It’s been all over my social media feeds so I recently watched She Did That. It’s a documentary about Black women entrepreneurs overcoming obstacles to grow successful businesses. Renae Bluitt, the filmmaker, interviews Black women who founded successful brands. They talk about their trajectory from startup, to scale, and in one case to exit.
As someone who is focused on women’s entrepreneurship, the statistics were familiar – African American women are starting businesses at a faster rate than other groups and their businesses are growing at a faster rate. The documentary puts people and voices with those statistics to show you the incredible potential of Black women entrepreneurs and the unique challenges they face to grow businesses. It’s a must see for all entrepreneurs because while the stories are inspiring and specific, the lessons are universal.
The businesses in the film are all self-funded, which is not surprising considering that Black women received .0006% of VC funding between 2009-2017. In the film, Melissa Butler of The Lip Bar describes a frustrating experience on Shark Tank which is unfortunately frustratingly common for Black female founders. None of the investors understand her business, her market, and they certainly don’t invest.
While the venture capital scene is bleak for women, and even more bleak for Black women, the flip side is that these women describe the pride they have in building their business on their own. The shift to a more inclusive VC environment is maddeningly slow. But in the meantime, these founders funded their company in what I think is absolutely the best and cheapest way – by selling to customers that love their brands.
The film sheds light on the importance of self-care as an entrepreneur to maintain your mental as well as your physical health. Therapy, yoga, meditation, exercise, and simply putting yourself first every once in a while is something that a lot of entrepreneurs need to learn to embrace. I love the focus on mental health and find that so rare in our discussions with and about successful entrepreneurs.
“Collaboration in the new competition”
The numbers show us that potential and being part of a growing market does not guarantee a fair share of economic gains. By working together, businesses can often think bigger and punch above their weight. In our Diversity Masterminds course, we give participants a matrix for how to start small with collaboration to build trust and reputation. Then companies can expand into doing bigger projects together. The film provides excellent examples of businesses working with other complementary businesses, from simply supporting to working on projects together.
Start with the goal in mind
Lisa Price sold her company Carol’s Daughter to L’Oreal and continues to work in new product development for the company. She got push back about “selling out” at the time and she encourages viewers to see that kind of exit as a shared win, as opposed to a betrayal. There are short, medium, and long term benefits for Black communities when Black entrepreneurs succeed which include employment to creating generational wealth, to having capital to fund new ventures. As the Renae Bluitt says, “Entrepreneurship does not necessarily mean, til death do us part.”
Tanya Rapley of My Fab Finance talks about the value of multiple revenue streams to be prepared for market shifts and changes. Having a singular vision but multiple ways to generate revenue to get there helps mitigate the risks of starting something new.
The business case for diversity often centers around the purchasing power of diverse groups. For Black consumers in the U.S. that is $1.3 trillion USD. I often make the analogy to purchasing power being an account. If you were in charge of a $1.3 TRILLION dollar account – you’d want to make sure you didn’t lose that account, which the savvy big brands understand.
At the same time, as consumers, we all have the power to direct where our dollars go. Every year I publish my spend with other diverse companies. This year I recognized that I still have work to do in diversifying my supply chain. Keeping track makes me more aware of my business and personal spend and where to vote with my dollars. The film offers resources for consumers who want to #BuyBlack and if you want to learn more about the movement, I recommend Maggie Anderson’s Our Black Year (h/t Kate Weaver, Supplier Diversity Manager at Nestlè for turning me on to the book).
Even if the business stuff isn’t your bag (in which case it’s amazing you’ve gotten this far into the post) it’s wonderful to see Black History being made. The women in the film succeed, support each other and triumph. They’re also optimistic for the future and watching them, you can’t help but be optimistic too.