Welcome back, Founder Hustle fam! In today’s premiere episode Melissa Bradley is sitting down with a real life unicorn, Barbara Jones-Brown. Barbara is the founder and CEO of Lillii RNB, the only Black and veteran led IT company in the country in the loss prevention space. Lillii stands for Let’s Imagine Life with Ladies In IT, and that’s exactly what Barbara is doing. Today they’re discussing everything from paving the way for the future generation of founders, equity, knowing your worth, manifestation and more!
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0:00:05.7 Melissa Bradley: From New Majority Ventures and Kinetic Energy Entertainment. This is Founder Hustle.
0:00:11.9 Barbara Jones-Brown: I was one of the developers. I wasn’t on that sea level, but I know that at the time they were offering us equity versus raises because they’re a startup. And most of my other coder friends were like, no, I want my raise, give me my money. I was like, give me equity, and if they don’t want their equity, give me theirs. [laughter]
0:00:29.0 MB: I’ll take it all. 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 and co-founder of New Majority Ventures. The road from founder to CEO can be both hard and rewarding. So in each episode of Founder Hustle, I interview a new majority entrepreneur to find out what their journey really looks like. As a CEO, founder, professor, and general partner of a venture fund, I know how valuable good information and resources are for the new majority through shared tools, strategies, and life lessons. We’re here to enlightenment, uplift, and educate anyone interested in this entrepreneurial ecosystem so that you too can go from founder to CEO.
0:01:23.2 MB: Often when we speak about unicorns, we talk about companies that achieve outstanding valuations and are run by white men. Well, today we talk to a real life unicorn. Barbara Jones, who is the only black and veteran led IT company in the country in the loss prevention space. Her company name is Lillii RNB, which stands for Let’s Imagine Life with Ladies In IT. This name reflects Barbara at her best, always willing to help others advance their economic dreams. I am so excited for you to hear Barbara’s story. I am with Barbara Jones-Brown, founder and CEO of Lillii RNB, what is Lillii RNB and what is in that name?
0:02:15.6 BJ: [laughter] Thank you Melissa. And it’s so, such a pleasure to be here with you.
0:02:18.3 MB: I’m glad to have you.
0:02:18.9 BJ: I love everything you and your fund has done for us.
0:02:22.4 MB: Thank you.
0:02:22.5 BJ: So I’m just honored to be here. But Lillii RNB, there is a story behind the name.
0:02:26.5 MB: I know there is.
0:02:27.7 BJ: So it’s actually an acronym that stands for Let’s Imagine Life with Ladies In IT. And so that’s where the L-I-L-L-I-I comes from.
0:02:36.7 MB: Wow.
0:02:37.3 BJ: And so for me being a woman in IT, it’s been a lonely space. Usually I was the only woman on the team, but pretty much all the time I was the only black woman on the tech team, like the coding team. And so for me, when I decided to start a business, I wanted to make sure that I brought women into IT. And some of the ladies that worked for me, their first job in IT was with me. I’m the one that gave them a chance. And so it’s a lot behind the name, but that’s why the strange spelling. But it’s really, that’s what it stands for. Let’s imagine Life with ladies in IT.
0:03:09.0 MB: I love that. I love that. And you still are, as far as I know, the only black veteran led Tech company in retail technology.
0:03:19.8 BJ: Yeah. Especially the space we deal with, which is loss prevention, fraud detection, asset protection.
0:03:24.5 MB: Kind of sad this day and age we’re still focusing on onesies, but at least it’s you.
0:03:30.4 BJ: Yeah. It’s me.
0:03:31.3 MB: So tell us, what does Lillii RNB do ’cause that sounds all fancy loss prevention, technology, retail, ’cause let’s be honest, a lot of black and brown founders, when you talk about retail, they’re on the shelves, but you’re behind the scenes behind.
0:03:43.6 BJ: I’m behind the scenes.
0:03:44.2 MB: So what is it that you guys do?
0:03:44.9 BJ: Yeah, so we really enable and empower merchants to be able to free themselves from losses due to returns. And that’s merchandise returns, that’s returns to their bottom line. So it’s really, it’s an analytics platform. We built it as a middleware solution. So we sit between their point of sale systems. In store, online, mobile, and any returns management applications that they need to operate their stores. And so we are that middle piece that allows them to do one integration without having to try to change and move. And a lot of times with retailers, they can’t innovate quickly because the cost of trying to innovate is really great. And that’s time and money. So if you have one application you can integrate with, that’s a middleware that can get you to other applications you need as one integration. You can innovate quickly and they can stop some of the losses and things that happen for their stores. So it’s really a software to help retailers keep the money in their pocket versus it evaporating due to loss and fraud and shrink.
0:04:43.6 MB: But how big is that market? I know it’s on a slide somewhere in your deck. How big is that market?
0:04:48.6 BJ: Huge. Last study that we saw from CNBC, the retailers are soon, will be losing about half a trillion…
0:04:57.2 MB: Oh my God.
0:04:57.6 BJ: Dollars due to returns. So let’s think about it. Returns is they lost a sale. So I sold something now, somebody wants to return it, so that’s already bad enough. But after they return that item, sometimes they can resell it. They may have to mark it down or discount it, but they can resell it. But if it’s a fraudulent return means it never really happened. They didn’t buy it from them. It’s something that’s, they thought they were getting back and they never got it back. Now it’s complete loss. And so that’s, of that half a trillion, that’s just returned merchandise, 25 billion of that is fraud. So it’s just loss money. And so retailers spend about 10 billion a year just trying to mitigate those losses.
0:05:39.1 MB: Gotcha.
0:05:39.7 BJ: And so that spend is where we come in because we are the tools they use to mitigate the loss. And so that 10 billion they’re spending is to keep them from losing that half a trillion dollars a year.
0:05:49.9 MB: God. Well that’s a way to find a market, that’s for sure.[laughter]
0:05:53.8 MB: Let’s go back to all those complicated words you were talking about.
0:05:56.9 BJ: Yes.
0:05:57.3 MB: How did you get into technology?
0:06:00.0 BJ: Well I got into tech really in high school. I took my first computer programming class. Yes, I don’t even wanna say it ’cause I’ll date myself. I don’t how long I’m gonna go.
0:06:08.4 MB: It’s all good. Look I was around with the Commodores. Okay. And? Atari And there was just pong. So it’s all relative. My friend, It’s all relative.
0:06:14.5 BJ: All right. So it was like basic FORTRAN. That’s the kind of stuff I was learning. And so I took my first programming class and I fell in love, Melissa. And I was like, you know what? This is what I want to do. One, I was an introvert. So I was like, man, I could set up my computer in the corner.
0:06:28.6 MB: Nobody bothers you.
0:06:30.6 BJ: I could code. I don’t have to talk to anybody. And so I was like, I’m an introvert. Then I had just learned how to type. So I was like, man, I could use my typing skills too. Programming is what I wanted to do. But when I went home to kind of tell my mother like, I wanna be a computer programmer, this is… This is I’m like 1980s, right? [laughter] So my mother was like, computer programmer, I thought you were gonna be an engineer. So they were like, they have not worked this computer program, I’m like, ma, I wanna be.
0:06:51.4 MB: Be like what kind of sort of, we can make it, we can bridge, we can bridge.
0:06:54.1 BJ: So I was like, okay. So I ended up going to school for electrical engineering.
0:06:57.5 MB: Okay.
0:07:01.7 BJ: And that’s what I did in college. And so I took a few classes. I remember being on the ground soldering cables together and I was like, you know what? Let me go back to that programming class. [laughter] took another class and then I switched my major to computer science.
0:07:11.6 MB: And your parents were okay at that point.
0:07:12.5 BJ: And now they’re okay with it, right?
0:07:14.0 MB: Well of course now. Yeah, of course. They’re like. Oh, this is the best decision ever, girl, I’m so glad we supported you in that.
0:07:18.8 BJ: Exactly.
0:07:19.1 MB: Oh my gosh.
0:07:19.7 BJ: So that’s how I got into technology is just computer programme class.
0:07:22.6 MB: Now did you come outta college and say, Hey, I’m gonna start my own business.
0:07:26.1 BJ: Almost. Almost. Yeah. I came outta college. I had been a cashier all through college. And a little bit in, and actually in high school too. I started.
0:07:33.3 MB: So you really understand this market ‘Cause you were in it.
0:07:36.5 BJ: Exactly.
0:07:36.6 MB: Got it.
0:07:38.4 BJ: And I got recruited by a startup in Austin, Texas. That’s where I’m from. Hook ’em Horns, Longhorns, Austin, Texas. Gotta throw that in. But [laughter] So I was in, I was a cashier since like 16. And when I got recruited Fresh out of college, the startup that was recruiting me was building cash register software. I was like, oh wow. ‘Cause I knew the pain point.
0:08:01.0 MB: Gotcha.
0:08:01.8 BJ: It was like glorified calculators back when I was a cashier. So I was like, wow, understand it. I knew what tills were. They were like, you know what a till is? Like yes.
0:08:06.9 MB: Bring her on. Come on. She hired.
0:08:09.0 BJ: She’s hired.
0:08:09.5 MB: She’s hired.
0:08:10.2 BJ: And I was their first Java programmer. ‘Cause Java was a brand new language back then. And so once I joined that startup, that’s when I got bit by that entrepreneurial book ’cause I saw this company grow from, I was like employee 25. And I saw us grow to 200 get acquired by Oracle.
0:08:26.0 MB: Okay now.
0:08:26.4 BJ: I see people getting cash even a little bit for me as one of the first developers. And I was like, you know what? I can do this ’cause I watched that whole process. And I was like, man, I could do this one day.
0:08:36.1 MB: That’s amazing. Okay. So I’m seeing more acquisitions then of your companies in the future.
0:08:39.7 BJ: Exactly.
0:08:40.6 MB: What was that like for you? Right? I mean, because you essentially did what so many entrepreneurs strive to do, albeit yep. Not the CEO yet. But just going through that process, talk about like the highs and lows of that process. ‘Cause everybody talks about, I wanna get to an exit, but I truly don’t think they understand how hard that really is.
0:09:01.2 BJ: Very hard. Yeah. And I was in, for that first startup, I was one of the developers. I wasn’t on that C level, but I know that, you know, at the time they were offering us equity versus raises because you know, they’re a startup. And most of my other coder friends were like, no, I want my raise. Give me my money. I was like, give me equity. And if they don’t want their equity, give me theirs.
0:09:18.7 MB: I’ll take it all. I’ll take it all.
0:09:19.0 BJ: I want equity. And this was like, I’m like fresh out of college. But I had that knowledge to see how valuable equity was gonna be ’cause I believed in what we were building. And so I was one of the few developers that when the company got acquired I got a check too. And most of the other ones didn’t. And they did all that code.
0:09:34.2 MB: They were like, damn I wish we had hung out with her.
0:09:37.9 BJ: Exactly. Barbara was so right. And so I actually got a check. And so when we got acquired by Oracle, that’s when I started my own company.
0:09:44.7 MB: I love that.
0:09:45.7 BJ: Took that money and started my own business. Yeah.
0:09:47.8 MB: What’s the one lesson you take from, what was the name of the company that got acquired?
0:09:48.6 BJ: It was 360 Commerce. That was the first.
0:09:51.1 MB: 360. What’s one lesson from 360 Commerce that you bought into Lillii RNB?
0:09:55.5 BJ: We were a family. I love that company. I was the, probably the only black woman in the company. And everybody embraced me. The guy that mentored me, still my mentor to this day. I met him at that company every Friday. They had breakfast tacos. Red East Texas. So we had breakfast tacos, we had free drinks on the deck. And so it was, they made us feel like we were part of a family. And so that’s something I’ve tried to bring into Lillii is I want my employees to feel like they’re part of a family. We’re building this together and you guys are part of this. And so I brought that into Lillii as well.
0:10:27.4 MB: How many people do you have now?
0:10:28.6 BJ: Now I have close to 35 people.[laughter]
0:10:31.0 MB: Woah that’s a lot of people.
0:10:32.5 BJ: In the company. Yes.
0:10:34.1 MB: People mostly try to get three to five. What’s it like managing 35 people.
0:10:36.8 BJ: And a lot of that happened this year. Melissa, I had about 11 people in January of this year. I’m up to 35 now. Post the seed raise, which you know about.
0:10:45.1 MB: Yes. We’re gonna talk about that money, money, money. Yes.
0:10:51.8 BJ: We’re gonna talk about that. Yes. And so I doubled my team. And then 20 of those are full-time hires. The rest are contractors, 1099s. And so, you know, everybody thinks I need more people so that I can get more done and it free me up. More people is just more.
0:11:01.6 MB: More heartache. I mean more work, sorry.
0:11:03.0 BJ: More work, personality.
0:11:05.0 MB: Are they all in person?
0:11:09.5 BJ: None of us are in person. So I hired.
0:11:10.4 MB: So you talk about how you go from 11 to 35.
0:11:12.0 BJ: Yes.
0:11:12.8 MB: Not in person. ‘Cause we hired some people and I’m like, hiring over Zoom is just not it, but.
0:11:16.8 BJ: It’s hard.
0:11:17.8 MB: Yeah.
0:11:18.5 BJ: So some people I’ve never met even to this day. Right? And I hired, part of that 20 was my executive team. It used to just be me and my little chickadees running around coding [laughter] But now I have three other people who are executives now. I have my COO, my CTO, my chief product officer. And so jailing that team remotely. Ah, it’s been it’s just been really hard. The personalities are we clicking we’re the leadership team and we have to be one voice to the rest of the company and we’re not clicking. And so that was the hardest part for me is trying to take, I had my little chickadees, the 10 that have been with me for so long.
0:11:56.3 MB: I love the little chickadees.
0:11:58.8 BJ: My little chickadees. We were all like this.
0:12:00.6 MB: Are they all women.
0:12:02.2 BJ: It was probably half and half.
0:12:04.5 MB: Wow. Okay.
0:12:07.8 BJ: And so now we have these new people that have come on and personalities that are different from what we’re used to. And so just trying to get this whole team to gel was a lot of challenges this year.
0:12:14.2 MB: Yeah. What’d you do trying to get that to happen?
0:12:17.1 BJ: First thing was the executive team. We had to be one voice. So we ended up going to an executive retreat, flew everybody out to Chicago.
0:12:24.0 MB: Nice.
0:12:24.6 BJ: And we broke bread together. We sat together, we talked. We had a mediator. We ended up reading all of us.
0:12:30.7 MB: So you’ve been proactive.
0:12:32.1 BJ: I was proactive.
0:12:34.0 MB: Okay.
0:12:34.7 BJ: We all read the traction book. Before we got to the retreat. Yes. We brought in from traction they talk about the entrepreneurial operating system. And we actually brought in one of their consultants to be the mediator.
0:12:46.7 MB: Oh wow that’s cool.
0:12:48.1 BJ: For the retreat, which was great because it wasn’t Barbara leading the retreat. We had a mediator. So people were able to, he got us to really talk.
0:12:55.2 MB: Yep. In a safe space.
0:12:55.5 BJ: In safe space.
0:12:55.7 MB: It wasn’t like we’re talking to the boss, it’s like all together. That’s cool.
0:12:58.5 BJ: It’s like Barbara’s. Yeah. It’s like, he was like, you know, and there were some times where I was like, wait a minute, like what you got? He was like, Barbara’s like, listen to what they say. I’m like, I don’t like what they say. [laughter]
0:13:08.2 MB: [laughter] This is my company.
0:13:09.2 BJ: Wait a minute. That’s what I’m thinking. I’m like, you know, you can’t do that. So he got us to kind of just me to listen them to listen to me. And coming out of that meeting, we were gelled.
0:13:18.0 MB: Nice.
0:13:18.6 BJ: We broke bread together. We had dinner together. We all talked. We hung out.
0:13:21.8 MB: That’s important.
0:13:22.4 BJ: And so I feel like now I have my dream team, executive team. So now we can come back to the rest of the team and be that one voice. And so, now we started to see the teams start coming together.
0:13:32.2 MB: Gotcha.
0:13:32.2 BJ: ‘Cause they’re hearing same message from all four of us.
0:13:35.2 MB: I love that.
0:13:36.1 BJ: Not Barbara’s saying this and somebody else is saying that. And so…
0:13:38.6 MB: That’s huge.
0:13:39.1 BJ: We’re still in the process. All of this happened this year, but I see the team starting to gel and come together, and hopefully at the end of the year, we can have everybody in Atlanta.
0:13:48.3 MB: Gotcha.
0:13:48.8 BJ: Have the whole team get to meet everybody. Take some pictures. That’s the goal, is have a big party at the end of the year.
0:13:54.4 MB: I like that. So atleast, you all got together. Out of that meeting, I guess what were some of the messages that you all are consistent about? And what is the corporate culture that you all you decided you wanted to create, yeah?
0:14:05.8 BJ: Well, that was the first thing is the messaging. Everybody, people came in, these guys that I was able to recruit came in with 20 plus years of doing stuff a certain way. And now you come in and you’re hearing about my culture, which is you know, we have our culture statement is an acronym. I love acronyms.
0:14:26.5 MB: I see it. I love it. I love it.
0:14:27.7 BJ: It’s BUILD. That’s the acronym. So be bold, be unified, be inclusive, be loyal, and be daring. That was the…
0:14:37.7 MB: I like the daring.
0:14:39.2 BJ: Yeah. And so before, my two, my COO and my CPO are two males. And then my CTO, she and I are women. And so, she and I had come up with the culture before the guys got there. And so that’s something we really like in our company. We want, we’re very inclusive. We have everybody at the company. We represent. It looks like the world should look. That’s how my company looks. And so everybody coming in needs to follow that path. And so we want people to be bold. We want people to be innovative, loyal to the company.
0:15:10.9 MB: Sure.
0:15:10.9 BJ: I haven’t had much attrition.
0:15:12.7 MB: That’s good.
0:15:13.4 BJ: I have some of the best people in this space. They don’t leave. And I’m not paying them the most money in the world.
0:15:19.3 MB: Gotcha.
0:15:19.4 BJ: They could have got more, but they’ve stayed loyal to me because they like where we’re going. They like what we’re building. And so, that’s what we needed these new people coming in. So part of our recruitment is showing them, here’s our acronym. This is what we stand for. This is what we believe in. If this is something you guys also support…
0:15:37.5 MB: Love it.
0:15:37.8 BJ: Then you come in. And so we’ve kind of hired along that culture statement. So coming out of this retreat, it was really, what do we wanna get accomplished this year? Are we living up to this culture statement that we all put in place? Do we all adhere to that? Is everybody on board? And then, really kind of putting a process in place for how we can check in and keep each other accountable.
0:16:00.0 MB: That’s huge.
0:16:00.0 BJ: That was the big thing, is we were all doing too much stuff and who was checking in? Now, every week for 90 minutes, we keep everybody accountable.
0:16:08.9 MB: Oh, wow!
0:16:09.4 BJ: We know our KPIs, we hold each other to it. Are you struggling or are you not gonna make it?
0:16:14.0 MB: Gotcha.
0:16:14.4 BJ: And so that’s all that EOS that traction model from the book. And that’s what we learned from that retreat is to how to have those type of they call them level 10 meetings. So 90-minute meeting with the executive team every week.
0:16:26.6 MB: That is awesome.
0:16:28.2 BJ: Yeah.
0:16:29.0 MB: Okay. So Traction is the name of the book?
0:16:29.6 BJ: Traction is the name of the book.
0:16:30.6 MB: Okay. So people should definitely get that book?
0:16:32.0 BJ: Yes.
0:16:32.3 MB: Oh, prevention.
0:16:34.1 BJ: Woo!
0:16:34.5 MB: So you’re the only black woman veteran led in retail tech focusing on loss prevention and asset protection?
0:16:42.7 BJ: Yes.
0:16:43.0 MB: So that’s a pretty bold and daring statement. What is good about that statement for you? And what is challenging about that statement for you?
0:16:51.1 BJ: Well, the challenging part for me is that I’ve run into… ’cause I love to end on a good note. So let’s go for the challenging part, and then we’ll say what I really love about it. So challenging for me has been the customers I’m selling into, have not seen anybody like me leading this type of company. So a lot of times, I would get like, “You? Like who’s the founder of this company? You…[laughter]
0:17:14.1 BJ: They weren’t expecting a black woman.
0:17:17.3 MB: And it’s Barbara Jones. So they don’t know it’s me. Black me.
0:17:19.0 MB: That’s right [laughter] You are not exactly what I was expecting.
0:17:23.1 BJ: You are Barbara Jones, you? [laughter] So I would get this ‘you’ all the time and I hated it, Melissa. I really hated it. But it was never… Nobody ever saw that I hated it, inside I was like, “I’m so tired hearing this.”
0:17:33.3 MB: Sure.
0:17:33.5 BJ: But it was just a big smile, “Yeah, I’m Barbara. Nice to meet you. And this is my company.” And stuff like that. I remember one of the best photographs I have, is me with Pep Boys is one of our clients. Long long time client. And I took… And Pep Boys is a company full of men.
0:17:48.5 MB: That’s right.
0:17:49.1 BJ: The mechanic type.
0:17:50.3 MB: Greasy.
0:17:50.8 BJ: Oh yeah.
0:17:51.1 MB: Uniforms.
0:17:52.3 BJ: They’re like that at the corporate office. And so I took everybody out to lunch. We had finished a project with them and I took the Pep Boys team and my team that was working on the project. We all went out to lunch and we’re all sitting at the table. I’m at the head of the table, all these men, nothing but men at the table. And I’m paying for everybody [laughter] I’m paying for everything. And so, I remember I’m like, “I gotta get this picture.” So I asked the waiter to take a picture of this. Me sitting at the table, all these men.
0:18:18.0 MB: Yes.
0:18:18.8 BJ: I’m the one writing a check…
0:18:19.5 MB: That’s right.
0:18:19.8 BJ: For all of this. And it just kind of shows this market that I’m in, it was people like me running these type of companies did not exist. So that’s been the hard part. It’s just kind of getting over that stigma that…
0:18:33.0 MB: Sure.
0:18:33.1 BJ: I can do something like this. Now the best part about this has been, it is just introducing this diverse team that I have to this space which is innovative. Retailers have to innovate because their customers are innovative.
0:18:45.5 MB: Absolutely.
0:18:46.3 BJ: And so, they have to be on top of things. New payment methods. We got stores of the future with no cashiers in them.
0:18:52.3 MB: Sure.
0:18:52.4 BJ: So I love this industry of retail tech because it’s so innovative. It’s always changing. And so just bringing this diverse group of people that have been following me around…
0:19:01.6 MB: That’s awesome.
0:19:02.1 BJ: Into this space where there’s not many of people that kind of look like me in the space. That’s what I really loved about it is us coming in and innovating in this space and coming up with great ideas. And so now, it’s popular to be somebody like me. And so the a lot of retailers…
0:19:17.8 MB: Thank goodness. Finally.
0:19:18.4 BJ: [laughter] Finally.
0:19:20.2 MB: Finally, black people are popular.
0:19:20.9 BJ: Yes. And they’re looking for it like, “Wow, you’re minority old woman, old veteran…
0:19:23.0 MB: Veteran, yeah.
0:19:25.0 BJ: Look at all these…
0:19:26.0 MB: Ticking boxes.
0:19:26.8 BJ: Ticking boxes.
0:19:27.4 MB: And you do the work. But you do the work.
0:19:28.9 BJ: And we’re doing and it’s great work. Very innovative product. And so, it’s been a plus lately.
0:19:34.1 MB: That’s awesome.
0:19:34.6 BJ: To be a diverse company like this.
0:19:36.4 MB: Yeah. You mentioned that you started with 11 people this year?
0:19:39.3 BJ: Mm-hmm.
0:19:40.1 MB: Now you are having you said 35.
0:19:42.3 BJ: Yes.
0:19:42.6 MB: That’s a lot of people in a short amount of time.
0:19:43.9 BJ: Yeah. Yeah.
0:19:44.6 MB: But part of it is because you’ve got a $3 million investment. [laughter]
0:19:47.8 BJ: Yes, ma’am.
0:19:48.1 MB: Which is awesome because, you know, we know black people are popular. But not so many people are getting a check for $3 million. So, talk about who gave you the check, how’d it happened, and then I wanna kinda reverse engineer that journey because I know a lot of people are sending you praise and, and we’re so proud of you. But it wasn’t, it didn’t happen overnight.
0:20:05.8 BJ: Oh my God. Definitely not.
0:20:06.0 MB: So let’s talk about just the $3 million and how all that happened.
0:20:09.1 BJ: Well first, you know, I really raised over $4 million Melissa.
0:20:12.5 MB: Okay.
0:20:12.5 BJ: You were part of that too.
0:20:12.9 MB: Yes, we were. Happy to be.
0:20:13.1 BJ: Yes you were.
0:20:14.0 MB: Yes.
0:20:14.7 BJ: In 12 months.
0:20:16.6 MB: Yeah.
0:20:16.9 BJ: So that’s, that’s the part that was like, whoa. Because before last year I could not raise a dime. And it’s not because I didn’t have the same type of, I’ve been talking about this type of innovation for a while. It wasn’t like okay, I didn’t have any good ideas. We’ve pivoted a little bit.
0:20:33.6 MB: Sure.
0:20:33.6 BJ: But not that drastically. I was pitching to people, talking to people, trying to get this idea out there. Nobody was listening, nobody was interested. And last year, I guess with the George Floyd and like, just attention on, we need to support black people and black businesses and black women, that’s when all eyes became on me.
0:20:50.8 MB: Sure.
0:20:51.6 BJ: And the beautiful part about it is I was ready.
0:20:54.8 MB: Yep.
0:20:55.0 BJ: ‘Cause I’ve been doing this and I’ve been pitching and I had every, you know, I was ready for this.
0:20:58.9 MB: And you’re somewhat of an anomaly ’cause it’s really hard to find black female tech company leaders. We, have several black folks who are leading tech companies, but usually they’re not the coder or the developer. So, I mean that’s huge.
0:21:10.9 BJ: Yeah. And I was, for a long time I was a CTO as well. I was a CEO and a CTO.
0:21:15.6 MB: Wow.
0:21:16.5 BJ: Because, you know, before I was running this company, I was a really great coder.
0:21:20.6 MB: Gotcha.
0:21:21.3 BJ: I think I personally have code running in probably 4,000 plus stores throughout the US, Canada, and Japan…
0:21:27.1 MB: Wow. Oh my God.
0:21:28.7 BJ: That I wrote.
0:21:29.1 MB: Wow.
0:21:30.4 BJ: So I was a great coder. You know, I don’t get to code anymore, but…[laughter]
0:21:33.7 MB: You can do it in your “free time.”
0:21:33.9 BJ: And I miss that so much.
0:21:35.6 MB: But okay yeah you got bigger…
0:21:35.9 BJ: No free time left.
0:21:36.4 MB: You got bigger things to do right now.
0:21:38.2 BJ: I got bigger things to do.
0:21:40.6 MB: I’d say you got bigger things to do.
0:21:40.7 BJ: I can’t code anymore.
0:21:40.8 MB: Yeah.
0:21:40.9 BJ: But I was a great coder, so I kind of missed that. But you know, it was, I couldn’t raise money at all. Nobody was giving me money. We were bootstrapping, trying to build this product. And so what happened last year is attention started coming on, people like, founders like me, underrepresented founders.
0:21:57.2 MB: And the money became available. Let’s be honest right there… The plethora of funds that were not nobody was funding. I mean nobody was giving us money.
0:22:03.3 BJ: Exactly.
0:22:03.9 MB: To invest in black and brown founders. So it’s kind of like this ripple effect.
0:22:07.1 BJ: Yeah.
0:22:07.2 MB: It was a ripple effect.
0:22:07.3 BJ: And what you said is just so accurate because I look at my portfolio of investors, you notice 90% is black led funds. Who invested that 4 million, 90% were black led funds. And guess what? 70% plus was black women and so that’s who invested in me.
0:22:26.0 MB: Black women invest in black women. We ain’t stupid [laughter] We are not stupid.
0:22:28.2 BJ: So all that time I was pitching and people were like pshh, you know, they weren’t listening to me and you know, looking at their phones, rolling their eyes. When I pitched to black women, they were like one, a Sheilah New Evans. She…
0:22:43.2 MB: Very yeah.
0:22:43.7 BJ: Yep when I pitched to her, she was like, Barbara, I had like goosebumps all over my arms.
0:22:49.1 MB: Goosebumps yes she told me. Yeah.
0:22:49.6 BJ: And I was like, no investor had ever told me that Melissa. I was like, eye rolling like, you know, why are you in here type thing. And I was like, wow. Black women, they know because they see what they, it’s taken for them to get to where they are.
0:23:01.8 MB: That’s right.
0:23:01.9 BJ: They know I can do it.
0:23:03.4 MB: That’s right.
0:23:04.7 BJ: And so I found my tribe, you know, I found my tribe and so Serena Williams is also one of our investors. Led our seed round. And then our co-lead came in Aperture Ventures.
0:23:16.9 MB: Okay.
0:23:17.1 BJ: William Crowder, one of the first black VCs came in and took the rest of the round. Yeah. Took the rest of the round. We were oversubscribed. Some of our pre-seed investors wanted to get in. We were already done. Once Serena kind of came in, William took the rest. And so that’s what happened over these 12 months is a pre-seed round closed and a seed round. And so, everything I had been saying started coming true once I had some money.
0:23:42.4 MB: Right.
0:23:42.4 BJ: You know it’s not magic.[laughter]
0:23:43.4 MB: Right, right.
0:23:45.3 BJ: People think oh like.
0:23:45.9 MB: I know what I’m supposed to do, I just need to be able to afford it.
0:23:51.1 BJ: I didn’t have any money to do it. I was able to hire the right people. I was able to do some marketing. I was able to, you know, create the technology the way I wanted to create it all in-house. We’re building our own tech.
0:24:00.2 MB: That’s great.
0:24:00.3 BJ: We’re not outsourcing.
0:24:00.5 MB: That’s great.
0:24:00.6 BJ: So, we are building and so I was able to do the things I knew I needed to do and didn’t have the capital to do it. With that capital in, people are like, wow, look at all the traction you guys are getting. It’s not surprising you’re pouring. That’s what the money is for it’s to pour money on…
0:24:14.7 MB: Is the accelerant for you.
0:24:15.8 BJ: It’s accelerant. And that’s what we needed. And so hopefully, it will, you know, get more money into this ecosystem yeah.
0:24:21.1 MB: Sure. Sure. We’ll be back with more Founder Hustle after the break. Welcome back to Founder Hustle. Here’s more of my conversation with Barbara Jones Brown. Did you get to meet Serena? That’s what everybody wants to know.
0:24:38.4 BJ: I did.
0:24:38.9 MB: Okay.
0:24:38.9 BJ: Over Zoom.
0:24:40.2 MB: Over… Hey, you still met her? Okay.
0:24:41.8 BJ: Over Zoom. So she was the… The Serena was the deciding factor. Her team at work.
0:24:46.4 MB: She’s very active.
0:24:47.6 BJ: Very active.
0:24:47.9 MB: And she’s very clear this does not have her name on it.
0:24:49.3 BJ: Exactly.
0:24:49.8 MB: She meets all the companies once they get to a certain stage. She shows up for her meetings. Yeah.
0:24:54.1 BJ: Yes. Yes. And she, you know, this was before she retired so she is busy. And you know, they, I went through everything, went through the whole process. About four, almost six months. And so the team was like, Barb, are you ready to meet Serena? I was like, yes.[laughter]
0:25:07.8 BJ: Yes. I’m ready to meet Serena. So I get on the call and my husband, I’m like, I’m trying to keep him out of the room.[laughter]
0:25:13.7 MB: Right. This is a business call.
0:25:14.5 BJ: I’m like, this a business call. You can’t be in the… Can I meet no? No, stay over there. If she wants to meet you, I’ll bring you in. And so I’m pitching to Serena Williams.
0:25:24.1 MB: Awesome.
0:25:24.1 BJ: Oh my God. It was so scary. And I remember looking at her face and she was just like, nothing and I’m like oh Lord. I’m saying I’m losing It.
0:25:33.0 MB: Which is very different when she’s on a tennis court. You were like, well show something. You interested? You happy? What’s going on?
0:25:38.5 BJ: And I’m smiling. What is going on? She don’t like, so I’m like, man, what am I gonna do? And so I just, I just stop pitching. I look into the, and like right at her. And I’m like, Serena. I said, you know I really wanted a black woman celebrity. To come and be the face with me with this company. And my husband is in entertainment. We tried to get Oprah, we tried to get Mary J Blige. But when I heard about pitching to your fund, I was like, it’s gonna be Serena Williams. And so I can kind of see a little bit. Then I’m like, you know, right now 70% of the people that have invested in me have been black women. And I just feel like if you invested in this company with all your relationships with retailers. What could we do? And I saw the smile come.[laughter]
0:26:21.0 MB: Love it. See…
0:26:21.2 BJ: I cross her face.
0:26:22.7 MB: But see you put the picture aside and just tell your story.
0:26:25.6 BJ: I talk to her about it.
0:26:27.1 MB: And what does the value bring to her?
0:26:28.6 BJ: Yeah.
0:26:28.9 MB: But more importantly, what is the value that the investor can bring to you? Trick or treat.
0:26:33.3 BJ: Yeah, and what we could do together.
0:26:33.6 MB: Yes absolutely.
0:26:34.5 BJ: ‘Cause she knew she has all these relationships with retailers.
0:26:37.9 MB: That’s right.
0:26:38.4 BJ: And then we’re having a… We’re solving a huge problem for them.
0:26:40.3 MB: Yeap.
0:26:40.6 BJ: Put us together and so…
0:26:41.5 MB: Okay. So I think Nike gonna be your next customer. Come on now.
0:26:43.8 BJ: For a record they’ve already introduced us too. It’s like they’re well connected. So been opening doors, making warm intros. And so, it was just amazing two weeks later when they called me back and said, Barbara, we wanna meet with you again. I was like, it’s either yes or no at this point. Well, I’ve met with Serena…
0:27:00.8 MB: And I think you might have got an email saying sorry we are gonna pass on this one.
0:27:02.2 BJ: That’s why I was like, I know they’re not gonna make me get on this call to tell me no because then I’m gonna cry.[laughter]
0:27:08.1 BJ: So I kinda knew if they’re meeting with me, it’s gotta be a yes.
0:27:09.1 MB: But didn’t you cry anyway, because you were…
0:27:10.5 BJ: Oh my God. When they said Serena, and the beautiful part about it, Melissa, is they were like, Serena said, whatever you’re doing, she wants to be a part of it.
0:27:18.7 MB: Love it.
0:27:19.6 BJ: So I was like that’s what I wanted to hear. So it was celebration, scream, and crying, all that.
0:27:25.0 MB: I love it. That is awesome. But you noticed something earlier that I want to come back to because it’s such an important thing, but nobody talks about it. You said you were oversubscribed.
0:27:35.1 BJ: Yeah.
0:27:35.7 MB: And so there was no need to keep taking all this money that you didn’t necessarily need. Say more about that because a lot of people, I need to get as much money as I can, but they don’t realize as soon as you get it, the clock starts taking on how expensive that is. So talk about the over subscription and like what allowed you to say yeah. Not right now.
0:27:53.9 BJ: Yeah. Well for me, Melissa, I’ve had this company for a while. I owned, by the time I started raising last year, I still owned 97% of this company.
0:28:03.2 MB: Yeah.
0:28:03.2 BJ: And remember I was the one taking all the equity.
0:28:05.4 MB: That’s right.
0:28:05.5 BJ: Fresh out of college.
0:28:06.5 MB: You knew… That’s right.
0:28:07.4 BJ: I knew what my equity was worth. And so I had like very early in the company’s life, I had a very influential woman.
0:28:15.0 MB: Okay.
0:28:15.2 BJ: In Atlanta who wanted to come in as my partner and she was gonna give me 50k and she wanted 50% of the company.
0:28:21.3 MB: Whoa. Heck no.
0:28:21.9 BJ: I was like, you must think I’m crazy. 50% of my company for 50k? .
0:28:26.8 MB: Wow. Right.
0:28:27.6 BJ: You think my company’s worth a $100,000?
0:28:29.6 MB: Your time is worth 20 minutes.
0:28:31.4 BJ: I was making more than that as a consultant. So I was like no, politely, but I knew what my equity was worth. And so that’s something I always watch is how much equity I’m giving away. And so for me that 3 million came at a cost.
0:28:45.0 MB: Yeap.
0:28:45.6 BJ: There was equity associated with that 3 million. And so that’s why I said we’re done. We needed to raise two and a half, three. We got three.
0:28:53.4 MB: Yeap.
0:28:53.7 BJ: We’re done. I can’t take any more money. Even though people are like, Barbara, I wanna get into the round. We’re done. Series A.
0:29:00.1 MB: Right. Come back.[laughter]
0:29:00.5 MB: Come back. Excuse me.
0:29:02.0 BJ: It’s important.
0:29:03.3 MB: I’m glad you shared that because I see so many black women who raise money and then they’re nowhere on the cap table.
0:29:10.1 BJ: Yeah.
0:29:10.3 MB: But time they get to the series A.
0:29:11.9 BJ: Exactly.
0:29:11.9 MB: Which is not good or bad. But then when you stand there and say I’m building this company so I can create wealth for myself and my family. Then you should have done something else. So I think that’s extremely… I really appreciate you saying that. So now you got some money, you got some people?
0:29:27.0 BJ: Yes.
0:29:27.6 MB: What are you most excited about and what are you most concerned about?
0:29:31.5 BJ: Okay, so I go with the concern first.
0:29:33.5 MB: I know we go with concern first.
0:29:34.0 BJ: You know I like to end on that good note.
0:29:35.6 MB: End on a positive note.
0:29:36.5 BJ: So the thing that concerns me is I would just wanna make sure that I’m a good steward of investor money. I don’t take that lightly.
0:29:43.6 MB: Sure, sure.
0:29:44.3 BJ: When people invest their… And most of our investors, it’s time and money. They’re not just giving us money and go do something. They’re involved, they’re helping, they’re, what do we need? You guys need anything. And so I wanna make sure that I’m a good steward of this money. I don’t sleep at night because I’m like how can I make multiples of this money?
0:30:02.7 MB: Sure.
0:30:02.7 BJ: How do we get to a billion dollars the fastest way? Am I going the right channel? These are kind of things that keep me up at night is I wanna be a good steward to that money, one to get that return to my investors, but two, to make sure that more black women are getting money because you see success in me. So that’s…
0:30:18.0 MB: And you know if you mess up, then that’s going impact everybody else. So, that’s fair.
0:30:22.0 BJ: That’s a way to say, okay, you can give money to black women because look at this.
0:30:25.4 MB: Right.
0:30:25.7 BJ: But so that’s a part that keeps me up is am I spending the money the right way? Am I burning too much or too little? Those things keep me up. And I just had my first board meeting with some of the investors that are on the board now, and they were like, Barbara, spend the money. That’s what we gave it to you.
0:30:40.4 MB: Right.
0:30:41.8 BJ: I’m like I haven’t had much money. So it’s like I’m scared to spend it, but they’re like, spend it because with the traction you guys are getting build your sales team up. Let’s get more traction.
0:30:49.8 MB: That’s right.
0:30:50.4 BJ: So they were spend more money.
0:30:51.9 MB: ‘Cause money make money. ‘Cause money make money.
0:30:53.2 BJ: This is such a different world, Melissa.
0:30:54.9 MB: Yeah.
0:30:55.2 BJ: But the thing I’m most excited about is I dreamed about this day. It’s manifestation. People always talk about that. But I dreamed about this day, I saw myself on the cover of Black Enterprise Magazine.
0:31:08.3 MB: Alright.
0:31:08.4 BJ: And I had an interview with them not too long ago. I’m like man, this dream is about to come true. So I saw this day coming. So kind of living in that dream, that’s the most exciting part to me. Is just seeing my dreams come true. Seeing my daughters looking at me like, mom. ‘Cause they saw the struggle.
0:31:24.9 MB: Sure. Well, they were there from the beginning.
0:31:26.7 BJ: They were there, they were like, someday days. They’re like, mom, can you just quit this and go back to where you were because a rich consultant, but, and we could get whatever we want. [laughter]
0:31:34.7 MB: I love it gets’ to the bottom line, I love it’s all about the bottom line. All about the bottom line.
0:31:37.2 BJ: We’re tired of all this business, but they saw what mom went through and to see these days. We just won emerging minority emerging technology firm of the year, department of Commerce just last week.
0:31:49.9 MB: I love that.
0:31:50.5 BJ: We got that award. Our app is live on the Salesforce app exchange. We got invited to Salesforce’s partner executive summit, Dana Point, California Waldorf Astoria.
0:32:00.4 MB: Right now?
0:32:01.2 BJ: Okay. And so I’m like it’s happening right before my eyes. And so I’m seeing my dreams come true. And to me that’s the most exciting part about all of this.
0:32:09.9 MB: I’m so proud of you.
0:32:10.9 BJ: Thank you.
0:32:12.0 MB: I’ll say the power of manifestation.
0:32:13.7 BJ: Yes.
0:32:14.0 MB: Okay. So let’s stay on that. Manifested where you are now. So what are you manifesting next?
0:32:21.0 BJ: Well, I had the opportunity to talk to Tope, let me make sure I say his name. Awotona?
0:32:28.2 MB: Okay.
0:32:28.9 BJ: Calendly. He’s a Calendly founder. And I had the opportunity…
0:32:33.9 MB: Over a billion dollars.
0:32:34.0 BJ: Exactly. I had the opportunity…
0:32:34.7 MB: Now massively acquiring companies.
0:32:36.3 BJ: Yes. Oh my God. And I talked to Tope after he had raised that 130 something mil, only his second raise. And I was like, how did you do that? I just raised my pre-seed round. This was before my seed. And I was like, how did you get from here to this point on such little money? And he was like, for me it was all about sales. I was like, how can I get to sales? I didn’t have time to really deal with investors, and I just wanted to get to sales faster. And he was like, “Barbara, what you’re building, I think it could be bigger than what I did.” I was like, “Tope don’t be making me crying for real…
0:33:12.4 MB: That’s awesome.
0:33:12.6 BJ: With this.” He’s like, “‘Cause you’re building what you’re building is, I mean, you’re putting money back in retail’s track ’cause you have to fight fraud.” He’s like, “It’s a huge need.”
0:33:21.2 MB: Right.
0:33:21.3 BJ: And so he’s like, “I think you can do what I did and probably bigger.”
0:33:23.5 MB: Alright now.
0:33:24.0 BJ: So coming from somebody like that.
0:33:25.5 MB: Right. Sorry. So we’re manifesting a billion plus…
0:33:27.7 BJ: Billion plus.
0:33:28.7 MB: I love it. I love it.
0:33:29.0 BJ: Unicorn loves it. That’s what I see…
0:33:30.6 MB: Okay let’s go.
0:33:31.2 BJ: In my future is a unicorn…
0:33:33.4 MB: I love it.
0:33:33.7 BJ: Another black woman Unicorn in Atlanta.
0:33:34.5 MB: I love it. And we need it.
0:33:36.0 BJ: Yeah.
0:33:36.1 MB: Not just in Atlanta. We need it everywhere.
0:33:37.6 BJ: Everywhere.
0:33:38.6 MB: We need it everywhere.
0:33:39.3 BJ: Yeah, yeah.
0:33:39.4 MB: You mentioned that when you took on your investment, you also got some board members.
0:33:43.0 BJ: Yeah.
0:33:43.1 MB: Would love to talk about that process because what, why did you wait till now?
0:33:48.3 BJ: Yeah.
0:33:48.6 MB: And then what’s that been like? Because I find that a lot of founders think I need a board right now.
0:33:53.1 BJ: Yeah.
0:33:53.6 MB: But they also think like they are gonna help me do my job, and that’s not typically how it will work.
0:33:57.9 BJ: Not typically yeah.
0:33:58.4 MB: So talk to me about getting forming that board how did it feel, and what’s their role, what are they doing?
0:34:03.4 BJ: Well that’s really the reason I was in town when you were telling me about the podcast. I was already in town because I was here for Caliber, which is an event where mostly black founder… I mean black executives come to town to get leadership training. And so what they did this year with Accenture, I think is one of the sponsors. Accenture brought some of their companies. I’m also part of the Accenture Black Founders program.
0:34:26.3 MB: Awesome.
0:34:26.8 BJ: So they brought four of us to town to talk to these black executives about sitting on our boards.
0:34:33.9 MB: Oh, I love that. Love it.
0:34:34.0 BJ: So it was like a board dating type session they had. And so, I always had probably since a maybe second or third year in with this company, I had a board of advisors.
0:34:44.2 MB: Gotcha.
0:34:44.5 BJ: So I always had advisors. I didn’t have a board of directors really. And so when we raised the fund, part of that term sheet was there seat boards they wanted a seat on the board. And so I was like, “Oh wow. So this is about to get serious.”
0:34:58.3 MB: That’s right.[laughter]
0:35:00.0 MB: Someone’s gonna be holding me to account, might just say, “Hey, you doing great girl.” You are doing a great job, girl. You need to do this, this, and this.
0:35:06.2 BJ: Exactly. This, this, and this. So I had my first board meeting two weeks ago…
0:35:10.3 MB: Congrats.
0:35:10.4 BJ: With the investors on the board. And I was nervous, very nervous. I went over the deck many times with advisors and had everybody look over, make sure I had everything in it. And I came to the meeting, it was two hours of like, here’s what we’re gonna do, this is where we’re gonna be next year. And had every, all my notes and I had both, Serena Ventures has Allison… Steelman is on the board, and William Kratts is on. And so as I was leaving out Allison walked me out, ’cause I actually did it in person at their office. And I got texts from both of them afterwards like, “Barbara, you did a great job.”
0:35:44.3 MB: That’s awesome. That’s awesome.
0:35:44.7 BJ: My first board meeting…
0:35:45.7 MB: Yeah.
0:35:45.9 BJ: Was very nervous, but it went very well and I was well prepared just from my advisors and a lot of the people in my network there…
0:35:51.9 MB: Yeah.
0:35:52.3 BJ: Looked over it and made sure that I had everything in there that they felt I would need to tell the board.
0:35:56.3 MB: Yeah.
0:35:56.6 BJ: And it went very well. And like you said, it’s… They’re not there. Like, okay, you gotta do this and make sure you do. But it was things that they felt I needed to do, it wasn’t like an advisory board where we advise you to do it. I could do it or not with a board of directors here the things we need to put in place, Barbara.
0:36:12.3 MB: That’s right.
0:36:12.6 BJ: These are action items.
0:36:13.7 MB: That’s right.
0:36:14.2 BJ: Let’s go get it done.
0:36:15.0 MB: Right. It’s not, these are not suggestions. These are requirements.
0:36:19.2 BJ: These are requirements.
0:36:19.7 MB: Yeah.
0:36:19.9 BJ: So and some of that was indecisions I hadn’t made. You asked me about Lillii R&B and then we have Freeing Returns. Sometimes it’s confusing. Are they Lillii? Are they Freeing Returns? It keeps going back and forth. They’re like, “Barbara, we’ve gotta be one name.”
0:36:33.3 MB: Yeah.
0:36:33.9 BJ: So that was one of the first decisions I’ve been agonizing about that because Lillii is my acronym.
0:36:38.5 MB: Right.
0:36:38.9 BJ: And they were like, let’s be Freeing Returns. You’re getting this first Melissa.
0:36:42.4 MB: I know.
0:36:42.5 BJ: We haven’t announced it yet.
0:36:43.8 MB: Okay.
0:36:44.0 BJ: This is an exclusive.
0:36:44.8 MB: Alright, alright.
0:36:45.8 BJ: But we’re gonna be rebranded, rename Freeing Returns, and we’re gonna have Lillii be really like our foundation, something we really stand on. And that’s the women in tech.
0:36:54.6 MB: I love it.
0:36:55.0 BJ: So that’s gonna be the Lillii part of it.
0:36:56.4 MB: Freeing Returns.
0:36:58.0 BJ: It’s gonna be Freeing Returns.
0:36:58.2 MB: But you are… No disrespect, but now actually it makes sense. Because it’s exactly what you do.
0:37:02.8 BJ: That’s what we do. Yeah.
0:37:04.0 MB: Wow. Rebrand. Okay.
0:37:05.1 BJ: Yeah. So that’s gonna be happening. So that was one of the mandates from the board. So I love it because it was… I was agonizing on that. And they’re like, we’re making the decision.
0:37:12.5 MB: Right, right.
0:37:13.2 BJ: These are the action items. Go get it done. [laughter]
0:37:14.5 MB: Well agonizing is an opportunity cost right about now. So if you just make a decision.
0:37:18.1 BJ: Make a decision. Yeah.
0:37:19.3 MB: Were you nervous?
0:37:20.3 BJ: I was so nervous.
0:37:21.1 MB: What did you think the… What is the best thing that came out of it? Because I do think people get very nervous around anybody they feel like they have to report to.
0:37:27.6 BJ: Report to yeah.
0:37:28.8 MB: But it sounds like they’re really partners with you in the business.
0:37:31.4 BJ: Oh my God.
0:37:31.8 MB: So what’s the best thing?
0:37:33.1 BJ: That was the best thing that came out of it is as they not only did I get to say here’s what has happened that’s good. It was challenges. Like here’s some of the things that I would love help with because I don’t know at this part of it. I’ve never been in this situation before. You guys have with some of your portfolio companies. And they had been in those situations, it was very easy like, “Barbara talk to this company about the marketing, go here.” And it was that collaboration that I had at this level…
0:38:00.9 MB: Right.
0:38:01.0 BJ: Of what I needed. So that’s what I loved about it, is just having a team of experts that I can, that we’re all vested in this. This is not just like I said, the advisors, these are people who if I do well, we all do well.
0:38:13.5 MB: All do well. That’s right. But they also got the connections.
0:38:15.7 BJ: And they have the connections.
0:38:17.2 MB: To help like you said, connect with others. Yeah.
0:38:18.3 BJ: To get us into other places. We need to get into open other doors. Tell me things I hadn’t even thought about. It’s like, “Oh wow, I didn’t think about that part.” And so that’s the part I love about this board is that they’re really hands-on. They really are. And so they’re very, and believe in me and our company and the team and love what we’re building. And so it was scary going in, but once I came out, I was like, “Man, I can’t wait till the next board meeting.”[laughter]
0:38:41.1 BJ: I’m ready for it now.
0:38:42.5 MB: Which is not what most people usually say. But I love that.
0:38:45.8 BJ: I mean it was great.
0:38:46.5 MB: I love that.
0:38:47.0 BJ: It was great. And I can’t wait till we’re gonna meet every two months…
0:38:49.3 MB: Okay.
0:38:49.5 BJ: We’re gonna meet. Yeah.
0:38:50.2 MB: That’s a lot.
0:38:50.9 BJ: Yes. It’s a lot. But they feel…
0:38:51.4 MB: But you’re growing fast.
0:38:52.7 BJ: Yeah. At this point is good to check in every two months. And I’m looking forward to the next one.
0:38:56.6 MB: You talked about investors and it reminded me now as I was processing what you said, that so many people are here raising money.
0:39:03.1 BJ: Yeah.
0:39:03.5 MB: Not everybody is ready.
0:39:05.0 BJ: Yeah.
0:39:05.2 MB: But that’s a different conversation.
0:39:05.6 BJ: Yeah.
0:39:07.3 MB: But people think the investors choose you, which to some point they do. But are there investors that you had to say no to?
0:39:15.3 BJ: Yeah. Yeah.
0:39:16.1 MB: And talk about that ’cause people are like, wait a minute, they got money. Why are you saying no? [laughter] But it’s important.
0:39:20.3 BJ: It’s important. And especially now because we’re getting ready for series A, I’m talking to investors already, even though I’m not ready to raise yet, just building those relationships. And you’re right, it’s like some people are not right for me. And they have a lot of money. But what I’m looking for now are people that can help me get to that next level. I’m trying to get to a billion dollars. And so I need people that are gonna help me get to that next level. So all money is not the money that I need. I need money, I need the connections, I need doors open for me. I need relationships, warm intros and things like that. So I’m really gonna be strategic on this next round with who we take the money from because it has to be somebody that can get us to that next level of where we want to go. And so I’m really looking for strategic investors on the next round. So, and I was there before, with my pre-seed around, I probably just took money, just to kind of take it from anybody just to get the money in the door. But I learned as I saw my equity just getting, going away [laughter] I was like I gotta be more strategic with how I’m giving away this equity.
0:40:24.8 MB: Yeah. Let’s go ahead. Five years from now. Where will you be? What will you be doing?
0:40:29.2 BJ: Five years from now? I believe that I will be in my visionary role right now I’m still running a lot of stuff, but my team be the first one to tell you Barbara is the visionary. It’s like, I can see probably too much and I’m always kinda like we need to be doing this like Barbara, we gotta build this part and you do it. We can’t do all of these things, slow your role.
0:40:50.0 BJ: Slow your role.
0:40:50.9 MB: You’re killing us. But I will be fully in that visionary role. I’m probably gonna have somebody else just kind of see… I have a COO now I’m kind of limiting him a little bit. I’m not ready to let go all the rails.
0:41:00.4 BJ: Sure. Of course.
0:41:01.8 MB: Yet Melissa. But I kind of see five years from now while we are in that unicorn status. I’m in that visionary role now where I’m thinking of where we’re going. What are we gonna do next? What other areas we’re gonna tackle besides retail. Because this application can go into other verticals other than just retail. That’s fraud and energy. That’s fraud and medical billing. That’s fraud…
0:41:23.7 BJ: There’s fraud everywhere unfortunately. In the federal government.
0:41:25.0 MB: But [laughter], it’s a different story. Okay. Yes. I’m sorry.
0:41:29.9 BJ: We need to go there too. But I mean so many other places we can go and so I wanna be in that visionary role five years from now and kind of just guiding the direction of where the company is going but not having to do all the day to day.
0:41:39.6 MB: Sure. That’s a lot that.
0:41:40.4 BJ: Like I’m doing now and I said, we’re in that billionaire unicorn status and then, I wanna start a fund. I wanna be able to invest especially in black women. I think that’s where I’m gonna start first I wanna fund for black women, especially black women in tech.
0:41:56.1 MB: Absolutely.
0:41:56.6 BJ: So that’s where I really, I think I could add value in that space with how to sell in that space. Make sure the code is right. Tech stacks, all that type of stuff. So next five years from now is gonna be really sweet.
0:42:10.9 MB: I love it.
0:42:11.6 BJ: Very sweet.
0:42:12.6 MB: What would you say, there’s a lot of programs out here right? Trying to get young black kids to go into coding and technology. What would you say to the next Barbara Jones sitting somewhere in the program?
0:42:25.1 BJ: Oh, I wish I could talk to her now, but what I would tell her is just believe in yourself. You got this, you can actually do this. ‘Cause a lot of my fear coming in is like nobody… I was the first person in my family to go to college. Nobody in my family has built a business, especially not to this level. So I didn’t really have anyone to look to.
0:42:46.1 MB: There was no roadmap for you.
0:42:47.0 BJ: There was no roadmap for me. Everything I was doing was scary to me. And I’m one of those type of people that if you tell me I can’t do something, I’m gonna do it [laughter] And so [0:42:57.9] ____ and all this. I’m like, well watch what I… I’m one of those type of watch me I wanna show you.
0:43:01.6 MB: Right. I got this. I got this.
0:43:04.0 BJ: ‘Cause you can’t tell me what I can’t do. So that to me, that’s what I would tell that next Barbara Jones is you can do this. Believe in yourself. You can do it. You’re gonna find the people, you’re gonna find your tribe that’s gonna help you, believe in your dream, you’re gonna be able to see your dreams come true one day. That’s what I would tell her is, you can do this and the fear is just gonna drive you don’t let it stop you. Let that be your driving force. That’s what I would tell her. If I could go back and tell that to myself, it would’ve been great.
0:43:29.8 MB: Sure. [laughter], let me say, I’m so proud of you. We are so proud of you.
0:43:34.1 BJ: Thank you.
0:43:34.7 MB: When you got the investment from Serena was like, oh my God, she’s great. I was like, no, she was great before that. [laughter], y’all just now know who she is. [laughter] So I look forward now that you’re hanging out with people like Tope. I look forward to seeing you when you become a unicorn. ‘Cause I know unlike many others, you will still be giving back.
0:43:50.9 BJ: Yep. Definitely.
0:43:51.7 MB: You say you won’t be coding, but you’ll be making up something new.
0:43:53.5 BJ: I’ve gotta do some coding.
0:43:54.5 MB: Oh, I know. I feel it’s in your blood but you’re also gonna be an amazing role model. You are just an awesome, authentic person.
0:44:01.4 BJ: Thank you. Thank you so much.
0:44:02.4 MB: You deserve everything you get. So thank you. I appreciate you.
0:44:03.6 BJ: Thank you so much. Thank you Melissa.[music]
0:44:10.9 MB: I hope you enjoyed the discussion with Barbara as much as I did. The best advice I learned was about culture. The presence of culture in a company is critical in retaining talent and building the foundation for your business to grow. You must take time to ensure your staff functions well. Both as individuals and as a team. It is important to bring other folks along with you and support them. After all, team stands for together everyone achieves more. I also appreciated her discipline as a veteran, it is clear her military training has come in handy in running a tight enterprise Barbara’s strategy not to take money from everyone is a critical piece of advice. You started this company and it is important to make sure you manage your cap table so that ownership remains within your grasp.
0:45:07.5 MB: Thank you for listening to Founder Hustle. If you enjoyed this conversation, please subscribe and tell a friend. For more information about our guest, check out our website wearenmv.com. There you’ll find all kinds of information, tools, and resources for the new majority entrepreneur. To stay connected, follow us on social media @wearenmv or search hashtag Founder Hustle. Founder Hustle is a production of Kinetic Energy, entertainment and new majority ventures. Our producer is Ian Cain. Our social media producer is Misako Envela and the show is mixed by Sonya Harris. The intro theme is Vuelta Al Sol by Tomas Novoa. The credit theme is Glide by Columbia Knights and the Yays are from Ratata by Curtis Cole. Founder Hustle was recorded at Clean Cuts in Washington DC. I’m Melissa Bradley. See you next time.
0:46:09.0 BJ: That’s great. I have no more questions.
0:46:10.6 MB: Oh wait, let me just tell you, season one she’d come in here like pages we’re down to… I think so far we had one interview there was none.
0:46:19.0 BJ: You made made it so easy for me ’cause I was so nervous about today, you just don’t know.[music]