When Candace Mitchell (26), Chanel Martin (29) and Jess Watson (23) first enrolled in college at Georgia Tech, they had no idea that they would come together one day to build an emerging powerhouse in the beauty and tech scene. The chemical engineering and computer science majors came together (one of the original founders left the company to pursue a Rhodes scholarship two years ago) and stood staunchly behind one central passion: using their talents to improve the lives of minority women. Since founding their tech company Techturized in June 2012, the ladies have rolled out Myavana, an app that allows women to discuss new hair maintenance tips and products all on one platform. But what does it take to grow a tech company, when you are nowhere near Silicon Valley? What sacrifices are made to turn your dreams into a reality? Candace and Chanel highlight what it took for them to take a leap of faith and begin building their visions.
BAUCE: You all have decided to build a company during what most people see as an extremely transitional time in life, your 20s! How do you find time to socialize and work? Is it difficult?
Chanel: It can be difficult, but you just have to have your priorities in order. In addition to building a company, I am also married and will be a new mom. I have to make sure that I am not neglecting my marriage and my family. Most weekends I am too tired to do much socializing and I try to reserve those for spending quality time with my husband. Every now and then I do try to hang out with friends when I have free time. Because I am in my late 20s, I have done my fair share of “socializing” and my main priorities are God, my family, and building our company.
Candace: It definitely takes a balance of priorities. My favorite quote about this is “do what you have to do now so you can do what others can’t later”. I have had my fair share of party and socializing days in high school, college, and after graduation, so I am satisfied with that season in my life. This season is all about commitment to a cause that is greater than us and to carry a vision through to its completion and respective impact in the world. Since I am single, I can be a little selfish with my time and focus. My family and close friends know how much this company means to me and it’s connection to the calling over my life, so they support and understand that I can’t socialize as much as I used to – for now. However, I never miss birthdays and special occasions because the people in my life are the reason why I am who I am and I strive to always let them know how much they are loved and appreciated.
BAUCE: Did any of you see yourself starting your own company and building apps for women of color? Where did you actually see yourself in 10 years?
Candace: We all have the entrepreneurial spirit in some form or fashion but neither of us anticipated that we would be starting a company this quickly and have the impact we’ve had in such a short amount of time. We had a vision to transform the hair care industry using science and technology since that is our educational background and we have first hand accounts of the issues we face as Black women when it comes to hair care and maintenance. We spent over a year creating the right product-market fit to solve this problem which is how the mobile app came to be. In 10 years, I actually did envision myself as an entrepreneur so when the opportunity came to start Techturized Inc., I had complete faith that it was a step in the right direction. God allowed me to cross paths again with the women who would go on to become the co-founders of the business and the rest is history.
BAUCE: Your team has had many accomplishments within the past few years. What would you say you are most proud of?
Chanel: First and foremost, we acknowledge that none of these accomplishments would have happened if it had not been for the mercy and grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ. He has really blessed us throughout our journey and with Him anything is possible. We are proud of our progress thus far, but there are a few key milestone accomplishments that have helped us tremendously:
- Guest appearance on MSNBC’s the Melissa Harris-Perry Show last March 2013 to discuss Myavana (formally Madame You)
- Successfully raising and meeting our $25,000 goal on Indiegogo with the love and support of our Myavana friends and family in April 2013
- Named Black Enterprise’s Startup of the Week in March 2013, then a written feature in the Nov 2013 issue of Black Enterprise
- Successfully launching the Myavana App on iOS to our friends and network December 2013. You can download the app currently in the Apple App Store. The Android version will be released within the next couple of months.
BAUCE: What are the advantages and disadvantages to growing a tech company in Atlanta? What resources has the city provided you? Have you sound support as minority entrepreneurs?
Candace: The advantages of growing a tech company in Atlanta is the ecosystem of universities, enterprise companies, and rich cultural fabric that the city has. Georgia Tech is right in our backyard and provides an invaluable network of people and resources, as well as the nearby HBCUS in the Atlanta University Center (Clark Atlanta, Morehouse, and Spelman). In addition to that, there are several organizations that support the growth of tech companies such as the Technology Association of Georgia (TAG) and the Atlanta Technology Development Center (ATDC). We won a business launch grant through TAG ($50,000 and $200,000 in services) and free office space with membership to ATDC. These resources truly helped jumpstart our business.
In addition to that, the co-working space and mentorship through Hypepotamus allowed us to build relationships with key people and was our first home after graduating from Flashpoint, the startup accelerator we participated in from June 2012 – September 2012. Some disadvantages of growing a tech company in Atlanta is that most acclaim and attention goes to the well established areas of Silicon Valley and New York. Many key investors that have experience with our industry and/or consumer-oriented technology are not located in this city so it is hard to form those relationships. Atlanta is on its way to establishing itself as a tech hub in the Southeast but it’s still a work in progress.
Chanel: Well, currently I am 6 months pregnant with my first child (a baby girl), so my life is a little different dealing with pregnancy and being a full time entrepreneur. In the morning, I work from my phone or tablet for at least an hour before getting out of bed (pregnancy is very tiring). I answer and send emails, check the Myavana App for new user posts, and check Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. I then make a to-do list of tasks I need to complete for the day. After that, I fix breakfast and have a seat in my home office where I work most of the day. My daily work consists of composing emails and blog posts, finding cool hair content to post in the app and on our social media, responding to press requests, creating simple graphics, and much, much, more! As an entrepreneur, you wear as many hats as needed.
Candace: I wake up at 6 am and start with prayer and meditation to ensure I begin each day with gratitude, a sound mind, and courageous spirit to accomplish everything that is required of me. I eat breakfast then pull a daily metric report from our database to view new users who have joined our community and compile a weekly activity report of our app. I respond to emails regarding partnership opportunities, operational needs, and technology updates. As the technology lead for the company, I track any current bugs or issues that need to be fixed in the app and plan for future functionality. I also make time to code every day to ensure that I’m sharpening my skills as a developer. I end the day with exercise, personal time, and reflection to make each day count and the next day even better.
BAUCE: The first product rolled out from your company is a “hair 101” app called Myavana. How did you validate the idea for your app? What is your advice to tech entrepreneurs looking to test out their ideas?
Chanel: We were fortunate enough to have participated in a program called Flashpoint, a startup accelerator program based out of Georgia Tech. They taught us basic startup principles based on the book “The Business Model Generation”. There we learned the customer discovery process. That process empowered us to seek out over 1000 women and interview them about their hair care experiences. From their insights, and several iterations later, Myavana was born.
My advice to tech entrepreneurs is to not be afraid to share their idea with as many people as possible. Talk to people who they think would use/buy their product/service. Get customer feedback and modify as needed. Understand your product/service is always changing, and to not be married to any particular idea. Let your customers help you build it!
BAUCE: What are your 2014 goals for your company? How do you seek to meet these goals?
Candace: Our goals for this year are to grow our community as much as possible and to generate revenue through a unique advertising experience with salons and hair care brands. We aim to meet our goals for community growth through marketing on college campuses, social media, and establishing partnerships with other companies and organizations who can benefit from our technology platform to enhance their services. Our plans for revenue growth involve pilot testing with salons and hair care brands then scaling across the country once we’ve refined our approach that best engages and meets the needs of our community.
BAUCE: What has been the biggest sacrifice you have made to see your dreams come true?
Chanel: Moving my family to Georgia to help start the company, and quitting my job as an engineer to work as a full time entrepreneur. I could not have done either without God’s blessing and the support of my husband and family.
Candace: Quitting my job after one year in Corporate America with a nice salary and moving back home to Atlanta (crashing with my parents) to build our company. This has required total faith in God to trust that all of my needs will be met as I continue to sacrifice for as long as required.
BAUCE: There are more and more initiatives to get minorities to learn to code. If a female has graduated from college and doesn’t possess a CS degree, can she still find job opportunities in tech? Does she need to get a Master’s degree in CS to learn to code or start her own tech company?
Candace: Yes, there are several jobs in information technology that do not require hard coding. Positions such as data analysis, project management, telecommunications, and a plethora of others are all opportunities in the tech fields. You do not need a Master’s degree (or any degree for that matter) to learn how to code. There are pre-teens and teenagers who have launched (and sold, believe it or not) tech companies. I recommend to start learning as early as possible. It is not as hard as most people fear to think. There are websites such as Codecademy and Coursera that will teach you how to code for free. You can start with building blocks such as HTML and CSS to build a basic web page. Learning a coding language is synonymous with learning a foreign language. If you dedicate the time to learn, you will become fluent and have the ability to communicate and create anything you dare to imagine.
BAUCE: What is your advice to young women that are interested in tapping into the tech scene or starting their own business?
Chanel: I would say first you need to have a strong support system. It’s not an easy process, and you are guaranteed to get discouraged along the way. Your support system will help you stay on track and encourage you to keep going, even when your situation may seem hopeless. Understand that things take time and it’s not a race. Starting a business is often romanticized, leading one to believe that as soon as you start a business, two years later you are selling it for a billion or multi-millions of dollars. That is not the case for every entrepreneur. And last but not least, believe in yourself and be confident. You may have 100 letdowns before you have a victory, and that is okay. It’s all trial and error. Remember, it only takes one huge victory to receive your breakthrough.