Early April: Raising money from friends and family
‘We just raised a seed round from friends and family. It allows us to raise and play as we go, which is helpful. Ideally I’d like to raise from legitimate investors, but we have to get traction first.
‘Friends and family sometimes don’t completely understand the game that they’re entering. They love you, they think you’re the smartest thing ever – but you have to tell them that it may not work out, that it’s a risk. I don’t want to let them down. Their love and adoration helps, because if you fail, it’s not as though they are going to love you any less. But then the pressure comes because it’s like: OK, now we have the money, it’s time to deliver.’
Late April: Turning down a big opportunity
‘One of the top venture capital firms in the US tells one of our investors that they’re interested in what we’re doing. It’s really exciting and more proof that we’re on the right track. They want to meet, but I tell my investor to wait for now – we need a bit of time because first impressions are important and I don’t want to mess up our first meeting. It was a tough decision to make because all founders like me are looking for a win, even if it’s a small one, to give us that extra boost we need. After all, what we’re doing is daunting: there’s no manager telling us what a good job we did this week. Having that conversation with the investor would have been a huge win for all of us, but it would have been a short-term win and we’re not in the short-term game. I want to be here for the long term.’
May: Letting someone go
‘A difficult thing takes place: I have to let someone go. We thought we had found someone who aligned with our mission, but it turns out they were only aligned with our mission and not our idea. As a result, we spent a year arguing over product goals. I feel like a failure because I was the one who pushed to bring them on. That person wasn't a great fit for our business, although that has nothing to do with him personally.
‘I told him that if I were an investor, I would invest in his ideas. But I’m not an investor – I’m a founder of this company and what he wanted to build didn’t align with what I and the rest of my team wanted to build. Afterwards, I have one of my best weeks in terms of happiness and productivity. I feel free and we can focus now. The team feels more aligned, as though much of the stress is gone. We were all coming to our weekly meetings with a lot of stress because we were afraid of what the meeting was going to be like.’
June: Landing on the product
‘We have our product, the app, but we’ve been going back and forth on what the direction should be. Is this 80% of the idea? Is it 30%? Is it 200%? We’ve been struggling with that for the past year. We end up arriving at the idea, which is really exciting – it’s amazing because we finally get it. I realize that we needed to go through this past year to get there. Where we landed follows the same thesis of where we started, but we had been derailed. We’ve learnt a lot more about why this is the right move. Before it was a hunch; now we have proof because we’ve been testing it – we’ve been talking to people. We saw what was working and what wasn’t.’
June: Co-founder tensions
‘I have to have a difficult discussion with my co-founder. We’ve had to make some big pivots in the past year as she wants to use some of our old concepts while I want to start from scratch – I’m a start-over kind of guy. It’s a bit like a relationship because if you’re going to move forwards, you have to start afresh.
‘There’s some tension because there’s a stalemate and I have to be the asshole for a couple of days. It’s something I’m struggling with in terms of my identity because, whether we like it or not, productive assholes get shit done. I don’t want to be that person, but we can’t both be building something from scratch and also be nice. The reason that the Fresh Fund exists is because black founders don’t get the same opportunities.
‘If I’m really particular about the vision, I have to stick to it but I’m learning that I don’t need to be the asshole all the time. You have to choose where it matters. We end up following my lead and doing it all over again. I think she realizes the benefits.’
A public-facing role
‘I make a short film for Courier. People love it. I get more than 100 comments on my Instagram and people who I’ve never met before are messaging me every week and asking for updates. It’s really cool to see. It’s almost like being a public servant – as though my constituents are, like, “Hey, when is the next thing going to be passed?” You almost feel as though you’re a politician in a way, because you can’t tell them the full truth.’
This article was first published in Courier issue 42, August/September 2021. To purchase the issue or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.