In 2011, Chris Coleman set out on a path to become the founder and CEO of Savyswap, an online platform where customers securely swap their items for other things that they want.
But Chris didn’t even know what he was building towards; all he knew was that he had been presented with a problem that needed solving.
After deciding to switch his major from marketing to journalism, which meant leaving his college in Denver, Colorado, for Howard University in Washington, D.C., Coleman realized he had furniture that couldn’t come along for the journey. Untrusting of the security (or lack thereof) provided by Craigslist, he decided to give his belongings away. Although he felt great about being able to help others, he couldn’t help but to wish he could have received something in exchange for them. Just a short time later, destiny connected him with his future co-founder, Calvin Knight, who partnered with him to develop a swapping and bartering website.
By 2012, Savyswap was officially founded, and since then, the company has succeeded in securing a five-figure round of funding from a private investor using YouTube, and has also been accepted into a tech incubator based in San Francisco.
Although he figured out how to solve his problem, Coleman’s answer didn’t come without a price. The journey to building his new dream required making tough decisions and taking plenty of risks. EBONY.com caught up with the savvy entrepreneur to find out the key to his success.
EBONY: What differentiates SavySwap from similar tech-start-ups in the market?
Chris Coleman: We believe that each and every person is worth it and we wish to maximize their time and the value of their item by creating an awesome experience when using our product. That’s done by making sure users are verified, that it’s easy to upload your items and automatically matching you with real people who have things you want.
EBONY: How did you go about designing such a successful YouTube funding campaign?
CC: I had been recording my journey into entrepreneurship via my website and YouTube channel. A gentleman based overseas watched a few of my videos…did his homework…and reached out to us, saying, "I like your passion and goals, I want to invest."
EBONY: How did you go about authenticating his identity, intentions and capabilities?
CC: We used the internet [and] verified that he was at least keeping a consistent profile online. We also had multiple Skype sessions spanning a few months and covered ourselves legally before we decided to take the money.
EBONY: When did you secure the funds and what did they go towards?
CC: We secured the funds this past summer and began working with an amazing web design company called Chop Dawg. Their team helped us with the creation of our web app as well as the rebranding of our whole company.
EBONY: That’s awesome! What advice would you give to others who have interest in pursuing their dream, fundraising or advancing up the ladder?
CC: You have to put yourself in the position to put your best foot forward every day and bring it! Because of my personal development I can connect with those who are very successful. My family does not come from money, I do not have a college degree nor am I a genius, I just work very hard.
EBONY: Wait, what happen to Howard?
CC: While at Howard, I landed a position as a technology editor for an online magazine. I had the pleasure of interviewing and covering some cool up-and-coming tech startups and their founders. After that, I threw myself into learning the basics of programming, spending about 12-15 hours a day on it. I built a few websites, did marketing for some clients and came to a crossroad; I was learning more outside of the classroom. I told my parents going into my senior year of college, “I’m dropping out of school” and started Savyswap. I don't suggest to everyone to drop out. I had a plan in place that it made sense for me.
EBONY: As a Black millennial, what has the journey been like to build a tech start-up at a young age?
CC: I use being both young and Black to my advantage. It's like that saying: "Success has many fathers". A lot of people want to help break that lack of diversity status quo and will gladly help you out, and that does not just relate to being a Black millennial, it's for anyone looking to do something different than the masses.
EBONY: What is one major obstacle that you all have faced along this journey and how have you worked to overcome it?
CC: It would probably be getting over myself, which was holding the company back. In early 2013…I fell into a deep depression and kind of stopped everything. I gained a ton of weight, lost all my confidence in myself and our idea and wanted to quit. [But] one day it just clicked. I realized that life doesn't give you what you want, it gives you what you are. I had to literally start from step one to building myself back up to truly step into the role of being CEO. I learned to value our everyday successes which were pushing us towards the larger goals we had in mind. I got my health back in order and I woke up every morning and did daily affirmations.
EBONY: What is some of the best advice that you’ve received thus far and who gave it to you?
CC: The best advice I've gotten thus far was from Lauryn Ballesteros [a business woman and my mentor]. She told me, “Chris, you have to believe that you are worth it." Her words really lit a fire under me because they were so true.
EBONY: What advice would you give to other Black, Fresh & 20-Somethings who are looking to pursue their dreams?
CC: Believe in yourself and your dream. If you make a choice and just decide what it's going to be, who you're going to be and how you're going to do it, you have already completed 80% of the journey.
EBONY: What’s up next for SavySwap?
CC: There are some exciting things coming up for Savyswap very soon, the [nearest event] being the public launch of our platform in Philly! You can request an invite and be notified when we launch in your city at Savyswap.co.