OoTheNigerian

sometimes, I make a lot of sense.

Race and Technology: Are There Renowned Internet Startups With Black Founders?

05 April 2010 by Oo

(CC) Brian Solis. www.briansolis.com.

This was a very hard post to write. I wrote and deleted it several times. Reason being, issues about race  is complicated and can easily be misinterpreted and have an unwanted outcome. I eventually made my decision to publish after reading the post A Fix for Discrimination: Follow the Indian Trails by Prof Vivek Wadhwa on Techcrunch

Because of the complexity, I would like to make the following statements before proceeding.

  1. Please read to the end before deciding to comment
  2. I will use people and institutions to illustrate my points. I am NOT directly or indirectly accusing them of anything. They are just examples.
  3. My stats are not 100% accurate but are good enough to get my point across. If you notice any error, please bring it to my attention.

Now to the post.

Do you know of any renowned Internet company/startup with a black founder? (please note I specifically said Internet.)

Now my description of renowned will be subjective so I will explain what I mean. I mean an Internet company that is mainstream, known around the world, maybe used by millions and possibly profitable. From Google, to Yahoo, Twitter to Tweetdeck, to Posterous, to WordPress to BrightKite to PayPal to SlideShare to Skype to Spotify to YouTube to Amazon to Lastfm to DropBox to Facebook, to Hi5 to Farmville to any of the scores of web apps I use daily monthly or yearly (go ahead and add the web apps you use). I do not know of ONE with a Black Founder!*

*That was until I stumbled upon Michael Seibel (pictured above), the CEO of Justin.TV. I wrote most of this post before I found about him on a Black Enterprise (not mainstream) website. Most of my arguments remained unchanged.

Where I have checked for black founders

  • I have read thousands, yes thousands of articles from the biggest Technology blogs (TechCrunch, Mashable, ReadWrteWeb, GigaOm) covering Internet companies and I am yet to come across one article covering a startup with a black founder. (Please note that there might have been some published on a day I did not read.)
  • I have followed TechCrunch50’s and a 40, LeWeb, DEMO and other competitions startups, yet to see a single one there too. (There might be one or two among the hundreds but I am yet to come across them.)
  • I have seen the stars come out from incubators like YCombinator, Techstars and SeedCamp and I am yet to see a black founder among the renowned ones (except Justin.TV so far.)
  • I have read books (e.g. Founders at Work by Jessica Livingston, The Stories of Facebook, YouTube and myspace by Sarah Lacy, The Google Story, etc) that document the stories of scores of startups featuring  hundreds of characters but I cannot recollect a black character in any of the stories
  • I have gone through the interview archive (I’d guess over a hundred interviews) of Mixergy, the awesome site that interviews lots of startups founders but have not crossed an interview of a successful black Internet startup founder.
  • Myself. Like I said earlier, I use lots of internet apps and I do not use one by a black founder.

Why I rule out discrimination.

Although it is reported that In 2008, blacks constituted only 1.5% the Valley’s tech population, I would rule out discrimination. This is not a white/black issue, it is a Black-everybody else issue. The founder of eBay, Pierre Omidyar  is Persian, That of Admob, Omar Hamoui is Syrian. The founder of SlideShare is both a woman and an Indian so she is a minority (in US) on both counts. There are several other women and minorities (at least in US) that have been able to create world class startups too. Secondly, based on my experience in the UK, the ground is as level (racially) as can be.

Some of my observations.

  • It seems the blacks are generally just not interested in the Internet. I have organized and participated in several startup events in the UK and on several occasions, I have been the only black person there. Other times, we have been 3 among over a hundred. Now these events are absolutely open to EVERYONE. When I created Warwick Internet Startups, a group to promote Internet Enterprise, I told all my friends majority of whom are black but yet at the end of the day two of them came ONCE, and disappeared afterwards.
  • The ones that do some interesting stuff hide. I know quite a few Nigerians are behind some really ambitious and impressive projects yet they refuse to show their faces in their websites and I will  call them out now I have the chance. HopStop the New York journey planner founded by Chinedu Echeruo, Zetatype the software keyboard company founded by Obi Nwosu, Social Cubix social media app development company founded by school mate, Udoka Uzoka. Guys, why do you hide your faces on your wonderful creation. I will dedicate a full blog post to why it is important you show your faces.

Some Arguments

There are certain fields where a race dominates, like blacks do in rap music (but they have my man Eminem) Whites in Rock music and Winter sports

Here is my counter argument: Their audience is dominated by that race (based on cultural and geographical reasons). The same cannot be said for the Internet. EVERY RACE USES THE INTERNET EQUALLY

There are historical inequalities that have put blacks on the back footing.

I agree that historical issues might be at play in some of the educational imbalance but I have to disagree that is the case on the web. The Internet is the only medium that has allowed people from any background to make it big on the web; it is one of the few places meritocracy plays it big. Asides that, there are quite a lot of stories of foreigners who arrived the US rather poor and unequal. Take the examples of  Gurbaksh Chahal and Indian immigrant and Max Levchin a Ukrainian Immigrant who are founders of BlueLithium (which sold to yahoo $300 million in cash) and PayPal (which sold for 1.5 billion) respectively.

It interesting to note that there are black people that have very high positions in internet companies. David Drummond is the Chief Legal officer for Google, Trevor Johnson is the Head of Strategy and Planning at Facebook, Tristan Walker is the star VP of business development at Foursquare Not counting the thousands of great black programmers in Facebook, Google, Yahoo, etc. There are numerous black successful entrepreneurs like Farrah Gray so why not the internet?

Should there be a quota system for startups with black founders?

No. For a better explanation read this letter by T.J. Rodgers,

The way forward?

I really do not know which is why I am raising this. Prof Vivek pointed out that the Indians have a mentorship system Contrast that with the mentorship system for Indians (The Indus Entrepreneurs) in place where people like Vinod Khosla helped the younger Indian entrepreneurs). In the same article he put up a link for the black mentorship group in the valley (100 black men on Silicon valley). that is not too encouraging. Asides the fact that excludes women (at least in name). I cannot see any success story on the site. There are no events holding that would attract me as an ambitious startup founder.

This is VERY important to me.

As a black Internet startup founder (OnePage) I am well within my domain raising this up. I am sure I am not the only person that has wondered these same thoughts but it is only a black person that can bring it up with the least chance of it being misunderstood.

many years ago back in Nigeria when I first had the ambition of being an Internet entrepreneur, the first thing I looked for was a Nigerian doing something online whom I could aspire to emulate, there was none. I later discovered there was not even a single black man. Contrast this to music where there are people like Jay Z to look up to. People may not realize the importance for young people in having a role model (near or distant). It is quite tough when you observe ‘your type’ has not successfully travelled the road you are about to begin a journey on.

Are There Renowned Internet Startups With Black Founders?

People I would really like to get a response from

  1. Prof Vivek who does a lot of research on Internet Startups and made me finally spit this out.
  2. Sarah Lacy who travels the world looking to interview startups (she even visited Rwanda in search of startups )
  3. Scobleizer: Who probably knows every startup under the sun
  4. Paul Graham and Jessica Livingston: Who are parents to 180 startups and probably 300 founders.
  5. The guys from hackernews: they have answers for every question.
  6. Black Internet entrepreneurs: I would like to know if I missed you out and also your thoughts.
  7. You. Yes you reading this right now.

PS: If you have any qualms about this post, let me know in the comment section, or contact me here

Please Retweet, Digg, and Share this post. We need to get this discussion going.

84 comments | Categories: Technology | Tags: , , , ,

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  • http://www.zetatype.com/ Obi Nwosu

    I 100% agree that we need more black role models in Technology. That's one of the many reasons why I'm in this entrepreneurship game for the long hall. As all entrepreneurs know it may take several attempts but I am fully prepared to learn the lessons necessary to make good.

    I also completely agree that we can not underestimate the power of good role models. I also feel that bad role models can have an similarly damaging effect.

    To respond to your comments about my lack of visibility on the Zetatype site, as is the case with many start ups, I do not focus on who I am initially. Like Zynga's Mark Pincus, I see Zeta as a project until such time that I am comfortable it has the potential to be a significant business. At that point I fully intend to make myself “visible” as I will be looking to promote the hell out of it. Until then, it is more important to focus on making Zeta in to something that is a worthy example of a successful business and not just a cool idea.

    Also, I do perceive that being black and Nigerian may have a negative effect on the perception of any business I am involved with in its early stages. To pretend that this is not part of the reality we live in is naive. As a pragmatist who wants Zeta to succeed I do not want to do anything that will jeopardize its chances of success. In the same way, if I had a site aimed exclusively at women I may potentially look to partner with a women to be the public face of the business. However, when Zeta (or any business I am involved in in future) has past its formative stages I fully expect it will have the momentum and strength to make these considerations less important. Until then we must remember that business is business.

    There are many black founded technology companies struggling to make it but, in my opinion, what people need to see is people succeeding (i.e. making money) not trying to succeed.

    By the way, another black funded company with a great idea is Kyubid (http://www.kyubid.com) the online dating site founded by Grace Yusuf (another Nigerian).

    I am passionate about the idea of helping create a successful black founded, globally recognised internet start up. It is for this reason that I am interested in investing in other black founded businesses (with potential!) as well as my own. I would love for my business to be the one that succeeds first but I firmly believe that a successful role model can only benefit us all.

    So if you know of any interesting and very early stage black founded ventures that need funding please put them in contact with me. :-)

    -O

  • http://www.zetatype.com/ Obi Nwosu

    I 100% agree that we need more black role models in Technology. That's one of the many reasons why I'm in this entrepreneurship game for the long hall. As all entrepreneurs know it may take several attempts but I am fully prepared to learn the lessons necessary to make good.

    I also completely agree that we can not underestimate the power of good role models. I also feel that bad role models can have an similarly damaging effect.

    To respond to your comments about my lack of visibility on the Zetatype site, as is the case with many start ups, I do not focus on who I am initially. Like Zynga's Mark Pincus, I see Zeta as a project until such time that I am comfortable it has the potential to be a significant business. At that point I fully intend to make myself “visible” as I will be looking to promote the hell out of it. Until then, it is more important to focus on making Zeta in to something that is a worthy example of a successful business and not just a cool idea.

    Also, I do perceive that being black and Nigerian may have a negative effect on the perception of any business I am involved with in its early stages. To pretend that this is not part of the reality we live in is naive. As a pragmatist who wants Zeta to succeed I do not want to do anything that will jeopardize its chances of success. In the same way, if I had a site aimed exclusively at women I may potentially look to partner with a women to be the public face of the business. However, when Zeta (or any business I am involved in in future) has past its formative stages I fully expect it will have the momentum and strength to make these considerations less important. Until then we must remember that business is business.

    There are many black founded technology companies struggling to make it but, in my opinion, what people need to see is people succeeding (i.e. making money) not trying to succeed.

    By the way, another black funded company with a great idea is Kyubid (http://www.kyubid.com) the online dating site founded by Grace Yusuf (another Nigerian).

    I am passionate about the idea of helping create a successful black founded, globally recognised internet start up. It is for this reason that I am interested in investing in other black founded businesses (with potential!) as well as my own. I would love for my business to be the one that succeeds first but I firmly believe that a successful role model can only benefit us all.

    So if you know of any interesting and very early stage black founded ventures that need funding please put them in contact with me. :-)

    -O

  • Anonymous

    I 100% agree that we need more black role models in Technology. That’s one of the many reasons why I’m in this entrepreneurship game for the long hall. As all entrepreneurs know it may take several attempts but I am fully prepared to learn the lessons necessary to make good.

    I also completely agree that we can not underestimate the power of good role models. I also feel that bad role models can have an similarly damaging effect.

    To respond to your comments about my lack of visibility on the Zetatype site, as is the case with many start ups, I do not focus on who I am initially. Like Zynga’s Mark Pincus, I see Zeta as a project until such time that I am comfortable it has the potential to be a significant business. At that point I fully intend to make myself “visible” as I will be looking to promote the hell out of it. Until then, it is more important to focus on making Zeta in to something that is a worthy example of a successful business and not just a cool idea.

    Also, I do perceive that being black and Nigerian may have a negative effect on the perception of any business I am involved with in its early stages. To pretend that this is not part of the reality we live in is naive. As a pragmatist who wants Zeta to succeed I do not want to do anything that will jeopardize its chances of success. In the same way, if I had a site aimed exclusively at women I may potentially look to partner with a women to be the public face of the business. However, when Zeta (or any business I am involved in in future) has past its formative stages I fully expect it will have the momentum and strength to make these considerations less important. Until then we must remember that business is business.

    There are many black founded technology companies struggling to make it but, in my opinion, what people need to see is people succeeding (i.e. making money) not trying to succeed.

    By the way, another black funded company with a great idea is Kyubid (www.kyubid.com) the online dating site founded by Grace Yusuf (another Nigerian).

    I am passionate about the idea of helping create a successful black founded, globally recognised internet start up. It is for this reason that I am interested in investing in other black founded businesses (with potential!) as well as my own. I would love for my business to be the one that succeeds first but I firmly believe that a successful role model can only benefit us all.

    So if you know of any interesting and very early stage black founded ventures that need funding please put them in contact with me. :-)

    -O

  • http://www.loyokezie.com/ Loy Okezie

    Hi Oo,

    What a great piece! You've raised a very interesting and highly controversial topic here.

    I think much of the problem is the culture of the black race. Is our culture technology-inclined? Or something else?

    IMHO, I think that black people tend to do better with 'entertainment' than 'technology'. However, we've seen a few black people doing cool tech stuff that perhaps should be mentioned.

    As a matter of fact, TC has done a piece about HopStop back in 2007 and NYTimes did one in 2005.

    See links: http://techcrunch.com/2007/05/15/public-transit… and http://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/01/technology/01

  • http://www.loyokezie.com/ Loy Okezie

    Hi Oo,

    What a great piece! You've raised a very interesting and highly controversial topic here.

    I think much of the problem is the culture of the black race. Is our culture technology-inclined? Or something else?

    IMHO, I think that black people tend to do better with 'entertainment' than 'technology'. However, we've seen a few black people doing cool tech stuff that perhaps should be mentioned.

    As a matter of fact, TC has done a piece about HopStop back in 2007 and NYTimes did one in 2005.

    See links: http://techcrunch.com/2007/05/15/public-transit… and http://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/01/technology/01

  • http://myOnePage.com/Oo OoTheNigerian

    “Also, I do perceive that being black and Nigerian may have a negative effect on the perception of any business I am involved with in its early stages. To pretend that this is not part of the reality we live in is naive”

    I completely agree! I do hope I can turn it into an advantage.

    So if you know of any interesting and very early stage black founded ventures that need funding please put them in contact with me. :-)

    Now you are talking! We need to meet and chat. Are you on Plancast? I need to know the events you are attending and met up with you.

    Sorry for the delay in replying, I had a really long day!

  • http://myOnePage.com/Oo OoTheNigerian

    “Also, I do perceive that being black and Nigerian may have a negative effect on the perception of any business I am involved with in its early stages. To pretend that this is not part of the reality we live in is naive”

    I completely agree! I do hope I can turn it into an advantage.

    So if you know of any interesting and very early stage black founded ventures that need funding please put them in contact with me. :-)

    Now you are talking! We need to meet and chat. Are you on Plancast? I need to know the events you are attending and met up with you.

    Sorry for the delay in replying, I had a really long day!

  • http://myOnePage.com/Oo OoTheNigerian

    “I think that black people tend to do better with 'entertainment' than 'technology'. “

    I will respectfully disagree. They have role models in entertainment that give them the courage to venture towards that path. Take the coverage of HopStop, no mention of the founder.

    For things to change, some people would have to sit so others may walk. Like Obi pointed out, the reality is that it will have a negative effect on anyone that decides to “show face”. But is has to be done. I will do my little bit.

  • http://myOnePage.com/Oo OoTheNigerian

    “I think that black people tend to do better with 'entertainment' than 'technology'. “

    I will respectfully disagree. They have role models in entertainment that give them the courage to venture towards that path. Take the coverage of HopStop, no mention of the founder.

    For things to change, some people would have to sit so others may walk. Like Obi pointed out, the reality is that it will have a negative effect on anyone that decides to “show face”. But is has to be done. I will do my little bit.

  • http://twitter.com/motheomoleko Motheo Moleko

    Having read your post, I think you're spot on in terms of where certain people ply their trade. I live in South Africa, which is arguably worldwide the most stable and economically self-dependent country where black people are the majority of the population and, though our tech industry is still very much in its infancy, I'm often 1 of maybe 5 black guys at a web conference of over 200-400.

    Here I'm talking specifically web companies. The telecoms industry, for example, has many high profile black leaders, as does the IT sector. So I've been wondering the same thing for some time, as well.

    The fact of the matter is I don't think any systematic 'include black people' in technology type program will work. The trick is to either foster interest in the web or to cultivate it amongst black people. Speaking to South Africa again, the major technical/engineering attractions are in the mining, steel and chemical industry, partly because these are established industries with great career trajectories if you excel. So those kids who could very well be the next great web developers choose a different path.

    Education is where it starts, really, and people will gravitate to 'what is in front of them'. The question you've got to ask is how do we, as black people (so to speak), get it in front of them. Once you figure that out, the problem will solve itself, I believe.

    Good post, though. And it is a very important question. Maybe get your friend Basheera Khan to put you in touch with the Vivek Wadhwas and Sarah Laceys of the world, considering Bash once wrote for TechCrunch. I'd be very keen to get their thoughts (and Bash's, too, actually) on the matter.

  • http://twitter.com/motheomoleko Motheo Moleko

    Having read your post, I think you're spot on in terms of where certain people ply their trade. I live in South Africa, which is arguably worldwide the most stable and economically self-dependent country where black people are the majority of the population and, though our tech industry is still very much in its infancy, I'm often 1 of maybe 5 black guys at a web conference of over 200-400.

    Here I'm talking specifically web companies. The telecoms industry, for example, has many high profile black leaders, as does the IT sector. So I've been wondering the same thing for some time, as well.

    The fact of the matter is I don't think any systematic 'include black people' in technology type program will work. The trick is to either foster interest in the web or to cultivate it amongst black people. Speaking to South Africa again, the major technical/engineering attractions are in the mining, steel and chemical industry, partly because these are established industries with great career trajectories if you excel. So those kids who could very well be the next great web developers choose a different path.

    Education is where it starts, really, and people will gravitate to 'what is in front of them'. The question you've got to ask is how do we, as black people (so to speak), get it in front of them. Once you figure that out, the problem will solve itself, I believe.

    Good post, though. And it is a very important question. Maybe get your friend Basheera Khan to put you in touch with the Vivek Wadhwas and Sarah Laceys of the world, considering Bash once wrote for TechCrunch. I'd be very keen to get their thoughts (and Bash's, too, actually) on the matter.

  • http://myOnePage.com/Oo OoTheNigerian

    How did you know I knew @Bash :). I met her only yesterday!

    Your comment says it all! I really wish the debate will be picked up and discussed on a higher level. People do not really feel comfortable speaking of racial issues so they gently avoid it. i do my best to continue pushing it.

  • http://myOnePage.com/Oo OoTheNigerian

    How did you know I knew @Bash :). I met her only yesterday!

    Your comment says it all! I really wish the debate will be picked up and discussed on a higher level. People do not really feel comfortable speaking of racial issues so they gently avoid it. i do my best to continue pushing it.

  • http://twitter.com/motheomoleko Motheo Moleko

    The problem is people tend to reduce race issues to racism, when that isn't necessarily the case. But you've identified a problem. Now to build the solution. How do you plan on going about it?

  • http://twitter.com/motheomoleko Motheo Moleko

    The problem is people tend to reduce race issues to racism, when that isn't necessarily the case. But you've identified a problem. Now to build the solution. How do you plan on going about it?

  • http://myOnePage.com/Oo OoTheNigerian

    Now add being Nigerian to the mix :).
    I can only focus on the Nigerian issue since I can be credible 'spokes person'. Of course if we have world class Nigerian founded startups, we would have partly solved the black issue.

  • http://myOnePage.com/Oo OoTheNigerian

    Now add being Nigerian to the mix :).
    I can only focus on the Nigerian issue since I can be credible 'spokes person'. Of course if we have world class Nigerian founded startups, we would have partly solved the black issue.

  • http://melodymccloskey.com melodymcc

    Love the piece, it's a long time coming and definitely speaks the truth!

  • http://melodymccloskey.com melodymcc

    Love the piece, it's a long time coming and definitely speaks the truth!

  • http://twitter.com/scott_allison Scott Allison

    You said that all races use the internet equally. I was surprised to discover this is not the case. I just saw these stats in the last few days, but I can't remember where! From memory the stats for those with internet access in the US were:

    white 75%
    Hispanic 60%
    Black 50%

  • http://blog.teamly.com/about Scott Allison

    You said that all races use the internet equally. I was surprised to discover this is not the case. I just saw these stats in the last few days, but I can't remember where! From memory the stats for those with internet access in the US were:

    white 75%
    Hispanic 60%
    Black 50%

  • http://myOnePage.com/Oo OoTheNigerian

    Ok, lets make that 'fairly equally'. But that does not explain the less than 1% of black founders. Why do you think that is the case?

  • http://myOnePage.com/Oo OoTheNigerian

    Ok, lets make that 'fairly equally'. But that does not explain the less than 1% of black founders. Why do you think that is the case?

  • http://gre.gs/ Awfy

    I think it's just one of those culture things.

    For instance there are a lot of homosexuals in the web industry “just because”. There isn't any real explanation behind it. Some cultures on the whole pick up things more than others, not due to intelligence levels but due to interest levels.

    However I think on the whole scale of business, the white man is often sitting in the CEO chair simply due to the white man's racial background. Of course all that is starting to fade away and equality is becoming more prominent hence Mr Obama.

    Still the black man might never be interested on the grander scale of the web and I don't see that being a problem. I don't think it matters what colour skin the CEO has as long as they are as awesome as Steve Jobs.

  • http://gre.gs/ Awfy

    I think it's just one of those culture things.

    For instance there are a lot of homosexuals in the web industry “just because”. There isn't any real explanation behind it. Some cultures on the whole pick up things more than others, not due to intelligence levels but due to interest levels.

    However I think on the whole scale of business, the white man is often sitting in the CEO chair simply due to the white man's racial background. Of course all that is starting to fade away and equality is becoming more prominent hence Mr Obama.

    Still the black man might never be interested on the grander scale of the web and I don't see that being a problem. I don't think it matters what colour skin the CEO has as long as they are as awesome as Steve Jobs.

  • tkanet

    Great post, and the describes a certain reality, with a lot of care.
    I think instead of looking for models and examples to follow, one should focus on where the main blocking issue is : fund raising.
    I believe many of us have great ideas ( and as Jason Fried wrote recently), the best are everywhere ( and i add, they come from everywhere). But how many can decently raise 100m$. Independently from having great ideas, skills to execute etc …the main barrier remains of the funding side.
    Once this is unlocked, wether there are current models to follow or not, you find a lot more black founding great startups and companies.

  • tkanet

    Great post, and the describes a certain reality, with a lot of care.
    I think instead of looking for models and examples to follow, one should focus on where the main blocking issue is : fund raising.
    I believe many of us have great ideas ( and as Jason Fried wrote recently), the best are everywhere ( and i add, they come from everywhere). But how many can decently raise 100m$. Independently from having great ideas, skills to execute etc …the main barrier remains of the funding side.
    Once this is unlocked, wether there are current models to follow or not, you find a lot more black founding great startups and companies.

  • http://myOnePage.com/Oo OoTheNigerian

    “Some cultures on the whole pick up things more than others, not due to intelligence levels but due to interest levels.”

    It would not have been a problem if it was an issue culture, but this is a question of race. If all Americans (black and white) had no interest in the web, it would have been a different case, but that is not true. And there are quite a number of blacks in high positions on the web so why don't the the route of entrepreneurship?

  • http://myOnePage.com/Oo OoTheNigerian

    “Some cultures on the whole pick up things more than others, not due to intelligence levels but due to interest levels.”

    It would not have been a problem if it was an issue culture, but this is a question of race. If all Americans (black and white) had no interest in the web, it would have been a different case, but that is not true. And there are quite a number of blacks in high positions on the web so why don't the the route of entrepreneurship?

  • http://myOnePage.com/Oo OoTheNigerian

    “Some cultures on the whole pick up things more than others, not due to intelligence levels but due to interest levels.”

    It would not have been a problem if it was an issue culture, but this is a question of race. If all Americans (black and white) had no interest in the web, it would have been a different case, but that is not true. And there are quite a number of blacks in high positions on the web industry so why don't the the route of entrepreneurship?

  • http://www.facebook.com/cindy.gallop Cindy Gallop

    I spoke on a panel organized by GirlsInTech NYC in New York last fall, where I talked about the difficulties facing female entrepreneurs in the tech world and how much harder it is to get funded when VCs predominantly fund in their own image (male, white). After my talk an African-American entrepreneur in the audience came up to me, thanked me profusely and said that every single word I'd spoken had resonated with him and my experience reflected his. As you highlight, both of us represent minorities in this arena – along with gay/lesbian entrepreneurs who also face specific issues (now being helped by my friend Darren Spedale's organization http://startout.org/) – and I think it may come down to the straightforward fact that there are a lot more barriers to success, and a lot fewer role models to inspire and encourage along the entrepreneurial path (which is tough enough as it is).

    Great post!

  • http://www.facebook.com/cindy.gallop Cindy Gallop

    I spoke on a panel organized by GirlsInTech NYC in New York last fall, where I talked about the difficulties facing female entrepreneurs in the tech world and how much harder it is to get funded when VCs predominantly fund in their own image (male, white). After my talk an African-American entrepreneur in the audience came up to me, thanked me profusely and said that every single word I'd spoken had resonated with him and my experience reflected his. As you highlight, both of us represent minorities in this arena – along with gay/lesbian entrepreneurs who also face specific issues (now being helped by my friend Darren Spedale's organization http://startout.org/) – and I think it may come down to the straightforward fact that there are a lot more barriers to success, and a lot fewer role models to inspire and encourage along the entrepreneurial path (which is tough enough as it is).

    Great post!

  • http://twitter.com/golateef Lateef Johnson

    Actively working on changing this and will need your help soon. Follow me on Twitter, I'll do the same, and we can help each other.

  • Lateefivy

    Actively working on changing this and will need your help soon. Follow me on Twitter, I'll do the same, and we can help each other.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    One of the most talented “potential” entrepreneurs in Los Angeles is Black. His name is Hamet Watt and he founded NextMedium, a company that raised some $15 million in venture capital from prominent VCs including Bessemer, Globespan and Ascend Ventures. Unfortunately the company hit a wall and was acquired rather than going on to become a great success story but it had a lot of potential.

    I've been hoping that Hamet would start his next company and I told him early on (while he was still at NextMedium) that I'd love to back it. But for now he's an EIR at True Ventures. He worked for a time in private equity so he may be end up being lured back to the dark side.

    Thanks for writing this important post. I don't have answers but it's a problem that needs to be addressed.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    One of the most talented “potential” entrepreneurs in Los Angeles is Black. His name is Hamet Watt and he founded NextMedium, a company that raised some $15 million in venture capital from prominent VCs including Bessemer, Globespan and Ascend Ventures. Unfortunately the company hit a wall and was acquired rather than going on to become a great success story but it had a lot of potential.

    I've been hoping that Hamet would start his next company and I told him early on (while he was still at NextMedium) that I'd love to back it. But for now he's an EIR at True Ventures. He worked for a time in private equity so he may be end up being lured back to the dark side.

    Thanks for writing this important post. I don't have answers but it's a problem that needs to be addressed.

  • http://myOnePage.com/joel Joel Gascoigne

    Want to drop in and say I'm very happy the discussion has finally started to take off here.

    I know you have plans, and I'm with you man. One thing you can be sure of is that I'm determined to make OnePage succeed, and that will help you address this problem.

  • http://myOnePage.com/joel Joel Gascoigne

    Want to drop in and say I'm very happy the discussion has finally started to take off here.

    I know you have plans, and I'm with you man. One thing you can be sure of is that I'm determined to make OnePage succeed, and that will help you address this problem.

  • http://twitter.com/GaryMWatson Gary Watson

    Probably useless for yet another white guy to offer some speculation, but here goes: an entrepreneur needs to be bubbling over with arrogance and self-confidence to think that he alone knows The Next Big Thing, more so than the other thousands of smart guys. American society tends not to infuse black people with this sense of bubbling confidence like it does with Asians and white people. As an example, visualize going into a commercial bank and asking for a line of credit — first as a white man, and second, as a black woman. Take a guess at the difference in cordiality you are likely to see. Subtle things like this can shake your confidence.

    The situation is a little better for European or Nigerian blacks — you don't live in an environment where your only famous role models are drug dealing rappers. Plus, and I'm not sure how big a difference this makes, but white and Asian families are highly supportive of their kids starting a computer business, whereas in the USA maybe not so much for young black kids (subtle and not-so-subtle discouragement would be all around you).

    Anyway, just anothe white boy making an uneducated guess. What I would suggest is that you think about what kinds of things the Angel and VC community could do to help, and I bet you'll find that a lot of them will reach out. Maybe you could set up a free VC/Angel pitch day for black entrpreneurs? Put the word out on @angellist and I think you'd have a lot of takers.

  • http://twitter.com/GaryMWatson Gary Watson

    Probably useless for yet another white guy to offer some speculation, but here goes: an entrepreneur needs to be bubbling over with arrogance and self-confidence to think that he alone knows The Next Big Thing, more so than the other thousands of smart guys. American society tends not to infuse black people with this sense of bubbling confidence like it does with Asians and white people. As an example, visualize going into a commercial bank and asking for a line of credit — first as a white man, and second, as a black woman. Take a guess at the difference in cordiality you are likely to see. Subtle things like this can shake your confidence.

    The situation is a little better for European or Nigerian blacks — you don't live in an environment where your only famous role models are drug dealing rappers. Plus, and I'm not sure how big a difference this makes, but white and Asian families are highly supportive of their kids starting a computer business, whereas in the USA maybe not so much for young black kids (subtle and not-so-subtle discouragement would be all around you).

    Anyway, just anothe white boy making an uneducated guess. What I would suggest is that you think about what kinds of things the Angel and VC community could do to help, and I bet you'll find that a lot of them will reach out. Maybe you could set up a free VC/Angel pitch day for black entrpreneurs? Put the word out on @angellist and I think you'd have a lot of takers.

  • http://myOnePage.com/Oo OoTheNigerian

    Thanks Mark! I am honoured to have you here!

    I have no doubt that there are some black guys who are successes but they seem to 'hide'. Going on the about page of NextMedium, I see to trace of him and I really think that is important.

    Take for instance openlink software http://uda.openlinksw.com/ a software 500 company. you will have absolutely no idea that the founder is Nigerian, I knew that only today. I am really glad that the discussion is getting attention from people like you who can help carry it forward.

    It would be nice if you can discuss first hand with the 'unknown' black entrepreneurs there in the valley, and find out their position. I am still waiting for a response from Micel, the Justin.TV founder and CEO who is am exception to the rule.

  • http://myOnePage.com/Oo OoTheNigerian

    Thanks Mark! I am honoured to have you here!

    I have no doubt that there are some black guys who are successes but they seem to 'hide'. Going on the about page of NextMedium, I see to trace of him and I really think that is important.

    Take for instance openlink software http://uda.openlinksw.com/ a software 500 company. you will have absolutely no idea that the founder is Nigerian, I knew that only today. I am really glad that the discussion is getting attention from people like you who can help carry it forward.

    It would be nice if you can discuss first hand with the 'unknown' black entrepreneurs there in the valley, and find out their position. I am still waiting for a response from Michael, the Justin.TV founder and CEO who is am exception to the rule.

  • http://myOnePage.com/Oo OoTheNigerian

    “To save a drowning man, he must first give you his hand”.

    I agree funding might be an issue but I am waiting to see those that have done their little bit and what is left is funding.

  • http://myOnePage.com/Oo OoTheNigerian

    “To save a drowning man, he must first give you his hand”.

    I agree funding might be an issue but I am waiting to see those that have done their little bit and what is left is funding.

  • http://myOnePage.com/Oo OoTheNigerian

    The ladies are doing far better then the black males :) . The are a good role model to show it is possible if you try hard enough. Thanks for your response!

  • http://myOnePage.com/Oo OoTheNigerian

    The ladies are doing far better then the black males :) . The are a good role model to show it is possible if you try hard enough. Thanks for your response!

  • http://myOnePage.com/Oo OoTheNigerian

    Hi Gary, I think you have raised very thoughtful points.

    “an entrepreneur needs to be bubbling over with arrogance and self-confidence to think that he alone knows The Next Big Thing, more so than the other thousands of smart guys”

    exactly! That is what the distant role models are for. The allow the young black kid say “if that guy who has the same background with me can do it, so can I”. I think it is the RESPONSIBILITY of those that have make it no matter how small the scale is, to come out and give confidence to those yet to make it.

    “The situation is a little better for European or Nigerian blacks”
    Hahaha! Nigerians have it tougher! Much tougher!! but we all just have to keep striving!

    “Maybe you could set up a free VC/Angel pitch day for black entrepreneurs?”

    I do not think any entrepreneur would want to be looked at as the guy that made it just because of his/her skin colour.

    Thanks so much for your comments!

  • http://myOnePage.com/Oo OoTheNigerian

    Hi Gary, I think you have raised very thoughtful points.

    “an entrepreneur needs to be bubbling over with arrogance and self-confidence to think that he alone knows The Next Big Thing, more so than the other thousands of smart guys”

    exactly! That is what the distant role models are for. The allow the young black kid say “if that guy who has the same background with me can do it, so can I”. I think it is the RESPONSIBILITY of those that have make it no matter how small the scale is, to come out and give confidence to those yet to make it.

    “The situation is a little better for European or Nigerian blacks”
    Hahaha! Nigerians have it tougher! Much tougher!! but we all just have to keep striving!

    “Maybe you could set up a free VC/Angel pitch day for black entrepreneurs?”

    I do not think any entrepreneur would want to be looked at as the guy that made it just because of his/her skin colour.

    Thanks so much for your comments!

  • Healy_Jones

    Thought provoking post and a good discussion!

    There is a well-known Boston area startup founded by a Haitian, gazelle.com. Rousseau Aurelien is the founder and he's recruited a solid management team + raised VC from Venrock and Rockport. I don't have any inside info on the company, but I think it's doing well.

  • Healy_Jones

    Thought provoking post and a good discussion!

    There is a well-known Boston area startup founded by a Haitian, gazelle.com. Rousseau Aurelien is the founder and he's recruited a solid management team + raised VC from Venrock and Rockport. I don't have any inside info on the company, but I think it's doing well.

  • http://myOnePage.com/Oo OoTheNigerian

    Thanks! Very nice, the sort of story I like to hear!!

  • http://myOnePage.com/Oo OoTheNigerian

    Thanks! Very nice, the sort of story I like to hear!!

  • Keith

    At least Gary got this part right, “just another white boy making an uneducated guess.” I was enraged by the simplemindedness of his statement.

    As an Ivy league educated African American (yes, we do exist) whose parents “infused me with a sense of bubbling confidence like that of Asians and white people,” I took great exception to your posting. Quite frankly, it speaks to the ignorance that is a significant part of the problem.

    And just so Gary knows, African Americans don't live in an environment where the only famous role models are drug dealing rappers. I guess he has never heard of Oprah Winfrey, Bob Johnson, Ken Chenault, Tyler Perry, Barack Obama, Vernon Jordan or Colin Powell. Or maybe he doesn't realize that they are African Americans because negative stereotypes are not associated with their names (as they are not “drug dealing rappers”).

  • Keith

    At least Gary got this part right, “just another white boy making an uneducated guess.” I was enraged by the simplemindedness of his statement.

    As an Ivy league educated African American (yes, we do exist) whose parents “infused me with a sense of bubbling confidence like that of Asians and white people,” I took great exception to your posting. Quite frankly, it speaks to the ignorance that is a significant part of the problem.

    And just so Gary knows, African Americans don't live in an environment where the only famous role models are drug dealing rappers. I guess he has never heard of Oprah Winfrey, Bob Johnson, Ken Chenault, Tyler Perry, Barack Obama, Vernon Jordan or Colin Powell. Or maybe he doesn't realize that they are African Americans because negative stereotypes are not associated with their names (as they are not “drug dealing rappers”).

  • http://twitter.com/scott_allison Scott Allison

    First of all I will preface by saying that I am not an American, so I don't know the situation in America as well as others. One hypothesis could be this… black people in the US are generally poorer than white. A big motivator for poor parents is to see their kids do well, get steady jobs, with prestige and a good income. Therefore I would suggest black parents are maybe encouraging their kids to follow the professional route and aim for medicine, law, accountancy as a career instead of entrepreneurship. I do remember from my university studies on entrepreneurship in the UK that those from an afro/carribbean background were the least entrepreneurial race in the UK. I think you can widen the problem you have identified out from tech to entrepreneurship in all sectors.

  • http://blog.teamly.com/about Scott Allison

    First of all I will preface by saying that I am not an American, so I don't know the situation in America as well as others. One hypothesis could be this… black people in the US are generally poorer than white. A big motivator for poor parents is to see their kids do well, get steady jobs, with prestige and a good income. Therefore I would suggest black parents are maybe encouraging their kids to follow the professional route and aim for medicine, law, accountancy as a career instead of entrepreneurship. I do remember from my university studies on entrepreneurship in the UK that those from an afro/carribbean background were the least entrepreneurial race in the UK. I think you can widen the problem you have identified out from tech to entrepreneurship in all sectors.

  • http://myOnePage.com/Oo OoTheNigerian

    I understand your position but there is clearly a problem. How long shall we cling on to Oprah, Powell and Obama? Where are the role models 'on the Internet' that are in our generation (I assume you are less than 40). Where is our Larry, Sergey, Jeff Bezos, Zuckerberg? In 10 years should we still be calling Oprah?

    Part of the amazement is the fact that there are several highly educated black people and entrepreneurial successes in other fields so why not the internet?

    You should also note that my focus is the Internet where the problem is glaring!

  • http://myOnePage.com/Oo OoTheNigerian

    I understand your position but there is clearly a problem. How long shall we cling on to Oprah, Powell and Obama? Where are the role models 'on the Internet' that are in our generation (I assume you are less than 40). Where is our Larry, Sergey, Jeff Bezos, Zuckerberg? In 10 years should we still be calling Oprah?

    Part of the amazement is the fact that there are several highly educated black people and entrepreneurial successes in other fields so why not the internet?

    You should also note that my focus is the Internet where the problem is glaring!

  • http://twitter.com/rfw2 Rodney F. Witcher II

    Really appreciate the post, as it is thought provoking and touches on topics near and dear to my heart. I think one of the most important ways to change the current state of things is to cultivate the skills, talents and education of the individuals in the Black community, exposing them to the opportunities available.

    Regarding: “I do not think any entrepreneur would want to be looked at as the guy that made it just because of his/her skin colour.”

    I think that's the wrong perspective to take. I'm sure there are occasions/events where VC/Angel pitch days occur and there happen to be all white entrepreneurs. I don't think these entrepreneurs feel like, or are looked at, as people that made it just because of their skin color.

    I'm of the mind that an event such as this should not have a stigma placed on it. If a Black entrepreneur “makes it”, and was a part of an event such as described, it made it primarily because of the millions of users that find value in their product/service/etc… not so much the fact that they attended a VC/Angel pitch day for black entrepreneurs.

  • http://twitter.com/rfw2 Rodney F. Witcher II

    Really appreciate the post, as it is thought provoking and touches on topics near and dear to my heart. I think one of the most important ways to change the current state of things is to cultivate the skills, talents and education of the individuals in the Black community, exposing them to the opportunities available.

    Regarding: “I do not think any entrepreneur would want to be looked at as the guy that made it just because of his/her skin colour.”

    I think that's the wrong perspective to take. I'm sure there are occasions/events where VC/Angel pitch days occur and there happen to be all white entrepreneurs. I don't think these entrepreneurs feel like, or are looked at, as people that made it just because of their skin color.

    I'm of the mind that an event such as this should not have a stigma placed on it. If a Black entrepreneur “makes it”, and was a part of an event such as described, it made it primarily because of the millions of users that find value in their product/service/etc… not so much the fact that they attended a VC/Angel pitch day for black entrepreneurs.

  • http://myOnePage.com/Oo OoTheNigerian

    ” I think you can widen the problem you have identified out from tech to entrepreneurship in all sectors.”

    Not anywhere on the same scale as the technology industry. I can identify quite a huge number of blacks in other industries.

  • http://myOnePage.com/Oo OoTheNigerian

    ” I think you can widen the problem you have identified out from tech to entrepreneurship in all sectors.”

    Not anywhere on the same scale as the technology industry. I can identify quite a huge number of blacks in other industries.

  • Glenn Smith

    It may not meet your criteria but I did want to use this comment to bring visibility to Ory Okolloh, a Kenyan woman who along with others founded Ushahidi with a goal to produce a living record of crisis and relief around the world.

  • Glenn Smith

    It may not meet your criteria but I did want to use this comment to bring visibility to Ory Okolloh, a Kenyan woman who along with others founded Ushahidi with a goal to produce a living record of crisis and relief around the world.

  • http://myOnePage.com/Oo OoTheNigerian

    I think Ushahidi is a success story and a very impressive one at that. I never knew a Kenyan woman was a Co founder. We need to keep hearing these stories

  • http://myOnePage.com/Oo OoTheNigerian

    I think Ushahidi is a success story and a very impressive one at that. I never knew a Kenyan woman was a Co founder. We need to keep hearing these stories

  • http://mixergy.com Andrew Warner

    I did an interview with an entrepreneur who I thought was white or Italian. Months later, I read a book about him where the author called him African American.

    I realized after that, that it's hard to tell race any more.

  • http://mixergy.com Andrew Warner

    I did an interview with an entrepreneur who I thought was white or Italian. Months later, I read a book about him where the author called him African American.

    I realized after that, that it's hard to tell race any more.

  • Kayode Muyibi

    Black's are brought up to believe that failure is a taboo. The technology industry presents too much chances to fail, and with that reality, such ventures is a gamble to the average Black man or woman, hence the choice of getting a day job that would feed them and get their peers and family off their backs, as they usually close knitted to such attached relationships.

    I am going to speak for start-ups by blacks based in Africa. This I think should be a question of whether the same factors that apply to their counterparts in developing and the first world apply to them. Its unfair to assume that it does.

    This is an argument that I think should be structured around Successful vs Stagnant black founded internet start-ups in Africa and Why? There are tons of African startups out there, mostly solo ventures, with no chance of growing, no matter how much they try. They do not have access to the infrastructure, credit facilities, financial backings , mentor-ship or even the “luxury” of getting their friends to bootstrap their ventures. Call this an excuse, but its a reality for every black African startup in Africa. Here I am talking in the context of being successful to reach the radar, and this would mean millions(USD) in yearly revenue etc..

  • Kayode Muyibi

    Black's are brought up to believe that failure is a taboo. The technology industry presents too much chances to fail, and with that reality, such ventures is a gamble to the average Black man or woman, hence the choice of getting a day job that would feed them and get their peers and family off their backs, as they usually close knitted to such attached relationships.

    I am going to speak for start-ups by blacks based in Africa. This I think should be a question of whether the same factors that apply to their counterparts in developing and the first world apply to them. Its unfair to assume that it does.

    This is an argument that I think should be structured around Successful vs Stagnant black founded internet start-ups in Africa and Why? There are tons of African startups out there, mostly solo ventures, with no chance of growing, no matter how much they try. They do not have access to the infrastructure, credit facilities, financial backings , mentor-ship or even the “luxury” of getting their friends to bootstrap their ventures. Call this an excuse, but its a reality for every black African startup in Africa. Here I am talking in the context of being successful to reach the radar, and this would mean millions(USD) in yearly revenue etc..

  • http://myOnePage.com/Oo OoTheNigerian

    Kay,

    Thanks for your comment. I agree wholly with you that there are extra factors holding us town in the less industrial nations.
    my main point is this, the odds of success in music, sports is similar to that in technology. why then do we have so many 'up and coming' in those sectors and not technology?

  • http://myOnePage.com/Oo OoTheNigerian

    Kay,

    Thanks for your comment. I agree wholly with you that there are extra factors holding us town in the less industrial nations.
    my main point is this, the odds of success in music, sports is similar to that in technology. why then do we have so many 'up and coming' in those sectors and not technology?

  • Kayode Muyibi

    Black's are brought up to believe that failure is a taboo. The technology industry presents too much chances to fail, and with that reality, such ventures is a gamble to the average Black man or woman, hence the choice of getting a day job that would feed them and get their peers and family off their backs, as they usually close knitted to such attached relationships.

    I am going to speak for start-ups by blacks based in Africa. This I think should be a question of whether the same factors that apply to their counterparts in developing and the first world apply to them. Its unfair to assume that it does.

    This is an argument that I think should be structured around Successful vs Stagnant black founded internet start-ups in Africa and Why? There are tons of African startups out there, mostly solo ventures, with no chance of growing, no matter how much they try. They do not have access to the infrastructure, credit facilities, financial backings , mentor-ship or even the “luxury” of getting their friends to bootstrap their ventures. Call this an excuse, but its a reality for every black African startup in Africa. Here I am talking in the context of being successful to reach the radar, and this would mean millions(USD) in yearly revenue etc..

  • http://myOnePage.com/Oo OoTheNigerian

    Kay,

    Thanks for your comment. I agree wholly with you that there are extra factors holding us town in the less industrial nations.
    my main point is this, the odds of success in music, sports is similar to that in technology. why then do we have so many 'up and coming' in those sectors and not technology?

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  • http://bkfff.com Bonnie

    I’m Speaking June 20th 2013 on this topic… I started my journey and the question in 2007
    Bonnie Sandy, Creative Industries Advocate to Present at Microsoft for BDPA New York Chapter –

    “Challenging the Divide, Perceptions, Stereotypes, Myths, Misconceptions and Realities as to the “lack of minority-owned businesses in today’s tech sector!”

    http://challengingthedivide.eventbrite.com/#

    • http://myOnePage.com/Oo Oo Nwoye

      That’s awesome. Do keep me in the loop. We have to keep the conversation going.

      —————
      Oo Nwoye

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  • Wole Lawani

    Oo – you and I better fix this.

  • http://bkfff.com Bonnie
  • Aldo

    Hi I am from South Africa and have a project tat needs Venture Capital
    it is a Black Empowerment project. Please let me kow if you can help, Regards

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  • Dika Oha

    @oo, funny I’m only reading this 4 years later.

    Well this problem may not be going away soon. If you look at African tech scene today, 90% of investments are still led by white angels or VCs. We are talking about a market where black investors are pouring hundreds of USDs in other sectors like power and manufacturing.

    The very reason why we don’t have black tech entrepreneurs on the global scene is the same reason why we don’t have local investors leading tech investments in Nigeria and I believe other African countries.

    I believe the problem lies with risk aversion. We (blacks) almost never drive an innovation in any field. We do well as late entrants. Even for the things we excel, like sports and entertainment, we use the tools built by Caucasians or Asians.

    I might be so wrong, but I can’t think of anything we excel at that was conceptualized, built and now operated by blacks.

    Personally, I don’t see this as a problem, 50 years from now, we may be excelling in technology. Just remember we are great late entrants