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We asked Chris Denson of Innovation Crush to ask Melissa all the questions we had about founding, building, and advising before she starts interviewing other guests.

About Chris Denson

Chris Denson is an award-winning innovator, marketer, recovering comedian, and host of the Innovation Crush podcast, with over 750,000 subscribers around the world.

Website: Chris Denson

Website: Innovation Crush

Twitter: Chris Denson

Instagram: Chris Denson


0:00:05.0 Melissa Bradley: From Sermons Beyond Sunday and Kinetic Energy Entertainment, this is Founder Hustle.

0:00:11.0 Chris Denson: Even in that first arena, you talk a lot about the difference between founders and CEOs, or at least journeying from one to the other, and maybe not everybody’s cut out to be both.

0:00:20.8 MB: That’s correct.

0:00:21.3 CD: Talk to me a little bit about that relationship.

0:00:24.3 MB: Yeah. It’s always okay. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with being a founder. But then they say, why do I wanna have all these things. I wanna be able to hire people, I wanna have an exit. I’m like, if you say you wanna build a business and you want to hire people, then you’ve got to get out of the founder mindset and move to a CEO, and to your point though, sometimes you might not be a CEO, and that’s okay. 

0:00:43.8 MB: Welcome to Founder Hustle, a podcast series by, for and about the new majority entrepreneur. I’m your host, Melissa Bradley, founder of 1863 Ventures. In each episode, I interview a new majority entrepreneur to create a safe space for them to be honest with you about their journey. These founders will redefine and represent the true definition of what it means to hustle, and their stories will demystify, uplift and educate anyone who is interested in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. As the general partner of a venture fund, I want to highlight the tools, strategies, lessons and support systems that are the blueprint for becoming a successful entrepreneur, and shift your perspective on what it means to go from founder to CEO.


0:01:40.8 MB: Today, we’re gonna do things a little bit differently, and if you ask me, a little bit uncomfortable. Today, I’m the one being interviewed by Chris Denson, who is an American innovation expert, marketer and humour enthusiast. Most importantly, he is host of the podcast Innovation Crush, which serves up a giant helping of some of the best minds around the world, all with the heaping side of occasional bad jokes, and I can certainly attest to that last part. It was an honour and privilege to laugh, to listen and to talk with Chris. As some of you know, I’m already a parent, I’m a professor, I run an accelerator, I run a venture fund, and I’m a cofounder of a tech company. So you may be wondering, why in the heck do I want to do this as well. After all these years of working with entrepreneurs, there is one thing I know to be true, we are all #workinprogress, whether it’s starting a business or growing existing enterprise, it is my mission for founders to have access to honest, realistic feedback and support. I truly believe it’s my personal mission to reduce friction, provide information to derisk the business idea and help maximize return for the founder, the business and their community. I’m excited for you all to listen, learn some valuable lessons, and hopefully enjoy the journey.


0:03:01.3 CD: Well, well, well, welcome, welcome, I’m gonna say everything three times, is that okay with you? 

0:03:06.5 MB: It’s fine.

0:03:07.1 CD: Melissa Melissa Melissa.

0:03:08.6 MB: Now you sound like my mom.

0:03:10.3 CD: Bro, wow…

0:03:10.8 MB: When I’m in trouble.

0:03:12.0 CD: What did you get in trouble most for as a kid.

0:03:14.5 MB: Not eating my vegetables and not wanting to do my homework.

0:03:18.5 CD: The homework part catches me off guard because you’re a celebrated entrepreneur, thought leader, movement leader. If I was at a dinner party with you and I had never met you before, give me the 101, the brief like 90-second elevator Melissa Bradley pitch.

0:03:34.2 MB: From New York, New Jersey, went to Georgetown, majored in Finance, deeply committed to helping the Black community become wealthy and regain our power.

0:03:43.3 CD: That is very eloquently… See, I told you, you did you homework. So I heard through the grapevine that you are starting a podcast.

0:03:51.8 MB: I am. Thanks to my friend I am.

0:03:54.2 CD: Thanks to you friend, a mutual friend, Irish.

0:03:55.7 MB: Exactly.

0:03:56.0 CD: She courses a lot of people and she is doing a lot of things…

0:03:58.4 MB: She does, we love her anyway.

0:04:00.1 CD: That don’t necessarily know they want to do. So speaking of which, what was the uncomfortable hump for you in getting into the podcast game, and why did you eventually land on saying yes to it.

0:04:09.5 MB: I think there were two things. One is I listen to podcasts every now and then, and I think partly ’cause every time I go into an app, there’s thousands, and I’m like, do we really need one more? And then I think the other piece was, should it be me? And partly because I speak a lot, but I tend to speak my mind. And like today I was at a conference and I said some stuff, and some people walked out the room, they just weren’t ready to hear that. And so I was like, “I’m not sure the world is ready.” And then after talking to my entrepreneurs around what they were listening to and where they were getting advice, I said, “okay, why not? If not me, then who?” And I think I am old enough, experienced enough, and in some cases, probably brave enough or don’t have the same little risk that I will say whatever I think needs to be said, even if nobody else wants to say it.

0:04:57.9 CD: Can you give us an example, what caused people to walk out of this room today? 

0:05:01.5 MB: Oh yes, so it was a room of asset managers who were not Black, for a discussion on why they should invest in Black GPs, and I said, “you all have an asset-based strategy, correct?” And they all said “yes.” I said, “well, and it’s ironic to me since I or more importantly my relatives as Black people we’re the underlying assets for many of your financial institutions, so why can I not be an asset manager? But I was an asset, and when can I move from being the asset to being an asset manager?”

0:05:36.2 CD: Yeah, that’s the truth.

0:05:37.6 MB: It was the truth, and then people get a little nervous. I got a little side-eye, and this one woman, she just walked up and left and I thought she was just going to pee and come back, and then she never came back, and I was like, well, and I asked the people who put it on and they were like, no, you said exactly what we needed you to say.

0:05:48.3 CD: She did the fake telephone call or? 

0:05:49.5 MB: She didn’t even do that. She just like looked at me. And then just got up and walked out.

0:05:53.6 CD: Okay, so let’s back up a little bit, you obviously have this passion kind of just brewing constantly inside you. Where did that come from? ‘Cause I think a lot of us have it to some degree, but do we act on it to the degree that you have done historically, but also say it like, that was your mission outright. Where did that come from? 

0:06:10.3 MB: It definitely was not a mission outright. When I went to Georgetown, I was like, I’m going to Wall Street to make a lot of money. And I was walking across campus, I’ll never gonna forget, my friend Janine yelled across and said, what are you doing for your community? And I was like, “I’m volunteering,” and she was like, “Okay, well, you can probably do more.” So I started to volunteer. And I think a combination of volunteering with kids who were “at risk youth.” And the slap upside my head that when I decided I was going to leave corporate America and I wanted to raise money for my business and I went to the SBA, they told me no. And I was like, “Okay, cool. Just give me the reasons, and I’ll come back next week and fix them.” And she was, “Well, you’re Black, you’re a female and I don’t know any Black women in financial services.” And I was like, “What?” And I was like, “Those are your only reasons?” And she was like, “Yeah, the plan was great.”

0:06:57.6 CD: Was that positioned just almost like a favour of giving you that information? Or was it like…

0:07:02.1 MB: I think maybe she thought she was doing me a favour.

0:07:03.9 CD: Yeah, because it’s very blatant.

0:07:04.9 MB: Right, right. But, this was score. So this was the volunteer group of retired executives, but they were, at the time they were doing prescreening for applications and I was like, “Oh, okay,” and I, like my mom just like, popped into my head, like, “get out of the building now,” otherwise, I was just going to go off on this woman. And when I got to the bottom floor of the building, it was nine floors, I said, “I will do whatever I can, to make sure this never happens to somebody who looks like me again.” And between working in the community and from Georgetown and seeing the disparities and being one of those kids, right, who came from one of those communities and not being wealthy and living below poverty and mom working multiple jobs and being embarrassed when I went to the store because we had food stamps. I was like, this is really all about a narrative. And it’s an inaccurate one and so what can I do to help change that narrative? And it’s funny, ’cause even as I say that, I was a finance person. But I think what I try to do is, tell stories through numbers, because your numbers are nothing but a story. Your financial statements are nothing but a story and reflection of your values.

0:08:08.4 CD: That’s great, kind of go back to a conversation I had with Diana recently about the impetus of this. And she also went to Georgetown with you. And she’s like a lot of my peers who were Caucasian and came from backgrounds and family… So the conversation at the dinner table was about business, and blah, blah, blah, like all this sort of terminology we may not get if we’re food stamp recipients and maybe your mom’s not even home to have the dinner with. So how does that resonate with you as far as the birth of a storytelling medium? 

0:08:35.6 MB: It’s huge. I think as you say it, what comes to mind is this, what do stories do. So I think stories help people feel something. And I think the first thing is I want the stories we tell to help entrepreneurs feel like, they’re doing the right thing. Because I think too often they’re told that’s dumb. People told me, “Go get a job.” And I was like, “but it is a job.” And so I think that’s the first thing. I think the second thing is to you really send a different signal effect to the world. What makes a successful entrepreneur? It doesn’t have to be, White guy went to school with whose parents were entrepreneurs, and his uncle’s an investment banker and his friends and family round is two million. It is a universal concept. And I think the third thing is probably somewhat more political, small p, which is if you think about where this country is going, I don’t use the word minority, I use the term new majority because people of colour globally are the majority. And certainly in the United States, we’re about to be there.

0:09:32.6 MB: And I recognise that scares people. And so I think part of it is putting accurate facts out there that can ultimately change people’s mind. Because much like the SBA experience, or even now, like if I go raise money for our fund, people see me and they create a story in their mind about what they see. I want them to hear different stories with the same face and hopefully change the narrative in their head. There was an award I got, as I come on Washington’s like power broker list. And so, in the text, it says, “Who’s always speaks her mind.” And I was like, “Well, that was a subtle way of saying I scare people.”

0:10:08.5 CD: Yes, there you see. And I think it’s a two-fold thing, right? I think when you have an opportunity, which you’re creating opportunities, or at least giving information for people to create their own opportunities, that can be scary.

0:10:17.4 MB: That’s right.

0:10:17.9 CD: Once you have the information and you know better and not like you know better but you know better information.

0:10:23.9 MB: That’s right.

0:10:24.0 CD: It’s scary to venture into the new and the maybe even more encompassing or larger. What has been your experience with that or at least maybe encountering other entrepreneurs who have been up against that, like the threat of awesomeness, I guess? 

0:10:36.0 MB: So it’s interesting, and people talk about the imposter syndrome. And I have to say, we have over 8000 entrepreneurs in our network at 1863 and I’d say about 30% of them suffer from imposter syndrome. But that is because they’re listening to somebody else’s narrative. The first session we do every single time is called the entrepreneurial mindset in our… All of our accelerator programs. And in there we talk about or I talk about, and really push people like, “What is an entrepreneur?” Like, we look at all the academic terms, and I’m like, is there somewhere there you don’t see yourself because none of the textbooks say entrepreneur is a White guy [chuckle], right? They say, resilient and creative. And we kind of just go through this whole thing and then at the end, I go, “So what y’all waiting for?” Like, “What are you possibly waiting for?” And so I do think that, much like media, right, I mean, we’re sitting in LA. If I don’t see myself, I don’t believe it. And all of the historical examples of successful entrepreneurs have not looked like me.

0:11:31.1 CD: Yeah, soft skills. It sounds like and even in my own experience, like the soft skills necessary for success are different for Black entrepreneurs in a lot of ways. Maybe there’s, in addition to, the traditional like soft skills and imposter syndrome, and all the other things that come up. What are some of those things that you’ve seen, they’re important soft skills set? 

0:11:53.0 MB: I would say resilience, because you’re definitely gonna hear no, probably a 1000 times more than somebody else. I would say… It’s gonna sound hokey, but like, positivity. And I think it’s really positivity. And even when people keep throwing stuff at you, you just want to spin it and say, “Let me tell you why I think this is a good idea.” I mean, people all the time say, “Well, this is the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard.” I’m like, “Let me keep telling you, why?” And some of that plays into resilience. I think the biggest skill though, is unabashed passion. What I find is, even if people don’t necessarily agree with me, which happens quite a bit, they will say to me, “I don’t know I agree, but I really appreciate your passion.” And I think that’s really what it takes. And I think a lot of entrepreneurs show up, particularly Black entrepreneurs show up, as what they think somebody is expecting, and then they don’t get what they need. I mean, it’s ironic, right? It’s similar to the whole PPP loan, right? The average loan for a Black entrepreneur was $5000.

0:12:48.0 MB: Right? That was the average loan. [chuckle] So when you look at all these wonderful grant programs right now, they’re like $5000. People are like, “Why $5000?” “Because that’s what we applied for.” And, I say it’s because we applied for…

0:12:57.8 CD: That was a sarcastic whistle, by the way.

0:13:00.4 MB: No, I get it, I get it. Because, I’m like, “What are you going to do with $5000?” Right? And what I find is that people were applying for what they thought they could get, not what they need. And so what I think is important is to be able to say, “No, no. You are worth everything you want. Period.”

0:13:15.5 CD: That appeared in my life, where I was brokering a lot of relationships between startups and big brands, and I was working for an agency that represented those big brands. And, a friend of mine was like, “Oh, do you get a piece of those deals?” And I was like, “No.” And she’s like, “Hold on, hold on, hold on.” [chuckle] And she’s like… Told me to back up. And one of the conversations that we had with that was so powerful and that stuck with me, I don’t know, six years now, was that most of us as new majority come up with less-than means.

0:13:38.1 MB: That’s right.

0:13:39.1 CD: And you learn this habit of, “You take what is given to you.”

0:13:43.4 MB: That’s right.

0:13:44.2 CD: And that come from your parents. It’s like, “Don’t ask me for nothing else. You got what you got. You don’t need no new shoes, blah, blah, blah.”

0:13:49.3 MB: That’s right.

0:13:49.5 CD: So there’s a psychology that you grow up with that’s just buried in you.

0:13:54.0 MB: And it stays with you.

0:13:55.0 CD: You forget to ask for better.

0:13:57.6 MB: That’s right. I mean, I think it’s a great point. I hadn’t really thought about it that way, in terms of like, that’s what we grew up with. And I remember at my house, my mom would say, “You always have to be 100% better than everybody else.” And, I’m like, “I don’t know… “

0:14:06.1 CD: That’s a lot of pressure.

0:14:06.5 MB: “I think my 100% pretty damn good.”

0:14:08.5 CD: Yeah.

0:14:08.7 MB: But, you’re right. And I think that then we all grow up, and then we just keep reinforcing that over and over again. It’s huge.

0:14:14.6 CD: Yeah, I guess what has been your biggest hurdle to overcome? Sometimes when we look at somebody who’s on the “mountain top” and we’re like, “Ah, alright, let’s follow her,” and then you’re like, “Well, I don’t know what I’m doing, either.” [chuckle] What’s that thing that keeps kinda itching at you on a day-to-day basis, or maybe it’s something that took you a long time to master? 

0:14:34.6 MB: [0:14:34.7] ____, I’m just still trying to get to the mountain top, brother. I think, I’m still climbing up the side. I think, the thing that I still need to work on, and I think I’m mindful is my vulnerabilities, that even on my best day, I’m like, “Am I doing the right thing?” I got six kids.

0:14:51.4 CD: Six? 

0:14:51.8 MB: Six kids. Yeah. Two young twins.

0:14:54.4 CD: Don’t you have somewhere you need to be right now? [laughter]

0:14:55.6 MB: [chuckle] No. Luckily, no. Right? Four are off and take care of themselves. And I still have two teenage girls who are 14, and if you ask them, they’ll be like, “Whew, my mom could do all these things better.” And, and so I think the one thing that I always struggle with and try to balance is, “Is this what I should be doing? And am I doing the right thing?” Because I… Obviously, being a Black female, I know how hard it is to grow up in this world. It’s certainly not getting any better. My mom, who’s 93, goes, “Y’all ain’t see nothing yet.” Like, “You’re about to almost experience what I experienced, but not quite.” And so, I own and recognise the opportunity cost, and so I’m afraid sometimes. I’m just straight up like, “Is this really what I should be doing? Is this the right use of resources?” Because, I don’t wanna fail. And, I think that that’s also something we grew up with like, “You can’t make a mistake.” And certainly, Black entrepreneurs, like you can’t make… We can never make a mistake. Like you lose $5, well, go find it. Or you’re gonna take it out your pocket. What… Meg and whatever that Dragon show was, that little short-lived app, like a $100 billion, right? And they lost it all.

0:15:54.8 CD: Yeah.

0:15:55.3 MB: So, I am mindful that in my own mind, I can do anything in the world, and there’s still some people saying, “Slow your roll, slow your roll.”

0:16:05.1 CD: I like that idea of mistakes. I think about a quote that I heard once, someone said, “Just because you make a mistake, doesn’t mean you are a mistake.”

0:16:11.8 MB: That’s correct.

0:16:12.4 CD: And a lot of times we’re like, “Ah, it’s the end of the world.”

0:16:15.1 MB: That’s right.

0:16:16.2 CD: “I put the wrong number on that line, and now my life is ruined.”

0:16:19.4 MB: That’s right.

0:16:20.2 CD: How do you prevent yourself from going down that rabbit hole? I think Tony refers to them as mind movies? 

0:16:27.1 MB: Yeah.

0:16:27.2 CD: Right? You’re like, “Oh, ’cause if this doesn’t happen, then this won’t happen, and then that won’t happen, and I’m gonna starve, and be out on the street and be an embarrassment to society.” Like… [chuckle]

0:16:34.6 MB: Oh, so I used to have those a lot. And, I will say that in April of 2020, I had a stroke, in June of 2020, a heart surgery. And, it was all because of stress. And, my stroke was caused because I had AFib and it just lasted for 12 hours, I never got out of it. And then, I had a heart condition which caused all that. And I think that moment of like, literally… I guess, you say it’s like your life epiphany, like I wasn’t going to die, but when I got up on that table to have my heart surgery, I was like “Yo, this is like some Star Trek shit and if I don’t come out, like this is pretty scary.” And it said to me… This is your chance. Like, what is that Iyanla said, “First you get a whisper, then you get a tap on the shoulder, then you hit the brick wall.” And I was like, “Okay, I just came shy of hitting the brick wall.” And when I came out of that, I was like, I just gotta do what I gotta do. Like, I gotta put all those things behind me. Clearly, whatever I’ve been doing and spinning those mind movies has not been helpful. It’s just added stress. There’s enough pressure in the world, just being alive is enough pressure in the world, that I was like, “Why am I making it even harder on myself? I should not be my exponential enemy.” And so, I just shut it down.

0:17:48.9 CD: That’s great.

0:17:49.1 MB: Yeah.

0:17:49.9 CD: Yeah. I had a stroke too.

0:17:51.9 MB: Wow.

0:17:52.3 CD: Of genius. [laughter] I have ’em all the time. So, I’m gonna say something it might be like counter-cultural, ’cause I also think on the flip side of being Black or a person of the new majority, you can easily default to… “‘Cause I’m Black, I didn’t get this.”

0:18:14.2 MB: That’s right.

0:18:14.3 CD: Or, “This did not happen.” Or, “Oh, it’s ’cause I’m… ” fill in the blank, really.

0:18:19.7 MB: Sure.

0:18:21.6 CD: Is that correctable or recognisable, in oneself, in the entrepreneurial journey? 

0:18:27.1 MB: Yes, absolutely. And I think the distinction there is when we try to share our narratives or talk to other people, or course-correct what they’re thinking, it’s important that we don’t come from the personal, but we come with data. So as a finance person, I would say, this may be one of the reasons why I’ve actually gotten this far, is because even in my conversation today with a woman who ended up walking out, I gave a whole bunch of statistics before she walked out. So I said, “Let me set the table so that you’re comfortable. And we’re all starting from the same place.” And so I do think it’s important that we are mindful as we share this information or we’re doing whatever we’re doing, that we can separate… That we don’t take it personally. ‘Cause at the end of day, this really isn’t about me. I do what I do for my community, I do what I do for Black entrepreneurs. I… You do too. We both could easily be sitting somewhere, doing absolutely nothing in the corner, with the window office making tons of money, and probably could drive by all the neighborhoods where our cousins, and be like, “Hey man what’s up.”

0:19:27.8 MB: And so I just think it was important that in order for me to do that, I had to de-personalize it for myself. So when people say stupid stuff, I’m like, “Hey, let’s… Let me help you out.” And I find two plus two is always four. If you come with the data, and particularly if it comes from some source they think is vital or valid, then they may not change their minds in the moment, but I have heard people say, “Hey, I saw so and so, and they quoted you.” Or, “I saw so and so, and they were using this step, but you were the first person to tell me about it.” And so… This is a long game. And so I’m like, if that changes somebody’s conversation, somebody’s mindset 20 years from now, when my youngest kids are 34 and trying to do something, then it’s worth it.

0:20:06.7 CD: Yeah, it’s funny ’cause it’s almost like a combination between thick skin and discernment.

0:20:11.9 MB: That’s right.

0:20:12.0 CD: The discernment part is a little bit harder. I had the lovely pleasure of going to Ghana a couple of months ago, and mentored a group of youth from Miami. Matter of fact, Leanne Buchanan says, hello.

0:20:23.9 MB: Love her.

0:20:24.6 CD: And so there was a guy who went with us on the trip, and we all… We had a lot of circle time, just personal development…

0:20:29.3 MB: That’s what happens when you go to Africa.

0:20:30.5 CD: Yeah, yes, exactly, there’s a lot of circles. And the guy talked a lot. So one time he got ready to say something and I was like, “Keep it brief.” And he was like… He laughed and then he stopped laughing and he was like, “You know what? Actually, most of my life people have been telling me to be quiet and… ” I’ve been muted, is how he kinda phrased it. And then I pushed back again, I was like, “Well, this isn’t that.” I didn’t say it in those words, but I was just like… The discernment of me telling you to give up some time for everyone else and get out of yourself and not over-correct and overcompensate for something that was done to you.

0:21:06.0 MB: That’s right. That’s important, yeah.

0:21:06.1 CD: So I resonated with that. You talked about the long game, and I think in today’s society, maybe you can correct me if I’m wrong on this hunch, but the culture of immediacy versus playing the long game. “I wanna get my money quick, I wanna make a million or a billion dollars quick, and then… ” But that could take 10, 15, 20 years on average, I don’t know. But how do you help people balance between what’s short-term success versus, long-term game plan? 

0:21:33.8 MB: Yeah. It’s interesting, most of the entrepreneurs that we come in contact with… I’d say most people that I come in contact with, I think that they are fascinated by all the short-term immediacy stuff. And I think at some point in time, everybody I know has tried it, ’cause well, why not, why can’t I? And then I think when they realise the trade-offs, or the opportunity costs of going that path, they all come back and say, “Okay, I tried it, it didn’t work, let me come the other the way.” And so as a finance person, we all know, despite what you may believe, greatest returns have come over long-term investments in the stock market, that’s where people have gotten their wealth. What’s important, I think that most people don’t always assume or understand about Black entrepreneurs is that, yeah, they wanna be wealthy, but it’s not just self-wealth, it’s usually community wealth. And so I always say, “Look, we are not gonna undo 400 plus years of structural racism just because you sell a company tomorrow, at a valuation that could have been 10X if you waited 10 years from now. And you’re probably not gonna have the same impact because most of it’s gonna go to taxes, and you will not have created all those jobs.”

0:22:28.8 MB: And so most of our entrepreneurs are like, “Look I wanna keep my company, I wanna create jobs in the community, I wanna hire that brother on the corner. I wanna get people off the street when they come out of prison.” And so I think I have been fortunate that the majority of entrepreneurs that I have come in contact with are leading with a community lens and a lens around lifting our boats and not just their own. I think there’s gonna be some people out there who are like, “Hey, I just wanna get some quick… I’m gonna do some Instagram.” But, no disrespect but that’s not an entrepreneur. Just ’cause you got an Instagram page, and you’re selling some advice, that’s not really an entrepreneur. And I don’t say that in a bad way, I’m just like, that’s not who I’m trying to focus on. I’m trying to focus on those businesses that are trying to grow, that are trying to create jobs, that are trying to create wealth in community, because the reality is if Black businesses had been invested in, in parity with their White peers, we would have a zero unemployment rate in a place like Washington DC. So those are the folks I’m hanging out with, the folks who understand this business is more than just themselves.

0:23:27.7 CD: Yeah, when was the last time you failed, either personally, in your personal life, or in business life? And what did that feel like, and what did you do about it? 

0:23:37.2 MB: So I probably failed regularly as a parent. My kids constantly remind me, and luckily they are quick to forgive. And I think failure is how you define it, but I think failing to say goodbye, just so busy rushing out the door to go do something else. Failing to not always talk about chores, they’re like, “Mom, I got the chores.” And just asking how they’re doing. I think professionally, in some aspects, I think professionally I fail every single day. I am mindful that in growing this business that we’re working on and the fund, there is so much about this that I focus on the end goal that every day I know I’ve failed to listening to somebody on my team who has a good idea, or I have failed at thinking about something differently, ’cause when you’re over 50 it’s kinda like, “What’s she gonna tell me new?” And I’m getting over that by just trying to be open. Essentially, you said muted. I have been… People have said to me, “You don’t say as much.” I’m like, “‘Cause I don’t want to, and I don’t need to.” I need to listen more. I need to hear what other people are going through. I know my narrative, I know all my entrepreneurs narratives, but there’s another story there. It changes with generation, it changes from year to year. So I think in both cases, the two big takeaways are, slow down and be present and listen.

0:24:58.8 CD: Speaking of listening, back into the podcast, one of the things I love about just interviewing, hosting, etcetera, etcetera, is in many ways, they become free mentor sessions. You’re like, “I got that one thing that’s itching at me, I’m gonna ask about this and get some free advice real quick.”

0:25:10.7 MB: That’s right, that’s right.

0:25:12.4 CD: But what are you excited most to do with this, to see it go places for you personally? What’s the ecosystem of happiness around this new series? 

0:25:22.1 MB: So you nailed it. The happiness is one, just learning. I think that there are so many entrepreneurs out there whose stories, I don’t know. And more importantly, other people don’t know, and I just wanna hear what they are, to really just reflect the diversity of our experience. ‘Cause I think it’s kinda like, you’re either on Shark Tank or you’re not. So I look forward to that, ’cause there’s so many other things in between. I think the other piece is demonstrating that we are not an anomaly. I’m a huge WNBA basketball fan. And I think the perception of women in sports changed, because women have always played basketball.

0:25:54.9 MB: We’ve had other versions of leagues. We had the American basketball league. But as soon as the WNBA came on and it unfortunately or fortunately had the validation of the NBA and now 25 years later has grown into its own brand. That’s what I want to happen from our entrepreneurs. I want people to see that we have teams and teams and teams and teams and franchises of Black entrepreneurs, that if they can get validated, because somebody listened to them and shared their story, it allows even more entrepreneurs to have hopefully a frictionless path to success. And the other piece is… And this is, maybe a little bit hubris, but I don’t hear what I think entrepreneurs need to hear. I hear a lot of people telling, “Is easy,” and, “Oh girl, you can make a million dollars in a month.” And, “Just do this. Just buy my package.” And I’m like, “That’s not gonna help my people.”

0:26:45.6 CD: Yep.

0:26:46.8 MB: That’s not gonna help my people.

0:26:48.3 CD: No, I have an outline for a deck on my computer that I’ve had for two months [chuckle] and it’s just, the energy to get over the… Over my own hump. It’s not to carve out the time, like, “Oh, I don’t have enough time to… ” I haven’t made the time. I haven’t cleared my space for it…

0:27:01.8 MB: That’s the key, I told Diana I had no time. She was like, “Lemme look at your calendar.” She’s like, “What is all this?” And I was like, “Just some stuff,” she’s like, “Get rid of it.”

0:27:09.7 CD: Well, it’s the stories we tell ourselves about our own existence, Freedman’s Savings and Trust.

0:27:15.8 MB: Yes.

0:27:16.3 CD: Tell me about that.

0:27:16.9 MB: So, there’s a whole big brouhaha now about Black banks. Everybody wants to help black banks and I served in the Clinton administration that actually regulated Black banks. And so on April 4th in 1865, Freedman’s Bank was actually incorporated by Congress, and all of its depositors and about 60 to 70% of its leadership were all Black people. And it was very successful. It was so successful that Congress was like, “This has to stay up and running.” It ultimately left New York and moved to DC, which is the locus of power. And so people think, “Oh, that’s the right place to be.” Of course, when it came to DC, got infiltrated with some other stuff, got some new board members, they started running their friends loans. It was almost like a precursor to the SNL crisis, and the bank fell apart. And Congress stepped in to see if they could save it, but it had been so mismanaged by non-Black investors and board members that it could not be saved. But the OCC says it was one of the most significant history facts in the banking industry, because it was the first time. And… Had you heard of it? 

0:28:27.0 CD: No, no, I was… That’s why I asked you about it. [laughter]

0:28:28.3 MB: But that’s why, because I think there are so many facts about Black history and black culture and certainly in the financial space. That for those of us who out here now, we’re always reinventing the wheel. I’m at this camp, I was like, “Who’s the first?” and I was like, “Lemme use Google, that’s not the first.” And maybe there’s some power in that narrative first, but there’s also a level of loneliness. And so building upon that legacy of all the lost dollars, I mean, we just celebrated, what, Tulsa, Oklahoma burning down. The amount of dollars and wealth creation that was just poof, not because of our own doing that is significant because I love numbers and banks. And I think banks are a signal to wealth and access to capital. I think that there is a lost set of stories around how successful we have been as a culture, as a people that it’s gonna be important to surface. And I also think it’s important because it says, “This ain’t new, we’ve been doing this stuff forever.” So, don’t get it twisted, don’t get nervous. It’s in our DNA. Let’s own that.

0:29:37.4 CD: It’s so interesting that you bring up the idea of first. Just as an innovation enthusiast, I’m like, “Oh, who did the new stuff?” But I think from an entrepreneurial perspective, you’re usually the first one to do whatever your business is doing and in some way, shape or form. But then you’re also the first Black person to do that said business. And so there’s a duality in potentially the weight of it’s or the significance of it. What do you do with the weight? Not you personally, but just what does one do with the weight of carrying those two bags at the same time? 

0:30:05.2 MB: It’s tough. There’s a fellow investor who’s in San Francisco and we would all get together at this annual conference. And we would say, “What’s the best part of being here?” Every year he would say, “Because I’m no longer in my oneness.” And we would say, “What are you talking about, dude?” And he would say, “There’s probably a privilege to being first, but again, it’s also a lot of pressure.” And so what I say to people is very rarely, I mean, I always joke with Diana, there’s eight stories in the film industry and they just keep changing characters and locations. I think that because of the innovative and our entrepreneurial nature of Black people in general, but also tells us how this country was built. I don’t know that there’re really that many first. I just think we are really stuck with ignorance of people and lack of history and documentation of history. And what I say to people is, “If you’re a first, then don’t focus on that. Just focus that you’re not the last.” Because I don’t want people to get stuck, like, “My title is I’m the first.” We ain’t got time for that. So if you are the first, take a deep breath, know that that runs in our lineage, of always being the first. And the key here is not that you’re the first and celebrate that, but to celebrate the fact that hopefully you are never the last.

0:31:07.8 CD: Even in that first arena.

0:31:09.8 MB: Yep.

0:31:10.1 CD: You talk a lot about the difference, between founders and CEOs or at least journeying from one to the other.

0:31:16.1 MB: That’s right.

0:31:17.1 CD: And maybe not everybody’s cut out to be both.

0:31:17.8 MB: That’s correct.

0:31:19.0 CD: Talk to me a little bit about that relationship.

0:31:22.0 MB: So I think we have a lot of founders, People who are either doing their little side hustles or running something, either a house, or even got a pop-up or real store. And they’re so focused, not good, not bad, just a data point is, “I’m just gonna run the business.” And all of us start as founders, we learn how to do everything, we package stuff, we sell stuff, we build our websites, whatever. And that’s a typical founder story. But the reality is just that we need as Black people move from founder to CEO, because that’s where the wealth’s created. That’s where the jobs are created. There is an 8X differential when you go from no employees to one employees.

0:31:57.6 CD: Yeah.

0:31:58.0 MB: That’s huge. And so when people say, “I wanna be wealthy,” I was like, “Okay, if not for the community, do you understand what it takes to actually build a business?” And I also think that the challenge is that just because you’re running a business that does not guarantee you wealth. Wealth, is when you’ve created this multiplier effect. And the difference of skills are understanding systems, understanding operations, understanding how to hire people, and I think as a founder, we get caught in the center, like “I’m the martyr, and it’s so much better if I’m by myself.” And the reality is successful business is going to help contribute to wealth creation needs to be able to scale. Unfortunately, we don’t have a lot of people who’ve ever done that.

0:32:37.0 CD: Yeah, I have an anecdotal affirmation and also negation at the same time. I have a friend who created Pluto TV. He was not the CEO. His investor came in, was operating CEO for a while. He’s font, he his business right behind being a founder. And he showed up when he was… He helped build it.

0:32:55.7 MB: Sure.

0:32:56.1 CD: But then he was like, “Alright, I’m done. I got my house, I’m cool.” When is that okay? And how is that a navigable path for some. I feel like…

0:33:03.8 MB: It’s always okay. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with being a founder. I think, and if that’s… And I think his was a unique case because there was a real opportunity for growth, he just didn’t take it forward, but he still benefited from that. And I think I find that in our community, so many people just stop at being a founder and there’s nothing wrong with that. Great, be a founder. But then they say, “Well, I wanna have all these things, I wanna be able to hire people, I wanna have an exit.” I’m like, “Well, then you have to get out of the founder mindset,” which is hold on to cash and not over-invest, or if I got venture capital, throw it up there and see what happens. And they don’t ultimately mature the business to have those systems so in your case, right? Somebody came in and I’m sure he had some systems, but who took it to the next level of maybe creating an investor relations group? 

0:33:49.9 CD: Mm-hmm.

0:33:49.9 MB: Who built out… I don’t know, a robust compliance department? Who put all the processes and scope of works together and taking it out of Google Drive and putting it somewhere so that there is an exponential return when a new person comes? ‘Cause I don’t have to sit there and tell you.

0:34:05.7 CD: Yeah.

0:34:06.0 MB: And so neither good or bad. Just data points, and I think for me it’s though, if you say you wanna build a business and you want to hire people, then you’ve got to get out of the founder mindset and move to a CEO. And to your point though, sometimes you might not be the CEO and that’s okay.

0:34:21.4 CD: Yeah, the phrase building support ecosystems is kind of almost synonymous, at least when you read your bio. That’s kind of what you just mentioned is, “Alright, well, how to identify the right people, collaborators, talent, and also all the other nuances that come along with this?” I guess, part of that is the storytelling of how you talk to other individuals about your business. I feel like any idea is only as good as it is communicated.

0:34:45.7 MB: That’s right.

0:34:45.8 CD: And if you’re recruiting or whatever it is, what have you learned about building ecosystems and maybe some of the short-comings along the way? 

0:34:52.3 MB: One, entrepreneurship’s a team sport. So you do need folks. I think the hardest part to me is less about the entrepreneur and the folks in the ecosystem. So I have certainly been accused of being an entrepreneur-snob. So having been one, I struggle with corporate folks trying to coach me, I think they’re valuable, but if you’ve never had to borrow or get your life insurance policy to make payroll, if you have never had a risk lens where you’re trying to figure out, do I spend $5000 here, $5000 there, not my P&L’s $5 million. What’s the big deal? It’s hard to relate. And so for me, I think it’s important to not just build these ecosystems, but to build ecosystems that actually understand my journey, ’cause my journey as a Black female gay entrepreneur is very different than, I don’t know, Mark Zuckerberg, and not just because of what we look like, but just where went to school, what was the privilege of our family, who did we have access to capital to? Who gave advice? Who was supportive, who wasn’t? And so I think it’s important that people have ecosystems, but they actually screen that they actually have an application process of who gets to be in their ecosystem.

0:35:58.1 CD: Yeah.

0:35:58.2 MB: That they get to decide who is the right person and not just, “Well, hey this person can help you and that’ll be great.” And then they don’t, because they don’t understand your journey or their journey is not the same. So I think for me, building these ecosystems is allowing every single entrepreneur to find the right people on their path.

0:36:14.4 CD: Visioning is a big part of the process.

0:36:16.0 MB: That’s right.

0:36:16.5 CD: And as we wind down, what is your vision for this series and its wildest dream capacity? What does success look like for you? 

0:36:25.9 MB: I think success is three-fold. I think one that we are able to highlight some amazing entrepreneurs and they continue to do well, and there is a multiplier effect of people saying like, “Hey, did you know about this business?” And they just personally do well. I think the second thing is that we now have case studies. We now have better examples and saying, “Well, it’s the Black Mark Zuckerberg, it’s the Black Jeff Bezos.” No, we have, I just heard this guy, did you know, and this is his name, and then we actually start to change that narrative. And I think most importantly, for entrepreneurs that they hopefully find a voice that resonates with them, who has been through the highs, who’s been to the lows, who’s had companies not work, who’s had companies work. Who understands when you go home and your kids go, where you’ve been, or your wife’s like, “What are you doing? Where are you go now?” Those are real, and I think we’ve have a lot of folks…

0:37:16.4 CD: And we leave a message, as we sat down…

0:37:17.7 MB: See, that’s right.

0:37:18.4 CD: By the way, I meant to… I forgot to tell you, I meant to say…

0:37:21.1 MB: See, and they’re like, “What?” And so I think that part of this is hopefully how to reinforce what they’re feeling, reinforce their visions and hopefully have them find some allies in the journey, ’cause it’s a hell of a journey and you definitely need some allies to go along with you, and so we wanna partner with them.

0:37:37.0 CD: Any questions for me? 

0:37:38.6 MB: Yes.

0:37:38.9 CD: Oh, I was kidding. But, sure.

0:37:41.6 MB: What are you up to now? 

0:37:42.9 CD: Oh man. A lot of story-telling. A lot of story-telling, building ecosystems around that. And I kind of… Sometimes I get to say that I’m the Anthony Bourdain of innovation.

0:37:52.7 MB: Mm-hmm.

0:37:53.1 CD: I’ve gone all over the world. I’ve talked to amazing entrepreneurs from Steve Wozniak to a nine-year-old kid who raised millions of dollars for his best friend’s disease. And I get to put a lot of the people I meet and the things I learn into practice. So working within innovation ecosystems, and I have a background in stand up comedy and comedy writing. So I’m kind of coming into a little bit of a full circle moment with some of those things.

0:38:16.4 MB: I like it.

0:38:17.2 CD: That I won’t say just yet.

0:38:18.4 MB: Okay.

0:38:19.2 CD: But I’ll tell tell you… I’ll tell you with the microphone’s off.

0:38:21.0 MB: I like that. And what’s best part about telling your story? 

0:38:23.6 CD: So, you know what I love if it’s an interview type story, is when somebody feels like they discover something about themselves in the process of our conversation. So…

0:38:33.4 MB: There you go.

0:38:34.8 CD: So, yeah. What did you learn about yourself today? 

0:38:37.4 MB: I learned two things. One, I’m excited about this, but I’m really nervous. And two, I think we’re ready.

0:38:45.2 CD: Yeah.

0:38:45.7 MB: I think, based on all my experiences and your questions, I feel reaffirmed that now was the right time to able to help entrepreneurs in this moment where people are watching and paying attention and, it’s the right time.

0:38:58.1 CD: All right? Like I said, last, but not least. But if you were not Melissa Bradley, what advice would you give Melissa Bradley right now? 

0:39:06.3 MB: I’m still coming into who is Melissa Bradley. I think my advice would be, do not fear success.

0:39:13.0 CD: Well stated, thank you. Good luck.

0:39:15.2 MB: Thank you, man, appreciate you.

0:39:16.4 CD: All right. Can’t wait to watch your journey. [chuckle] Bye.

0:39:24.1 MB: Hopefully, in my conversation with Chris, you’ll understand that whatever I do in my life, I am deeply committed and passionate. My passion, specifically to help Black and Brown founders, what I call the new majority is what dominates every decision that I make. My hope for this podcast is that this will help new majority founders improve their businesses, manage their impostor syndrome and become amazing and very wealthy CEOs.

Melissa Bradley

Melissa Bradley

Melissa L. Bradley is the Founder and Managing Partner of 1863 Ventures, a business development program that accelerates New Majority entrepreneurs from high potential to high growth and Co-founder of New Majority Ventures, a purpose-driven media brand featuring content that is entertaining, inspirational and actionable so that these entrepreneurs and their businesses survive and thrive.