Even in 2020, against all the odds, we’ve continued to see small businesses spring up, and not only survive, but thrive in the face of Covid-19. At Cisco, we’ve tried to do our bit for small businesses with recovery guides and tips for innovation during challenging times. But it takes a special kind of person to start and run a successful business – not everyone is suited for the life of an entrepreneur. If you’re here reading our small business blog, however, it’s likely you are a special kind of person.
So, to aid you on your journey to success, I’ve compiled some of the most inspirational entrepreneurs in recent memory – and their keys to success – to help you flourish in the face of any challenges you may encounter as a small business owner.
Tenacity – Kimberly Bryant: Founder & CEO at Black Girls CODE
Three years before Google released its first diversity report in 2014, Kimberly Bryant was already working to combat the report’s findings that just 2% of Google’s 50,000 employees were black, 3% were Latinx and only 30% were women.
Her answer to this problem was Black Girls CODE. A non-profit organization dedicated to changing the face of technology by inspiring girls of color to be leaders in their communities and builders of their own futures, by way of introducing them to technology, computer science and programming.
Unsurprisingly, Bryant and BGC’s journey from a basement to an office at Google hasn’t been without its challenges, with raised eyebrows and industry pushbacks from the get-go. But she stuck to her vision and pressed on regardless, supporting its development with funds from her own 401K.
Fortunately for 14,000 girls – and counting – her tenacity paid off. But like any successful entrepreneur, this is just the beginning of her vision, with foundations firmly in place to achieve BGC’s goal of training 1 million girls by 2040.
Community – James Watt & Martin Dickie: Founders at BrewDog
From humble beginnings in the Scottish fishing port of Fraserburgh, where they first sold beers out of the back of a beat-up old van, James Watt and Martin Dickie now sit at the head of a $2 billion beer empire.
Despite their newfound wealth, it’s impossible not to believe them when they say their mission isn’t about achieving fame and fortune, but simply to “make other people as passionate about great craft beer as we are”.
But of course, actions speak louder than words, and their pledge to “changing the world, one glass at a time” has been pivotal to their success. From saving street dogs, to planting forests and supporting Britain’s NHS with their Punk Sanitiser, BrewDog has committed valuable time, resource and capital to giving back to communities.
This, in turn, has inspired their own community. Embodied in Equity for Punks, where in a ground-breaking first, they offered people the opportunity to buy shares in BrewDog. Since it’s launch in 2009 and subsequent relaunches, the venture has accrued some 148,000 investors and just shy of $100 million in crowdfunding capital.
Visionary – Angela Benton: Founder at NewME & Streamlytics
In this digital age, inventions and innovations are often lost in a sea of new products as a result of increased advertising and accessibility. For pioneers from underrepresented backgrounds, the odds are often stacked more heavily against them, no matter how innovative their idea may be.
Angela Benton saw this problem and endeavoured to create more opportunities for underrepresented entrepreneurs. After gaining experience with IAC, she began her own entrepreneurial career with BlackWeb 2.0 in 2007 – a news website dedicated to African-Americans interested in technology.
This was just the beginning of her vision. In 2011, Benton founded NewME, the first global accelerator for minorities, which has helped thousands of budding entrepreneurs raise over $47 million in venture capital funding. Today, she sits proudly at the fore of her latest venture: Streamlytics.
But more than just a visionary, Benton is a beacon of hope for underrepresented entrepreneurs. Manifested with her many accolades, including Fast Company’s Most Influential Women in Technology, Business Insider’s 25 Most Influential African-Americans in Technology and as a featured essayist alongside Mark Zuckerberg for the Wall Street Journal’s 125th anniversary edition on The Future of Entrepreneurship.
Adaptability – Keba Konte: Founder and Owner at Red Bay Coffee
Like many businesses around the world, Red Bay Coffee struggled when the pandemic forced entire populations to stay at home. But now, against all the odds, Keba Konte’s company is seeing a huge 350% spike in ecommerce coffee sales.
In an interview with Forbes, Konte revealed how his office coffee service shut down overnight, events came to a screeching halt and all of his cafes closed. Sound familiar? But not being one to rest on his laurels, he adapted – fast – and took his offering on the road with a mobile van coffee service.
This was bolstered further by bulk sales via ecommerce, after realising that much of Red Bay Coffee’s Silicon Valley audience is still drinking coffee – just at home, where they were now having their coffee beans shipped directly.
Of course, adaptability is more challenging for some business models. But in this instance and no doubt instances to come, small businesses have the advantage of being nimble and reactive, to adapt and show resilience in the current – and future – retail environment.
Insight – Ben Francis: Founder at Gymshark
Since launching in 2012, Gymshark has taken the fitness and apparel industry by storm. In 2016, it was named the fastest growing retailer in the UK, going on to generate sales of over $130m in 2018. Ben Francis was also included among the prestigious Forbes 30 Under 30 2019, before this year securing a $1.3 billion valuation following investment from General Atlantic.
So, how did Gymshark grow from a garage operation into one of the most recognisable brands in global fitness? Aged just 19, Francis spotted a gap in the market – a lack of affordable and desirable sportswear for young gym-goers.
This initial insight spoke to a generation – one just as concerned with looking good at the gym as on a night out. But it was further insights that enabled Francis to speak directly to his audience. Utilising social media and influencer marketing, to deliver a cost-effective marketing strategy that reached millions, without spending millions.
Insight has also continued Gymshark on its skyward trajectory, with a shift from influencer marketing to relying increasingly on user generated content. Intended to make Gymshark more relatable to those who may be deterred by the flawless, unattainable imagery often seen on social media.
The key to success? Never stop learning
Tenacity, vision, adaptability, insights and community are all powerful tools on your path to becoming a successful entrepreneur. But it’s also important to never stop learning. Our small business blog is on hand to equip you with all the tools you need, to ensure your small business endures to be mighty.
Explore how Cisco has been helping to support small businesses to recover from the economic impact from COVID-19 here.