In her early 30s, Odyssey Media founder and CEO Linda Spradley Dunn made great money at IBM selling large-frame computers. But even as she was saving 10 percent of her stock and banking hefty commission checks (an indispensable tip from a White male colleague)—Dunn knew she was destined to be an entrepreneur. Fast-forward to present day, and Dunn’s 18-year-old Odyssey Media, a marketing and communications company, connects and empowers multicultural businesswomen via digital forums, networking and live experiences with special guests such as Dr. Mae Jemison, Ava DuVernay, Diahann Carroll and Yara Shahidi (from black-ish).
In November, Dunn kicked off her Coca-Cola and CoverGirl sponsored “In the Black” tour, which hits Newark, D.C., Chicago and Atlanta. It’s a series of chic networking events where every woman rocks a LBD (little black dress) and leaves with tools to start a new venture or propel her current one to the next level. The tour wraps up on November 18th with a finale event that will livestream to various cities including Dallas, Cleveland and Los Angeles.
Below, the wife and mother talks about everything from what a Donald Trump presidency means for women to the essential skill set every aspiring entrepreneur needs for success.
EBONY.com: Let’s start with the presidential election. Everything pointed to Hillary Clinton winning a seat in the Oval Office. What was your immediate reaction?
Linda Spradley Dunn: Every so often democracy hits a reset button, and though I am terribly disappointed that Sec. Hillary Clinton didn’t win, I understand why she lost. People are losing their way of life. This isn’t about Donald Trump and his presidency; this is about change. When the majority becomes the minority, they cannot hold onto the power they have. Those of us who have less will demand our fair share. This has nothing to do with Donald Trump. He just took the lid off the pot. This is about fear of change in America.
EBONY.com: Thought leaders are encouraging people to organize, strategize and take back their local communities. What’s your message for women entrepreneurs?
Dunn: Here we are as African-American women over delivering on the vote year after year to the Democrats. I see it as an opportunity for us to say, “If we are going to be the backbone and deliver the vote, what are we going to get?” We still get less than 1 percent of equity investments from angel investors, but we are the go-to women when they want to make it happen. We are fighting the wrong fight. I don’t care who is in the White House. Getting our share and advocating for who we are and what we are supposed to get is what we should be doing.
EBONY.com: Your second annual In The Black tour kicked off in Newark, New Jersey, on November 11. Hhow does advocacy play a role in the event?
Dunn: People think advocacy is community service, but it’s about knowing how to advocate on your behalf as a small business owner to get what you need to impact your community. The emphasis is on how you collaborate to get the local city council to pay attention to contracts for you and other women in your city. Do you know who your congressman is? Do you know the treasurer of your state, and how [he or she] determines government contracts? Do you know the Chamber of Commerce and go to any of those meetings? That’s where all those political business decisions are made. We’re going to focus on advocating for what we deserve—not a handout, not set-asides, but what we deserve.
EBONY.com: What are the tools women can access after the In the Black tour?
Dunn: We have three webinars on capital and how to keep your business. The webinar service is free to anyone who comes to In the Black, and then we have a live town hall December 13 in New York City with a panel of experts who address the No. 1 issue that African American/multicultural women face as businesswomen, which is access to capital. We can’t go to the dining room table and say, “Can everyone in the family loan me $10,000 for this great idea?”
EBONY.com: Tell us about the big tech reveal that’s happening at the conclusion of In The Black.
Dunn: We toured four cities. and on November 18, we are using Google Chromecast [a streaming device] with 30 local parties around the country. Women are going to show up in Seattle and Pittsburgh and all kinds of locations we weren’t in before, in their little black dresses, to network. People are having them in clubs, homes and quaint restaurants, and at a specific time on November 18, they’re going to plug in their Chromecast.
EBONY.com: There’s a #girlboss and #fireyourboss movement on social media. While it’s great that we’ve embraced this entrepreneurial vibe, what are the gems people learn from being an employee?
Dunn: [Most folks] need the discipline of learning how a team works. Whether you’re selling direct to a consumer or trying to get sponsorship, you need that skill set. I hire millennials, and we require them to work from 9 to 5 in the office. I don’t care how late you partied—you have to get up and be at work by 9 a.m. We don’t Snapchat clients. The client is the one we serve, and the women, our participants are the ones we serve. That’s hard to learn when you are using social media and working from home and you’ve never worked in a corporate environment.
EBONY.com: Some aspiring entrepreneurs are ready to quit their jobs to launch businesses. What do you say to those folks?
Dunn: You need at least a year to two years’ worth of salary in the bank, and you aren’t going to live the way you are currently living. You aren’t going out to eat three times a week. You have the mortgage or rent, car note and a cushion in case the heater goes. You won’t live off the business in the beginning, and you need a tight two-page business plan. I challenge everybody I mentor to give me six revenue streams. Can you sell that? Can you add on to it? If you leave [your job] and have one product and one revenue stream. you’re doomed.
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