I woke up extra early to take a call at six am with a European investor. I really thought this was it; I had liaised with this venture fund, and now I was speaking with their CEO. It was happening. I attempted to look halfway decent and said a little prayer because, at this point, “bootstrapping” had turned into “sandal strapping” – I was literally down to the sole of this proverbial boot.
“Good morning, Jade,” the investor greeted me on the other line. “So nice to meet you.”
Then came the question.
“Why is She Matters only for Black women? Everyone needs therapy.”
Immediately, my heart sank. It was happening all over again – another investor attempting to convince me to change my business model. Evidently, to these types of investors, a Black woman whose business serves Black women experiencing mental illness is not a “pain point” that White men understand. So, I did what I always do – I went over our numbers and growing community, and what we wanted to raise; which, by startup standards, is pretty modest.
He stopped me and said, “This all sounds great and would be easy if you were not Black. Investors don’t like to give money to Black causes or Black founders. It is racist, I know, but it is the environment we are in.”
I don’t know what happened for a minute. I just quietly sat in the Zoom meeting. I felt like I was underwater, kicking and screaming, but I was still. What came out of my mouth surprised me.
I understand? Why are you accepting this? I thought to myself. The truth was and is: I am JADED.
This was a week before I wrote this post.
My story is not much different from other Black founders. Meeting after meeting and pitch after pitch, we are stopped in our tracks or asked questions at a minuscule level that White male founders are not. We are subject to criticism and belittled at levels that White male founders are not because we are Black – and that is racist.
I was so angry when I got off the call. I shed a few tears, looked at my daughters, and decided to send our deck to another investor. This is our routine; we have no choice but to move forward because those of us who are tech founders are first-generation founders, and our success is a cultural precedent.
This is important because, for those of you who are well-meaning White folks and our allies, you should understand your mission. It is not enough to simply say that you care about Black entrepreneurs and post a Black square or some colloquialism on your social media accounts —– you must also make connections between your Black founder friends and someone who can write a check. Yes, that is blatant, but it is the truth. Are you introducing Black founders to Angels, VCs, and mentors? Are you following up with them to hear about their experiences and then following up with blatantly biased investors? Are you acting as a mentor if you don’t have the financial connections or capacity? If you are not doing these things, then how can you call yourself an ally? The definition of an ally is to “combine or unite a resource or commodity with (another) for mutual benefit.” It is a verb, which means it requires action.
My experience isn’t unique; Black founders all experience racism in the entrepreneurial environment and, to be honest, if we are at this level of success, then we have likely already experienced racism at universities, in our jobs, and on our playgrounds. This is not new for us; what is new is the wave of White entrepreneurs who say that they want to help us in our pursuit of success.
My questions for White allies are simple: “How have you helped change White, male-dominated Silicon Valley culture?” and “Are you working with any Black founders in any capacity to help close the funding gap?”
If your answer is “no,” then please take down your “Amplify Black Voices” banner on LinkedIn, and stop talking to Black founders about closing the funding gap – because you are part of the problem.
Welcome to the conversation.