‘Black in America’: Tiffani Bell, One Year Later

‘Black in America’: Tiffani Bell, One Year Later

As a black woman, Tiffani Bell (r), founder of Pencil You In, is a rarity in Silicon Valley. She was one of eight entrepreneurs featured on Soledad O'Brien's (l) Black in America 4 documentary. (Photo: Hajj Flemings)

Last November, CNN’s Soledad O’Brien explored Silicon Valley through the eyes of eight African-American entrepreneurs. All participants of the inaugural NewMe Accelerator class, the Black in America: The New Promised Land — Silicon Valley cast invited viewers into their journey as startup founders competing in an industry comprised of less than 1% of entrepreneurs that look like them. BlackEnterprise.com caught up with the tech innovators to see what they’ve been up to one year later.

When most people think of tech founders neither women nor Howard University usually come to mind first. Well, Tiffani Ashley Bell, a Howard computer science graduate and founder of Pencil You In, is making a name for the school and the gender inside and outside of Silicon Valley.

Pencil You In is an online appointment book for service providers ranging from hairstylists to yoga instructors. Users can subscribe to Pencil You In Starter, which offers up to three services online and a max of 25 appointments/month, or upgrade to Pencil You In Professional, where service providers can accept an unlimited number of appointments, accept deposits for appointments, get text message reminders, and more for $24.99/month.

Since leaving NewMe, Bell’s user base has grown to 2,000 subscribers. We caught up with Bell this week for the anniversary of the CNN documentary to learn what’s new with her company, what she took away from the experience, and what advice she has for those coming behind her.

Silicon Valley is not the only place to build a tech company because…

Operating here in Fayetteville, North Carolina is working out to be an excellent cost advantage relative to other places such as Silicon Valley or even New York.

Pencil You In is in the process of…

Becoming an online scheduling product for all kinds of service providers, and not just our original audience of hairstylists–among other even more exciting changes.

The best business advice I received from a NewMe venture capitalist…

Sharpen up your business skills. Taking that advice to heart and seeking out business mentors…has helped me become a more astute CEO; produce a much more focused, quality product; and map out a much more exciting future for the product and company based on real numbers, and not just how much code I could produce in a given weekend.

What is needed more, black CEOs with technical skills or business skills? I think…

This is a false dichotomy. Sure, being an engineer, I’d love to see more engineering-focused founders, but I think it really depends on the product the CEO is bringing to market. Many startups are not actually hard engineering problems, so the technology just becomes a means to an end. In other cases, a CEO with deep technical skills (along with business chops) is at an advantage in running the ship. It’s all dependent on the product.

The lack of diversity of those who found technology startups…

Isn’t a problem that will be fixed overnight, but at least there’s a vehicle (NewMe) specifically dedicated toward fixing a known problem now.