My friend and business partner Cheryl just wrote a book that released today. Mechanical Bull: How You Can Achieve Startup Success is a guide to building a successful Silicon Valley-style startup with a special focus on navigating the process as a woman and a minority. Cheryl’s journey and experiences can help the next person with a dream build something innovative that helps improve people’s lives, just as we are doing here at Do Big Things.
Attentive.ly Co-founder and DBT Board Member Roz Lemieux provided significant contributions to the book with a special section she’s written into every chapter. Fellow DBT Board Member and Co-Founder at Higher Ground Labs, Betsy Hoover, also shares some of her wisdom as a leading investor focused on progressive tech startups in Mechanical Bull.
Startup work, especially in Silicon Valley, can indeed be a wild ride for an entrepreneur, especially if you’re a woman, a minority (or both).
You can now order your copy of Mechanical Bull on Amazon in both Kindle and paperback. You’ll find advice that every female and minority entrepreneur needs — and every investor, period. Read it. Pass it on to that dreamer in your life who has a brilliant idea that also improves people’s lives for the better.
To give you some background, Cheryl and her business partner Roz Lemieux created the mission-driven SaaS product Attentive.ly, an influencer engagement and marketing automation tool. Attentive.ly became the first tech startup with a black female co-founder to be acquired by a NASDAQ company (Blackbaud, a leader in nonprofit software). More people have walked on the moon than have done what Cheryl has achieved. Let’s change those stats and change startup culture to create more diversity and inclusion in tech.
The internet has proved to be a powerful marketplace for companies and the big ideas that inspired them. Cheryl’s former blog, Jack and Jill Politics, was a pioneering effort to bring younger, more diverse voices into the conversation. It helped create an opportunity for hundreds and thousands of online influencers today.
When she started blogging, few at the time effectively conveyed the voice of the vast majority of hardworking, taxpaying, middle-class, educated African-American citizens who were trying to get through the day. Gen X and Millennials in particular wanted to break open that narrow paradigm and bring the voice of the hip-hop generation to the public discourse.
Here’s an excerpt from Mechanical Bull on how you can turn an observation into an idea, and then into a company that makes the world better:
The Jack and Jill Politics blog was born to fill a gap. We set out first to have a black female voice and a black male voice because the experience of black women and black men is a little bit different in American society. We wanted to make sure we were getting both of those voices. We ended up attracting other really great bloggers as well, like Adam Serwer of The Atlantic.
My audience for Jack and Jill Politics, to a certain extent, was me and people like me. A secondary audience was readers who were curious about what the black person in the cubicle next to them actually thought about the hot topics we covered.
If you see something missing that you or your peers would dig or desire, don’t assume someone has invented something to fill that gap already. There may be an alternative out there to what you have in mind, but the thing you design and create meets a need no one else is filling in a better or different way.
There’s a whole genre of thinkers, practitioners, and consultants called futurists, but you don’t have to be a trained futurist. You have to be a keen observer who can imagine an alternate scenario. You must be someone who doesn’t accept the status quo because, most of the time, new ideas are about doing something someone else is doing, but better.
After you’ve thought of an idea to fill a gap you see, you want to validate it. At first, this means talking about it. It’s fine if the people around you don’t have the vision or imagination that you have. If you’re a nontraditional founder, there’s a pretty good chance the people in your immediate vicinity may not get it. You have to be willing to be vulnerable in a confident way and get out there to talk to people about your idea. Worry less about someone stealing your idea, and worry more about whether anybody will ever buy or invest in your idea. The more people you can talk to and get their thoughts and feedback, the better.
Create a prototype if you can. A prototype facilitates dialogue with people so they can see and touch your idea. You want feedback. The people you talk with help you get your product right before it goes on the market. The feedback also helps you learn to sell your product. If ten out of twelve people you talk to raise an issue about part of your product, it may not be that you’re wrong; it may mean that you’re not making a proper case. You may be leaving something out in terms of underscoring the opportunity, the target market, or the problem and solutions. Look for what might be missing that can help people better understand the problem and the solution.
If you have an idea but can’t create a prototype, try to convey as much as you can of your concept in other formats. For example, you may have an idea for an app, but you’re not a programmer. Create a sketch or ask someone to create a rough graphic of your idea. Write it down. Create a list of bullet points that outline the features of the product.
The more that you can produce some sort of prototype—even if it’s not an actual working prototype—the better the dialogue with prospective customers and investors will be.
If you like what you read from Cheryl, we’d be grateful if you can leave a brief 5 star review on Amazon. Reviews are the most important factor in how many new readers the book is able to reach, and each one makes a real difference. We want this book to inspire amazing new apps and incredible new services that build a better world.
For more advice on starting your entrepreneurial journey, you’ll find more in Mechanical Bull when you buy it on Amazon.
Cheryl Contee is the award-winning CEO and co-founder of Do Big Things, which brings together a diverse team that uses new narrative and new tech like blockchain, AI, bots and machine learning to make the world a better place for everyone. Previously, she was the co-founder and CEO of Fission Strategy, co-founder of groundbreaking social marketing software Attentive.ly at Blackbaud (the first tech startup with a black female founder on board in history to be acquired by a NASDAQ-traded company). She is also co-founder of #YesWeCode, which represents the movement to help low-opportunity youth achieve high-quality tech careers.
Jeremy Bird is co-founder and President of Do Big Things and 270 Strategies. He has extensive experience working with startups, domestic and international political campaigns, labor and policy organizations, and Fortune 500 companies.