Entrepreneurs of the Week: Tre Baker and Lawrence Watkins, Ujamaa Deals

For Ujamaa Deals' founders, focusing on African-American business is the key to black economic empowerment


Left to right: Tre Baker and Lawrence Watkins of Ujamaa Deals (Image: Courtesy of 100 Urban Entrepreneurs)

Group buying—harnessing the power of crowds to secure great deals and discounts on products from companies both local and national — has a proud Web pedigree; Groupon, which more or less pioneered the concept, has (despite some recent difficulties) turned into one of the hottest Internet startups of the last decade.

Applying that business model but focusing strictly on African-American businesses is Ujamaa Deals (ujamaa is a word of Swahili origin that has come to signify the notion of cooperative economics), an Atlanta-based business (formally scheduled to launch this fall) founded by Tre Baker and Lawrence Watkins.

The model is straightforward: “The [partner] businesses have no upfront costs, but pay a percentage of the deal amount,” Baker says. “For example, one daily deal may be $20 worth of food for only $10 at a local restaurant. The restaurant would give us a percentage of the $10 for each deal sold. If nobody purchases the deal, the business pays nothing. There will be one main deal and several side deals once we are able to build a sufficient deal flow.” Simple, and it’s been proven to work. The goal of Baker and Watkins is to focus the power of group purchases on the African-American economy, which they estimate as close to $1 trillion annually.

The duo seem well-positioned to pull it off: Baker, a 27-year-old Louisville native, he started his first business eight years ago, at age 19, and has degrees from both Vanderbilt and Harvard Business School. Watkins, also 27 and a graduate of both the University of Louisville and Cornell, is the owner of Great Black Speakers Bureau, a company that connects organizations with African-American speakers for events; he also recently founded a subscription-based Web site called Great Pro Speakers, which helps professionals turn their expertise into income by teaching them the motivational-speech basics.

The two friends’ business goals received a boost recently when Ujamaa Deals became one of the newest companies brought into the funding-and-mentoring program of 100 Urban Entrepreneurs, the nonprofit foundation that offers $10,000 startup grants and eight weeks of mentoring to talented young urban businesspeople across the country.

Baker’s confidence in particular is infectious, and bodes well for the ultimate success of Ujamaa Deals. “I can almost guarantee that none of our competitors has done as much research about how to tie daily deals into the bigger picture of economic empowerment as I have,” he says. “This is my life.”

Read more on Baker, Watkins and Ujamaa Deals on 100UrbanEntrepreneurs.org

  • R. Cagey

    This is a “me too” company, as one would say in Silicon Valley. I wish them well, but it would be much more in Black Enterprise’s interest to focus on companies, especially technology companies, that have revenue and much more traction. This seems like an exercise in peddling hype more than substance, hope more than reality.

  • cj

    I wish them luck too. But given the massive amounts of money being lost by Groupon, and the fact that daily deals have proven to be very bad for the majority of retailers, it’s hard to see how they will be successful. Perhaps they have a twist on the current model that will work for them and the merchants – I hope so!

  • Brand Management, LLC

    Awesome! I’m all about economic development within the black community. I wish them nothing but success. African American business owners need all the help they can get to bring more customers into their doors. If successful, this concept can uplift black companies in general as well as the two founders.

    I know business, and benchmarking successful companies is what smart companies do. Therefore, the “me too” thing is what businesses do. Facebook “me too’d” groupon, Amazon “me too’d” groupon, many of these big behemoths “me too’d” groupon. If they can “me too” groupon, then these guys can do it. I encourage any small business owner to benchmark top companies to see how you can apply it at the micro business level.

    BE, keep me updated on small startup companies and the steps they take, because I need to know how to go from nothing to something, not just be updated on a company that already has traction and is making millions, although those million dollar companies make for great benchmarking. Show me how to do it, not just the end result of doing it.

    “Big Business Strategies for Small Businesses”

    • Beauty Supply Institute

      Brand Management I so agree with you. We are not cutting pass the cosmetics in business education or sharing the best practices. Real entrepreneurship training need to make it to the people who need it most.

  • Pingback: Entrepreneurs Tre Baker and Lawrence Watkins, Ujamaa Deals – Black Enterprise | WCN TRANSMEDIA GROUP()

  • Troy Johnson

    “Excellent”, “great”, “super”, all those over used, clichéd, superlatives actually apply in the case. These young men have identified a problem (an understatement) and are attempting to address it in the context of our capitalist system. I will use my various platforms to support what they are doing.

    I praise Black Enterprise for covering this story. They are one of the few remaining publications reporting on our accomplishments.