Published on Saturday May 26th, 2018 by Afrocks
I Am Stressed, Skint And Drained: I Am Shutting Down Afrocks, The Afro Hair Startup
I had been feeling quite down for a while, but emotionally it all hit me one night, at around 1.42am as I was staring at my laptop screen, completely drained. The past few weeks had been quite challenging to say the least, and looking at the numbers, the upcoming weeks would be equally tough.
At that point, Afrocks had been up and running for almost a year and a half with its ups and downs but it felt like I had just realised that I wouldn’t be able to make this work. And trust me, it was hurting. This blog post wasn’t the easiest to write, in fact I almost backed down publishing it, but I think it deserves to be read – especially by fellow entrepreneurs. Oh and my wife forced me to do it. A bit of a cathartic exercise I’d say!
Looking back at my startup journey, here is my analysis on why Afrocks will be shutting down.
“I never imagined that there would be a steep set of steps in the middle as there are no readily available tales about them. In fact, in startup mythology there is fast and exponential growth, trendy offices and free healthy lunch for employees. Growing at a slower but steady pace is unthinkable or you’ve got the wrong story.”
Startup: The myth of fast life, hyper growth and instant success
We all love to hear about startup success stories and CEOs, and we gladly picture their lifestyle as extremely glamorous. This is probably true for what we call the ‘Unicorns’ (startups valued at +£500 million) of the iconic Silicon Valley. Even though we assume that it wasn’t a piece of cake to get there, we, well I never thought it would have been this hard! Indeed, creating a startup is tough, and you’ll be in for a wild ride with 95% chances of failing within the first year.
The problem is that, like most entrepreneurs I pictured the entrepreneurial ladder as a two step stool with: the optimistic beginning then the potential success – nothing more. I never imagined that there would be a steep set of steps in the middle as there are no readily available tales about them. In fact, in startup mythology there is fast and exponential growth, trendy offices and free healthy lunch for employees. Growing at a slower but steady pace is unthinkable or you’ve got the wrong story.
However, the reality is that instant success does not exist for small ordinary business owners (or very rarely). Overnight success won’t happen because you just shipped a product. Chances are nobody knows you, nobody trusts you, nobody gives a sh*t about what you are doing. Building your brand and making it trustworthy to customers is the key to success but it takes time. At the end of the day there is such a difference between the myth and the reality that when the latter hit home, I was not quite ready to receive it.
“Indeed, the vast majority of business angels and investors with large financial capacities are white men over 45 coming from prestigious business/tech schools. You will find very few women, let alone black women. It is a bit difficult to explain to them the financial benefits in the promotion of self love and hair pride for black women, despite the fact that they spend 6 times more than any other ethnicities on hair.”
Is it harder for black founders to raise funds?
In startup cosmogony, things should go as follow:
1. Idea stage
2. Validation of said idea with a beta version-
3. Investors quest, with more or less serendipity
However, for ordinary people, things don’t work quite like this because finding investors who share your vision is almost a full-time job in itself. In addition to this, when your company is tackling a specific problem within the Afro-Caribbean community in a “woke” manner, you will have a hard time finding people that are actually interested in what you do. “woke money” is not yet a thing. Indeed, the vast majority of business angels and investors with large financial capacities are white men over 45 coming from prestigious business/tech schools. You will find very few women, let alone black women. It is a bit difficult to explain to them the financial benefits in the promotion of self love and hair pride for black women, despite the fact that they spend 6 times more than any other ethnicities on hair. Figures are staggering: according to a US study from 2010, only 1% of VC and Business angels money went to black founders. A more recent study shows that 0.2% went to black women. Wow!
Ideally I would love to see more diversified investors panels where women and minorities would take more space. Wouldn’t it be fantastic to have dedicated, financially savvy, investment funds for black startups and projects? Unfortunately we are not there yet despite interesting ventures such as Groexpo or ACU.
In a nutshell, for “woke” small black owned businesses like us, the search for investors is an uphill battle, a balance exercise between brand identity, principles and cold hard cash. Having our shares of failures, rejections and disappointment made us realise that something was wrong with the process itself: what matters today, as the startup has become a legitimate belief system, is to raise funds and not necessarily to do what you intended to in the first place. Make money or die trying has never sounded truer than on this steep set of step.
“Some days it would literally affect my creativity and my working ability. Sometimes I would just sit on my couch, doing nothing. Just stuck. In the startup jargon, this feeling is called ‘through of sorrow’.”
Unprecedented level of stress, anxiety: Fake it til you make it?
As I just said, creating a startup is not easy. There is a ton of uncertainty, unexpected challenges and a constant pressure to succeed. Getting through the hurdles following the initial buzz is tough and things can go quite wrong when you literally don’t know what tomorrow will be made of. This could mess up anyone’s mind and affect one’s mental health for sure.
In my case that pressure is exacerbated by the fact that I have a wife (bless her) and 2 young kids (4 and 16 month, bless them). With a startup making little money, it puts a constant strain and even frustration on the one person (my wife) bringing the bread and butter home. Picture this: I went from digital marketing manager with a decent salary to next to nothing.
Having to bear this amount of stress on a daily basis, with no understanding of how to deal with it or make it go away turned me into a moody, short tempered bloke. Some days it would literally affect my creativity and my working ability. Sometimes I would just sit on my couch, doing nothing. Just stuck. In the startup jargon, this feeling is called ‘through of sorrow’. Coined by venture capitalists, the ‘trough of sorrow’ describes the period after some small initial success, during which all of your dreams about how quickly you’ll grow your business are shattered into pieces when reality hits home. That is when you start questioning yourself: Will I be able to make it? Is it a good idea after all? Should I just give up and find a full-time job? Will I be able to pay my bills?
Fortunately, I have been very lucky to have an understanding spouse who has always been supportive no matter what. She is always here to cheer me up, explaining point by point how things have not hit rock bottom and that the startup gods have not forsaken Afrocks. For instance, we had been preparing for months a superb deal at a major event in London. It was a big flop due to the organisers. This was so upsetting, the entire team was ready to sue, pillage and burn. But my wife got me together: “Doudou, let’s see how we can salvage this. I am certain that there is something we can do, let’s focus on solutions and fuck them, let them go f*&k all the iguanas in Palestine!” (don’t know where the hell this came from lol). She cannot really cuss, so her kind words mixed with these colourful expletives always make me laugh. Laugh it off. Find yourself a partner, a friend that you can laugh with, laugh at. It helps you focus and move on. It helps me on a daily basis.
The fact is, a lot of entrepreneurs and startup founders suffer from anxiety, extreme level of stress and even depression, but until recently we just wouldn’t talk about it. Just go to a networking event for young entrepreneurs and witness this overflowing, buoyant optimism. Go ahead, ask these young men and women. Ask them how things are going. The vast majority will answer you with irritating platitudes like “Oh! Awesome! We are kicking a**! Brilliant!”… when they actually have no customers and no cash coming in. The intensity of building a company and the stress that comes can break even the strongest-willed entrepreneurs.
“We believe that Afrocks is changing lives and empowering our community every single day. We are not only delivering natural hair beauty, style and elegance to your door, we care about you, about how you feel.”
Wow…what is this all about? Am I really going to shut down Afrocks?
Ooooh Hell no! Afrocks is not shutting down and we are here to stay! I decided to write this blog post to share my entrepreneurial journey with you and to raise awareness on the stress, anxiety and mental health issues that come along. Unfortunately this is something we just don’t open up about, especially as black people. We are so used to act tough, hustle and deal with pain without talking about what is wrong that it is becoming (or will become) an issue at some point. On this note I would like to big up all female founders out there, and specifically black women running any small or large business, startup or tech. I can’t even imagine the sh*t you must be dealing with, when you are culturally raised into this ‘strong black woman’ narrative. It’s ok to snap out of it sometimes.
I guess the next question is how do we overcome all the stress and anxiety that are inherent in a startup creation?
With incredible highs and incredible lows being part of game it is very important that you celebrate even the tiny wins. A client just sent you an email to tell you how happy he/she is about the service? Pop a bottle! You got a booking? Laugh it out loud! At Afrocks whenever we have some good stuff happening I make sure this is shared widely with the team. I think we probably all danced on desks when we struck our first partnership deal with Afrocenchix! We have a million thing to improve on the website, we have bugs to fix, stylists to recruit in other areas of London etc. and we are working on it, tirelessly. Things might not be where we expected them to be in terms of financials but we are incredibly grateful for the support we received from our community, all the emails, messages etc. How can we ever let you down?
You then have to talk to people. Come on, take this game face off and open up. Stop telling your friends and family that you are fine when you are struggling. Speak with your cofounders and let them know if/when you need to switch off. Be frank and stop pretending. Connect with other trusted founders and mentors. A lot of them are likely to have been through this and can actually help. I have been blessed with amazing, supportive and fun coufounders! Stella, Simone and Regis will always cheer each other up whenever we feel down!
Learn to be comfortable with failure as it is part of the entrepreneurial adventure. Not simple when your startup feels like your child, and seeing your kid fail miserably is extremely painful, trust me. At Afrocks we had a few experiences that left us in a very poor state of mind but we learnt from them.
Last but not least, remember why you are doing it and refocus on your vision if needed. Take a step back and use your long term vision to drive doubts away. We believe that Afrocks is changing lives and empowering our community every single day. We are not only delivering natural hair beauty, style and elegance to your door, we care about you, about how you feel. Our aim is to value appreciate you with your thick, curly, kinky hair. We are trying to help you right a historical and societal wrong and we will stand with you, on click away, every steps of the way.
If you enjoyed this blog post, can I advise you to check out the following post I wrote recently about how we validated Afrocks startup idea without wasting (too much) time and money
If you are into digital things and search engine optimisation, go read how we managed to rank well for the keyword ‘UK black business’
Hey! I am Hervé the Founder & CEO of Afrocks, a platform connecting mobile afro hair stylist with clients. I love having a good fight (inside a ring), excel spreadsheets and formulas and other geek stuff. Get in touch!