August is Black Business Month. But we would be honored to run this interview with YaVette Holts any month of the year. Holts is founder of the Bay Area Organization of Black Owned Businesses (BAOBOB), a network for black-owned businesses and customers who want to keep dollars circulating within the African-American community. BAOBOB’s directory lists well over 100 black-owned businesses in the San Francisco Bay Area. Rani Langer-Croager of Uptima Business Bootcamp talked to YaVette about her inspiration for BAOBOB and the importance of being intentional with your time and spending.
Rani Langer-Croager: What inspired you to start BAOBOB?
I’m inspired by the history of Black Wall Street in the 1920s, the Green Book of the 1950s, and the contemporary work of Maggie Anderson in My Black Year. Even the Montgomery bus boycott worked because we worked together knowing that was the best way to reach a greater good. They all remind me that not only can we, but we have to.
YaVette Holts: Why is important to have an association of black-owned businesses?
There has been an immense amount of research and market assessments that evaluate the power of the black dollar in the market today. Over $1 trillion of purchasing in the United States is generated from black wallets, wallets that are in the pocketbooks of black people, black consumers. Lots of businesses and consumers keep their dollars circulating in their cultural communities. The average lifespan of a dollar in the Asian community is 28 days, in the Jewish community it’s 19 days, and in the African-American community it’s six hours. That’s a startling number.
If we’re able to help people understand the importance of patronizing black-owned businesses, then we can see that dollar continue to circulate within our community longer and thereby strengthen the foothold that black-owned businesses are struggling to hang onto. There are so many different aspects of what is challenging black-owned businesses, more so than the general public, such as a lack of resources, access, political disenfranchisement, etc. There’s a whole bunch of factors that one can see and point to.
But rather than pointing the finger outward all the time, let’s take a look at what can we do to strengthen our own community. Let’s take a look at what we can do amongst ourselves to strengthen our position, and help our businesses retain their foothold and keep their cultural connections alive.
How does BAOBOB work?
BAOBOB is a membership organization built to support black-owned businesses. We provide networking opportunities, business development workshops, and community events – working to bring the discussion of black buying power to the forefront of the black business community.
We also offer a directory that makes it easy for anyone interested in being intentional with their purchasing power in the black community to simply go to the website and look for the businesses offering the services or goods they are interested in buying.
Lastly, BAOBOB members have access to a marketing tool to broadcast events, promotions, sales, and announcements through our social media to more than 5,000+ followers on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook combined.
We offer membership opportunities for black-owned businesses to pay a monthly or annual fee. Businesses can save a couple of dollars if they pay annually. And members receive special rates on our whole calendar of events, listing in our directory and access to the marketing tool. We currently have 150 Bay Area businesses in the directory.
Who was your first member?
It must have been Uptima Business Bootcamp. Or, it might have been my massage business, One Presence. At the beginning, it was just me and a couple of super fantastic volunteers. We populated the platform with 50 of the most well-known black-owned businesses in our area. We started with that. And, those businesses continue to be members. They helped to draw attention to the platform and were a good sounding board for potential new members.
What feedback have you received from the businesses about BAOBOB?
What I hear a lot, and this makes me so excited, is from consumers “I was looking for such and such, but I went and I looked at BAOBOB first,” or from businesses “Someone told me that they found my business by going to BAOBOB.”
Within the last year, I did a mapping project with some students with San Francisco State University. They held a three-day conference, and I was surprised to find that the caterer was one of our business members. I asked how they found the caterer. It turned out they went on BAOBOB and found them and booked it. That was so great.
What has been the most challenging thing about building BAOBOB?
Well, there’s quite a few of those things. I would say it’s a feeling of so much potential and knowing what steps need to be taken to tap into that potential but just not having the capacity to do them at the same time. I have to really pump the brakes and prioritize and live through that process. And, it’s hard when I see such opportunity ahead and know how important this is for people.
What capacity do you feel like you’ve been missing?
Funding in particular. Because funding means staffing. This is a key point and something that’s been a learning process for me. There have been some wonderful volunteers who have worked really hard to build BAOBOB. Some of those volunteers needed to stop. I came to the realization that because they wanted to stop volunteering didn’t mean that they didn’t believe in the project or anything personal. It just meant they couldn’t continue to give away time forever. So, if I value someone’s time on BAOBOB, I need to demonstrate that in a way that allows them to live comfortably without feeling like they’re paying to help.
What’s next for BAOBOB?
Right now, we are about to launch an upgraded version of the BAOBOB website that would include more functionality. We were nudged into this process because our initial platform is phasing out.
We also need more funding. We’re currently funded by membership dues, through private investments, and we have a little bit left from our first attempt at a crowdfunding campaign last year. But, we need funding for the platform upgrade as well as staffing. We have a fantastic team, comprised of very high functioning professional folks who are really down for seeing this grow. They have been on the project for a while, but keeping them engaged and again valuing their time requires that they be compensated.
Where are you looking for funding?
We are looking at grants and investors. When it’s grants that we’re talking about, I just got counseled by someone the other day to not worry so much about which grant is being funded at any particular time. Pay attention to that, but don’t let that stop you from connecting with grantmaking organizations that are interested in what you are doing. Pitch them on what you’re doing and let them know what your needs are. Also, one of the beautiful things about BAOBOB is that it’s a for-profit venture within an umbrella organization called Cowrie Village. And, Cowrie Village is a fiscally sponsored non-profit project. So, we have the ability to receive grant funds through Cowrie Village and distribute them to the projects within that umbrella that are most in need at that time.
What advice do you have for someone getting started with their business?
Not to expect to make income from that business for a while. That’s just the truth. Not to expect to make income from that venture for at least the first two to three years. So, you need to be solid in how you’re going to support yourself and your project in that initial phase. Because otherwise, it’s just unrealistic.
And, I would advise them to just really believe in what you are doing. Just really believe in it. If you don’t really, truly believe in it, like if you’re just doing this to make money, that’s going to come through all the way from the beginning to the end. It will show in how excited you are to get up and go do that extra work at early in the morning before you go to work at your other job or how you design and deliver the product or service you are offering. If you don’t really believe in it, it’s going to surface at some point.
Photo by Alexisrael via Wikiemedia Commons
Rani Langer-Croager is Co-Founder, Curriculum & Instruction Specialist for Uptima Business Bootcamp, a network of member-owned business accelerators dedicated to providing entrepreneurs with greater access to hands-on education, resources and community to create thriving businesses. This interview was originally published on the Uptima blog.