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This Entrepreneur Raised $2.25 Mill In Seed Funding & Wants More Women To Do the Same

BOSS UP

When it comes to the tech world, minorities are often underrepresented and underestimated. A quick search about Silicon Valley will reveal that diversity is a big issue from the cubicles to the boardrooms, so it's no surprise that when it comes to seeking investments for our own businesses, we have to fight harder and shine brighter just to prove our value. And it's not just a race thing. In an article on Silicon Valley's diversity problem, Fast Company stated, “when played recordings of the same investment plea read by a man and a woman, people preferred the man's pitch by a two-to-one margin." Ouch.

But the thing about being overlooked is that when you do make noise, people look your way. And one woman in tech is making sure that she's not only talking the talk, but successfully paving the way for others to be heard as well.

Courtesy of Tina Fitch

In 2003, start-up founder Tina Fitch combined her love of tech and entrepreneurship and launched her travel software company,

Switchfly. Through venture capital funding and snagging nearly every major airline, credit card company, and loyalty program in the travel sector, she helped build a $2 billion platform operating in over 50 countries worldwide. After seven years of tirelessly building her business, she sold her portion of the company and took a break, returning to her hometown of Maui, Hawaii to focus on building a family, serving as a mentor to other startups within her community, and fulfilling her desire of running a free-range pig farm.

As it turns out, letting go of an old idea allowed for the birthing of a new one. The opportunity to rebuild her personal connections with family and friends led to a vision of building a platform that would allow people to reconnect in a digital way. While pregnant with her second child, she conceived the idea for Hobnob—a mobile-based invitation app that helps users create beautiful event invites that can be sent via text in less than 60 seconds.

“I could be pregnant on a farm in the Pacific and still be connected, but at the same time I found that even with all of these social networks and all of this advancement, people just seem to be more and more isolated, and it was ironically harder than ever to actually be social."

Recognizing a need for technology that enabled real life moments to be experienced and shared in a unique way, Tina got to work on once again bringing her idea to fruition. But launching a start up, even a second time around, would prove to be no easy feat. For one, she was no longer living in the investor-friendly city of Silicon Valley, meaning she had to put her money where her mouth was in order to prove that she wasn't just a one start-up wonder. And as a minority woman in an industry where our presence may be seen but not always felt, she had an equally difficult challenge of representing the next generation of women entrepreneurs set to disrupt the tech sector.

Photo Credit: Hobnob App

But being a girl boss means making it happen despite any opposition, so it's no surprise that this past February, it was announced that Hobnob raised $2.25 million in seed funding from a handful of notable investors.

In an industry that's quick to evolve but slow to embrace, Tina hopes to see more women and minorities continue to make their voices heard by fearlessly going after the big bucks to help back innovative ideas. We had a chance to chat with the CEO on how to successfully snag seed funding for your business, why starting small can lead to bigger opportunities, and why it's important that we break into spaces that we're not typically invited into.

1. Build It And Let Your Results Speak For You

"We basically started [Hobnob] on our own because I felt like the best approach for me is to feel like you have something tangible that people can interact with and see what your vision is. Everyone has to be a good storyteller as an entrepreneur, but results are also the best storyteller. I take raising funds very seriously, meaning you're basically asking someone else to trust you with their hard earned money and you're committing to delivering for them.

"I wanted to make sure that whatever product that they were investing in we felt was truly viable, and that there was a real need for it in the market. So we basically self-funded it to our first beta version. And then we tested it out in Hawaii and it expanded to the U.S. and once we started really getting traction and we saw such a diverse user base jumping onto it, that was when I started having investor discussions because then we realized there was something there."

2. Talk To Friends And Family First

"Seed funding will normally come after friends and family round. A lot of times we have an idea, but maybe you have savings if you're self-funding and just fund yourself while you're building it. But sometimes if you need a little bit of money you can ask friends and family to buy in on your dream, or trust you and support you."

3. Find The Right Type Of Investor For Your Business

"Seed funding is what I'd consider the first professional round with people who have experience investing, and there's a range of people who can participate. There's what you call angel investors, where individuals invest their funds, and then there's people called Micro Venture Capital (Micro-VC) investors, who are venture capitalists but tend to have smaller funds and they're entirely focused on these seed rounds where they can get in for pretty low amounts of money and still have significant ownership, so they're making small bets with potentially big outcomes.

"Then you have traditional venture capitalists, and we happen to have both angel and venture capitalists in our seed round where they have funds in the billions of dollars, but they still realize that the best outcomes that they have are typically with companies where they got in early. So even large VCs are really interested in the right companies and the right people at a very early stage."

Courtesy of Tina Fitch/Hobnob

4. Decide What Is Best For Your Business: A Loan Vs. Seeking Investors

"There are several differences to obtaining a business loan vs. investors for your business, but I'll focus on the three main ones in my view: A loan requires repayment with interest ('debt'), but doesn't give up equity in your company. An investor gives capital to grow to the company in exchange for ownership (i.e. 'equity'). An entrepreneur may not want to give up any piece of her business since, rightfully, she'll be the one slugging away day after day to build it. But some types of businesses - such as ones that require more capital to grow before they can be cash-flow positive and self-fund, or don't have the assets and collateral to obtain a competitive loan, or can benefit from the reputation or connections from a particular investor - can be bigger with a venture investment than without. In other words, you can have a smaller piece of something large, vs. 100 percent ownership of something small or, worse, bankrupt.

"A loan, just like anything obtained on credit, has a repayment/recovery schedule. You should have a strong level of confidence that you will have the cash flow to repay that loan on the terms they require. A venture investor typically is investing in you as much as the company – and may be more accepting of changes to business plan, as long as she remains informed. An investor is going to feel like a partner in the business, and is ideally in it for the long-term play. On the flip side of that, when you qualify for a loan, all the lender cares about is that you repay per their terms. They don't want to influence your business. An equity partner often will want to feel some level of influence and have some level of ongoing insight to your business decisions. So you have to evaluate any equity partner the way you'd evaluate any long-term relationship – very seriously, and based on multiple levels of compatibility and trust.

"This is the most important in my mind: you should only seek out and accept venture funding if you have the intention of bringing them a significant return on their investment. In other words, you should have a plan in mind that will either reap healthy ongoing dividends or a 'liquidity event' – in other words, a sale or public offering – a way for that investor to get their investment back plus the increased value you've built in the business and their shares over a reasonable period of time. 'Lifestyle businesses' are great – those are businesses you want to build primarily to support yourself and your family, perhaps the community of employees you maintain – but aren't designed to reward investors with a higher return on their investment than, say, if she had invested in the stock market or real estate. You should be able to approach investors with the confidence that you aren't asking them for a favor, you are offering them an opportunity – and you need to be authentic and committed to making that message reality."

5. Repeat Customers Can Be Just As Valuable As Showing Profit

"In the case where you have a product or service where you're selling something, definitely the best thing to have is a happy customers and repeat customers. We picked one of the hardest areas to focus on, which is consumer mobile pre-revenue, meaning we don't even sell anything right now. We're basically a free service, and that's honestly a very challenging space to pitch so I think what a lot of investors are banking on is a product that they can try out themselves and if they see a need for it and they like your approach to a product—they feel like the design is beautiful and elegant and efficient—it's almost like the product is the window into your soul and your perspective.

"Everything we built was really geared towards having a beautiful user experience that really translated in the product, so the investors could see and feel that. Also, at the same time they could see that it's really a broad diverse user base that was coming onto the service, and we didn't do any kind of paid advertising—we didn't buy customers. It's called organic growth where they just recommended it to each other and they invited other people to share in it, and they found it on their own and started using it. So to have straight organic growth from such a diverse user base was something that the investors also saw and were really excited about."

6. Treat Investors Like It's A Marriage

"When you're starving for funds, it's very easy for people to be tempted to take money wherever they can get it, and there's no judgment there. I understand that it can be a real struggle and you want to build your business, but it's really like a marriage. Especially in recent years, there are very few overnight success stories. You have to go into the relationship thinking that it's a marriage and you're going to have good times and bad times and you want to pick a partner that's going to be a solid and supportive partner during those bad times as well, so you do have to be selective and it's not just a question of you pitching yourself to them, they should also be pitching themselves to you or you should be evaluating them in that way."

7. Bring Tech Investors to You

"It's funny because I wondered if people would be reluctant to invest in us or if they'd take us seriously, but I think a few things have happened as a result of being [in Hawaii]. One is I feel like we're able to develop a product without the money mentality. We were able to really build and design for the people that we wanted to reach, and Hawaii being such a diverse community ethnically and culturally, it's really a true melting pot, that I feel like it positively influenced our product and how we were able to reach different types of people on the mainland and elsewhere.

"The other thing that I realized was that for the first time big name investors are also recognizing that diverse teams, and that also means geographically diverse, have a different perspective and so they're really to look elsewhere and take a gamble on companies. But again seeing that you have a solid product and customer base or potential. So I feel like they recognized wow you guys were able to build a really beautiful product that's reaching a diverse user base and it's growing organically and you're in Hawaii, that's probably all related, and that's something interesting and intriguing."

8. Recognize Your Power As A Minority

"Hispanic and African American women are the fastest growing entrepreneurial segments in the country growing at rates of 133.3 percent and 191.4 percent respectively from 1997 to 2007. Combined they represent more than two million of the roughly eight million women-owned businesses in the country and more than $14 billion in gross receipts. Further, African American and Hispanic women are three to five times more likely to start a business than their white counterparts (read more).

"I think the reasons for this are powerful: when you don't see the company cultures or products and services that reflect your world view or experiences, you are motivated to build them yourself. Minority women are woefully underrepresented across almost every executive segment in the country – but we are a powerful demographic. So we are harnessing that power and creativity and creating opportunities."

"There are some great resources to read and readily available online. I wish I had some these standardized Series Seed documents when I started by first tech startup – in the past (and even now) several companies get gouged by law firms when trying to set up their first investment. This doesn't need to happen, and I find that if most honorable investors will agree to these types of standardized terms with only minor adjustments, at times. Being a minority, you should be like, wow, I have a powerful weapon, in that I have a particular advantage.

"If you are interested in raising capital for your business, here are a few amazing resources: Serie Seed, Raising Venture Capital For The Serious Entrepreneur, Small Business Administration, MBDA Grant Competitions, [and] Seed Accelerators & Groups."

Find out more about Hob Nob in the video below:

What would your dream start-up be? Are you making any moves to make your business dreams come true? Let us know in the comments below!

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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Featured image by Shutterstock

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