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ROB Welcome to...

ROB
Welcome to this session of “The Right Way to Pitch.” Welcome to the Disruption Now Summit. We are honored to be joined here with Jewel Burks-Solomon. -- I say that right? Good. Good. I don't want to mess up your name. Names are important. I want to thank you for coming on. How you doing today?

JEWEL
I’m doing well. Thank you so much for having me.

ROB
No, we are honored to have you and Google to be a part of this process as we continue to disrupt common narratives and constructs. And we want to give people the tools they need to succeed.

So I want to tell people a little bit about you. You were the founder of Partpic, which is a product that helped connect, I guess, people to find maintenance parts using computer vision technology. She did that well way back in 2013, I believe, and raised $2 million and then got an exit. Got paid by Amazon which is all the way… We want to give praise. That's awesome. We love to see that. I can just say that we are all collectively proud of you. We look to you as inspiration.

You now work for Google Startups. You’re the head of Google Startups, I should say -- not only the first African-American woman but the first person ever to hold that position. I also like the fact that you told them… I don't know what you told them but it looks this way that you said you don't want to move to San Francisco. You wanted to stay in Atlanta, keep your roots there, that you didn't need to live in San Francisco to be successful as an entrepreneur. And clearly, you've been able to do that.

And also, she's kind of like a little bit of a movie star. You're in Pantene Gold Series commercial. I mean like, “Wow.”

JEWEL
Not a movie star.[Laughter]

ROB
All right, TV star. We’ll give you that. Anyway, Jewel, we appreciate you coming on.

JEWEL
Thank you for the amazing intro. Definitely not a movie star but just doing what I can to help startups.

ROB
I hear you. I hear you. I want to talk about your experience at Howard and how that might have shaped your frame of thinking. I see you've talked a lot about advising entrepreneurs, particularly black women, in overcoming impostor syndrome.

One, do you think your experience being at HBCU kind of helped you overcome that and navigate that? And then what advice do you generally give black women as they are moving up the ladder and seeking to overcome this narrative that's put into black women by the world?

JEWEL
Yeah, I would say going to Howard absolutely helped me overcome imposter syndrome. I grew up going to majority white schools and having instilled in me by my parents and my community the greatness that was within me even though I was often the only black student or the only one in the AP classes and all that.

Going to Howard really, really showed up my self-confidence knowing that within us lies a lot of excellence and a lot of greatness. When I say “us,” I’m talking about black people. So I really am always grateful to my experience at Howard for really putting that in me and making it so that I was able to carry that throughout the rest of life.

And kind of going back into a situation, first, my first job out of school starting at Google, I was kind of back in the scenario where I was one of very few and so had to really lean on what I learned at Howard to make sure that I was set in knowing that I was supposed to be there and that I could compete and all of that which was really instilled at Howard. So big ups to Howard University for that.

ROB
If I could, I remember when I first walked on Howard's campus, and even though I didn't attend Howard, I had this sense of pride just to think about everything that was built there. Everything that was built there during the time is not easy. I won’t say it's easy to be black in America now. But certainly, when that was built, it was much harder in terms of what you had to go through and yet -- and yet -- we still rise. They still built those amazing institutions. There's a teaching hospital there. I mean it's amazing what that does for your psyche to let you know, “Okay, people have overcome so much before me.” And so I think that’s one.

My fiancée was a Spelmanite. I think the same thing, is like it ingrained in them in some ways. It teaches you really… I think it unlearns the thing that's been learned to you, right? That's really what I say. It takes out the poison that's been concentrated. And you don't even realize it.

Take yourself back to that young founder. -- You're still extremely young. You could be like 18. -- But let's take yourself back when you were a really young founder, when you had the ambitions of the world. I’m sure you still have some of that. But take yourself back when you were first starting in Partpic. What advice would you give your younger self knowing what you know now and then what advice would you ignore that you receive from others?

JEWEL
Yeah. So the advice I would give myself is really, really, really dig into the problem. This is what I tell every founder. And it's actually something I think I did pretty well which was falling in love with the problem that I was trying to solve, not the solution.

ROB
Falling in love with the problem you're trying to solve, not the solution.

JEWEL
With the experience of my customers and then the personal experience of my grandfather, I really, really, really thought deeply about this problem and I thought, “Okay, the problem that I want to solve is I want to make it easier for people to find parts.” The solution, which I came to around computer vision technology and machine learning and all this cool technology, that was the solution that I thought was correct for the time. But if I wanted to solve the same problem today, I might go about it a little bit differently.

But the root of it was this particular problem, understanding everything about it -- Why is it so hard? What particular parts make it more difficult than others? We centered in on fasteners because they don't have a part number on them or sometimes it can get rubbed off. So that was very important.

So I always want to tell people like, “Really understand deeply. Talk to people. Go as deep, deep, deep as you can on the problem before you start to work on the solution.”

ROB
Oh that's really great advice because people probably think the opposite way. They start getting right to the solution before really understanding and having a perspective. And I think it's also having empathy for who your customer is, what their experiences actually are and what they go through versus saying, “Okay, I know what's best. They need this solution” and not actually understanding the problem because you don't understand--

“Understand the problem.” I've never heard it phrased that way but it makes sense, right? Understanding the problem is really understanding the process, understanding what the people go through -- their pain points, their experiences -- and really understanding their perspective versus assuming that you have the answer through your solution.

JEWEL
Exactly.

ROB
I never thought about it that way. You're helping me actually think about how I think about Disruption Now. You're coaching me right now so I thank you for that. That's actually a great way of looking at it. -- So what advice would you ignore?

JEWEL
So the advice I would ignore, I think it has to do with what I thought was the right way to build a tech startup where it was, “You come up with this idea, you go and you try to attract people to the idea or to you as a founder by building up a team. You go and raise money for it.” I thought that that was the right process and now I would interrogate that a little bit more.

For example, raising money. There's a lot of talk about raising money. We applaud when folks raise millions and millions of dollars. But now that I know better, I always ask people, “What's your end game? Where are you trying to get to?” And if that looks like building a business that lasts for decades that you can pass on to your family then you probably are not going to want to raise venture capital because that's not the time horizon that venture capitalists are looking for.

So I really think about considering, “What does 10 years down the line look like? What does 20 years down the line look like” and working backward from there instead of just getting on this sort of pathway of raising funding because that timeline is going to look a little different and the potential outcomes are going to look different.

ROB
Yeah. But money is oxygen, right? So how do you balance that out between figuring out how to survive in the immediate versus the long-term need? How do you balance that out? That would be my only question because you have to… I hear what you're saying but then how do you figure out the immediate needs, too, if you need to have capital?

JEWEL
Yeah, so money is oxygen but money can come from a number of different places. The venture capital route is the most marketed version or place where money can come from but it's actually the smallest number of businesses. Only 1% of businesses ever get venture capital. So that means that there are lots of different other places or sources for capital that might be a better fit for your business.

So if I had known that, I would have spent a lot more time pursuing things like SBIR grants -- you know, government research grants -- because of the deep technology nature of what we were doing and the newness of it and the fact that it was so novel.

So I would have spent a lot more time focused on grant writing and getting really good on getting free money, honestly, as we were doing the development piece… the development process. Then even worrying about investors until we had a product in market.

So that's different. That's reframing it and really finding capital that fits where you are as a business and where you're trying to go. That, to me, is the difference.

ROB
Again, you’re helping me formulate thoughts. So when I think about what we're doing with Disruption Now and our intentionality here, our goal is to, obviously, help founders and really help the black community be more successful. And when I hear you say it, the way you described it, I think the best way we do that is helping them build a network, helping them build and connect with the right people, get the right experience and then make the right connections to actually build their product before ever having to worry about venture capital. That's like the last step.

If you've gotten there, there's a lot of other things you have to overcome first. And it makes more sense to figure out how to build a network and how to build the resources before you even get to venture capital. So I mean I think it's a great point.

But I want to ask one more founder kind of background then I want to move on to any… Two more, actually. One, what is the kind of biggest failures, setback, learning lesson you had as a founder and how did that set you up for success or help you just become a better leader, entrepreneur, whatever -- fill in the blank.

JEWEL
Yeah. I would say the biggest lesson was the importance of relationships in all of it. Every single part of business is really about relationships. And as an early founder, as somebody who wasn't super highly-networked at all, I did not really understand how important relationships would be in the whole journey.

And there are things that I wish I had done as far as leaning on the relationships I did have to get past certain marks. So for example, I recently was on the Morgan Stanley podcast with Carla Harris. She's an amazing, prolific woman who has just been a boss on Wall Street for the past 20-plus years.

I knew Carla through… Actually, I originally met her when I was a student at Howard and then was reintroduced to her when I was early in Partpic pitching. She was someone who I really admired. And she had told me, “Reach out to me if you have any questions or if you need anything.”

And I, at that time, when I was thinking about selling Partpic, I should have reached out to Carla and said, “Hey, this is what's happening. I need your help.” You know, she has a lot of experience with mergers and acquisitions. But at that time, I was nervous. I was like, “Oh she's too busy.”

And that was the case for a lot of people that I probably could have reached out to to get advice and to understand if I was doing the right thing. But I was in my own head about it too much and not wanting to bother people.

But now, if I had made a few more phone calls and had a few more conversations, I would have had more knowledge as I approached what was a monster of a transaction going through that whole process mostly by myself. I wish that I would have leaned more heavily on the relationships that I had and even try to build some new ones to be able to make it through that because going through it was tough. It was really, really hard and I think I could have made a little bit easier on myself if I would have leaned in on some relationships.

And so now that I had that experience, it's really shaped how I think about all the things that I do now. So I’m raising a fund. I have to lean heavily on relationships in order to get that done. It's a big number that we're trying to get to and so--

ROB
What’s the name of the fund again?

JEWEL
“Collab Capital” is the fund.

ROB
What’s your goal there?

JEWEL
We're raising $50 million.

ROB
Al right. That's awesome.

JEWEL
Yeah. But again, it can't get there without calling the troops and calling some folks that I’ve been… You know, put a lot of deposits into the relationship so it's not just “Take and let me just call you when I need something.” It's like I've been building up this mutually beneficial relationship over years and so now is the time for me to say, “Hey, I'm doing something. I need your help. I need you to connect me with folks.” And I think that is really how business works.

ROB
What you said is so key, right?

JEWEL
Yeah.

ROB
“Building a relationship.” I do think there is some misunderstanding of how relationships are built especially in the age of automation, social media. People think like, “Okay, if I can just send out some stuff on social media, here, there, click” but what you said is the tried and true. It still remains. You still have to work to--

Before you even get something, seek to add value and have a mutually dynamic relationship. It's not just about the transaction. I would say that's not even the point of it. It's the point of building a relationship. And sometimes, transactions come out of it. Sometimes, it doesn't. But you have no possibility if you don't build a relationship.

JEWEL
That's right, yeah.

ROB
One more question here. We ask this kind of survey to founders and we ask them what surprised them the most and I’m curious to see what surprised you the most about a startup. Was it, one, the challenge of managing the process and the details of just running the business? Two, the lead time it takes in converting sales or raising capital? Is it three, underestimating the amount of money it takes to sustain the business? Four, how much it consumes your life or five, the emotional roller coaster of the process? What would you say?

JEWEL
All of it. [Laughter] Every single thing that you listed was a shocker to me. But I would probably say number five, the “Emotional roller coaster.” did not expect how much it would be up and down.

Some days, it's like, “Oh my god, this is just the best thing ever. I’m so happy. Things are working.” You know, we're firing on all cylinders. It’s hot. And then there are some days that are just so low. I mean you're like, “I don't know if I can do this. I don't think I can do this. I want to quit. I don't know where to turn. I don't know what to do next.” It goes like this. And honestly, that could be the same day. [Laughter] That's the way it goes.

ROB
What are you telling?

JEWEL
Yeah, it is very much a roller coaster. And I think the mastery of it is figuring out, “How do you just be in the middle? How do you make sure that the highs are not too high and the lows are not too low so that you can keep pacing through the day?”

I mean still experience it all and don't be numb to it but not getting too hype and not getting too low, I think, is what you have to do to be able to sustain through a long period of time.

And for me, I was too up and down to the point where when I closed the deal to sell, I crashed because the emotions… It was just so many emotions. And I crashed hard when we sold the company.

So I like to tell people, “As much as you can, stay steady through it” because it is. It's a lot of ups and downs. And if you tie yourself too much to the business from that perspective then that can do some damage. And so for me, that's been therapy over some years to get to a point where I’m back to my steady state. Yeah, it's tough. It’s a lot of emotions wrapped up in being an entrepreneur.

ROB
I know. There's just no question about it. As an entrepreneur, you have to obviously build a team and you have to sometimes have a co-founder. Usually, most successful ventures do. Yours did, too. What do you think is the most important with a co-founder? Is it the character of the co-founder, is it the commitment to the mission or is it the cultural fit? If you have to say which one stands out the most… They're all important but which one stands out the most to you from your experience and as you look to advise others when they're building their team and building their co-founders?

JEWEL
Yeah, character -- easy. That's the one. That is the one. The business, the mission, all of that may change. But if you get somebody that is not of high character, high integrity, that's going to be tough to overcome. That's going to be really tough to overcome.

So I would say being aligned from a values perspective is probably top of the list as far as what you need to be looking for from a co-founder because when you say someone is your co-founder, you're really trusting them to be forward-facing as far as the business is concerned, to be able to step in if you're not available to do something. And you want somebody that you can feel comfortable. They're presenting you, essentially. They're presenting you, your business well. And also, it… I mean I know people equate marriage--

ROB
I was going to say it's like marriage.

JEWEL
Yeah. And honestly, it is quite similar. So I would say character is so, so important as you're thinking about somebody that you can be in something with for the long haul, not just a quick… You know, “We're going to do this deal real quick and turn it around.” When you're starting your business, expect that you're going to be in it for at least five to maybe 10-plus years so you really want to find people that you align with from a character's value perspective.

ROB
I completely agree with that. I look at it like relationships. I look at it like a marriage. You know, once you get married to someone -- You know this. You’re married -- everything that might have annoyed you is exacerbated. If we're being honest, right?

So you have to know what are your 80/20s. What can you live with? Do you guys have an aligned mission and values that you're working together because everything's not going to be perfect with your founder or your spouse. It's not.

JEWEL
Right.

ROB
Right? So like you have to figure out and make sure you guys have aligned values. I think that is key because that's something that has… It’s like a plant in the ground that doesn't move. Like you can grow branches and leaves but this has to be… You know, the values that were planted on has to be the same. If you don't have that, your tree is going to fall.

JEWEL
Right. The one thing I always also add though is the difference between a marriage and a co-founder relationship is I think a co-founder relationship should be a little bit easier to get out of if you figure out it's not working.

So make sure, from a legal perspective, you have made it so that it's an exit strategy that works, that it won't be too messy, where it's very clear what happens if things don't work out.

People sometimes struggle having those conversations early but it's important because there's so many things that can go wrong and there's so many things that you may not know until you are actually in the trenches working with somebody. So that's something to have a partnership agreement that makes it simple. And it's very outlined what happens if things do need to be dissolved.

ROB
Bring it up for the business. [Laughter]

JEWEL
[Inaudible - 21:54]. That’s it.

ROB
All right. We also have a survey about what is it that entrepreneurs do wrong often when they approach investors? So you're now an investor. Have you guys started investing in funds? Okay. So you've had this experience then.

JEWEL
Mm-hmm.

ROB
So is it the lack of information regarding the investor or the fund that they're pitching? Is it underestimating the amount of capital in their proposal? Is it lacking a clear vision for the business? Is it resistance to constructive feedback or is it not asking for feedback when they are rejected?

JEWEL
You’re saying these things and it's like all are true. “All are true” is the answer. But I think the biggest thing is, one, not knowing why you want to raise money or why you need to raise money. That's the big thing. Like you're having this conversation, what do you need the money for? How are you going to use it? That's something that a lot of people… Again, they're back on, “Well I think I should be raising money because that's what people do” versus “This is my business and this is why I need to raise money.” So that's one thing.

But for me, as an early stage investor, I’m mostly interested in, “Why is this person the best person in the world to pursue this particular business?” And so being able to convey what they call a “Founder market fit…” which is, “Why are you uniquely qualified for this particular business in this particular market?”

And so early stage before there's a lot of traction or before we can really get into the numbers, that's pretty much what… What I’m looking for is, “What is it about this particular person that I want to follow them into this business, this market” and I think that they can actually win it that.

ROB
Got it. I say that’s closest to vision, really.

JEWEL
Yeah.

ROB
Yeah. And that doesn't surprise me given your earlier answer in understanding the problem. That's kind of going to… You can't have a vision without understanding the problem you're trying to solve. So that doesn't surprise me at all based upon what you said earlier.

Can you think of some examples of… And we don't want specifics but like just go through a narrative where someone got it wrong and then someone got it right in terms of how they approached you as an investor.

JEWEL
So recently, the biggest thing that people are approaching me now are sort of getting wrong is that we are not traditional investors in a sense of--

At Collab, we have a very different model and it's very clear to me when someone has not done any research or isn't familiar with the model that we have and they're just pitching me in the same exact way that they pitch any investor.

So for example, if a founder comes to me and says, “I'm going to raise this seed round of $2 million and then I’m going to raise a series A of $10 million dollars and this is the plan” then I’m very clear that they have not done any research on my specific approach and thought process as it relates to fundraising and therefore there may be a mismatch.

So with Collab, we don't necessarily think it's appropriate for businesses to raise lots and lots and lots of money in subsequent rounds because we think ownership is the most important thing. We want particularly black founders to be optimizing for ownership of their businesses.

ROB
No, that's awesome. -- And again, she's going to be behind taking your questions. So you get a chance to have a video chat with Jewel and she'll be able to share some of her knowledge with you in-person so please keep the comments coming and everything else.

A couple of wrap-up questions as we can. Let’s say you have a committee of three, living or dead, to advise you on business and life. Who are those three people and why?

JEWEL
Ooh, that's a great question. First person is going to be my grandfather. He passed away when I was in high school. His name is William Burks which is the same name as my dad and my little brother but William Burks, Jr. He would be number one on my committee. I still feel like he's advising me even though he's not here. He built businesses, probably about 10 to 12 different businesses in the ‘50s and ‘60s in Mobile, Alabama.

ROB
In Alabama of all places. My family is from Alabama, too. Hooh!

JEWEL
Yeah. So think about that -- a black man in the ‘50s and ‘60s starting businesses, everything from convenience stores to a taxi cab service to Laundromat, tailoring shop, everything. So that man, I just am in all of… and still read things that he's written as inspiration for the things that I’m doing now. So he would be definitely number one on the list. Who else? I would say Michelle Obama.

ROB
Okay. That's a good one.

JEWEL
Yes. I listen to her podcast. I read her book. I had a chance to meet her a couple of years ago.

ROB
So am I. [I got to meet her - 27:16] years back.

JEWEL
Yeah. I think she's just so smart and so level-headed. And just her approach to life and things that she's been through, I think it's just so interesting so I would love to have her on my kind of personal committee. And number three… Hmm. I'm going to say Warren Buffett because I think he has a very interesting approach and very… He plays a long game, let's just say like that.

ROB
He does.

JEWEL
Yeah. So I would be interested to hearing his thoughts on some of the things that I think about from an investing perspective. He’s had some great wins and some great picks over his lifetime, so lots of wisdom there. So interesting group?

ROB
Yeah. That's a great group. It's very diverse. It’s great. Okay, what's an important truth you have that a lot of people would disagree with you on?

JEWEL
I would say the truth that I have right now that is somewhat controversial that I’m having to convince people of is that you can make market plus returns by investing in black founders.

ROB
Yep, sure can. You know, when you said earlier that we are just as capable, I would argue “sometimes more” because we have to overcome so much adversity.

JEWEL
Absolutely.

ROB
If a black person gets to a certain level at some point, you know they had to be really good because you know they have to overcome the microaggressions, the racism -- whatever you want to say. They have to overcome those things and still be successful. That takes some level of grit, some level of overcoming adversity.

So there is a missed opportunity for not investing in black founders. And we’ve talked about this a lot on my podcast -- if the social responsibility doesn't get you, okay. It should but it's a missed economic opportunity.

JEWEL
1000%, yep.

ROB
Right? That’s what it is. So if you don't do that, you're missing economic opportunities to make more money. So if that motivates you, which it should, focus on that then. So one final question then I’ll let you go.
Let's say you have a Google ad -- all right, that is playing to Google, sent you… And thank you by the way for the sponsorship. If you had a Google ad that had your saying… Jewel Burks Solomon saying -- it can be a motto -- what would that say and why?

JEWEL
It’s just, “I can do all things….” There’s a dot-dot-dot. That’s to my personal faith. But I think of that--

ROB
[Crosstalk - 30:04] me, yes

JEWEL
I think about that a lot. Any time I’m thinking, “Oh this is hard and this is challenging,” I just remind myself, “I can do all things.” So yeah, that would be on my Google ad.

ROB
All right, Jewel Burks Solomon, it's a pleasure having you on. Please don't make yourself a stranger. Really appreciate you coming.

JEWEL
Thank you so much.

[END OF TRANSCRIPT]

HOSTED BY

ROB RICHARDSON

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“Get Funded.”

In this session from the Disruption Now Summit we discuss the best practices and approaches for getting funded as a start-up with Jewel Burks-Solomon. Burks is an advocate for representation and access in the technology industry. As co-founder of Partpic, a startup designed to streamline the purchase of maintenance and repair parts using computer vision, Jewel and her team built groundbreaking technology poised to change the way people everywhere locate products. Partpic raised over $2 million in seed funding from notable investors like AOL co-founder, Steve Case, and Comcast Ventures, and integrated its software into mobile apps/websites of large parts distributors and retailers. Partpic was acquired by Amazon in late 2016 and the technology now powers visual search for replacement parts in the Amazon Mobile Shopping app.

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Rob Richardson

Entrepreneur & Keynote Speaker

Rob Richardson is the host of disruption Now Podcast and the owner of DN Media Agency, a full-service digital marketing and research company. He has appeared on MSNBC, America this Week, and is a weekly contributor to Roland Martin Unfiltered.

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