Black Web 2.0′s Angela Benton Talks Startups, Mentoring & the NewMe Accelerator
BE Next: Your properties thus far — Black Web 2.0, Black Web Media, and NewMe Accelerator have focused on minority consumers first and foremost. Do you envision a time when you’ll focus on women consumers solely?
Angela Benton: Yes and no. Black Web definitely focuses more so on the black community. But where we’re going with NewMe is supporting a lot of women organizations and getting more women to apply to NewMe. Everything is in process and we’re talking with a few different organizations. For instance, The Girl Scouts of America contacted me regarding a STEM program they have for 9th -12th graders and are interested in a national partnership with NewMe. I’m looking forward to engaging with them.
BE Next: What advice would you give to young women of color interested in getting involved in the tech space?
Angela Benton: I really don’t like using cliches but “just do it.” Mainly because someone gave me great advice and I listened. I had three kids already but was hungry to become successful. The advice that I was given was “just do it.” Especially when you’re a parent you want to plan everything out but that’s not possible, and you can set yourself up for failure. Because if it doesn’t go according to your plan you can become disappointed and want to give up. So you have to be able to persevere and keep moving forward.
BE Next: Mentorship provides individuals with a strong support system professionally, and sometimes it even goes beyond that. Have you been able to find a mentor in the digital space that looks like you? If so, who? Outside of technology, who are some of your mentors?
Angela Benton: My old boss Kevin McFall used to be a mentor of mine. Because we worked together it was great, I had daily access to his brain. I think mentors come in different shapes and sizes. People have come up to me and asked me very directly whether I can be their mentors. I have had mentors but I didn’t realize they were mentors until later down the line. Usually these people I just met whether they were bosses, peers, or those who I came into contact with. I have an old soul. Generally I can identify and relate to people who are 10 years older than me. So usually these people are older and very experienced.
BE Next: What about those who ask for you to mentor them?
Angela Benton: Yes, but it was definitely weird at first. People started asking when I was 26. I felt as though i was too young and that I needed a mentor myself. Being a mentor is interesting. I’ve had one person who assumed they could be my mentor because they thought they were more superior than me and believed they could teach me something. We were at the same level professionally but because she was older felt she could be my mentor. I say all this to say that my successful mentee-mentor relationships have grown organically. We’ll talk about personal things, industry things, it never feels like a formal mentorship. It just feels like a conversation you can have with a friend.
I absolutely believe in mentorship. NewMe is all about mentorship. But to me mentorship isn’t about being condescending and feeling like you have something over your mentee. Instead it’s about building a real relationship.
BE Next: What are three steps in creating a successful tech start-up?
Angela Benton: 1. Be passionate about what you’re doing or what you’re building. It’s hard and it’s not overnight. It looks that way but it doesn’t. You have to love what you and persevere. What makes that easier is being passionate what you love and doing it.
2. Be open to feedback. Be open to what other people have to say, especially if it’s consumer technology focused. Everyone is a potential customer. It’s tricky because you also have to stay true to your vision.
BE Next: How do you do the balancing act?
Angela Benton: If you surround yourself with really smart people (not necessarily those with a bunch of degrees but smart in general), then you’ll get great honest advice that will add value. And the best thing I’ve learned over the past few years is that you have to go with your gut instinct. So if that advice you receive doesn’t go against your gut advice then by all means move forward. If it does, then don’t take it.
3. Be fearless. Take a risk. Whether it’s on a person or even yourself. You’ll have to learn to become comfortable taking risks.
BE Next: How do you know when you’re risking too much versus not enough?
Angela Benton: I think it goes back to your instinct. Back when I was working at Rushmore Dr. and they were about to close the company, I had to figure out what I wanted to do. I had just started Black Web 2.0 and wanted to stick with it. Everyone said to go get another job but instead I stuck with it. Didn’t have enough resources and didn’t have things I need in my personal life, but if it hadn’t been for that I wouldn’t have done 90% of the things I have done over the past 4 and half years.
BE Next: Why do you think experience was so meaningful and a prelude to this?
Angela Benton: When I look back at what my life was like back then, living paycheck to paycheck like most of America compared to where I’ve come now. Whether it’s traveling to Europe or just being able to pick up my kids from school on a daily basis. So many women are not able to do that and it all comes back to me begin willing to take some of those basis risks back then.
BE Next: What are some of your favorite tech gadgets right now? (If I was to take a peek into your bag, what tech items would I find?)
Angela Benton: All of my fellow Apple fanboys and fangirls aren’t going to like this but I recently got a Samsung Galaxy Tab and I really like it. It’s super easy to use. Almost everything we use is in the cloud at NewMe. I also use it to read to my daughter every night. It’s great.