My mission as a founder has always been to add to the bottom line of people's businesses because at my company we know that's the only way for them to grow and scale as a business. I set out with a mission. I wanted to build something for the communities that are so often left out of mainstream "success" — immigrants, women, and other minorities.
I tried building a third-party consumer delivery app that would help our community and look at where we are now: in a pandemic with restaurants everywhere hurting.
I had an idea and a passion to help an underrepresented community that needed support. I saw that most companies don't set out to build for people like this, and I thought it was really important to build that in mind. I needed to go and listen to them as opposed to building for convenience culture.
But here's the thing.
I didn't go to an ivy league school or work at a big corporate bank or a fancy consulting firm. I built everything on my own. In 2011, I had traction and media attention and yet I was being asked when I'd be having kids (flat out inappropriate and super personal) or what the size of the market was.
They said I was crazy because Seamless and Grubhub dominated back then. Meanwhile, companies like Postmates and Uber Eats were still getting started by people that just happened to speak their language, have the right credentials, or look the right way. Investors didn't like that I actually had a mission — that I actually gave a shit about restaurants existing five years from now.
FoodtoEat 1.0 started as an online ordering platform for local restaurants and food trucks in NYC. When we got push back from investors about our business model and didn't see enough consumers caring about how much restaurants were hurting from third-party fees we decided to pivot with the same mission. FoodtoEat 2.0 transitioned as a high-touch catering service with the largest curated network of women, immigrant, and minority-owned restaurants across New York City. We started to feed some of the world's most innovative companies from The Skimm to Warby Parker in accordance with our mission to support diverse communities through food. No one was thinking about diversity and inclusion through the lens of food and beverage, so we decided to focus our work through our b2b efforts. I tried building a third-party consumer delivery app that would help our community and look at where we are now: in a pandemic with restaurants everywhere hurting.
In 2011, I had traction and media attention and yet I was being asked when I'd be having kids (flat out inappropriate and super personal) or what the size of the market was.
So, investors, remember that it's not about funding folks you know or who have the familiar resume. It's about the ones that actually care about building something that matters. Because I'm tired of folks coming in and raising millions of dollars no questions asked without even having launched.
Why are Black and Brown founders not good enough? Why do we have to keep convincing people that we are worth the investment? Why do we have to go the extra distance to show that we are good enough? Unless we are literally the best in the entire world at something we aren't on the covers of magazines, and we aren't raising the funds that other investors are seemingly getting with ease.
A couple of months back I read the below and was appalled because I know this is just one of many instances where Black and Brown people have to listen to ridiculous comments based solely on their race or identity.
Honestly, I'm stillpissed. Clearly, this decision (and many more) not based on the quality of the opportunity or the founder themselves but based on having "a [B[lack" as part of the portfolio. It is just some check the box bullshit and not actually caring about investing in diverse founders who can build billion-dollar businesses when given the opportunity.
Why are Black and Brown founders not good enough? Why do we have to keep convincing people that we are worth the investment?
The numbers for venture dollars being given to women today represent less than 2% of all VC capital and for Black and Brown women it's even less: 0.0006%. Let that sink in. Capital, network, and resources are always lacking for marginalized communities and are essential for the start of any new company. Furthermore, this issue of representation exists at every level of the business world, no matter how new or old your company may be.
This year 37 of the fortune 500 companies have women CEOs. This is considered "progress." Only three of those women are people of color and none of them are Black or Latina. We need to demand more representation everywhere because it is necessary. It's also not just on us as women to drive the change. We must be able to count on men to help us. We need them to champion us by standing up to older institutions as well as investing in new diverse-founded startups.
As for venture capital firms, my real question for them is: When will you realize that Black and Brown women are worth investing in? Why do I have to have a certain degree or set of accolades to be trusted? It wasn't until I was listed as a Forbes Under 30 recipient that I felt like I was even worth listening to. I have seen a number of white women who have been able to raise funds from VCs and angels; they are considered "worth" investing in because they've simply worked at other successful startups as employee number 20, 50, or 100. But what about having worked at a start-up gives them the qualifications to be successful founders?
This year 37 of the fortune 500 companies have women CEOs. This is considered "progress."
Imagine what it would be like if you were able to raise $1 million without any traction or even a product officially launched?
Capital is a key ingredient for businesses to get off the ground. And, right now, that capital is not going to Black and Brown women founders. I will continue helping other underrepresented founders because I know what it's like to be in their shoes. If you're in a place of power or privilege, please do the same. Because I am tired of having to fight so hard for every little thing. I'm exhausted from having to prove myself constantly for every single opportunity. People of color are forced to prove they're the absolute best, and even when they do make it, their contributions are minimized.
I spent a long time thinking I wasn't good enough or smart enough when facing rejections. I had traction, I had press, and I had validation from customers. I've seen people raise millions with no product or real market validation, either because of their networks or because they apparently "have what it takes" from being an early employee elsewhere. I'm tired of Black and Brown founders being underestimated. It's time to change the narrative by investing in people that actually have a passion and unique insight into what they build.
Here are some ways that you can help the diverse business owners, no matter who you are:
1. Buy from Black and Brown Businesses
People would hear about our business and would say, "Oh that's so nice." This always annoyed me because that didn't help me or my business. I always say to folks, "Don't tell me I have a nice business — buy from me."
2. Give Us an Opportunity
I'm a public speaker, and I do my own pitching. If I got accepted for an engagement I started to recommend other Black and Brown speakers. If someone reached out and I wasn't the best fit for it I would recommend someone I knew.
3. Make Introductions.
Know someone who could benefit from an introduction in your network? Don't just pass on the introduction to someone in your "clique" — they usually end up looking like you or being in a similar position. Make sure that the opportunities you create are for a more diverse set of friends and connections, or to folks who are where you were earlier in your career. Networking and connections don't have to come with some quid pro quo — pay it forward to someone who doesn't look like you or isn't in your inner circle.
WRITTEN BYDeepti Sharma