How Privilege Leaves BIPOC Entrepreneurs Behind
Delays and challenges experienced by founders of color and its impact on their startups.
Building a business is a monumental journey that has been written about in plenty of popular business books, but often from one perspective — the white male. If you Google what the most popular business books are right now, the following people will show up: James Clear, Tim Ferriss, Ben Horowitz, Dale Carnegie, Simon Sinek, Phil Knight — all white and male authors.
As a BIPOC individual, it has been my experience that the playbooks and success stories of white businessmen are to be read with a heavy caveat of privilege, privilege that I will not be able to access. Even if I head into my journey with optimism that a lack of privilege will only manifest as hiccups, I will approach divergent obstacles that the white male author never came across.
In my experience, you can draw wisdom from the teacher, but you can’t rely on the decisions and choices they’ve made to produce the same results for you if you’re coming from a different background.
I don’t think we talk about the backgrounds of different races and immigrants, and how it impacts one’s ability to build a successful business enough. Rather than talking about these differences and embracing them, so much of startup content regurgitates advice that has largely been relevant for one type of entrepreneur.
I want to share what I’ve learned in my experience not only as a womxn entrepreneur but also as an entrepreneur of Asian-American descent. My hope is to share these learnings to reflect all the ways in which you, a BIPOC entrepreneur, possess a different path in launching your business from your non-minority peers, and how you can address these setbacks to steer your startup journey.
Delayed Start Of Asset Building
I was the first person on my mom’s side of the family to go to college in the US — I was the “experiment” that had to figure out what I had to do to get into a college and what happens when you’re actually in college. At the time, no one connected the dots to link me with my older cousins on my dad’s side of the family to coach me through this experience.
There was no acknowledgment that this type of knowledge was valuable so I didn’t know to ask for this type of support, nor was anyone offering it to me.
As a new college student, I ended up spending a lot of time making mistakes, backtracking on these mistakes and starting from scratch several times, and living in constant anxiety that I was doing something the wrong way. I didn’t have the bandwidth to think about my future in a meaningful way when my present felt so overwhelming with learning.
This lack of life knowledge carried on into the adulting phase of my life where it set me back in asset building. I was delayed in building professional networks, financial assets, cultivating my social network, and much more because no one taught me that these were important assets that I needed to build early on and consistently.
While my more supported friends already hit the ground running understanding the importance of building relationships for the purpose of future work contacts, the backroads of networking with professionals, scholarship opportunities, the myriad of career paths they could take and what it meant, and so much more, I didn’t get clued in on this until much later in my mid to late-20s.
Because of my late start, I likely will never catch up to my non-minority peers and will always be a little behind when it comes to my assets — for my life and my businesses.
Building Social Capital From Scratch
Social capital is to me, the big kahuna of privilege. Social capital provides a bottomless well of opportunities in a way that financial and knowledge capital may definitively end.
When I was observing the non-minority entrepreneurs around me build their businesses while I was building my own, I was always envious of how they could easily call Jack, for example, who could offer direct access to a major industry introduction because they went to summer camp with the guy. Or the quick call someone’s father could make to get a son’s friend a coffee meeting with a big-shot CEO.
I didn’t go to summer camp and my father didn’t play golf with colleagues on the weekends — these were all culturally foreign concepts to immigrant parents like mine.
My parents came to this country knowing no one and therefore, didn’t have much of a social network for me to tap into when it came to building my businesses. I didn’t inherit a web of social connections filled with adults I could look up to and learn from.
Without inheriting any type of social capital, I had to start from complete scratch to build mine. On top of this, no one taught me how important social capital was (or how to build relationships), so I started building my social web very late.
This led me to fall behind other entrepreneurs who were easily able to rally supporters for their entities due to their relentless pursuit at building social capital over the years or inheriting that social capital from their parents.
Although I built as much social capital as possible to catch up to my colleagues and eventually reaped the benefits of having a rich social web, condensing years of networking into all of my mid-to late-20s eventually led me to burnout. It took me two years to recover from the hangover of networking that aggressively.
Overcoming Financial Blocks
Although I had the privilege of accessing a small amount of financial capital when it came to seed funding for my businesses, I was severely lacking when it came to actually possessing the proper mindset to steward and grow the money I did receive.
My internal blocks and feelings of low self-worth in relation to money were debilitating, so I often had problems receiving large amounts of money and building off that momentum, or having the confidence to ask for more money beyond the ceiling of what I had received.
I had such a heavy narrative around penny-pinching and hoarding the money that I did have with the belief that I wasn’t going to receive more. Abundance mindset was really an insane concept to me for a long time because I had lived the majority of my life without the security of reliable income.
My challenges with money were this heavily-knotted web of: inherited stories from my parents growing up poor in a developing country, actually growing up poor in the Bronx up till I was 9, not understanding financial literacy or wealth building until accidentally stumbling upon the concept on a podcast, and lacking the confidence or experience to ask for investment without feeling irrationally indebted for eternity.
This experience led me to the awareness of how truly difficult it is for an immigrant minority in this country to break through financial ceilings, and the cultural money mindset challenges deeply interweaved in that challenge. Even when I sought the educational resources to break me free from these stories, I didn’t find transformational solutions.
I’d love to say that I found an incredible course, coach, or program that helped me overcome my money mindset challenges, but it has been an ongoing journey where I have to concoct a new cocktail every year to help me break new ground around my personal relationship with money.
That is the reality for most BIPOC entrepreneurs in my position — when we’re in pursuit of breaking past our mental barriers, we are mostly alone in that journey and have to create our own solutions.
Flipping The Script To Move Forward
As I’ve been exploring these contrasting starting points between myself and other entrepreneurs, I’ve been thinking deeply about what I’ve learned from this experience.
The first reality to acknowledge is that I cannot change the past or the setbacks I’ve experienced. I’ve come to accept the time I’ve lost and have given myself space to grieve it. Accepting these setbacks is in my opinion, a beautiful part of this process and gives me the drive to make up for lost time.
The second important takeaway from my experience has been awareness. To me, awareness is more powerful than any of us give it credit for. Admitting that I didn’t have the same boosters as others has been an important step in claiming my power around my story and my setbacks, and having a conversation with myself about the next steps I’d like to take.
Awareness is what empowers me to take action in a meaningful way. For me, my action has looked like mindfully building my social capital and refining my approach so that I optimize every interaction I have. This drive to optimize has resulted in me being more strategic at relationship building than most of my peers. My lack of social capital led to a search for faster network-building strategies, which led to time-saving and optimized relationship-building skills that I can use for the rest of my life.
Similarly, when this is applied to my knowledge and money mindset gaps, it has made me ruthless about creating a framework to quickly recognize my blocks and remedy them as soon as I can. I address my knowledge and money mindset gaps as if my world is on fire, which is helpful in reaching my goals on an accelerated timeline.
I embrace all the woes in my experience with all the potential that’s also present in my experience. I started with less, but I also gained immensely through my struggle — these gains look different from the white male authors whose hero’s journey holds a different tune from mine, but nonetheless are gains that I can own as a BIPOC womxn.
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