A Black Founder’s Guide To Raising A $2M Institutional Seed Round

Joe Bayen
8 min readJun 19, 2020

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The Journey

The road to successfully raise an institutional round is hazardous and extremely hard for any founder and downright impossible as a minority, particularly as a black founder where, according to CrunchBase, only 1% are expected to reach the milestone.

I am, fortunately, one of the few to have achieved that milestone as Mucker Capital recently joined our $2M seed funding round to expand Grow Credit, a financial inclusion platform, nationwide. Grow enables consumers to establish or build credit for free, using their subscription accounts, including Netflix, Spotify, Disney Plus, and many more. Mucker Capital most recently seed-funded Honey, which was acquired by Paypal for $4B.

Back in 2010, I successfully bootstrapped a platform named free app a day to $18.3M in total revenue, which enabled me to possess the initial capital resources needed to jump-start the current initiative five and half years ago.

This time around, I knew that I would not be able to bootstrap my way to success, and I would need to pursue the institutional route to achieve our goals. With only a 1% success rate and the fact that I did not know anything about lending or banking, I still took the chance, because the mission mattered more to me than my financial security. However, the major difference between both businesses was the fact that the first go-around, I did not have anything to lose, but this time around, I had everything to lose.

Still, I took on the challenge, with the knowledge that I would need to build the necessary skills along the way to put us at a level where we would be so good we could no longer be ignored.

After two pivots, roughly $2.5M in personal investment, and five and half years of my life poured into this venture, to the point where I needed to borrow money from friends to stay afloat, we finally reached the promised land.

The following note is a guide that will detail the various steps that it took to achieve the institutional fundraising milestone. I hope that my experience will help not only black founders but any founders who are working tirelessly to bring their product to the market place.

Along the way, I’ve learned that a healthy ego was a necessary component to challenge the status quo; however, challenging the ego and becoming a servant leader, was the only pathway to achieving real success.

The Love

It starts with love, and you have to be willing to lose everything to turn your brilliant idea into a reality. As Tony Robbins stated, “if you want to take the island, you have to burn your boats, “ because people when they are going to either die or succeed, tend to succeed.”

I risked everything because serving mattered more than my financial security. Therefore, the question you want to ask yourself first is, are you willing to risk everything to succeed? Because if you aren’t, you are instantly diminishing your chances of success.

But that’s not enough.

The Validation

The startup building process is a game of validation, plain and simple.

Friends and Family

If you cannot convince your friends and family to invest in your business, even a single dollar, you will not be able to convince a consumer to purchase your product.

Advisors

Having advisors plays a crucial role in the startup building process, they are usually rewarded with some equity stakes in exchange for being a sounding board. If you cannot convince reputable advisors to buy into your vision, you will not be able to convince consumers to purchase your product.

Where To Find Advisors?

  • Industry events, linkedIn, cold calling, cold emailing, hustling.

Advisor Roles

  • Angel investor introductions
  • Business strategy advice

Examples:

Mike Delaet CEO at Rogue and Brad Deyo, founder at Mars Reel, played a pivotal role by introducing me to several high profile angel investors.

Industry Expertise Advisors

  • Business validation
  • Industry best practices

Example:

Jesse Levey, former president at Credit Sesame, Gaurav Bhargava, Chief Risk Officer at Earnin, and Paul Spiller, former COO at Acorns, have played pivotal roles in helping us validate various business assumptions.

Reputable Angel Investors

Once you’ve gathered a solid advisory board, the process of adding reputable angel investor becomes easier, since you effectively validated the idea that your business has some legs.

Example:

Thanks to our advisors, we were able to convince several high profile investors, including Jason Robins, CEO at DraftKings, and NFL Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott, to join our investor team.

But that was not enough.

The Team

The team is the most crucial part of this equation. I was fortunate to have worked with Sam Ribas, a lead producer at Miniclip, who also happened to own a Master of Computer Science. Serendipity put us in a situation where he was transitioning out of Miniclip as I was launching the first iteration of our credit building platform.

Sometimes, a bit of luck is needed to succeed, and having Sam Ribas join us as my co-founder and CTO, was the single most important event that helped optimized our likelihood of success.

We also needed to recruit industry experts to validate our business further. We were fortunate to be able to hire Diane Gregg as our head of compliance, a bank executive with 33 years of experience, who has played a critical role in helping us secure several bank partnerships.

Burn Rate Management

We had to learn to keep our burn rate extremely low, as in under $30K/month low, with ten employees throughout the duration of our journey.

Each time, our bank balance ran low, we made sacrifices and took some paycheck cuts across the board to give us a chance to survive another day.

But that was still not enough.

The Discipline and Relentlessness

Antifragility is roughly defined as things that gain from chaos. Over the years, as a unit, we became Antifragile, as each new challenge forced us to perform at a higher level.

However, what helped us the most was our commitment to embracing a culture based on consistency, discipline, and repetition, which was inspired by a fellow French woman founder, named Mathilde Colin, founder, and CEO at Front.

Mathile has had a reputation for being one of the most efficient fundraisers in Silicon valley. And her interview on the First Round Capital blog inspired me to embrace a more disciplined approach in both the fundraising process as well as running our business operations.

Reports

Mathilde inspired me to create a full weekly report every Friday, where each executive sends me their weekly reports on Thursday evening, which I then combine into a master report that is delivered to our team, our investors, and our advisors.

The process keeps everyone accountable, and it has been the single most important item that has helped us maintain our positive momentum, week in and week out.

Reporting Format

  • Key updates
  • Challenges
  • Opportunities
  • Next Focus
  • Performance Data Highlights
  • Technology Report
  • Operations Report
  • Compliance Report
  • Customer support and lending operations Report
  • General operations Report

Each section is comprised of 5 to 10 key bullet points detailing the week’s performance.

But it was still not enough.

The Art of Communicating

Fundraising is all about building trust, and trust is built with time and consistency. The advantage of creating weekly reports is that it makes it easier to generate a monthly report that can be shared with prospective investors and VC funds.

Monthly Report Goals

  • Demonstrate progress
  • Build trust
  • Maintain relationships with prospective investors

But it’s still not enough

The Art of Pivoting

Pivoting can be defined as sticking with the original vision while adjusting the tactics along the way, or simply put being flexible.

It is very rare when an idea reaches the product-market fit status exactly how it was originally intended. Most of the time, pivots are the critical inflection points that will result in the success or failure of a startup.

Example:

Free App A Day

Over four years, the original platform began as a mobile advertising platform that we pivoted into a mobile coupon platform, then into a game development studio, before finally achieving success as an iPhone app marketing platform.

Grow Credit

Over the past five and half years, the original platform started as a micro-lending platform, that we pivoted into a subscription-based bike-sharing program, before achieving product-market fit as a subscription-based financial inclusion platform.

But it’s still not enough.

Mindfulness and Journaling

The single most difficult part of the startup building process is to figure out ways to remain mentally sane during the inevitable ups and downs.

Sports

I was a former track and field athlete and received a track and field scholarship at the University of Miami, where I ran the 100m, 200m, and long jump. As an athlete, in order to perform at the highest level, we need to operate and practice beyond the pain threshold, which makes us ideally suited to endure the rigors of the startup life.

I currently average 8 miles of running or walking daily, and I can directly attribute my workout habits as a major factor in my success as an entrepreneur. It’s a meditative process, which enables me to calm and reset the mind daily while reducing stress in the process.

Mindfulness Meditation

Ronaldo, Tom Brady, Messi, Michael Jordan, Kobe, Nadal, and all the other top athletes have one thing in common. They all practice mindfulness meditation as a tool to optimize their performance.

That is why I constantly remind our team to embrace a mindfulness approach by consciously bringing their emotions back to the center whenever possible, toward a neutral zone, toward the present, to help maintain our positive momentum, and propel our company toward inevitable positive outcomes.

Journaling

Journaling has been the single most positive tool that I used to help maintain our positive momentum. The morning practice has allowed me to cultivate behaviors that lead to successful outcomes, as I remind myself daily of the importance of focusing on simplicity, positivity, patience, and being compassionate to myself and others.

But it’s still not enough

The Conclusion

It’s never enough; the struggle will enhance your product, the struggle will extract the very best version of yourself, and it will press you to read and learn more than you ever had. In the end, it’s never enough; it’s a constant battle of getting better each and every day relentlessly.

Being a black founder has allowed me to turn a 1% chance of receiving some institutional funding into an infinite opportunity for personal growth.

Joe Bayen |CEO at Grow Credit Inc.

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