Only 1% of high-tech startups in Silicon Valley are run by African-Americans. The number of women is less than 10%. The NewME minority accelerator is trying to change the face of the industry by encouraging, mentoring and training women and minorities to test their ideas in the high-tech and VC world. By Rachel Brooks (Co-Founder, Citizen Made)
Part of the mystique of being a founder is having the ability to execute on a vision. You see the potential in an idea, and are relentless about making it happen. Sure, there are failures along the way, but many times we don’t hear about those.
This morning, 13 million people listened to me stumble on NPR through one my most agonizing startup failures to date. How was your morning?
While the story became full circle, and I ultimately pulled it all together for the NewMe accelerator’s demo day, it’s still tough for me to listen to. From this experience, I didn’t want to share lessons learned on pitching (because we see a lot of that), but about picking yourself up after a pretty tough entrepreneurial fall.
After my first pitch was done, I could see the disappointment in a lot of people’s faces. They could see how mortified I was. What the story didn’t mention was how I hid in the bathroom for the rest of the event because I couldn’t face the crowd after that moment. That evening, I was stripped of every shred of confidence and sense of ability in my being.
Don’t become a victim. But if that feeling is inevitable, read on.
I would dwell on how terrible things were, and how I didn’t fit or belong in that space. I would replay everything that went wrong in my mind, and it made a lot of days and the competitive nature of my day-to-day environment really tough to deal with. I needed a way back to square one, and was searching for it. However, in a place like the San Francisco Bay area where everybody is out to prove how smart and wonderful they are, it all felt foreign and kind of gross.
What got me from that place, to the really positive moments later on, was stepping outside of the bubble of Bay Area bravado and discovering a group of enthusiasts who understand my market and believe in the work and the impact it could have. We all agreed that the work my team is building is important, with awkward moments at Google completely to the side. It also took some time, some work and some really smart and impressive people to publicly agree that what I was doing was important before some others could feel like I had been validated in the context of the Valley.
Looking back, I had every opportunity to give up. And to some, by coming back to Chicago to work on Citizen Made was giving up. For my team, it meant getting great press, resounding support of the local Chicago tech community, successfully raising the money we need to grow and finding a team that can take us to the next level.
If you’ve stumbled, it is more than OK to feel hurt by it. However, being paralyzed by a failure is up to you. Don’t be a victim. While things may take time, your next moves are decisions.
When I heard that story air today, nearly 6 months later, I am finally at peace with it all. And I can also say, with a hint of that Bay Area bravado I picked up along the way, these days we are doing pretty damn well.
Editor’s note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below. About the guest blogger: Rachel Brooks is the Founder of Citizen Made, a Chicago-based e-commerce tool for product customization. Rachel manages business and product development with a team of engineers. Described as “visionary” by Stanford professor and BusinessWeek echnology columnist Vivek Wadhwa, “her vision is as forward reaching as CEO and co-founder of Facebook.” She recently completed the Google-sponsored NewME Accelerator in San Francisco. Follow her on Twitter at @RachelABrooks.