Some people may not be fully familiar with Cheryl Contee but they should be. She is one of those Silicon Valley hidden gems. To give you a brief synopsis of her background, Contee attended undergrad at Yale University and received her M.B.A. from Georgetown University. After school, she went on to create Fission Strategy, a company that helps leading nonprofits, foundations, and social enterprises use innovation effectively to create social change.
In addition to Fission Strategy, she is the co-founder of Attentive.ly., a platform that drives engagement with your campaigns by turning your quiet supporters into vocal advocates; and the co-founder of Yes We Code with news commentator Van Jones. Who knew you could be the founder of so many companies? Impressive!
What’s equally impressive is that Contee is the only black female to ever have a company acquired by Facebook AND an acquisition by a publicly traded Nasdaq company.
Although these accolades boast success, they didn’t come without their set of challenges. Contee chatted with Black Enterprise to discuss her acquisitions, her partnership with Jones, and what she’s learned along her journey.
BE: What was your strategy to get to the point of an acquisition and exit?
Contee: Ninety-five percent of startups fail and to be a part of two successful startup exits, particularly as a black woman, it makes me a true unicorn. That’s not bragging, that’s just the facts as they stand today and so, part of that, I think it’s important to go into any startup and any business with an idea of how you’re going to exit at the end.
A part of our strategy was creating a lot of strategic partnerships with Content Management Systems (CMS) or Customer Relationship Management Systems (CRM) that were the type of people who might acquire us but in the short term, they actually played a strong role in making us more attractive to people using those CMS’s and CRM’s.
Is there anything that you would have done differently that you didn’t do the first or second time around?
I think I would make decisions more quickly. For 90% of American companies, they’ll fold in the first year and of those that go on, 90% of those fold within three years and there’s a couple of different factors at that inflection point.
For the first year, you need revenue and reputation and I think for all of our companies, we really focused hard on getting that revenue in the door and having a strong reputation for service and for product but, what I would do differently or in the future with a startup in particular but, I think with any business today, is make discussions very quickly.
Every day that you delay making a decision means that you’re burning your capital and therefore shortening your runway, and for black businesses it’s going to take us longer to get that capital so you need to be very careful in watching your runway because if it takes say, six-12 months to raise capital, you can bet it’s probably going to take you 12 months.
There’s a good chance you might not get that capital just because of who you are and the color of your skin. It might take you longer to persuade investors that you’re a good bet and so you need to measure out your runway that way.
I would say to folks, make a decision, give it six to eight weeks and if you’re not seeing results, make another decision.
As an entrepreneur, I fully agree with Cheryl Contee. If your burn rate—the amount of cash you are spending each month—exceeds your runway, the amount of time and money that you can operate before you are in the red, consider your company dead.
For more details, insight, and tips, check out our full interview below:
To hear more from Contee, join her next month, Oct. 9–10 at the Black Enterprise, TechConneXt Summit in Burlingame, California. You can register by clicking here.