Angela Benton has made it her business—literally—to find and grow smart ideas into thriving companies. Her NewME accelerator is based in San Francisco and was founded to serve tech start-ups led by underrepresented minorities in the industry, women among them. Launched in 2011, Angela’s start-ups have raised $17 million to date.
The accelerator targeted to the underdog comes as no surprise: Angela has been blowing up barriers all her life. Pregnant at 15, she gave birth at 16, while still in high school in Manassas, Virginia. She graduated in three years while working at Circuit City on the weekends to support herself and her daughter, and fund her college tuition.
As a single mother, Angela taught herself to code, going on to work in publishing and design before launching her first venture, Black Web Media in 2007.
Adding NewME to her portfolio in 2011 was part of an effort, she says, to help better peoples’ lives through entrepreneurship. “To see someone grow a business to $500,000, maybe a million dollars, a year—that’s not a venture-fundable business, and VCs would look at that and not even think twice about investing in it—but it’s changing that entrepreneur’s life and that’s what is most important to me.”
We asked Angela to give us her advice for starting a business (“it’s hard as hell”) and organizing the chaos that inevitably comes with reporting in to yourself.
Do work you love.
Think about what you’re good at and what you’re passionate about and ask yourself, “How can I turn this into a business?” At the end of the day, that’s what’s going to make you happy. It’s an amazing thing to wake up and work on something you own, that you built, that you love. That’s when it becomes a life instead of a job.
Determine your goals and the kind of lifestyle you want to pursue at the outset. You may be working 14 hours a day, but at least you get to pick when you work those 14 hours.
An idea is just an idea until you execute on it.
Talk to people. Find subject matter experts. Learn how things have been done in the past so that you can be innovative moving forward. Don’t limit yourself to your industry. If you’re building a textile company and need help with financial projections, look for an expert in finance. Put together a list of potential advisors that can help you along the way—LinkedIn is a great resource for finding them.
Listen to your advisors.
You don’t have to accept their advice, but you need to be open to receiving it. Be coachable. Ask questions. Critical feedback might be hard to hear but it could change your business for the better.
You’re going to be told “no” in a lot of different ways. It’s not going to be easy. Resiliency will be a skill you’ll turn to throughout your entire entrepreneurial career.
Realize you will sacrifice more than you expect to.
Theoretically everybody knows that becoming an entrepreneur is hard work. There are a lot of general things you will sacrifice—free time, weekends—but there are also sacrifices specific to you that you won’t anticipate, things that will test your commitment and your will to succeed.
Don’t quit your day job. (Yet.)
You’re going to have two jobs. After your 9-to-5, and sometimes during, you’re going to be working on your idea. It needs to be so exciting to you that it’s like entertainment. When you get off work, that passion is what’s going to fuel your progress before you start making any money and can quit your job.
Plan for the unexpected.
I have certain hours throughout the day that are reserved for unscheduled events. It gives me wiggle room to return calls, have quick meetings with my team or pick up a sick child from school.
Make time to recharge.
Having a hobby can make you more creative in your business, when your brain has an opportunity to disconnect and recharge. Work out. Make friends that have nothing to do with your profession. I’ve sought out friendships with people that have nothing to do with my job—it’s almost like forcing myself to have other conversations outside of my work, which is important.
Balance may look different than you envision.
Women have an idea of what balance should look like: peaceful morning routines, working nine-to-five, effective parenting in the evenings and quiet time with a significant other at night. This doesn’t take into account any other goals, or allow for hectic times like closing a big deal, launching a product or getting a promotion. Balance, when actually achieved, may not look like what you think balance looks like. In my experience, it looks more like organized chaos.