Building a company is difficult in itself. Building a company as a Black founder — a Black woman founder outside of Silicon Valley — only compounds entrepreneurial challenges.
Black people are often brought up to hear, “You have to be twice as good to get half as far. And unfortunately for Black women, it’s even more than that. The metrics for Black female entrepreneurs are widely known: receiving less than 1% of VC funding raised by startups, all while dealing with the effects of tech’s systemic racism issue. Entrepreneur and Resilia CEO Sevetri Wilson knows all too well about overcoming insurmountable odds, as a Black solo-founder from New Orleans who went on to raise $11M in venture capital funding. Despite the odds she has succeeded — and continues to succeed — in an industry where more often than not, people that look like her, are unable to beat the odds.
Her story is one of many Black founders: from self-funding to venture capital success, and through her new book, Resilient she provides a road map for how founders can navigate tech (and life) without having to go through some of the challenges she faced during her journey. Ahead of her virtual book tour, which features special guests such as Master P, Baron Davis and more, she shares a few snippets of the advice she offers to founders in her book, what resilient means to her and things she wishes she knew along her journey.
What does the word ‘resilient’ mean to you?
I remember one day I just Googled the word ‘resilience’ and the definition that returned was, ” capable of withstanding shock without permanent deformation or rupture.” That definition literally described my entrepreneurial and founder journey. As an entrepreneur, I look back on my journey and I’m so glad I didn’t let the process jade or change me. Building a business can be volatile. There are so many ups and downs, so many “no’s”, so many “maybe next time” and doors that close on us that it can harden you if you let it. Being able to have the resilience to withstand what’s thrown at you and to still come out of it better and on top is what resilient means to me.
What’s the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?
One of the biggest obstacles I’ve had to overcome on my founder journey has been accessing the right resources at the right time. We often talk about raising capital which is one of the resources that I needed for my startup and I could talk days on how challenging raising $11M was for what is now Resilia, but it’s also about accessing the right people and resources that can help you grow your company. This can be hiring, this can be getting an introduction to a key customer, whatever it is accessing the right resources has always been an obstacle as I’m sure it is for many. Thus, I’m always strategizing about ways to break through barriers and to overcome any obstacle that is holding me back or preventing the company from growth.
What advice do you have for other founders when it comes to bootstrapping their business for success?
If you don’t know by now, people will know after reading my book that I’m a big fan of bootstrapping. When bootstrapping your business you have to stay as lean as possible for as long as possible. That expensive logo and website design? Don’t spend the money there. That office space that you think will impress clients? Forego it. Though now that’s even less of a problem in a virtual world. Even in a bootstrapped world cash is king and you’ll need to spend it on the things that really drive growth in your business. Additionally, you need to drive revenue as quickly as possible. Figure out what’s the lowest barrier to do this. If you have a product and it’s not ready for launch, think of ways you can substitute other services to potential clients in lieu of having a full baked product. This will not only get you revenue in the door but it will also allow you to work directly with a customer around their problems which will only enhance your end product when it’s ready.
In your book, you talk about overcoming everything, but we know for Black founders especially, that’s more of an uphill battle. What do Black founders need to know while navigating their startup journey? What is the one thing you wish that you knew?
Yes, I do say “overcome anything” because I believe it’s a mentality, right? Even if you fail at something you still have to overcome that feeling of failure or a mindset shift that can happen when you fail at something. If you can overcome the most challenging parts of your life, pick yourself back up, and try again or try something new then you truly can overcome anything. Only when we remain defeated do we remove the ability to overcome anything. For Black founders especially we just generally face more barriers. It is an uphill battle and not only are you climbing up the hill, but you’re doing so while trying to dodge 1000 ton stones rolling down the hill as you climb up. What Black founders need to know is it doesn’t matter how many times you say things aren’t equal or fair it won’t change your situation. So knowing this ask yourself what are you going to do despite it? One thing I wish I knew on my journey early on
What’s the one takeaway you want to leave founder’s with after reading your book?
I want founders to know that if I can do it, a Black female founder from the south with little to no resources, then they can do it too. But I don’t just want to say that I give actionable, and tangible steps on how I did it.