The TownhallBusiness

Dealing with the roadblocks founders run into

By John C. Baldwin 

There’s something about October. When the weather changes and daylight savings time arrives, it lets us know we’re on the verge of the new year. However, it’s also the coming of a season of depression. 

During my time serving my two-year commitment in Teach for America, they warned us that corps members often fell into a depression in October. So, we were encouraged to take a day off to relax and unplug. 

Whenever there is something new on the horizon, I feel a shift in my mindset. Doubt has slowly begun to creep in and the “what-ifs” are following right behind it. A series of events were the catalyst.  

Last week, I spoke with a friend – one I have shared a lot with over the past few years. We’ve known each other since college. A couple of bells went off in my head. First, he called FENDR a “project.” I wasn’t upset so much by what he said but how he said it. Then, he asked, “What companies are you applying to?” 

Reflecting on the incident, I wasn’t shocked as much as I was disappointed, but it answers a few questions about why “people of color” or “unrepresented” founders aren’t as represented in the tech world as we should be. Simply put, we turn around just as we gain momentum. 

Then, I received a message via LinkedIn from a large, reputable sales organization in the Bay Area that is a unicorn. It was regarding a mid-market sales position. Its base salary began at $190K and the average salesperson on the team makes about $300K after one year. It was an opportunity of a lifetime. One I had to pass up. 

Founders take risks every day. If I took that position, I would have fallen into that trap like many people before me. You’d promise to focus on your dream after work. Dedicate extra hours on the weekend.  

However, that job would require the same–if not more. Thousands of applicants want a shot at that company. It’s situated in FiDi (Financial District) of San Francisco and it’s magnificent. 

Coming from Dawson, GA, three hours south of Atlanta, not many people are given the opportunity to interview for such a position. Actually, the median household income of Dawson is $33K. 

I also had to remind myself that those same people wouldn’t pitch their startup to venture capitalists either. Please do not take this as an assault on the denizens of my hometown. They are great, hardworking, and honest people. The ability to be a great salesman did not come from me attending Morehouse but from the elders in my community who taught me to “Trust in the Lord, and he’ll make a way.” 

From my father, who quit attending Albany State when he was expecting his first child. He sacrificed so I could literally write these words on this computer. I lost my dad a few years ago but he had a work ethic like few men today. 

I think of the sacrifices he made and the inconveniences he made for his family, particularly me. Working late hours so he could try to send me to college because it was my dream. My father worked hard so he’d never let me down. He never did. 

When he and my mother divorced, he raised me because he didn’t want to lose me to the streets. I write this to acknowledge the sacrifice, uncertainty, and inconvenience parents go through for their child’s dreams. I am not a father, but FENDR is my baby. 

While my own cash flow is not where it needs to be to sustain in the Bay Area, I too must face the eye of uncertainty, the belly of sacrifice, and the gut of inconvenience. I’ve applied for jobs in grocery stores and movie theatres in the Bay Area this week. I need a job to sustain, but one that applies enough pressure for me to do what I need to do and accomplish what needs to get done. 

There is no dream of moving up the ladder. I will not sit too long because I have no intention of staying. Work my shift and leave to build FENDR. 

I am beginning to meet more people connecting me with people. While those conversations aren’t directly connected to investors who can write a check, it’s helping me think through my business model. 

I spoke with an underwriter who offered great insight into what each state requires regarding KYC or “know your customer,” a federal mandate implemented after 9/11. Some states are more relaxed than others, like Arizona. 

Each day, I’m learning more about the industry which, in turn, strengthens my pitch. Investors want to know they’re investing in someone who has carefully thought through their business. And if they do not have the answers, they will find it. 

When I decided to write about my journey via ScoonTV, I promised myself to be authentic and share what I know, learned, and felt while partaking down the founder path. Here is the unfiltered truth. 

One of the major barriers to entry for black founders is lack of capital, time, and networks. Just as it is difficult to hear ‘no’ from investors after pitching, it’s twice as difficult to hear doubt from family members and friends. 

After all, the investors don’t know you. They’re spending thirty minutes learning about your startup. However, family and friends know your potential, grit, and have seen how you have overcome challenges — or so you thought. While I value my friends’ opinions, neither of us are always right.  

When building a business, whether it’s a restaurant, a news aggregator with original content, or even a tech disruptor, realize there will be roadblocks. Prepare for the financial setbacks and be honest with yourself about how long you can last until you have to restrategize. But do not exit. 

I have an exit date when to call it quits for FENDR. The thing to remember is I’m not there yet. Until then, I’ll keep going. You do the same!

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John C. Baldwin

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