[THE UPLOAD] Introducing a New Way to Invest in Black Startups

In Silicon Valley, the name of the funding game is being able to demonstrate traction for your product or service. And while there have been a few breakouts amongst African-American founders, the numbers don’t lie: White males get funded at an exceedingly greater rate than any other group of founders. According to CB Insights, companies headed by male executives received 98% of all venture investments, totaling nearly $1.88 billion, while 83% of companies had a racial composition that was entirely Caucasian. Meanwhile, Black tech founders received a mere 1% of seed and Series A funding.

Typically, venture capitalists look to their own networks for companies to invest in, so they’re looking at people who have the same schools in common or who’ve worked at Silicon Valley tech companies. Within that method of finding companies to invest in, there’s a lot of unconscious bias that comes into play. Likewise, VCs tend to use pattern matching, a method of selecting companies to invest in based upon what has worked before. As well, demographics tend to be a filter, with VCs staying within the same pool they always have.

Today, serial entrepreneur and Black tech founder Clarence Wooten seeks to change the way the game is played. The launch of his new free platform for startups to privately share their company’s data with angel and venture investors should also remove some of the current issues Black tech founders face when looking for investment.

VentureFund.io, a Traction API, enables startups to share user numbers, growth, engagement and more by connecting to data sources such as Google Analytics, Mixpanel, Stripe, Braintree and others. The platform features a dashboard that shows startups their growth over time and how they compare to other startups within their category. Wooten’s company will also use the data to help companies strategize their growth by improving metrics, increasing engagement, and converting customers.

It was Wooten’s background as both a tech founder and investor that led him to launching the platform. In 2006, he founded Groupsite.com, a self-serve SaaS platform building private branded communities. In 2011, Wooten moved to Palo Alto and cofounded Progressly, a marketplace and platform for sharing and adopting proven processes for your business. After his move, he saw the difference in being an insider versus an outsider in Silicon Valley.

VentureFund.io, his most recent startup, launched this week with over 150 participating investors hailing from such firms as Google Ventures, Andreessen Horowitz, DFJ, Social Capital, Upfront Ventures, General Catalyst Partners, Y Combinator, 500 Startusp and more.

Wooten spoke to Ebony.com about why he started VentureFund.io, and how he hopes it breaks down barriers for startups.

EBONY: Why did you start this company?

Clarence Wooten: The railroad tracks of the 21st century are being built in Silicon Valley. You can be an entrepreneur, but you only have one caboose on those tracks. As an investor, you can invest a little bit of money in a bunch of trains and it only takes one unicorn to change everything.

Having been an entrepreneur and an investor, I realized that if you don’t have access to the right deals at the right time, it doesn’t matter how much money you have to invest. You have to be able to see early enough what kind of traction these startups are getting. It would be helpful to know as soon as the entrepreneur knows when the company is taking off, and be able to proactively reach out and put money in.

EBONY: How did you get to 150 VCs already?

CW: We’ve been in beta since October, and we reached out to every top investor that we know. We’ve also let entrepreneurs know about the platform. This platform is a no-brainer for them, because most of them hate pitching VCs. So now they can focus on building their app instead of pitching it, and investors will chase them instead of them chasing investors.

EBONY: How is this different than AngelList?

CW: AngelList is bottom of the funnel and we’re top of the funnel. Once you have a lead angel investor who’s willing to back you and if they have followers in their syndicate who will back you, they can help you close out your round. But that’s after you’ve pitched and gotten their attention. Investors are basing who to fund off of relationships. With VentureFund.io, the investors can base that off of data. An angel investor or early-stage VC can look at these companies objectively.

EBONY: So the story of the company comes from its data?

CW: Yes. This eliminates selection bias. If you didn’t work at Google or Facebook, it’s difficult to get an introduction to VCs. Or if you didn’t go to an Ivy League or graduate with a computer science degree, it’s very hard to get in to pitch your idea at the seed stage to VCs and top angels. We don’t care about any of that. You can come from anywhere. Your data will prove that your product is something that people actually want. Traction trumps everything.

EBONY: What about the companies that don’t know anything about growth strategies?

CW: The first thing is, get an app built. It doesn’t cost much nowadays to do this. Build that MVP and find your audience. Once you get enough traction, the investors will find you. They won’t care what you look like or where you came from. Every investor has their own threshold for what they consider traction and they will invest accordingly.

EBONY: How are investors selected?

CW: We do some verification. We look at their AngelList and their bios and Linkedins to see what they’ve already done. It doesn’t matter whether they can invest $10,000 or $10 million. If you’re a first-timer, we won’t necessarily showcase you in a featured list. But you can be there on the platform and you will have to promote yourself to startups.

EBONY: How will VentureFund make money?

CW: We’re focused on building a marketplace and scaling it. We’re letting startups sign up for free, and it’s also free for investors. As the platform scales, we will raise a fund and invest early and make our money as an investor. We have the data and we can see which companies are doing really well ourselves. We’re building a platform first, and ultimately we will raise a fund.

Lynne d Johnson has been writing about music since the early 1990s, tech since the late ’90s, and the intersection of music and technology since the early 2000s. She currently writes, teaches and consults companies on how to better engage with their audiences. Follow her on Twitter @lynneluvah.


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