When did you know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur. Since I was a child, I've always had a drive to solve problems. I started my first business when I was seven: a newspaper in my neighborhood because I noticed my neighbors didn't really know each other. Every week I would find the stories, write and print them, and then I would go door to door to sell them.
How did you get interested in technology?
I grew up on the South Side of Chicago with 8 sisters. My family was not affluent, but I had a computer. I was the only person in my neighborhood that had regular access to one. When I got to college, I was going to major in math. I thought I was going to go on to politics, I was student body president. Part of the math curriculum was an intro computer science course. I hated CS in high school because the instructor didn't teach it well, but in college it was just such a great experience that I continued to take courses. Eventually I had a CS major, but thought I was going to go into politics. It wasn't until my senior year and I needed a job.
Why did you work at an established company before starting your own?
It was important to work for someone else because when you start a company you're not just taking an idea, marketing, and monetizing it. You're building a place where people are going to gain a livelihood. It was important to know what I liked and didn't about working for other people, so I could create a culture that was inclusive, welcoming, encouraging, and motivating for people helping me to take my vision to market.
What’s your vision for Chinchapi?
I have this vision of computing without complexity. Cinchapi is helping improve how we use and understand data, but also how humans and technology interact. It's a way to make technology more accessible. You won’t ever eliminate people that write code, but you can make writing code easier and more accessible. But people haven’t improved the way they interact with machines. My vision is to make that interaction simple, intuitive, and effective. That will help people to solve new problems in really interesting ways.
Is your experience different as a founder because you’re a person of color?
It’s about empathy. When you know people that have had experiences where they haven't had certain privileges, they've had to work harder, and seen other people be successful with less work. t forces you to be more understanding of people and their differences. o when you're creating a company, you ensure that the culture you're creating isn't hostile to people with different backgrounds.
What has Chinchapi done to push for more diversity in tech?
One of the things that we did at Cinchapi was partner with the Atlanta Workforce Development Agency. They had 20 students going through a program called CoStarred. These students hadn’t finished a four-year college. CoStarred taught them how to code in a 12-week immersion program. We did a three-month program where we used our technology, Deepstack, as the instructional material.
Can you talk a bit about creating an inclusive environment at Chinchapi?
[In some of my previous roles,] there were video games everywhere, like a frat house. That didn't appeal to me. I wasn't going to come in on Saturday and hang out. We're very intentional whenever we want to [bring someone onto the team]. It's very important to me to make sure that we are actively looking for diversity. Sometimes people are afraid to say that because they think of quotas. It’s about having and creating this culture where you are addressing this with your team.
The last I'll say is that when we are communicating, it's very intentional. For example, people create user personas, like Joe the developer and Jane the secretary. I say, “No. We're not going to do that. Why can't the engineer be a woman? Let's actually be cognizant of some of the stereotypes we're continuing. Let's break those down."
How is Chinchapi doing?
We just launched the platform, and have three paying beta customers and resale partnership agreements where we will share revenue. Since January 2016, we’ve been talking to customers and researching the best way to enter this market. We bootstrapped intelligently and got strategic angel funding. We want to get to $1.5 million in annual revenue, and want to grow the community of open source contributors and developers helping us to build this platform. Right now, we're at almost 300 and looking to grow to 2500 over the next year and a half.
How can the VCs and other funders be more helpful to underrepresented founders?
The advice you hear is, “Ask your friends and family, have your parents fund you.” My dad doesn't have any built-in connections that I can leverage to get a deal. There's no one in my family that can fund my company before I raise VC funding.
Many entrepreneurs can take a risk, they have a fall back. They have family that will support, fund, and connect them. I don't. When investors talk with underrepresented entrepreneurs they need to throw those assumptions out. Really look at the individual and understand their resources, and how they've leveraged those.
What I need from my advisors and investors is to help to open doors. Don't assume that I can push those things open. Most of the entrepreneurs I know that are like me can’t: it's really a lot harder for us.