On March 17th, New York Urban League’s Young Professionals hosted an Entrepreneurship seminar. Our very own founder, Marc J. Kelly, was the panel moderator. The event opened with a game similar to “Go Fish” where participants matched modern day billionaire entrepreneurs with jobs they had before “making it.” The point of the exercise was twofold. It first illustrated that most entrepreneurs started their own business mid-life, to dismantle the conception that you must make it by 30 or it is over. The second point showed that regardless of your past, waitress or welfare recipient (JK Rowlings), you can be an entrepreneur.
The panelists for the discussion were: (1) Jasmine Bellamy of JBell Consulting; (2) Vanessa Cunningham of Unhealthy No More; (3) Nkrumah Pierre of PLG Consulting; and (4) Darnell Edmonds of Edmonds Production Group. Attendees took the seminar viral using the hashtags: #YPPower and #YPEntrepreneur.
Moderator Marc Kelly started by asking the panelists to tell the audience what they need to do to become an entrepreneur.
Understand the market. Identify a problem in the market. Solve the problem by becoming a “market disrupter.” – Nkrumah Pierre
1. WHAT DO YOU NEED TO BE AN ENTREPRENEUR
Jasmine Bellamy reminded everyone to first think of yourself as a brand. Then understand a need in the market and fill it. In order to be competitive, you need to understand the layout of the industry you are entering.
Vanessa Cunningham came from a corporate background working at Goldman Sachs. She suggested seeking out coaches and mentors so that you do not reinvent the wheel. She also echoed Jasmine’s comment of understanding the market. Vanessa encouraged participants to do your research. Find out who the key players and thought leaders are in the field you want to enter. Understand the legal aspects (incorporating), the financial and accounting aspects, and insurance impacts of running a business.
Darnell Edmonds came from an entertainment background working with Bad Boy Entertainment. Following up on Vanessa’s comment to research, Darnell suggests being a sponge and absorb information. Use your current job to bolster your knowledge base by trying things on someone else’s dime.
Nkrumah Pierre worked for years in sales before starting his own company. During that time, he earned the moniker, Master Connector, because he connected so many people. Those relationships are what draws clients to him. His advice summarized the group succinctly. “Understand the market. Identify a problem in the market. Solve the problem by becoming a ‘market disrupter.’” He cites Uber, Spotify, Facebook, and iPhone as market disrupters. Brands that entered the marketplace and changed it.
2. FUNDING YOUR BUSINESS
Vanessa Cunningham knew when she started her job at Goldman that she wanted to do something else. At the time, she was not sure what that was, but she started saving money and planning her exit from day one. Unlike most entrepreneurs, she had a nice nest egg to start her business. However, she does not suggest using your own money when there are other options. She had friends that participated in Business Plan Competitions receiving $10-20k for their startups. She said to never let money hold you back. Use social media, like Facebook, to start getting your brand out there.
Jasmine Bellamy said to use your inherent value. She worked with several major retailers, building a relationship with clients like Venus Williams and Nicki Minaj. When she was laid off, she used her relationships to consult. She advised keeping your 9-5 to fund your business until it is self-sustaining.
Darnell Edmonds found a niche in the travel market and developed a wallet/wristlet that contains everything you would need but typically have to empty in containers at TSA checkpoints. The wallet prevents loose change, losing boarding passes, and getting your watch banged or damaged in the scanner. Darnell suggested pre-sales as a way to grow out your brand.
Nkrumah Pierre suggested keeping your costs low. You do not need an office when there are co-working and co-sharing options. Use 1099 consultants so that you are not responsible for tax and employee overhead costs.
3. THE TIPPING POINT: “I’M GOING ON MY OWN!”
Vanessa Cunningham always knew that working on Wall Street was a catalyst for something else. The last six months at her job, there was so much turnover that she was considered the subject matter expert. The workload and stress landed her in the hospital, overweight, and acne faced. After her hospitalization, she gave two weeks’ notice and had no regrets. She had already taken night classes in nutrition, so the move was natural. Her parents were not happy with her leaving Wall Street, but it made sense for her health and her eventual brand. She used her nutrition knowledge to get the extra weight off and became acne free by changing her eating habits.
Jasmine Bellamy’s transition happened after a layoff. Her friend told her, “You are the most laid off person I’ve known.” She has weathered three companies going bankrupt. She used the lay-off to get her businesses running. However, she keeps a “side hustle” as an adjunct instructor teaching “Branding” at LIM.
Darnell Edmonds emphasized the need to have something to supplement your income. Don’t put your eggs in one basket.
4. BRANDING TIPS
Jasmine Bellamy shared some tips she gives her students. First, understand “Brand Me.” You are the first brand your clients will see before you start your company. “How we manage ourselves is how we manage our brands. Your integrity, who you are, and what you bring to the table represents your brand.” She quoted Jim Rohn, “Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishments.” She ended with a quote from Aristotle, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence is not an act but a habit.” Therefore, you should be consistently branding yourself.
Darnell Edmonds stated that your presence online and offline represents your brand. You might like something, but you need to objectively look at your brand to reach your target demographic.
Nkrumah Pierre noted that people need and want something to come back to on social media. Be discerning and careful. His advice is to transcend cultures because money is green, be objective, and disrupt the markets!
Excellence is not an act but a habit. – Jasmine Bell quoting Aristotle
5. NETWORKING & MANAGING CLIENTS
Nkrumah continued that in network and relationship building, it is important to add value first. Be innovative so that you can disrupt the market.
Darnell stressed the importance of strategic partnerships. Work with people you trust. You cannot do it alone.
Jasmine noted that networking tends to be a selfish endeavor. What can you do for me? She warns not to be selfish. Build and maintain relationships. “Your ability to collaborate with others is huge. Approach it with integrity. Under promise, but over deliver.”
Vanessa warns that the quickest way to lose clients is to not do what you say. Follow up in a timely manner. If you promise a response in 48 hours, then deliver or ask for an extension. Do not leave your clients guessing.
6. SOCIAL MEDIA: PROS & CONS
Nkrumah stated that we were in a “high tech-low touch world.” Social media allows us to put out what we are up to in the market. It is instantaneous. However, you can get deluged with so much media that we lose the one-to-one interaction. You have to balance. Be clear and concise with your elevator pitch on how you add value. Align and praise your friends.
Darnell said that social media is a necessary evil because many value your brand by your social media presence. You must build your brand to have an impact. Leverage for growth.
7. PUBLIC PERCEPTION OF AN ENTREPRENEUR OF COLOR
Darnell noted that if you are creating trends that lead to growth of the general market, people will take notice of your business.
Vanessa regretted the unfortunate hating on each other mentality. Stop operating from a point of insecurity and praise other entrepreneurs of color.
Jasmine stated that if you operate on excellence then you negate the crabs in the bucket mindset.
8. WHEN FAMILY & FRIENDS RUN OUT
Darnell noted that initially you will probably receive support from friends and family. However, you have to look at your brand and how to market beyond friends and family.
Jasmine admonished having “thick skin.” Understand that not everyone will necessarily be your fan. Even her mother would say, “Why don’t you get a regular job?” She understands her mother’s concern, but as an entrepreneur that was not what she needed to hear. Sometimes you will be alone.
Nkrumah noted that although his father was an entrepreneur, he would refer to Nkrumah’s business as that “thing” not a business. His father’s first question was have you made any money? “Understand that there will be failures. Not every business will be successful. Try again.”
9. WISH YOU WOULD HAVE KNOWN
Darnell wished he would have known how much is not about the work. It is the mental fortitude, not clients and products.
Vanessa wished she had patience in the beginning to appreciate the small things. You do not want to become ungrateful and greedy. Don’t rush.
Nkrumah wished he knew earlier to prioritize better. He would stay up nights answering every email (personal or business). Everything is not critically urgent.
Jasmine wished she knew she was as powerful then as she is now. Walk in it.
I wish I knew I was as powerful then as I am now. Walk in it. – Jasmine Bellamy