Climbing the Mountain: Or, Life as a Black Founder in Tech
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quite match up to Tristan’s or Rob Reffkin’s—who both tout MBAs and Wall Street beginnings—and I’m not super-connected on Sand Hill Road, I can tell anyone with great confidence that I am more than capable of making the climb up Everest. I’ve been climbing all my life, actually.
I earned more than 25 academic scholarships to become the first in my immediate family to graduate from college after growing up in a single-parent home with two older brothers. During many of those years, we lived in cramped apartments and on food stamps. Since then, I’ve worked at highly reputable organizations during high profile, high-pressure situations in sports (Texas Longhorns), politics (Department of Homeland Security), fashion (creating SXSW’s style program), business (advised FedEx, Kimberly-Clark, among others), and tech (Bazaarvoice), often being the lone black person in the room.
So what I have is the experience of climbing up life—not just technology—as a pioneer and disruptive thinker. The risk of entrepreneurship is something I can handle, because my life has been all about making the most of limited opportunities to get to places no one around me had been before.
As a tech founder, there’s an order to things: First you lose your free time and sleep, then you lose your good credit and savings, then you lose some friends and maybe your husband or wife—and if things don’t work out, you’ll lose money and your reputation. Most importantly, entrepreneurship can make you lose the most important thing you have: your perspective on the world and your place in it. For blacks in tech, this last part can be the hardest as you can be subtly forced to not identify as being black in order to assimilate into the industry around you, an industry that doesn’t look like you or have the benefit of experience to believe in you.
I can say this from experience because I have lost sleep, maxed out credit cards, borrowed money from friends, and done consulting gigs on the side to pay company expenses. Most achingly, I’ve lost friends and a wife in the process of running this startup. Now, as I’m fundraising for our first institutional round, I can sense that I’m at a crossroads of needing to not be black, too. I’m not supposed to say this because saying so is to imply that I’m not spending enough of my mental energy and time focusing on my business and being “undeniable,” which is just another way of trying to make me not realize what’s really happening.
Despite these truths, my goal now is to make the experience of building Localeur a valuable one, personally and financially, for myself, my investors, and the people who will follow in my path despite the sleepless nights, stress, rejection, confusion, bias, heartbreak, migraines, and self-doubt.
And I’d like to do all of this while not losing my perspective and sense of (black) self on the climb up the mountain, sherpa-style.