MIND THE HUSTLE is a new blog series that will talk business, entrepreneurship, and HUSTLE, led by a quote or song lyric as the theme.
"And then they say it happened for me overnight, yeah I guess / I guess it took ten years for me to be an overnight success"
Dark Sky (Skyscrappers)
First let me say, HAPPY NEW YEAR! While many people mention "new year, new me", that is not at all what I am about this year. For me, it is about continuing to build on to what I started years ago. In 2015, after taking some advice from Wayne Sutton, I took the approach of doing more interviews and getting my name out in the public more. However, note that the articles and opportunites came after I had already bootstrapped by first company, Sheena Allen Apps, to over 1 million downloads as a solo founder and one-woman team. I went into the Sheena Allen Apps venture with the mindset of just wanting to make money and not caring if anyone knew my name or not on a personal level. Of course, that all changed after I realized the importance of allowing the next generation to know that they could too achieve anything, regardless of the odds against them.
Most people were introduced to me in 2015 or 2016 after seeing me speak at Phat Startup's Tech 808, being featured on Paul C. Brunson's Mentor Monday, reading articles about me or my company in publications like Black Enterprise and Huff Post, or seeing me featured in the docufilm, She Started It. While many now know the story of how I started my first app company in 2011 as a college student with no technical background, I had ideas way before then. In fact, back in 2008, I had an idea that I felt could change Blockbuster for the better. My solution was a device called "uView" that would allow customers of Blockbuster to watch their movies on a small device by signign up or using their Blockbuster membership, versus having to come into the store to rent movies. (Sounds familar, huh?) This was sometime between my freshman and sophomore year of college and I had come up with what I felt was the perfect solution. Mind you, I had no real experience in business, but I knew that I had a pretty dope idea and thought that there was no way that Blockbuster would turn me away. After all, I was bringing them something that they didn't have, but was for sure going to take their company to a different level.
Looking back at some of the sketches from my uView device from 8/9 years ago (shown above), I can also recall contacting Blockbuster through their website and wanting them to know that I had the idea that was going to take their company to the next level. I had no business degree, I definitely didn't have the connections, but I had the idea. Blockbuster responded (see email below) and told me that they couldn't accept my idea because it was unsolicited. I was pretty bummed out because I didn't understand why they didn't want to accept my proposal, but I also didn't understand business and the dangers of unsolicted material.
I didn't realize it at the time, but that was the beginning of my journey into enterpreneurship. I have learned so much from that moment of trying to sell Blockbuster my uView device so that they could stream their movies to their customers in a more effecient way. Of course, there are now multiple devices that do that exact same thing, but that surely wasn't the case in 2008. Now, as 2017 begins, I am more than excited to continue to build and learn. I went from trying to propose an idea to Blockbuster in 2008 to preparing to officially launch my second startup, CapWay, in 2017.
The reality of it all is that the headlines and media articles can sometimes be misleading. Don't allow that to fool you. Nothing about being an entrepreneur is easy. However, as cliché as it sounds, if you have a dream, go for it! Stay inspired and keep pushing. The journey is well worth it, even if it takes you "10 years to have overnight success."
She Started It, the documentary that follow 5 young women as they work on their tech startup, will premiere at the Mill Valley Film Festival on October 8. Other stops for the film in October includes Boston, Houston, Memphis, and Nashville.
I started my first app company as a senior at the University of Southern Mississippi. As a women in a male-dominated field and knowing little about the tech field, the first two years of running Sheena Allen Apps was by trial and error. This is one of many reasons I admire and appreciate veteran women in the tech industry, such as Kimberly Bryant (Black Girls Code), and my peers, like Morgan DeBaun (Blavity).
I bootstrapped my first venture, began to learn to handle the stresses of entrepreneurship and eventually moved to Austin, TX., a city where I knew no one except my mentor Josh Kerr. From the beginning, building a tech company has been an interesting journey.
As I prepare for 2016, I find myself reflecting on the past 12 months. Three different conversations that added fuel to my journey immediately came to mind.
In December 2014 I was asked to speak at the Lean Startup Conference in San Francisco. In addition to speaking, I also volunteered to be a mentor. While waiting for the mentor sessions to begin, another mentor in the room caught my eye. It was none other than Wayne Sutton. As an African-American in tech, Wayne is a household name. While I was there to mentor, I found I had become more interested in being mentored by Wayne. I made my way over to his table and asked to speak with him briefly, which he welcomed me to sit and talk. There was one question that I wanted to ask him. "With all your years of being in the tech field, I know you've seen some amazing African-American women in this space, but no one really knows who they are. In your opinion, how can that change? How can an African- American female tech geek become a household name?" In short, he told me to be different from the other minorities in tech. He said I had an option of interning at various large tech companies and growing my network that way or I could take an entirely different route. I walked away from that table feeling like a new person with new challenges, in a positive way. Even though I am actually a pretty shy person, that conversation convinced to step outside of my comfort zone. After that conversation and over the next few months, I found myself shooting for a documentary (She Started It), doing interviews, and speaking at numerous conferences and universities.
In June 2015 I was part of the panel at the Tech808 Conference in Washington, D.C. The keynote speaker that day was none other than Paul Brunson. I was happy he stayed for my panel discussion because I really wanted a chance to speak with him. After all, he has worked for two billionaires (Oprah Winfrey and Enver Yucel) and built a very successful career as a matchmaker. We ended up having a conversation in the hallway as he was leaving. He told me to take everything that I felt would be against me as a tech entrepreneur, including my Southern accent, and embrace it. After we took our selfie and before he really had to leave (I’m sure I was holding him up), he looked at me and said, "You have the opportunity to be a pioneer, but the choice is yours.” He was right. (Paul later invited to be featured on #MentorMondays)
In August 2015, I got a call from Anthony Frasier to discuss my talk at the second stop of the Tech808 Conference in Oakland. The conversation soon turned to Anthony questioning and challenging me. We discussed everything from writing a book to speaking engagements to being broke and everyone doubting your vision to tech empires to changing lives. In most cases, people do not see or understand your vision, but to have a conversation with someone who not only understands the journey, but challenges you to be even better, it's always a major plus.
I'm guilty of being very critical of myself and not celebrating the small victories. I have been on this journey for four years with a lot of sleepless nights, but I have found that I must appreciate timing. Wayne Sutton, Paul Brunson, nor Anthony Frasier did not have to talk to me, but I am forever grateful for their time and their words. Each conversation was life-changing. My thoughts have solidified amazing ideas and I look forward to continuing this journey.
She Started It is a feature length documentary film on women tech founders, shot on location in Silicon Valley, NYC, Europe, Vietnam, Mississippi & more, that aims to highlight successful role models for young women, to encourage more girls to develop technical and entrepreneurial skills.
Entrepreneurs are the new rock stars. The names that come to mind are usually Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs. Rarely does one think a young woman. And why would they? Only 3 percent of all tech start-ups are founded by women. She Started It is a debut documentary film by Nora Poggi & Insiyah Saeed aiming to dispel those myths and spotlight those women that are starting companies. She Started It profiles five of those driven women – they are; Stacey Ferreira, Thuy Truong, Brienne Ghafourifar, Agathe Molinar & Sheena Allen. The film follows a few of these young entrepreneurs over the course of 2+ years and illuminates the ups and downs they face as they attempt to build their new businesses, for the first time on screen in an exciting, narrative, story driven film. By showcasing these young role models, we hope to ignite that spark, “If she could do it, I could do it!”
The film is set to premiere in Spring 2016. Learn more at SheStartedItFilm.com.