A popular headline, as it relates to black-owned businesses, is the disparity in venture capital investment placed into black-owned businesses versus startups with white founders. Despite the popularity of that headline, we do not often hear a lot of discussions centered on trying to figure out some reasons for this. Well, Renae and I spend some significant time discussing this topic and in doing so, we unpack the critical role that black consumers play in the larger venture capital economy.
This week's episode my guest this week is Renae Bluitt, creator of the “She Did That” platform that produces the “She Did That" podcast, as well as she, did that documentary, of which Renae was the executive producer.
“She Did That” focuses on telling the stories of brands and businesses that are founded by black female founders. The “She Did That” documentary can currently be found on Netflix, but it's going away soon so try to view it there. But if you don't get there in time you can also be found on Amazon Prime, iTunes, Vimeo, and YouTube. It is a remarkable documentary that speaks to some challenging topics that are unique to the black female founder experience. A few of those topics are topics that we get to unpack in good detail on this episode. Topics like whether the consumer behavior of black consumers contributes to the venture capital challenges that black founders face.
But long before she even conceived the idea of the “She Did That” platform, her entrepreneurial journey began in an Indiana funeral home.
Join Grindology: https://grindology.com/
ExpressVPN: Get 3 Months Free → https://www.expressvpn.com/startupstory
The Startup Story Inner Circle: https://www.thestartupstory.co/vip
The Startup Story on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/thestartupstory
The Startup Story is now on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/jamesmckinney
The Startup Story on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/thestartupstory
Live Founder Q&A: https://live.grindology.com/
Sponsor Movo: https://movo.cash/app
She Did That Podcast: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/she-did-that/id1556261212
She Did That Website: https://shedidthatfilm.com
In Her Shoe’s Blog: https://inhershoesblog.com
The Startup Story community has been so incredible sharing our podcast with others, and we thank you! We do have more stories to tell and more people to reach. There are three ways you can help.
First, the most powerful way you can support this podcast is by leaving a review on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts.
Renae Bluitt: Hi! My name is Renae Bluitt. I am the creator and executive producer of She Did That, and also the host of the She Did That podcast, and this is MY startup story.
James McKinney: Hello everyone and welcome to another episode of The Startup Story. Before we jump into this week's episode I want to thank our episode sponsor, Movo On-Demand. If you've been a listener of The Startup Story from episode number one, then you might remember Movo because they were our very first sponsor and helped to launch The Startup Story. Eric Solis is the founder of Movo and has always been a great supporter of entrepreneurs and startups. He's equally passionate about simplifying our current day banking experience and exceeding existing security measures that, to be frank, have gotten a bit lacks in the United States. That is why he rebuilt Movo On-Demand Mobile Banking with end to end contactless payments.
On demand mobile banking is a new digital banking experience, purpose built from the ground up. Look, fintech is super finicky about compliance and marketing so let me give you the boiler plate stuff that they have to say. Movo On-Demand Mobile Banking with end to end contactless payments provides real-time settlement, instant issue, unparalleled safety and security, convenience, transportability, low fees, interoperability, and inclusiveness, all contactless and in a single app. All right, now let me translate that for you in the real world. All that means is that you can send and receive peer to peer payments in seconds and not days. This also means once you've received those funds directly into your Movo account, you can go that same day and buy a cup of coffee, fund a new Facebook ad account, or rent a Lamborghini to create those ridiculous Instagram photos that so many people actually believe are real.
The Movo Cash Card also helps prevent fraud by using a patented tokenization that enables you to create and fund a new digital debit card. Use it as your default card on file payment option when shopping online. Think about how helpful that is. Now, every time you sign up for a subscription service you can create a new digital debit card specifically for that service, and when you want to cancel that service you can easily do so because you manage that specific card. Never be double charged, never be overcharged or unknowingly charged again. The new Movo On-Demand Mobile Banking app is available on iTunes and Google Play today. Once you download and sign up, you're going to receive a ready to go activated digital Movo debit card for use everywhere MasterCard is accepted, so go download the Movo On-Demand Mobile Banking app today, or visit movo.cash/app to learn more.
One last bit of lame legal disclaimer stuff that all fintech startups have to deal with. Banking services provided by Coastal Community Bank, member FDIC. The Movo Debit MasterCard is issued by Coastal Community Bank, member FDIC, pursuant to license by MasterCard International. All right, now the real talk. Make sure to visit movo.cash/app to learn more, and of course we'll include a link in the show notes for easy access. Now let's jump in to this week's episode.
My guest this week is Renae Bluitt, creator of the She Did That platform that produces the She Did That podcast as well as the She Did That documentary, of which Renae was the executive producer for. She Did That focuses on telling the entrepreneurial stories of brands and businesses that are founded by black female founders. The She Did That documentary can currently be found on Netflix, but it's going away soon so try and view it there. But if you don't get there in time, it can also be found on Amazon Prime, iTunes, Vimeo and YouTube. It is a remarkable documentary that speaks to some challenging topics that are unique to the black female founder experience. A few of those topics are topics that we get to unpack in good detail in this episode. Topics like whether or not the consumer behavior of black consumers contributes to the venture capital challenges that black founders face.
I'm so appreciative of Renae for coming on the show to discuss all the things that need to be discussed. And look, I created The Startup Story to bring authenticity and transparency back to the entrepreneurial journey, and if you think for a second that my entrepreneurial journey as a white male in the US is no different than my fellow founders of color, then you're simply fooling yourself and I hope this episode helps to stir up some questions within you that you can engage with us on social media about, so we can have this discussion. That said, Renae is our featured founder, and long before she even conceived the idea of the She Did That platform, her entrepreneurial journey began in an Indiana funeral home.
Renae Bluitt: My grandfather was an entrepreneur in Indiana. He owned a funeral home and that was our family business that my dad also got into. He's also an entrepreneur, so I was raised in a family of entrepreneurs. I got to see really early on the sacrifice that goes into it. I learned early that it is not glamorous. I got to see a lot of the grit behind the scenes, a lot of the rollercoaster if you will of emotions, of income, of business. So I got to see that at a young age, but I also got to see what's gratifying about it and the pride that goes into it, particularly in the black owned, black community. I got to witness a legacy being built early in the value, and just the importance of us starting our own businesses and being self sufficient in this world.
James McKinney: You know you talk about the legacy business, your grandfather and then your dad. You can see obviously because you are in that world of entrepreneurship, it's kind of hard to rinse it off of us. It is really part of who we become. I was raised by an entrepreneur. I didn't want anything to do with it because I saw a lot of the challenges with it, but I couldn't avoid it. It just kept pulling me back in. so for you, having seen the rollercoaster of entrepreneurship is that something you wanted? Let's say by the end of high school, was that something you wanted for yourself or were you like I don't want it, I want a stable 9 to 5 with a paycheck. What was on your horizon come end of high school?
Renae Bluitt: When I was in high school and in my early college years, when someone asked me what I wanted to do or what I wanted to be, I was just like I want to own my own business. It was very generic. I didn't have a specific direction. Actually, I take that back. Later in high school I thought I wanted to own a beauty salon because I really enjoyed doing my friend's hair. I would be the person that they would come to get their hair cut or relaxed or styled. I took a lot of risk with my own hair, and I had a talent with it so I thought I wanted to be a hair stylist. But what's interesting is how I did get into the beauty business. I started my own PR consultancy after working in the PR and corporate side for years. When I started my business, my expertise was beauty brands, and I worked with a lot of hair care brands. It's interesting. I did end up in beauty but not in the capacity that I imagined.
James McKinney: Yeah. Obviously it's a passion of yours, and so coming to the end of high school you wanted to have your own business. Was there any draw whatsoever to joining the family business? It's a general business so-
Renae Bluitt: I did not, no.
James McKinney: Not at all? Okay.
Renae Bluitt: Absolutely not. There was a lot of pressure though because that is an industry that is pretty much family owned. You pass those businesses down. Obviously male dominated. But it just… it was always kind of depressing. My grandparents home was their house and then the two car driveway, and then the funeral home so they lived within the business. So whenever I would go to my grandmother's house inevitably something was happening with the business because she was handling the administrative work, so I would hear her sending the obituaries to the local newspaper, or a family would come by. It was always this heavy energy, and rightfully so because this is a very dark time in people's lives. But I knew that wasn't my calling.
I think it's much like if you were going into something in the religious sector, I feel like that's a calling and it's a ministry, and I knew it wasn't mine. I did not want to be around people who were deceased every day. Although my dad used to say, "You need to be worried about the people who are alive, not the people who are dead." He used to always remind me that there will always be business in the funeral industry because people are always transitioning. But I just knew that I did not want that to be my day to day. But what it did do, and what it continues to do is remind me of how fleeting life is, and how important it is to live life to its fullest because you never know when your car could be pulled. So I think that was part of my inspiration in why it's so important for me to do work that I feel good about, and that I'm excited to do and that I'm passionate about, and that I love because we spend so much time working during our lives, and because life is so short.
James McKinney: I want to spend a lot of our time together, as much as possible, talking about again some of the themes that are in the She Did That documentary. There's questions about your understanding of black entrepreneurship as a kid that I want to get to. But I want to honor your journey as well, and so before we get to all those great discussion points, you're at the end of high school, you know you want to have your own business. Do you go to college? And if so, do you stay local? Do you go afar? What are the next steps in your journey?
Renae Bluitt: I kind of did a combination of the two. I went to a college, Illinois State University, that was just like a two and a half or three hour drive away, so it was kind of local but it was far enough where my parents couldn't just pop up if they wanted to see how I was doing. So I did that, enjoyed college. Right after college moved to Chicago. Thought I wanted to work in advertising, so I worked with a nonprofit organization there. Quickly got into PR after that when I realized I could like bring kind of that creative side together with my enjoyment of writing, with my love for event production, and things like that. So I did PR and I lived in Chicago for some years. Through my agency job I traveled to New York a lot and I fell in love with New York, specifically Brooklyn, and then I moved here in 2001 to work at Live Time Television. Stayed there a little bit, worked a couple of other different agencies here.
My last agency job is where I realized that this cannot be it. I was working a lot of pharmaceutical accounts. And it kind of, now that I think about it, it just the pharmaceutical business, writing press releases every day about diseases that the black community index is high in, it just felt depressing again. It kind of, now that I'm saying it out loud, kind of almost took me back to the feeling that I knew that I didn't want to have every day working in the funeral industry. But to be writing those press releases every day about the illnesses in our community and these drugs that a lot of people couldn't even afford, I was just like this is not how I want to do PR. So I started moonlighting and got a couple of hair care clients. It just kind of took off from there. At one point I looked up and I realized that I had enough of my own clients to let go of the fulltime job. It ended up being a huge blessing. The business, I feel like once I started to put 100% into my business I was getting 100% back or more with new clients, new business and opportunities. That was the start of my entrepreneurial journey.
James McKinney: And that first step being in PR for other companies, correct?
Renae Bluitt: Yes.
James McKinney: And how do we get from there to the She Did That brand?
Renae Bluitt: Okay. So She Did That was actually inspired by a blog that I started in 2009 called In Her Shoes. Once I was doing PR for these hair care brands and also for some smaller businesses in New York City run by women, I was meeting so many incredible women on that journey. It hit me that like, and this was again 2009. This is long before the whole girl boss movement, long before women entrepreneurs were a trend, before black women entrepreneurs were just this buzzword that we are now. But at that time I felt like there weren't any places online for everyday women to tell their stories. If you wanted to be in Essence magazine or Glamour or Vogue or anything like that, you had to have a much bigger name, a much bigger following. And there were just so many intriguing stories that I was coming across about just every day women that someone in Chicago may not know about, or someone in Georgia may not know about.
I decided that I wanted to fill the void and what was missing in the blogosphere at the time was just a blog about black women entrepreneurs. So the blog was titled In Her Shoes because my goal was to give people a chance to walk in the shoes of these black women entrepreneurs. Like my main content on that blog was the fly female entrepreneur series, where I would just do simple Q&A every week of a new black woman entrepreneur that I wanted to introduce my audience to.
James McKinney: I love it. I think it's that intimate personal storytelling that has drawn me to you and what it is you're doing, because that is equal to why I created The Startup Story. There was a false narrative out there about what entrepreneurship was, and for those who have been in the mix we see the media headlines and know it's not real, and so we wanted to bring some authenticity and transparency to it. But one of the things that I love, and I'm going to keep saying it for those who are listening, check out the She Did That documentary. It is incredibly well done. The stories are remarkable. Carol's Daughter story, the Lip Bar story, all of them are fantastic.
But the Carol's Daughter story resonated with me because of an interview I did with Quinton and Terran Lewis of Herb'N Eden. In that conversation that I'm sitting with them, I asked them the question where is Herb'N Eden in five years from now. And Terran said we'd love to sell to a larger brand and Quentin brought up the challenge that they have, or that the black startups have when it comes to acquisitions because the consumers are so passionate about black owned businesses, and then when they sell to the larger conglomerates they're viewed as a sellout.
That was the first time I had heard that, and I began to process the circular effect of that thinking and that consumer buying. Then to see Carol's Daughter story similar to Herb'N Eden's feedback in that when she sold to L'Oreal, again chance of the sellout and all the things. I don't know what the consumers did with regards to that, but I hear from the Shea Moisture brand, when they sold it was the consumers just dropped off. It was no longer a black owned business. And so for someone who has spoken to so many black female founders, and I'm going to say black founders in general, I know most of them are female but we'll just say black entrepreneurs in general, is that truly a common consumer behavior? And do you also see it as a challenge for black businesses when it comes to an exit strategy?
Renae Bluitt: Well it is absolutely a thing in our community. You hit the nail on the head. There's so much pride that we have in being able to say for example that oh this shirt was created by a black female designer, or these pillows on my sofa were designed by a black woman because for the most part we don't have as many opportunities to say that as other people would in this world. When we are able to say that your favorite hair care brand is created by a black woman or these earrings, there's so much pride in it that when that is no longer the case, it feels very personal. It feels like a loss for the entire community. Unfortunately, the people who are feeling that loss may not also be people who are well versed in what happens behind the scenes of even your favorite brands, the bigger brands like Carol's Daughter. No one understands some of the financial hardships that she may have gone through behind the scenes. From bankruptcies to having to close down certain stores, it's a lot, and the only way that you're going to scale a business is by getting some investors at some point and/or selling it.
In Lisa Price's case, I think that she did what was right for her, for her brand, for her family. And it's really not for us to judge, especially if we're not the one's taking on the stress of keeping this business alive and growing it. People have to make those decisions for themselves. Unfortunately, especially now in the time of you know internet and cyber bullying and keyboard gangsters, people just have a lot of ugly things to say. Some people are just honest about their disappointment, but then some people it just becomes a personal attack on that entrepreneur. Lisa Price dealt with that. There were times when she was the bigger persona and just didn't read the comments. She shared times when she came in and felt like she had to defend herself.
That is a truth in our community unfortunately, but I would hope that as our businesses continue to scale that this narrative becomes more common and it's not as jarring, and it's not looked at in a negative way, and we understand that this is part of a cycle for a business. I say this in the film but a lot of us look at entrepreneurship as like this 'til death do us part experience, and that's not what it's supposed to be. We're humans. Even if you were super passionate about something when you launched it 10 years ago, you have every right to have other interests, and you're not required to continue carrying this business that perhaps you're no longer even invested in the same way.
James McKinney: Come on now, tell me how liberating that thought is, that entrepreneurship is not an "until death do us part" type of engagement. And if you're find this episode helpful, imagine having founder direct tactics delivered to you every quarter. That is the experience and knowledge sharing that is delivered to you each quarter when you become a Grindology member. Grindology is an entrepreneurial subscription box that ships every quarter full of resources to help fuel your grind and your hustle. Now what's included in your Grindology shipment? Well first and foremost, every single Grindology shipment will include a copy of the Grindology tactical manual.
Every single issue of Grindology will be chock full of real tactics from real business builders, not journalists. Within the pages of the Grindology tactical manual we will be delivering to you tactics and strategies that you can integrate into your business immediately. How great would it be to receive specific user acquisition strategies that a SAS company has used to acquire their first 1,000 customers? Or hearing directly from a founder how they increased sales and lead conversion by 120% when they leveraged a simple video tool? Or even better yet, how they took old marketing content, revamped it, and drove over half a million dollars in new revenue? Tell me those tactics wouldn't be helpful? Well those are the exact types of tactics that will be found in each issue of Grindology. Like I said, real tactics from real business builders.
Grindology was created specifically for you, the founder, hustler, entrepreneur, maker, and creator. And in addition to the tactical manual, each shipment includes uniquely roasted coffee and an exclusive mug that speaks to the unique nature that is you, the entrepreneur. Everything about Grindology is about helping to fuel your grind and your entrepreneurial journey. So visit gridnology.com to learn more, and we'll include a link to grindology.com within our show notes for easy access. Now let's jump back into our episode with Renae Bluitt.
James McKinney: My first exposure to the challenges of black entrepreneurs came under the umbrella of venture capital, understanding how little venture capital goes to black founded businesses. And of course you niche that down to black female founded businesses and it becomes not even really hardly a decimal point, it's so small and insignificant.
Renae Bluitt: Yeah, it's pretty insignificant.
James McKinney: Yeah, so I've been super passionate about trying to elevate the stories of the black founders, and one of the things that I learned or more so you helped me to define within your documentary is I knew again about the consumer behaviors of those that would support black founded businesses and then when they would, I'm going to use air quotes, sell out to the larger brand and have an exit, they would bounce and go to a different brand. And in your documentary, one of the segments that you speak so well about is the support that the black community provides and encourages within black founded brands and businesses. I find that to be so incredibly powerful within the entrepreneurial community, and one that is lacking in probably every other demographic. Why do you think within the black community that is so strong to show up in such a big way for those black founded brands?
Renae Bluitt: Again, because there aren't enough. I think that there is really something special about for example again using… Well no, I'll use this time Melissa Butler with the Lip Bar. Her messaging for her brand is it's less about… it's like she's really changing the narrative in the beauty industry, and one of her messages is that you are enough. These products are made to enhance your beauty, not create your beauty. And she's really reminding women and young women that no matter if you're tall or short, slim, bigger, light, dark, you are enough, you're beautiful. Just that plus the wide range of shades and colors that she has for black women, it's like a lot of times when we're supporting black owned brands it's also because we're being seen. They may be filling a void that's missing in the mainstream that's important to us, whether it's a cosmetics brand with a wide range of shades or it is a fashion brand that's taking into consideration maybe the color pallets we love or the silhouettes we love. It's just, we just have a lot of pride. As a culture, we have a lot of pride but then when it comes to supporting each other it's really important.
And there's a bigger reason why it's important too for me because even if you think about the state of the world, and all the racial inequality and things that are happening, the only real way that the black community is going to get some footing and have some power is if we have economic power. The only way that we can really do that is to build our own businesses and support those businesses, and kind of insulate our dollars. Money talks in this country and I think that is where our power lies. Our buying power is unmatched. If we took even just a small percentage of the money that we throw at these larger brands that when you dig deep, some of their leadership may be racist, they may not really hire thinking about diversity… if you really look at where we're investing our dollars and these companies that seemingly don't care about the black community, if we took that money back, poured it into our own communities, we could be unstoppable. I think that also is part of the increased awareness now, especially surrounding buying black and supporting black owned businesses.
James McKinney: That again then leads us to that circular effect where a massive brand becomes successful, they become acquired, and then those dollars go elsewhere and becomes that much more challenging for another potential acquisition because again, the large conglomerates can see the data, they can see the behavior. How do we, and let's talk about the economic side, the consumer behavior side, how do we bring balance to it to where there's always a pursuit of black founded businesses because they're profitable businesses, because they have incredible consumers that are loyal to the product, not the color of the founder? How do we do that? How do we get there?
Renae Bluitt: That's a good question. I don't know. I really don't know. I mean, I know that there's no shortage of black owned businesses, particularly black woman owned businesses. Black women prior to the pandemic, and even with the pandemic, were still the fastest group of entrepreneurs. But there was a time where we were launching I think the number was 783 businesses a day.
James McKinney: Wow.
Renae Bluitt: And so with that in mind, even with this pattern of if a business gets sold we're no longer supporting, I think that it may not be that we're now buying Dove, we may just be buying another black owned business, another black owned product that may not be as big, that may be more of a startup brand. I'd be interested in seeing the numbers of if we left a Shea Moisture, for example, because it was acquired by Unilever, are we going to Dove, are we going to Suave, or are we finding another smaller black owned brand to shop from?
James McKinney: Yeah, that would be a fascinating data point because I think there's so many dials that have to be turned in order to bring balance into this entrepreneurial life cycle, because to your point for those that have never tried to build a business, they just do not understand how hard this is. And so a lot of times the goal is an exit. The goal is an acquisition, or going public, or whatever the case may be. But we don't tend to walk into our venture thinking this is a legacy business, this is something I want to grow and hand off to kids. That tends to not be the framework, especially today in the current era.
So I think we need to start turning those dials to understand how can we create this healthy life cycle so that more black owned businesses are coming up, so that more venture capital is going in because there's proven acquisitions, there's proven exits. Because that's for me, when I first, when Quinton and Terran Lewis from Herb'N Eden first brought this to my attention, this consumer behavior element, the first thing I went to is I wonder if that's why venture capital is not just dumping tons of money in because they only care how am I getting my money back.
Renae Bluitt: Oh, absolutely, absolutely. That's, I mean they want to see that you're exiting your business at some point. From what I understand, that's when it becomes very profitable for them. So if you're thinking about black women owned businesses and you look around, and you don't see us really exiting, I think that for some of them that could present a challenge when they think about ROI.
The thought of exiting a business for a lot of entrepreneurs, it's like we can't even think that far because we're just trying to keep our head above water from day to day, because of the lack of resources, because of the lack of maybe staffing or support. And so I understand both sides. I just, I wish I had an answer for what is the solution. One thing that I do appreciate that I'm seeing now is a lot of specifically black women who are in positions of power, whether it's on the corporate side or they're entrepreneurs themselves, there are a lot of women coming together and creating funding opportunities for other black women specifically.
I hope that trend continues because the thinking behind that is no one is coming to save us, we have to save ourselves. I think as long as we're pouring back into each other's businesses and just becoming a little more self sufficient, if there is outside funding awesome, but I think the idea of leaning into each other and supporting each other is probably a lot more powerful and sustainable. I'm seeing a lot of it. And I'm also seeing black women coming together and creating these funds that may be done in partnership with larger brands.
I saw something recently, a friend of mine Lauren Napier has an initiative called Consider Something Better, and it's really designed to help black women get access to funding. Her organization is partnering with Hennessey to pour into black women owned brands. It's like one day at a time, things like that I think will help to eventually bridge the gap between black women owned businesses and the investors that we are seeking to be in business with or visible with, then also just helping us to be self sufficient. Because I mean as we've seen we can't depend on… none of the businesses that I featured in She Did That would exist if these women just sat on their hands and were waiting for the check to be written from someone. Every single woman in the film was self made. Most of us are, and that's just the reality.
James McKinney: You know let me talk about mindset for a moment there. Because I think part of when we think of entrepreneurship we think at a very tactical level. We think of all the things that have to get done in order to build a business. Consumer acquisition, product development, marketing, PR, administration, all the things, fundraising, whatever. But there's also the mental side of it. And I will fully acknowledge that as a white male there are things mentally that I don't have to process or fight against because of who I am as a white male.
Again these are the sensitivities that have come to me because of the show and listeners and what have you. I had a live event planned for May of last year and we had 13 founders, and I had Denise Woodard the founder of Partake Foods as one of them. She was one of our founders and I got blasted in our promo where we list all the founders, and people just didn't recognize Denise as a black female because she's very light skinned. The comment was, "What, no black female founders? No black founders on your panel?" And so of course I shouldn't have engaged but I did. I'm like well hello, Denise is black.
But that created an honest dialogue where we went one on one in the Zoom call. They were apologetic for the tone in which they came, but they just kept saying… there's a big of agitation that every time they see a founder panel that there isn't representation of black founders on the panel. I started processing this a bit. And then the George Floyd events happened later that summer where he was killed. In fact, the day of recording we're following the verdict in which Chauvin was put away for those three counts of murder. And so a listener had messaged me, the same one that I had talked to before, had messaged me saying, "I want to share with you the mental side of why your entrepreneurial journey is different than mine." And it was a really well worded letter and I read it in an episode. But the tone of it, the mental side of it, was the struggle it is for her to maintain hope that she has an actual shot at building something successful.
I began processing that like man, that is nothing I ever have to deal with. The general hope I have to deal with is just can I execute a business, can I build well, can I think strategically and tactically enough to get my product in front of people. Again, it's all very tactical. There just isn't any mental stuff that just screws with my head. So I want to ask you, with all the stories you've told how many stories have you listened to that are similar to that listener, where it's just there's this mental game of being a black founder that only black founders have to wrestle with?
Renae Bluitt: I mean that's all of us. I don't even have the energy to go too deep into it just because of where we are in the world today. But there is a white privilege that you benefit from every day that white people all over the world benefit from every day. There is a psychological cost to entrepreneurship but if you couple that with the psychological cost of being black in America it's a lot. There are a lot of days where we have to show up, put our best foot forward, do our best work when inside we could be hurting form whatever is happening in the news, whatever is happening around the world. And then on top of that, the deficit sometimes that we have to work with because our businesses aren't being funded, so it's a lot.
I just think it's magical how black people and black women because obviously that's my focus, how we continue to show up and do our best work, and innovate and turn water into wine, and create things that the entire world benefits from in spite of the heaviness and the burden that we have to carry in this country. So it's just like for me that, even though it's daunting, that is why I'm just so passionate about telling our stories because we're more than just entrepreneurs. We are basically magicians, you know? We are creating things under these horrible circumstances that some people aren't able to create with all of the funding and all of the support, you know?
When I look at what black women are creating with the very few funds we have, and how we lead, how we innovate, but how we're also able to nurture, how we are the backbone of this country even though we're reminded that it doesn't love or respect us… I mean, that is incredible. I think that those stories deserve to be told. And told on a deeper level than you might find on social media where you're only seeing people's highlight reel. It's important for me to dive deeper and to get more insight into how did she do that? Like literally, how did she do that?
James McKinney: I want to ask this question because I'm so passionate about people hearing the stories that they probably wouldn't hear anywhere else. But for your personal journey, has there ever been a moment where you felt every bit of that black female founder in the US versus just a female founder?
Renae Bluitt: Yeah. Honestly, even when I think about my documentary there's no reason why, well the film was released in 2018 and it landed on Netflix in 2020. But why is it that if black women are the fastest growing segment of entrepreneurs in this country and there are all these stories and films and pieces about entrepreneurship, why was it that until my piece was produced that we were always kind of an afterthought in that conversation? Even that alone, it's crazy. For me it presented an opportunity, but when I looked at other documentaries and films, and pieces about entrepreneurship, we were kind of sprinkled in but there was never anything centering us which just didn't make sense to me considering how we were moving the needle, the numbers, what we were creating, how we were creating it.
Even when it came to getting funding for the film, I'm not going to say the film but there's another film about female founders that primarily features white women that was produced by a white woman. And when you look at where that film went, it was in the White House, it got this award, that award. It didn't land on Netflix, I will say that, but it's just like all of the doors that opened for that film just really reminded me of just what we're talking about. Some of the hurdles that we have to, and obstacles that we have to overcome as black women because I strongly believe that my film was just as riveting, just as informative, just as enlightening. Honestly, I feel like it was produced at a higher quality, a little more creativity in the production.
But again, there's a certain privilege that comes with being white in this country. So that opens up a lot of doors that may not be open for us, that I firmly believe that we have to open for ourselves and/or create our own opportunities which is what I've really done from the beginning with my blog, with the documentary, with the podcast that is of the same name She Did That. With everything I'm doing, I'm not waiting for some big company to come say, "Hey, here's a platform to tell your stories." No, I'm going to tell our stories anyway because we have to kind of control our narrative. We can't wait and see what the history books decide to say about us 100 years from now, 200 years from now. I really feel like it's my mission to tell those stories in an accurate way.
James McKinney: I love it. I hope that you will collaborate with The Startup Story to get more of these stories out, because I am so passionate about elevating the untold stories, bringing authenticity to entrepreneurship of all races. And again, the data points do not lie. Female founders are underfunded.
Renae Bluitt: Yes.
James McKinney: Founders of color are underfunded. And again obviously you niche it down it gets smaller and insignificant. These are things that can't be ignored and need to be told. And especially too when… one of the things that I've always heard is if you can't see it you can't be it. And so I know that there are probably tremendously successful black founded businesses that sold and didn't sell, that we're just not even fully aware of yet. I believe that there have been more successful black exited companies that we aren't even aware of, and those are the stories that I think if we can show to more people then there's more opportunities for the idea of success.
You had an education academy within your documentary, and I love the visibility that those students are getting to entrepreneurship and the potential for it. So it's just all the things that you're doing I am such a huge fan of. But now let's talk about how you did it, how you built what it is you're building, tactically. You talked about needing to fundraise for the film. Again, film making is not part of your background. It is not something that you did. What was the catalyst for, "I need to make a movie" and then how did you go about dissecting the pieces that need to get done in order to get funding for it? How did you get funding for that?
Renae Bluitt: Like I said, the blog was really the catalyst for the film because at a point I kind of hit a creative wall with the blog. I was, in addition to the traditional Q&A that I published on the blog, I was also producing events in New York City that brought the blog to life. So like live panel events and things like that, and I did a photography exhibition where I went around the city with a photographer, photographed 25 incredible black woman entrepreneurs where they create their magic. After that event, I was really like what can I do next? What other platforms can I use? What other mediums can I explore to tell these stories? It just hit me to produce a documentary.
I always say that ignorance is bliss because I did not know what that… how challenging that mountain would be to climb. In my mind, it was literally as simple as I live in New York City, I'm very well connected. I know that if I talk to someone they could point me in the direction of the people that I would need to develop this team that could help bring this vision to life. And I was able to. I got to work with some really talented people who had done work for much larger productions with Hulu, with Netflix, with like my supervising story producer is an Emmy award winner. I had some of the top talent on my team and they all truly believed in the stories. They were equally invested in telling these stories. They believed in me. They believed in my work. So we were able to bring the vision to life.
In terms of the financial piece of it, I also credit that to black women because the years that I spent in corporate America and in the PR agency world helped me understand the elements that are needed to sell and pitch an idea. It was really nothing for me to put together a kickass deck that described the film, the benefits that a brand would get from partnering with me on the film. Whether it was product placement in the film or visibility and presence at the live events, I really put together a strong package that said, "You want to be a part of this. If I'm reaching black women and black women entrepreneurs and that's your target audience, this is where you need to be." I was able to get partnerships from brands like General motors, Essence magazine which is basically the black women's bible, a fashion brand, and they all poured into the project.
The thing I didn't know because I was a new producer was that if you have a budget you really probably need to multiply that by three or four because of all the unexpected expenses. We did kind of hit a wall when we went through all of the funding that we got. I think we were probably 70% through the film and the filming and everything, but then there was more filming to do and obviously post production expenses. That's when we did the Go Fund Me. Then I also poured into it myself because I strongly believe that if you don't believe in your idea and your vision enough to pour into it, how could you dare ask someone else to do it? That is the core belief of most black women entrepreneurs which is why our businesses even exist today. A lot of us are literally just dipping into our own funds, pouring into our business, multiplying it, and then repeating that cycle.
That's how the film came to life. Because my blog already had a really strong following and I was known for creating and am known for creating this content centering black woman entrepreneurs, for a lot of people it was just like of course you produced a film. You may not have film experience but this just makes sense. And it really became a movement. The film opened so many doors that I wouldn't have even imagined. At the end of 2019 we did a screening in Ghana with a group of black woman entrepreneurs there.
James McKinney: That's awesome.
Renae Bluitt: Ghana is actually the second largest country for black woman entrepreneurs in the entire world.
James McKinney: Wow.
Renae Bluitt: So that was a really powerful conversation. I mean just touring all around the country, having all of these very honest conversations after the film with black woman entrepreneurs about their journeys and not just struggles. Because you know I also wanted, part of my mission with my work is also to make sure that the narrative for black women; we're not all on the struggle bus. Even now during the pandemic, there are some black woman owned businesses that are thriving. Actually for the podcast just interviewed a woman, Angel Anderson, she lives in DC. She has a business called the SpiceSuite. Her business has tripled almost from the start of the pandemic to now. She's now a seven figure business. She travels the world, buying these different spices from all over the globe, and she sells them in DC. And the thing that's really beautiful about her business is part of her mission is to empower other black women entrepreneurs, so she has an incubator within her business. She's creating opportunities for local black woman entrepreneurs to be educated, to have opportunities to vend, even through the pandemic when it's unsafe. It's like a support system.
So my point in saying that is while there is obviously a huge funding gap for black women I don't want people to feel like when they're buying from a black woman owned business that it's like you're giving to a charity organization, you know? I think even the language we use is important. We say things like, "Support black owned businesses," or "Support black women owned businesses." We don't say that we're supporting Apple. We don't say that we're supporting Tesla. It's a transaction. You're buying something, you're getting a product and/or a service. While I want to make sure that people understand that there's a funding gap and challenge people to close that gap in any way they can, depending on where they work and what their role is… The other thing that I want people to know too is that we're not charity cases. There are some black women out here who are making a lot of money doing what they love, and building wealth not only for themselves and their families, but for our entire community. There is a duality there, and that's really important to me that is also coming across in the stories I'm sharing.
James McKinney: You bring up a great point around the vocabulary and language that we use when it comes to that. Again, there are some exceptional black founded companies that have done remarkably well even amidst the pandemic. Again, Herb'N Eden, 10X in 2020. They went crazy in growth in 2020. So but there was, back to the vocabulary side of it, there's this at least again it's come on my radar recently, I've been so passionate about elevating female founders of all races, but just elevating the female founder story. And now there's this movement to cross out that female and just be called founder, right? I can respect the intent of what is being said, but I also think there's so much power in the female founder story. Let me ask about the black female founder story. Do we want to just refer to black female founders as founders, much like the female founder narrative is trying to be removed? Or do we still want to hang on to the black female founder?
Renae Bluitt: I think that's a personal choice. A lot of women take pride in being women, period. For them, it's empowering to be defined as a female founder or a female artist, or a female COE, or whatever it is. And for some people I understand. I get both sides. I can see how you could feel like why do we have to put this label on it. In fact, when we were sharing the film in Ghana and while I was watching it with that audience, obviously Ghana is a black country. So everyone in the room is black, and that's just… that is the makeup of that environment. So when we were watching the film, I'm just looking around the room, I noticed how many times, and I never noticed this before, but as we were watching I noticed how many times we were defining ourselves as black. I cringed a little bit because I wondered if they thought that we were using this black label as like a crutch, and would they disconnect from the stories because they felt like, "Well okay, you're black, okay, do you have to keep saying it?"
I shared that thought with them during the talk back, and they were like, "No, we get it. We can't even imagine what it would be like to live in a country where we weren't the majority, where we were just a small percentage of the population." For them, they had different challenges, but they understood our challenges. I think it's just… it's beautiful for us to have these conversation with women in other parts of the world because I think what we find is that we have more similarities than differences. That desire to just be referred to as a founder as opposed to a female founder, as opposed to a black female founder, I just think it's very personal. It's up to you. People have to respect what you choose to be labeled as.
James McKinney: And for you what's your preference?
Renae Bluitt: I'm fine with black female entrepreneur, black female film maker, storyteller. And I'm fine with it because my work is centering us. And I'm proud. As much as we may have all these obstacles and challenges we face, I wouldn't want to be anything other than black in this lifetime or any other lifetime, and I wouldn't want to be anything other than a black woman. There's so much power and beauty and legacy and richness in it that I am proud to wear that label.
James McKinney: I love it. Absolutely love it. If we were having a "where are they now" episode let's say five years from now, where is the She Did That brand? Where is In Her Shoes? Where is your PR firm? Where are you at in five years?
Renae Bluitt: So we don't even have to go five years ahead. The PR work is behind me right now, however I do use the skills that I got from my years in that industry every single day and it's why I'm able to do what I do, the way I do it. In Her Shoes, I think that In Her Shoes while the blog may still be out and available because there's so much rich content there that is timeless, it is kind of lying dormant and making space for She Did That which is its big sister, its more powerful sister, kind of the global reach of it all. She Did That is going to be kind of like a multidimensional platform. Because right now I'm working on taking the documentary itself to a docu series format. That's something I am really passionate about and planting seeds for right now as we speak. So when it is safe for us to have live events, there will be live events.
I launched the She Did That podcast during women's history month. That's going strong. So many beautiful conversations happening there. Basically, She Did That is going to be a multi prong platform that is literally designed to center black women entrepreneurs. Eventually, who knows what it could be? There really are no limitations. I am just committed to telling our stories and right now open to sharing our stories on as many platforms as possible, as many stages as possible, as many countries as possible. Just because it's so important and our stories are not just inspiring to us. I mean, I get letters and notes from people all over the world - black, white, green, yellow - and they are just amazed at what black women are creating.
James McKinney: I love that. Absolutely love it. Our final three questions as we end the recording or your startup story, these are three questions I ask every founder. And the first one is about perspective of entrepreneurship. There's this idea that entrepreneurship is "if you build it, they will come" type model where anyone can do it. Do you believe anybody can be an entrepreneur or is there a certain genetic makeup to it?
Renae Bluitt: I think that anyone who wants to, like if you're committed to it and you believe you're built for it, by all means. I don't know if necessarily it's something you're born with because I have people in my family who grew up around this entrepreneurial lifestyle who chose not to do it. It's not always kind of like hereditary so to speak. I think that it's a spirit. I think that it takes a lot of courage. It takes a lot of consistency. It takes really tough skin. It takes the ability to accept that one day may not be like the other, one year may not be like the other. And it takes a huge belief in the work you're doing, and your "why", and being committed to that "why" even when doors are being slammed in your face, even when your future does not look bright, even when there are days you may wake up and you may ask yourself what am I doing this for, why am I torturing myself. It takes a special person to be an entrepreneur, so I wouldn't say that it's for everyone but I would say if it is something you want to pursue then by all means try it. That was one thing when I was considering starting my PR consultancy, my dad when I was kind of fearful, he was like, "Look, what is the worst that could happen? If you go into this and you find out it's not for you, you still have years of experience to fall back on that no one can take away from you." You know?
James McKinney: I love that, absolutely love it. Our second question that we ask is really to give everyone a visibility into the false narrative that this is a Lone Ranger story, where it's just us pounding away code on our friend's couch, eating ramen every day of the week, just trying to build a business. While it can be done in isolation, it's not the best way to go about it. So when you look back on your entire life journey, your entrepreneurial journey, who are the people that you point to with such immense gratitude for their contribution to where you are today?
Renae Bluitt: oh my gosh, so many people. I don't even know where to start and I don't even know if I can call out names. But I will say that there are times when the entrepreneurial journey will feel very lonely. I say that because there's a lot of pressure on you as a founder, as the creator of something. The success or the failure of it is solely dependent on how much you personally invest in it. That part of it can be lonely. Even with the production of the film, even though I had a team, at the end of the day if this was a flop or if it got negative reviews, or people just didn't like it, they were looking at me. They weren't looking at the editor or the story producer. These people are more tucked behind the scenes. So that is a lot of pressure, and that alone can make it feel like a lonely journey.
However, at the same time I could say that the film wouldn't even exist if it weren't for my community and my tribe that supported me from my family who believed in the concept even though I had never produced a film, to my brand contacts and agency contacts that got their clients on board to invest in the film, to the team that believed in me, to the women who after the film being on Netflix for over a year are still DMing me and emailing me and inboxing me, letting me know how these stories are really inspiring them. In that way, it really does take an entire community, an entire tribe, to keep that alive. I always say this, the work I do, if I envisioned it as a balloon it's really black women that are keeping this balloon up in the air and continuing to elevate it. Yeah, with that said entrepreneurship can be lonely but you really can't do it alone, you know?
James McKinney: Love that. That is so beautifully said. Our final question of your episode is as much as I would love to afford a one on one conversation with you and all of my listeners, the 85,000 that will hear your episode, it's unreasonable of an ask. There's just no way to facilitate that. So this is that moment. This is that coffee talk where it's just you and one of my listeners. Maybe the listener you want to chat with right now is the defeated entrepreneur, the one who lost everything in 2020 and isn't sure they want to get back on the horse again. Or maybe it's the entrepreneur that I call the wantrepreneur. They've got a book full of dreams and ideas and they're just leaning into some narrative as to why they can't pursue those ideas and those dreams. Or maybe it's the frustrated entrepreneur who has been at it for 10 or 15 years and can never get ahead and is just ready to call it quits. Whatever persona resonates with you, if you were having coffee with one of them, what would you say to them to encourage them in their story?
Renae Bluitt: I'll start with the wantrepreneur, the one that you said just has all these ideas and may not know where to start. I would say if you looked at your journal of ideas, which one takes up the most mental real estate for you? Which one do you think about the most? Which one gets you excited? Which one just kind of like lights up your day and your ideas? And I would say start with that one first. Because it takes that level of passion, that level of belief in the idea or concept, and just that level of commitment to it to really bring it to live, and to keep going even when the road may feel long and bumpy and never ending. It's okay to be multi passionate, but I do believe and I've learned from my own experiences you can be multi passionate but you may not be able to juggle it all at once. The thing that I've found is I can be multi passionate but as long as there's this common thread between each of the things I'm working on, it really helps to make the journey a lot easier. Figure out what it is that takes up the most mental real estate and start there.
James McKinney: Once you've had a few moments to process all the value Renae Bluitt brought us in this week's episode, please hit me up on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Instagram and share with me your thoughts on this episode. In fact, I hope you'll show up for Renae in a huge way and search for the She Did That podcast on your podcast platform of choice, and hit that subscribe or follow button. In fact, let's go even bigger for her and give her a show rating and write a review. She delivered some real value to all of us today so let's make sure we show up for her in a huge way. If you've been around The Startup Story for any length of time then you know how much emphasis I put on the idea that entrepreneurs support other entrepreneurs. So hit up our show notes to various platform links to the She Did That podcast and smash that subscribe button. Once you've done that, tell a friend about it. You k now as well as I do awareness is everything to a startup. And now for my personal ask.
The Startup Story community has been so incredible about sharing our podcast with others, but we have more stories to tell and more people to reach. We too are a startup and word of mouth is everything, so please follow us on Facebook and Instagram @TheStartupStory or on Twitter @StartupStory_. If you're on LinkedIn, please search for The Startup Story and follow our company page. LinkedIn is a really powerful way to raise awareness of the show. But the most impactful way you can help us grow our audience is to leave a review on Apple Podcast. Or if you listen to the show via Spotify, then please simply share the podcast directly from your Spotify app or wherever you listen to the show.
These simple actions can make a huge impact in getting these amazing founder stories out to the masses. And please make sure to tag or mention The Startup Story when you do share so that we can connect with you and say thank you directly. I'm so incredibly appreciative of the fact that you listen to the show each and every week, and I look forward to sharing these amazing stories with you every Tuesday with hopes of encouraging and inspiring you to start your story.