Agreed, running a business is not a child’s play. But as the conversation around race and racism comes to the fore, we begin to hear of the extra burden Black entrepreneurs carry because of racism, racial biases and long known economic inequalities and lack of assess to funding. It’s believed that Black Entrepreneurs and businesses suffer a great deal because of these factors, making it almost impossible for black entrepreneurs to grow a sustainable business.
This has been the narrative all over. I took the time to get Black Entrepreneurs to share their business challenges and how they continue to navigate through these challenges.
The participating entrepreneurs were asked the same questions –
1. What challenges have you experienced as an entrepreneur in building and running your business? Share of at least 3 challenges you’ve faced.
2. How did you navigate through it?
3. What advice would you give anyone starting out in your business sector?
Lee Chambers’ first business, PhenomGames, was set up in 2008 after a business advisor told him to avoid that industry because he is young, black, and having a disruptive attitude. However, going against this advice, Lee, launched his business anyway. Now, it operates across Europe fulfilling wholesale orders of video games and gaming merchandise.
My challenges started before I’d even set up my first business. While finishing University I created a business plan for an idea I’d had around setting up a video game e-commerce company. I took this report to an established business advisor in Manchester, who looked through it and told me it was a sound proposition. But he then proceeded to tell me that he felt that I would struggle to execute it in that industry as I was young, black and disruptive, and the industry was controlled by the old guard.
I also took the business plan to two high street banks for financing and neither was interested in investing. Taking this as a sign, I finished university and got a graduate job, but after the economic crash I was made redundant, I decided that I had nothing to lose and I didn’t want to conform. From my parents’ bedroom, I started with my own funds.
The business grew rapidly, doubling in turnover for the first few years. I started to automate processes to save me time, but I was struggling with the concept of delegating tasks as I felt I could do it all myself, wanting to prove the world wrong. There were positives to this, as I learned a range of skills and appreciated the values of different areas and processes. But it stifled development and growth, as I wasn’t completely focusing on where I brought the most value.
In 2014, I became unwell, losing the ability to walk and I pivoted the business from retail to wholesale as I couldn’t physically work more and I could see the industry starting to shift to digital download and eCommerce becoming more saturated.
Having worked for 5 years in the industry I finally had enough network capital to access the higher levels within the European video game market. I had to manage my business, a young family and chronic disease.
This was challenging in itself, and then things changed again when Brexit was announced. I had to make a decision, utilising my European network to move my whole operation out of the UK.
With the currency fluctuations and potential of tariffs, this was a significant challenge. I managed to navigate through this period and the business still runs today, despite the challenges of COVID. We trade more merchandise and accessories as physical game sales continue to decline.
Losing the ability to walk due to the autoimmune illness, I decided also to set up a Life Coaching Practice and Workplace Wellbeing Consultancy. Now a year old, it’s become my major passion project, to positively impact the wellbeing of thousands of people and empower them in the process.
My whole journey with my health has led me to put more of my focus on my new company, Essentialise, attempting to be a young black businessman in the world of employee health and wellbeing. And what an adventure it’s been!
Navigating Through The Challenges.
To get through all these challenges, I had to show the initial courage to start against the advice and build it without outside assistance. I had to continually evolve the business, keeping agile and dynamic and trying to stay ahead of the industry moving, taking advantage of running a business where the decision was mine and could be taken rapidly.
I have grown so much personally on the journey, learning to communicate effectively, understanding the value of the skills of others and having a network. It has certainly increased my own self-awareness and it has helped me shape my character and charisma.
PhenomGames had a side project which launched and failed, selling game-related merchandise. I learnt a lot from failing and unravelling why it didn’t go to plan. I’ve now learned just how powerful delegation is and how micromanaging my business stifled its development.
Advice To Start-ups.
Starting out is always challenging, but the most important thing is to get started. Have your reasons and your values for starting at the front of your mind, written down, and become a guiding light for your business decisions.
Look for the lessons of those who have followed the path you wish to climb, but don’t always listen to advice, and don’t conform. Think about best practice from other industries and see how you could possibly utilise that.
Ensure your branding is congruent with your purpose, and that you have a defined idea of who your market is, and how you will target them. Understand that the initial hard work is part of the learning journey, and a chance to explore what you enjoy and where you can bring value to the world. It’s also a great way to identify some of the hidden strengths you have.
Most successful companies today are not what they started as. And companies that have disrupted industries, such as Uber and Airbnb, were born in the economic crisis in 2008. Today, once again, we are in crisis, and now is the perfect time to bring your gifts to the business world, find solutions to tomorrows problems, and build something that is a vehicle to positive change.