that I wanted to mention.

Danielle Young: Yeah, you were talking about Bet on Black when it skipped out.

Sylvia Atsaves: Yeah, so basically the last two points around just how we show our community on screen. And showing a show like Bet on Black, which is really about Black entrepreneurship, highlighting that funding gap, but then providing them opportunities, mentorship and capital to grow, not only helps those entrepreneurs, but everyone watching that show to see that this is possible for me, really just like a 360 approach to how we can tackle this issue of Black entrepreneurs not being funded, not being supported, and really not being seen for what they’re truly worth.

Danielle Young: Yeah, it’s going to take a lot of people like you, Daryn, LaToya, Mignon in the room to switch things up. And may I suggest, I don’t know if it’ll work, but try to cut your wifi off and use your cell data to see if that’ll help because sometimes-

Sylvia Atsaves: Danielle, you’ve done this before. Thank you.

Danielle Young: [inaudible 00:22:16] trying to embarrass us and we don’t have time for that, okay? Well this is an impactful, very short panel. And shout out to Bet on Black as well. So let’s go into the idea of scaling, because scaling does mean that there has to have been some success, right? You can’t grow without it. So I would love to hear personally from you as you are all people in business, what does scaling look like for you and what does it actually mean in terms of being an entrepreneur? And I’m going to start with Sylvia. Sorry, I just want to get you while your WiFi’s hot. Or maybe I won’t start with Sylvia, I’m going to go to you LaToya.

LaToya Williams-Belfort: I was going to say, when Sylvia was talking about the work she’s doing at REVOLT, I was making a little nod because that sounds exactly what our corporate partners and retailers who take the pledge, that’s exactly how they think about kind of getting to 15% and making sure that they’re infusing their business in all the right ways and thinking about the incorporation of Black entrepreneurs through all the channels. So Sylvia, I was nodding profusely while you were talking because REVOLT sounds like they took the pledge. We should maybe talk about that or fly.

Danielle Young: For real.

LaToya Williams-Belfort: I think for a scaling purpose, again, going back to first talking about the pledge takers that we work with. So a multi-year contract, we don’t take on any partnerships shorter than four years, and we have a partnership with Nordstrom that’s 10 years long. And again, back to what Sylvia was saying, what’s that work plan of incorporating Black entrepreneurs into your corporate ecosystem in the right ways, being smart about it, thoughtful, strategic ultimately to generate revenue. So multi-year proposition, and again, a lot of these partners at the pledge are indexing at about 2%.

So over a multi-year horizon, how do we go from 2% to 15%? The proposition of scaling comes into play because we have a community over 5,000 Black owned business, it’s 51% owned is how we index Black owned business. And it’s the business equity community. And when businesses join that community, we tier them according to revenue, opportunity, a variety of indicators to see how we can then scale those businesses into the ecosystems of those partners, those corporations that have signed this multi-year agreement, i.e. Have taken the pledge.

And really at the 15 Percent Pledge, the way we think about it is what is the opportunity framework? So of course, I think when people hear about our organization, the first thing they think about is shelf space. And again, in shelf spaces in the DNA of what Aurora started. But there’s so many ways that you can start a relationship with the corporation depending on where you are in your maturation and development as an organization.

So we really look at, okay, where are you? If you are a product or a service, what is your infrastructure like? What are your capital needs? Because there’s always capital needs, from a very small business all the way over to a big business. And what has your visibility plan been to date and how can we support that? Because we also want to make sure that when you scale whatever scaling can look like into the ecosystems of a retailer, that we’re able to make sure that you have a following people understand your brand or your service and what you’re doing.

And I think the other thing that we really work to codify when we are going through the scaling process, again, really want to double click on at the pledge that can look so differently, whether that’s a popup, whether that’s shelf space, whether that’s an online opportunity, whether that’s our holiday store that we had over the previous holiday season in soHo. What does scaling and getting access to the market as a Black business look like is dependent on where you are and where you’re going.

But the other thing that I really want to double click on, a big piece of our work in scaling Black businesses, particularly into retailers, is really codifying this understanding of universal appeal. And for so long, I think in the retail ecosystem, it’s been this idea, again, similar to what Sylvia was talking about, that products and services made by Black entrepreneurs are for Black consumers. And how do we debunk that and make sure that the plan for scaling obviously is inclusive of access to capital, which will lead to revenue, but access to capital. Marketing and visibility, but also the right brand story that the partner understands your product, your service, and what the brand story is.

So we do all that work with our businesses and our BEC to then create a through line so that we’re scaling in the right ways because as a Black business partnering with retailers and corporations just to get a check mark, just so that corporation or that retailer can say, I have this percentage, or I’m indexing here, I’m getting a good report card, is actually doing a disservice because you’ll get into that ecosystem and you won’t get the right supports and you won’t be successful.

So at the Pledge, any businesses watching, if you haven’t joined our business equity community, please go online at and join our business equity community. We have a indexing exercise so that we can understand where you are, how you show up, what you need, and then we start that process with a variety of different steps internally to get a diagnosis, so to speak, of how we can help you build muscle. And then what is the right scalable opportunity? Because sometimes also where you think you want to be, you need three or four preparatory steps to getting there, or what you think is enough money or the number you have in your head about how much you need. There’s some additional reflection and insights that we help Black businesses think through because again, the goal is not just the exercise of scaling. It’s a successful partnership that then is long-term and good for both parties.

Danielle Young: Wow. I mean, I’ve always been impressed by the Fifteen Percent Pledge, but this is, I didn’t know how much of a resource, it was.

LaToya Williams-Belfort: A lot of work.

Danielle Young: You’re a scaling partner essentially. And I want to also, for those of you out here watching the summit, we are taking questions. So if you have some questions, please put them in the chat and we’ll try to address them in the time that we have. Mignon, I want to hop to you because your story, the $5 is on my heart, and I know a lot of people can relate to not having any capital but having talent or passion. So please share with us how you were able to scale and what scaling looks like for you?

Mignon Francois: Thank you for that question. I am the poster child of all you have is all you need to get you from where you are to where you want to be. I didn’t have any experience. I didn’t have have any credit. I was losing everything that I had when I opened the business. I didn’t even know how to bake, not even out of a box when I decided to open a bakery business believing that if God is who he says he is, he can do whatever he says he can do. So I went in faith, create something using obedience to get there.

So for me, scaling is looking like envelope stuffing. I think in the beginning I didn’t even know what the word scaling meant, you know what I mean? For me, scaling was all about getting on a scale and measuring my weight. And if you think about it in the sense of a business that’s growing, it’s measuring the weight of where your business is becoming. And so for me, it began as cash stuffing. I never lived above my means and I didn’t have an opportunity to. So as I made some money, I stuffed it in envelopes and I allotted that money according to what I needed.

So if it was more ingredients, then I’m going to put some money toward that. If it’s taxes and paying somebody, I’m putting money towards that, and I would take my money every day and then go back to the grocery store and get more ingredients. Also, for me scaling or growing my business was about not only managing my money, but managing people. If there’s anybody who’s on the Zoom that might be shy like me, for instance, to me shy is stop hiding yourself. Sometimes when you’re going out into situations and it’s like, well, I don’t want to go into a networking event, and networking is not necessarily what you think it is. It’s not just gripping and grinning. People buy from people who they know. People buy from people who they believe are their friends.

So scaling your business is about managing your time and your talent and your gift. What do you have on the inside you can use to grow your business from where it is to where you want it to be? And for me, that was about being able to say, how can I baffle someone today. I’ve been giving this question to my team all this week, what can we do to baffle someone, be a friend to people that they can love or that they can listen to or whatever that might be for you? People buy from their friends. So the way I grew my network first was through my email list. Because I was shy, I didn’t want to just walk into a room and just drum up a conversation.

I might send an email to someone, even if it’s old and say Hi, it’s Mignon, and answer a question that surprises and delights them. And so it’s like getting a colored envelope in the mail. And the more that I was able to bring joy to people, the more they remembered me. So it’s like walking into a room and making yourself memorable even if you don’t have your gutsiness to maybe walk up to someone and introduce yourself. The other part of scaling my business was about finding the right time to add team members.

So while we were always living beneath our means and making sure that we always had that we were cash rich, because what I did was I looked to the past to inform my future. I said, how did companies from a depression and from a pandemic grow or stay alive? Well, if there’s nothing new under the sun, then there’s nothing new under the sun.

So I went and looked at what happened in the depression to inform my future or my present about what was happening during a pandemic or during an economic downturn. So for me, I opened a business with no money, no credit, no knowledge of the business, no experience in a business known for failing. That’s what restaurant businesses are known for, for failing. In the middle of an economic downturn, so for me, it’s never going to be about do I have enough money to do it? What do you have in your house that you can use? And to me, collaboration is the new competition.

So we had a situation where there’s a tornado that happens in our town. And the city where The Cupcake Collection is located in was in the eye of the tornado. And so when everyone went home that night, it was, okay, see you tomorrow. And it was right at the beginning of Covid. So we get hit by two storms, a pandemic and a tornado, and the rest of the world was still thriving and going on. Yes, they were social distancing, but we didn’t have electricity, we were closed for 10 days, and this is where cash stuffing and being cash rich came back to show me that this is the way you grow your business. And while we saw a lot of businesses close us who were this little small engine that could, were slow and steady and that slow and steady will win the race for you.

And so I looked outside of the box to see who I could collaborate with, and I went to a restaurant who was a fast casual in my area, who I had friendships or connections with, who I networked with before. These were my friends in the business, and I asked them to do a pop-up shop with me for just five days. That turned into two years of collaboration, and we increased their bottom line by 166%. We are just the little Black business over here with 12 employees in two locations. And we increased the bottom line of a major fast casual brand because we knew our product, we were cash rich and we did not pull on the engine, but we brought to the table something that they could use,

Danielle Young: Very resourceful. And I feel like a lot of people watching can relate to that because not everybody has the $10,000 from their parents to start their business. So that is very inspiring to hear. I would love to hear from Daryn and Sylvia about maybe some very practical, some things that people can write down to do best practices for managing the growth of their business when it comes to scaling. Because also I’m curious as an entrepreneur myself, do you ever think, okay, this is enough where I am, I’m okay, or do I constantly need to be thinking about my growth? So if you guys can share best practices around growth and scaling, and I’ll start with you, Sylvia.

Sylvia Atsaves: Yeah, absolutely. I think that, and I hope guys, fingers crossed on the wifi this time. I did switch. So in terms of best practices for scaling, I’ll say for us, we think about it a little bit differently because we are a more mature company and we’re a little bit bigger. So right now as we’re scaling, we’re thinking about things like values to make sure the values of our company stay the same, making sure people within our company have opportunities for growth who have mentorship because we are a predominantly Black company. And so we have people that are coming from other companies that maybe weren’t mentored, weren’t loved on, weren’t given opportunities or training. And so we try and instill that all in our people.

I would say for a business owner that’s a lot earlier on in their journey when they’re thinking about scaling, I think LaToya actually hit it on the head. You’re not ready for every opportunity if you don’t have the right support system in place because you could fail if you kind of stretch beyond your means. So I think you have to have a really good understanding of where your business is. And if you take that contract or you take that opportunity, what are the resources you would need to make that possible? And that’s when you can start being very tactical about, okay, if I need $10,000 to make sure this is going to be executable, where can I find that? I saw a great question in the chat of, I don’t want to take out loans. What else can I do to fund my business? I think there’s a lot of resources out there that maybe Black business owners don’t know about, that you really have to dig for, for example, getting in contact with your local government.

We have the Small Business Administration, which is the National Government’s Agency to help entrepreneurs and business owners in the United States. They have local branches, go to them, figure out how to get funding. There’s grant opportunities, great companies like Hello Alice that are specifically helping small business owners find those opportunities for funding and capital raising without having to take on loans, take on debt, ask friends and family.

And then the other piece, which we might touch on, we might not, I know we don’t have much time, is using technology to your advantage. I think so many Black business owners are wearing a million hats, and AI is a big elephant in the room. How can you use some tools to help automate your processes so you’re not doing everything yourself? Because once you have that list of things you need to execute, you need to find a way to do it. And most people are wearing too many hats. So figuring out those quick tech solutions that might be able to help jumpstart you are some really core things that I think people could slow down, spend some time thinking about that’ll set them up better for the future.

Danielle Young: I love that. Very practical things that people can do. And because of timing, I want to jump to a sort of different question for you, Daryn, about overcoming obstacles and accessing capital and resources. You touched a little bit on that, Sylvia, but Daryn, with your expertise, I would love to hear how can Black entrepreneurs overcome these obstacles when it comes to accessing money, getting resources, getting help financially to scale their business?

Daryn Dodson: One of the things that I had the opportunity to do, and there are many, many videos across the internet on Maurice Ashley, who’s the first African-American grand master in chess, I did a chance to sit down with Maurice and learn about an idea called retro analysis, beginning at the end of the game and play in the game backwards is how Chessmaster train. And I think that’s really useful and helpful for business too, is to think five years out and think about what has to be done today and where you really want to end up so that you don’t do all this hard work to build a company and end up in a place that you don’t want to be. And capital is one of the key areas and sources of capital that you can kind of think backwards from whether or not you want other folks to be owning parts of your company and sell parts of the equity in five years, whether or not you want to have debt partners as some have said that they would not like to have.

And then think about how you might position yourself to either get the types of partners that you want. I know within venture capital, generally we’re looking for businesses that have two conditions. One is that they’re non-consensus. In other words, many people, if you presented your idea, would be a little bit confused and not quite understand what you’re talking about. So when you present it to your close group of friends, don’t be worried that they don’t understand or don’t know about the innovation that you’re thinking of because the idea is that it’s breakthrough and it also hits a current and a broader society and makes a difference in the world and creates a lot of economic value. And in those cases, sometimes equity is a good solution. I know Madam CJ Walker looked for many equity partners and found a few when she was growing. Her company, of course, is a first Black millionaire and is extraordinary in terms of creating economic value.

A few other points on scaling, make sure to work down to the unit economics of the business so that you know that you’re making money with each unit you sell as opposed to losing money with each unit you sell. It sounds like a simple idea, but it’s actually one worth checking in on every single day, month, year, et cetera, so that the speed of growth leads to accretive value for the company, more ability to have credit for the business over time, more ability to be marketable to some of the great companies that LaToya has mentioned and talked about, et cetera. It’s small idea, but big impact in terms of unit economics. Also, LaToya hit on so many good things along with our other colleagues and panelists here. One of the many that we’ve talked about is the difference between what the business is going to drive versus what it’s going to partner around versus what it will refer out.

So lots of people come wanting lots of things when you start a business. Who you say no to is as important as to who you say yes to. And you’re going to say no to a lot of people, and that can be okay. It’s just that you want to stay focused on your vision of creating the product or service that you want to evolve over time. And if you can make money referring or partnering with others in other ways, that’s a great thing too. So just think about what you want to focus on and build over time as opposed to what you might partner around or refer. And those are a couple ideas that I wanted to share from our perspective at Illumen .

Danielle Young: That’s good.

LaToya Williams-Belfort: Danielle, can I jump in for one second? I just want to double click on one quick thing. We talked a lot about collaboration and networking, and I think entrepreneurship can be a very lonely journey. This is what we hear from all of the entrepreneurs in our business equity community. So we focus a lot on building community at the Pledge. And I think, again, timeshare is very limited for entrepreneurs, especially Black entrepreneurs, but finding communities, whether that be online, now that the world is opening back up. Conferences like this to be able to collaborate with other entrepreneurs. What are you doing? How’s your supply chain again? How’s your cost? What vendors are you using? I think being forward making time, being strategic about that is really important.

And the other piece about grants and resources, we know that as a community of Black entrepreneurs, access to capital is our number one barrier to entry, but there are a lot of resources out there. Again, the funding types vary depending on what you need, what you’re willing to partner around. But a lot of grants, a lot of resources, we give grants at the Pledge, we give a grant through our partnership with Google Shopping. We post grants on our social media, a variety of grants that are specific for Black owned businesses at different iterations of development. We partner with Citibank at the Pledge. Again, how we thinking about funding and loans and credit and all that stuff can be very scary. But there is huge opportunity for Black businesses across the spectrum of development. It’s like just get out there in the community, ask those questions. And I think that there are more resources, not enough, but I think there are more resources available than we all know about as a community of Black entrepreneurs.

Danielle Young: Yeah, y’all got to get out there, do your Googles and all kinds of things. I mean, even in this panel, y’all named a couple of amazing resources that people could access. So shout out to everyone out here watching. I know you wanted to send your questions in. They’ve been amazing questions, but our Yelp support has been answering a lot of those questions, so hopefully you guys feel like you got a lot of great answers. And before my panel gets out of here, Tara, are you kicking me out?

Tara Lewis: I’m just ready for you.

Danielle Young: Okay. Before my panel gets out of here, I would love for you to share a piece of advice that has been given to you in your career that sticks to your rib. You still use it, you still refer to it. It still motivates you and helps you move forward. And I’ll start with you, Sylvia.

Sylvia Atsaves: Mine’s going to be super simple. Stay the path and shout for help. We need to be so loud as a community, we cannot give up. Just because something’s not working out or you don’t know how to do something, doesn’t mean you should quit. So I think just stay on the path. And like LaToya said, there are resources out there that I think a lot of us don’t know about. So ask a friend, go to your local government, find a resource, cold reach out to us on LinkedIn, find a way and get the answer. Because I think more of us is what we need in the future.

Danielle Young: That’s good. You heard what you said, reach out, because a lot of the questions were, can we please touch the panelists? Can we get some time with them? So yes, reach out on LinkedIn. Mignon, any piece of advice that sticks to you.

Mignon Francois: Yep. I would say speak what you see till you see what you’ve said. You can have whatever you say, and there is a feeling that we talk about the way that we feel. But what I want to leave you with is you feel what you talk about. Your actions follow what you say, and the power of life or death exists right in your tongue. And the words that you say, you can choose to live abundantly or you can choose to live and lack. It’s all dependent on what you believe.

Danielle Young: That’s good. LaToya?

LaToya Williams-Belfort: Well, I’m going to say something that our founder, Aurora James said the other day that has stuck with me. She said, “What would a White man do?” And as Black entrepreneur in a lot of rooms, sometimes we don’t use our voice. We don’t go into community and ask for what we need. We don’t walk into banks and figure out what resources are available to us. We don’t try to attract the VC partners. We sometimes feel like that we don’t belong in certain rooms. And really, what would a White man do? A White man would push forward with his work and his voice and his product and his service. He would reach out for collaboration. It’s like think about not where you are and what’s not available to you, but beyond what may be feasible and how are you going to keep pushing forward and asking for what you need and pushing your way into rooms, into doors.

I feel like as Black entrepreneurs and Black people in business, we get accustomed to the expectation of hearing no. And of course there are systemic things at play and we have been locked out. But what would a White man do is what I like to think about all the time as we continue to push as our organization, as we push our work, as we push our proposition, our mission and vision, and continue to slam the table and let people know that Black business, being in partnership with Black entrepreneurs is good business.

And at a time where we started doing this work in 2020 at the 15 Percent Pledge, three years later, the landscape has totally changed. There’s a reversal of thinking that diversity and inclusion are good elements. So we’re continuing to push forward with our mantra, what would a White man do to get the equitable access that we all deserve to build generational wealth and to be the society that we all want to see and be? What would White men do?

Danielle Young: That’s really good. I love that. What would a White man do? And Daryn, last but not least, any advice that has stuck to you through your career that you’d like to share?

Daryn Dodson: Just the power, and Sylvia touched on the why of what we do. Mignon’s also touched on that powerfully. There’s an entire generation of young people that are coming up. I know the suicide rate for Black boys is at one of the highest it’s been in 10 years. And in terms of overall mental health in our community, I think that the pressures that we’re facing within business and overcoming these challenges are also unlocking the imaginations of young people that don’t feel like they may belong in an industry that’s 99% White men like the industry that I’m in.

But I think that this panel is here to say that that’s not true. This panel is here to say that by articulating the incredible ability to overcome challenges, rely on deepness and greatness within ourselves, our communities, our families, et cetera, we’re able to overcome some massive challenges and capital challenges are just the latest of many challenges that we as a people have overcome. So it’s wonderful to be here, celebrate the power of Black business, the power of the ideas that we’re discussing, the power of partnership, so many different things that others have brought up. There’s just a incredible ability to rally around this and push things forward.

Danielle Young: Love that. And also, what would a White man do? Thank you all so much. LaToya, Mignon, Daryn, Sylvia for joining us for this Art of Scaling Panel. Thank you for your expertise and your kindness and your insightfulness. And I’m Danielle Young, don’t forget me. And I’m going to turn it over to Tara. Thank you so much.

Tara Lewis: All right. Thank you so much, Danielle. Of course, we can’t forget you. You are such a fabulous moderator. Thanks again to all of our panelists working towards important benchmarks. Finding the right funding and managing growth along the way is certainly not easy. But we thank you once again for sharing such great insights today.

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