Startups are expensive. The cost is more than just the financial burden, but also the time, sacrifices, and mental strain that comes along with it. Despite the heavy expenses, they also provide personal fulfillment, an ambitious goal, and unlimited flexibility. The expense and work tends to be even greater for minority women. In the past five years, black women received a negligible amount of venture capital funding — just .002 percent — while the number of black women starting their own businesses has more than tripled in the last decade (1).
Don’t tell any of these statistics to Justine Avoudikpon. Limits seem to not apply to this superstar entrepreneur. She is the lone founder and employee of SWIFTE, a new ridesharing app launching next week. Once her mind was made up to pursue her dream, she decided nothing would stand in the way. In a lot of circles her tenacity would be known as hustling. She treats her app as more than just a business, but a revolutionary idea that has no choice but to come to fruition.
Every word about SWIFTE is funneled passion and increased determination to make an impact on college students nationwide. Anybody that has gone away from school can relate to the inconvenience of making the long, multiple hour trip home, just for a weekend! Justine has something in her that is unique. It is something that is lost upon our generation, the desire to act on passion.
Justine told me about a bit of her monthly schedule where she had exams for class, two pitches for her app, and more work to do to prepare for launch. I don’t even know when she sleeps! Not one time has money come up in conversation and that is important, because money can destroy the purity of any good idea. Focus on profits can also cause the business to grow or take on too much capital too quickly.
The app, named Swifte, will serve as a bridge to fill the gap that a lot of college students face when trying to find transportation around Athens and when they are looking for a ride back to their hometowns. In a dual win situation, the drivers are also benefiting by having their gas or transportation expenses covered. Typically students will charge lower and more “friendly” prices than Uber could and are more trustworthy than drivers from other ride-sharing services like “Lyft”. SWIFTE is perfect for driving long distances and seems to be a great idea, but all of this did not come about swiftly and easily.
“The best time to start a business is in college because there’s less of a risk of failure and less to lose. Surround yourself with positive role models and friends that can help you accomplish your goals,” -Justine Avoudikpon
I have jokingly referred to Justine’s moves as “Hustlers Ambition”. She did not have one big sexy funding source to make everything come together. She relies on ingenuity, passion, and dedication to make things happen. Hustle is the most important thing for our people. Rappers exclusively use the word but we are not immune to it. Like Jay z pushing drugs and his mixtape, push your ideas! The more you grind and make moves, the more your name becomes associated with grinding and making moves. Everybody wants that person on their team, or to invest in.
Justine, 22, has made her own capital avenues. The grind has consisted of dozens of pitches to people for funding. She spends hours building proposals and writing essays. In the past year she has already secured funding through grants, private dollars, as well as her own jobs! A lot of people complain about not having money to invest in themselves, yet save nothing from 9-5 or part time job. Justine is a prime example of somebody whom we could all learn from when starting a business not reliant on bank funding or venture capital. I think her H.U.S.T.L.E is something everybody could emulate. We took the time to sit down and think of six factors that have Justine primed for success and how all college students could apply it to their goals.
Hone your elevator pitch. It sounds cliche, but everybody can tell when you are bullshitting them. As unlikely as it sounds, people are more likely to believe in a product when the seller believes in it. Every time I talk to Justine I am more sure she is going to make it. When pitching SWIFTE to different partners and funding sources, Justine has a very clear image of what she wants the brand to be.
A major key is to get your networking skills on point. People are not just buying your ideas, but also you and your personality. Don’t be afraid to talk to anybody and everybody about your ideas, get business cards, and follow up!
Use a constant template. Applying for funding and grants can be very similar from a variety of sources. By building a template you can quickly tweak relevant details without rewriting everything.When interviewing Justine she told me would apply to dozens of grants and funding sources, but would be able to use similar templates for many.
I try to use a similar template for all of the applications I fill out so it is not that difficult to apply to a lot of them at one time.
Save your funds. Justine took her internship money and extra funds from side jobs and put them towards her business. I used the same method when launching my businesses and plenty of internships are available so early in college. No bills, no major expenses, you can put more away now than ever again.
Technology. Justine uses Twitter, Facebook, and a lot of different avenues to promote her brand. With the target market she has and the growth of technology use, there is no reason for all of us not to leverage our technology assets as much as possible. Consider using apps like Tweetdeck or Hootsuite that will allow you to plan your social media far in advance.
Lose the extra “baggage”. This might be the most controversial lesson, but partners that do not pull their weight can be toxic. Working with developers that are slow or costly can also be a very hard lesson to learn. Justine just had the opportunity to add two new interns to her staff and their dedication will definitely serve her well.
Enjoy the journey. The most important final letter. Hustling is not always fun, but the grind is what makes you unique and special. Not everybody can endure. When you build a business or have an idea you are really excited about, it is really easy to enjoy things even when they are hard. I enjoyed talking to Justine every single time because she gave me life and I could feel her energy.
say I grind like there’s 10 of me
I swear to god there’s just one of me, look I know I ain’t there yet
just know that I’m gonna be -Jeezy, Hustlaz Ambition
Hustle and grind like failure is not an option. Hustling does not have to be cumbersome or draining if you follow the advice and lessons above. Swifte is a few days from launching, just brought on their first few interns, and actively taking on investors who could be a part of the next big thing. Think the idea has potential? Uber just reached a market cap of over 35B! By using the same grind and ambition as a hustler, managing less people, and enjoying every bit of the journey you can accomplish so much like Justine. Or go platinum like Jeezy. Whichever you prefer.
Read more about Black Women in Venture Capital