African-Americans make up a little more than 11 percent of the US population. Yet, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Annual Survey of Entrepreneurs, only 2.1% of businesses with at least one employee were owned by African-Americans. In the tech sector, the statistics are worse. According to CB Insights’ data on VC investments, only 1 percent of VC-funded startup founders are black. Mondo Davison, known as “The Black Tech Guy,” is trying to close that gap.
When Mondo was a child, people would ask him what he wanted to be when he grew up. Mondo always said he was going to play professional sports. When they heard this answer, folks would often ask, “What’s your Plan B?” This really bothered Mondo. “Is there anybody besides my dad that believes in this Plan A?”
When Mondo grew up, he went to the University of Tennessee and tried to walk on. “I got crushed,” he says. He went to Florida A&M and had a similar experience. He eventually graduated from college and became an educator.
Mondo worked in a school district with a high rate of poverty. When he asked kids what they wanted to be when they grew up, many of them said that they were going to play professional sports. “I didn’t want to be that adult that said, ‘What’s your Plan B?’ Really it was, what can I do different? That’s when The Black Tech Guy was birthed. Can I build this persona of this Black Tech Guy who is doing awesome things in tech, so that I can compel a young mind to go into tech as their Plan A?”
In January 2010, Mondo had a moment of synchronicity. “I was sitting at home, and I was flipping through channels. I came across this one-hour special on CNBC called Planet of the Apps.” Mondo thought to himself, “Let me go into this space. Let me see if I can actually do something.” Mondo explains, “That’s how I got into tech. Right after I watched that series, I invested my whole self into tech.”Early Setbacks
Things did not go smoothly for Mondo. “For the next five years, I did everything wrong,” he admits. “I didn’t understand what best practices were.” Initially, Mondo sought out business advice from those who were experienced in traditional brick-and-mortar stores. However, their advice did not fit. “Brining a tech startup to market is completely different than building a traditional business.”
At the time, Mondo felt like he had to get his business idea perfect before launching. “That was so wrong, and I ended up wasting $50,000.” Mondo wishes he would have had someone to show him the way to build a tech startup. “I had nobody to help me navigate this space. I didn’t know anybody who had been through the tech journey to even ask.”
Mondo describes his first big mistake. When he built his first app, he was ready to launch, when he discovered a competitor. “I essentially stopped and didn’t go to market. I invested a bunch more money on ‘How can I make my thing cooler?’” He added several new features without feedback from the marketplace. “What I learned moving forward was, it’s not about the bells and whistles. How do you get that minimum viable product to market and then execute your product to the best of your ability?”Building Knowledge and a Tribe
Eventually, Mondo found an online course from Stanford University that spelled out how to launch and iterate a tech startup. And, in another moment of synchronicity, Mondo came across an organization called Graveti. Graveti’s mission is to make Minnesota a promised land for people of color in tech and entrepreneurship. “We all met at a time when we needed each other, Mondo says. “It just organically happened.” Graveti became a peer group with whom he could share his struggles and learn from others.
Mondo does not regret making mistakes and learning. “My mission is to inspire and motivate black boys to go into tech. If it takes me to learn through $50,000 worth of mistakes, that’s a small price to pay. When you realize why you were put on this earth, you wake up every morning and you have this drive because you have this North Star you want to accomplish, life is just different.”Shifting Business Models
The first few apps that Mondo built were focused on a monetization strategy that depended on a million or more users. Today, he focuses on consumer pay business model. He is currently focusing on two new projects: Shortiez and SafeSpace.
Shortiez is a digital library of culturally relevant content. Mondo’s goal is for kids of color to see themselves reflected in the stories they read.
SafeSpace allows the user to notify anyone within 3 blocks to respond as a witness when interacting with law enforcement. SafeSpace was built in collaboration with Software for Good, whose goal is to make the world a better place by building great software for companies doing great things.Social Entrepreneurship Quotes from Mondo Davison
“I only own The Black Tech Guy shirts.”
“You can get an MVP to market and just test, iterate.”
“It was just a lot of crashing and burning.”
“It’s not a mom-and-pop shop where you have to take down all the bricks.”
“We built this brotherhood.”
“We all met at a time when we needed each other.”
“I call us this family of founders.”
“I have domain expertise, working in that space for seven years.”
“There are limited to no books that are culturally relevant in the classroom.”
“I couldn’t find any book that had a person of color on the cover. Fast forward 25 years, and that’s still the case.”
“So many schools have this problem.”
Be innovative. Try something. Be risky.”Social Entrepreneurship Resources:
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