As a new mom and National Sales Director at Coca-Cola, I didn’t give much thought to food allergies. However, when my daughter Vivienne started eating solid foods, it became clear that she was allergic to tree nuts, bananas and corn. In addition, she has a rare condition called FPIES that causes a severe reaction to eggs. I was surprised and frustrated to learn that there was nothing on the market that met her dietary needs and my health standards. With determination and a belief that you can’t wait around for someone else to solve your problems, I set out on a path to create a new line of healthy, convenient allergy-friendly snacks for my daughter and everyone to enjoy - Partake Foods. As a minority and a woman starting a new business, I discovered a few challenging realities that are rarely talked about.
1. Access to Capital
African-American women are the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs in the US with over 1.5M businesses that generate over $44B in annual revenue. However, out of the 10,238 venture deals between 2012 and 2014, just 24 of those involved Black women. Statistically, that is zero!
Only 11 startups led by Black women have raised more than $1M in funding. When you think about access to capital - having angels in your personal network, having business ideas that are relatable to the VCs you are pitching, and looking like the people you are pitching to, minority women are at a definite disadvantage.
In speaking to successful founders, I’m repeatedly told that one of the most important contributors to success will be my network of advisors and mentors. However, there aren’t a ton of minority entrepreneurs, particularly in the consumer products space where I operate, making it’s difficult to find others with similar struggles, drivers and challenges.
3. People Discount Your Business
I can’t count on my hands the number of times I’ve walked into a room – whether to pitch, at a trade show, or a meeting with vendors - and been with a white female or male counterpart and been totally ignored. People turn to my non-minority counterpart and assume they are the business leader.
When that’s the natural thought, it’s hard to convey to people how serious you are about your business and get them to believe in you, since they’ve discounted you and your business ability from the minute they saw you.
4. Lack of Support from Community/Culture
I have an amazingly supportive network of friends and family, but I may scream if I hear the question again, “Are you sure?” and “Why would you ever leave your corporate job?” It’s unfathomable to many of my friends and family that I would leave the security of a 6 figure 9-5 to embark on a journey of entrepreneurship. “Side hustles” are a huge thing in our community and speak to the ability of managing a full-time job, as well as an entrepreneurial venture, but it’s often taboo to make the leap to becoming a full-time entrepreneur.
5. There is a Ton of Opportunity
The time is ripe to be both a female and minority entrepreneur. Investors and large corporations are awakening to the disparity that exists in funding and opportunity, as well as realizing the great bets that they are missing out on.
Because of this, funds that are specifically interested in investing in female and minority founders are popping up, and programs like Project Entrepreneur and CODE2040 are committed to changing the current statistics. While there’s still a gap, there are so many amazing founders and business leaders working to trail blaze a chance.
I have always been in love with all things art- I was obsessed with drawing and painting before I was even walking. In high school, I started a career selling art through various gallery art shows and on Etsy. I then went on to study fine arts at the University of Southern California, with an emphasis in painting, but took classes in ceramics, printmaking, cinema and architecture to get a really well-rounded education on all sorts of art.
During my senior year of college, my career path went through a huge transition; I started my own temporary tattoo brand, INKED by Dani, which is a brand of temporary tattoos based on my hand-drawn fine art designs.
The idea for the brand came one night after a themed party at college. My friends, knowing how much I loved drawing, asked me to cover them in hand-drawn doodles using eyeliner. The feedback from that night was overwhelming, everyone my friends saw that night was obsessed with the designs. In that moment, a lightbulb went off in my head... I could do some completely unique here and create chic temporary tattoos with an art-driven aesthetic, unlike anything else on the market. Other temporary tattoo brands were targeted to kids or lacked a sleek and millennial-driven look. It was a perfect pivot; I could utilize my fine arts training and tattoos as a new art medium to create a completely innovative brand.
Using the money I made from selling my artwork throughout high school and college, I funded the launch of INKED by Dani. I had always loved the look of dainty tattoos, but knew I could never commit to the real thing, and I knew my parents would kill me if I got a tattoo (I also knew that so many girls must have that same conflict). Starting INKED by Dani was a no-brainer.
I started off with a collection of about only 10 designs and sold them at sorority houses around USC. Our unique concept for on-trend and fashion-forward tattoos was spreading through word of mouth, and we quickly started growing an Instagram following. I was hustling all day from my room, cold calling retailers, sending blind samples and tons of emails, and trying to open up as many opportunities as I could.
Now, we're sold at over 10,000 retail locations (retailers include Target, Walmart, Urban Outfitters, Forever 21 and Hot Topic), and we've transformed temporary tattoos into a whole new form of wearable art.
My 4 best tips for starting your own business are:
- Just go with your gut! You'll never know what works until you try it. Go day by day and do everything in your power to work toward your goals. Be bold, but be sure to be thoughtful in your actions.
- Research your competitors and other successful brands in your category to determine how you can make your product stand out. Figure out where there is a need or hole in the market that your new offering or approach can fill.
- Don't spread yourself too thin. Delegate where possible, and stay focused each day on doing the best and most you can. Don't get too caught up in your end goal or the big picture to a point where it overwhelms or freezes you. You're already making a bold move to start something new, so try to prioritize what's important! I started off in the beginning hand packing every single tattoo pack that we sold and shipped. If I wanted to scale to align with the level of demand we were receiving, I needed to make the pivot to mass produce and relinquish the control of doing every step myself. I am a total perfectionist, so that was definitely hard! From that point on, overseeing production has been a huge part of my daily schedule, but by doing so I've been able to free up more time to focus on design, merchandising, and sales, allowing me to really focus on growing the business.
- Prioritize great product packaging and branding. It's so important to invest time in customer experience- how customers view and interact with your product. The packaging is just as important as the actual product inside! When we were starting off, we had high demand, and I definitely jumped the gun a bit on packaging so we could deliver product to the retailers when they wanted it. Since then, we've completely revamped the packaging into something upscale and unique that reflects what the brand is all about. Our product packaging is always called out as being one of our retailers' and customers' favorite part of our product!