David speaks with Dawn Dickson-Akpoghene a serial Entrepreneur, founder, and CEO of PopCom an automated retail technology company that creates data and analytics software for intelligent vending.
If you are an entrepreneur or aspiring founder that is considering scaling or building or raising money, this is going to be an incredibly notable episode for you.
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📹 Watch on Youtube
👤 Connect with Dawn Dickson:
Instagram: @dawnwdickson | https://www.instagram.com/dawnwdickson/
Company: PopCom | https://www.popcom.shop/
📄 Show notes:
4:05 | Dawn’s Introduction to Entrepreneurship
5:26 | Getting started in technology
8:06 | The gap between PopCom and Flat Out of Heels
15:31 | Dawn’s first million
18: 07 | The importance of building a community
21:43 | Investing in 20 startups
22:34 | The hard part of entrepreneurship
25:39 | The impact of George Floyd
27:59 | African Americans and Africans collaborating
32:20 | Fundraising for Black founders
36:09 | Getting past the fear of losing
40:47 | How to maintain success
44:33 | Creating your own spaces
47:31 | Becoming a digital nomad
49:03 | Dawn’s vision for Pop Com
50:34 | Advice to other founders
🗣 Mentioned in the show:
Flat Out of Heels | https://www.flatoutofheels.com/
Nia Studio | https://niastudio.co/
Pop Com | https://www.popcom.shop/
Sam Bankman-Fried | https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sam_Bankman-Fried
FTX | https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FTX_(company)
Elizabeth Holmes | https://www.britannica.com/biography/Elizabeth-Holmes
President Kagame | https://www.paulkagame.com/
Kigali | https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kigali
Robin Hood | https://robinhood.com/us/en/
Stash | https://www.stash.com/
Freedman's Bank | http://freedmansbank.org/
Built Differently | https://lucindaliterary.com/news/recent-deal-built-differently-by-dawn-dickson-akpoghene-portfolio/
Jim Crow | https://www.ferris.edu/HTMLS/news/jimcrow/what.htm
Martin Luther Kings | https://www.britannica.com/biography/Martin-Luther-King-Jr
The Breakfast Club | https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oejOtgPDkLU&t=17s
👨🏾💻 About David Elikwu:
David Elikwu FRSA is a serial entrepreneur, strategist, and writer. David is the founder of The Knowledge, a platform helping people think deeper and work smarter.
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Dawn Dickson: [00:00:00] Focus on cash. Focus on making money, cash flow businesses. Don't focus on raising a ton of money, getting into a ton of debt. It's okay to grow slow. Venture capital has us feeling like we gotta go from zero to a hundred million really, really fast. But you don't have to go fast. Look at the Apples, look at the Microsofts, look at the, you know, the Nationwide Insurance. Look at the Proctor & Gambles, it takes a long time to really hit that threshold where you're making a lot of money in truly a profitable business. So what you can do now during this recession pending? Make money. What can you sell that people are going to pay cash for today?
David Elikwu: Hey, I'm David Elikwu. And this is The Knowledge. A podcast for anyone looking to think deeper and work smarter. In every episode I speak with makers, thinkers, and innovators to help you get more out of life.
This week I'm speaking with Dawn [00:01:00] Dickson. Dawn is a serial entrepreneur and the founder and CEO of Pop Com. Pop Com is a vending machine business unlike any that you've seen before. If you look at these machines, they are incredibly futuristic looking. They can utilise Web 3 a bunch of different technologies. Her business has designed both the software and hardware for this and built them from scratch. Dawn is incredibly inspiring for everything that she's been able to prove out through her work ethic, through her business mind, everything she's been able to build in the world. As one of the very first black women to raise over a million dollars. First through traditional venture capital, but then also through equity crowdfunding, where she's really been a pioneer I think raising over four to six million dolllars now, and not just doing it for herself, but also paving the way for others and being really intentional about teaching others how to create wealth locally in their communities through their networks and I think if you are an entrepreneur that is considering scaling or building or raising money, this is gonna be an incredibly [00:02:00] notable episode for you.
Every week, I share some of the best tools, ideas, and frameworks that I come across from business psychology, philosophy and productivity. So if you want the best that I have to share, you can get that in the newsletter at theknowledge.io.
You can find Dawn on Twitter @THEDawnDickson. And if you love this episode, please do share it with a friend and don't forget to leave a review wherever you listen to podcasts because it helps us tremendously to reach other people just like you.
You have been an entrepreneur for something like, 21 years, I wanna say. I think you started your first business in
Dawn Dickson: 2001 so this is yeah, 21. But before that I was definitely an entrepreneur, but that was like my first official real LLC, you know, the LLC, the famous Instagram LLC that was my first like real business that was incorporated. But I've always been an entrepreneur, like my whole life since I was a kid.
David Elikwu: Okay. I mean, let's go all the way back there. What was your first introduction to [00:03:00] entrepreneurship?
Dawn Dickson: My parents, my mom and dad were both business owners, so that's what I saw. My dad never seen my dad have a job. He owned real estate. He did home inspection. He was doing house flips before, that was like a popular thing, and he was always just very enterprising, always investing in things. He also, he invested in my first business, so you know, I've seen it there and then my mother had an in-home daycare. And it was very successful and it made a great living. So even though it wasn't like a tech or you know, what we do now, it's certainly, she's certainly a business owner and I saw my parents making a living for themselves. So I knew that it was a possibility for me.
David Elikwu: Yeah, that's really interesting cause I think with people whose parents were entrepreneurs, you usually get a mixed reviews cause sometimes if they are doing well then maybe that can set you on the path and you think, wow, this is something great. You can envision yourself doing it really easily but simultaneously sometimes maybe your dad is always going off [00:04:00] on one business after another and it's not going well. And that completely pushes you in
Dawn Dickson: I just saw success, so that was the thing. I just saw entrepreneurial success, so I think like it was encouraging, you know, but I will say in my generation, so I'm like a eighties baby. I was born in 1979, so in the eighties, like there was no such thing as like tech startups and entrepreneurship just meant you didn't have a job. Like nobody talked about entrepreneurship. Nobody said those things. Nobody, there was no such thing as a class on entrepreneurship in college or, you know, it wasn't popular. The messaging was to everyone that I know is like, graduate from high school, go to college, get a corporate job, get your benefits and then you retire. And that's the path because, you know, there was so many challenges in our history as black people in America where we didn't have opportunity to go to college. We didn't have the opportunity to own property, didn't have the opportunity to do so many things. So I think in my generation, my grandparents were in the civil rights movement. My mom was a part of like Black [00:05:00] Panthers and so it was like, and they like wanting me to go to college. So when I decided to start my first business, it wasn't celebrated because they really wanted me to go the corporate path, you know, that was what was appealing.
David Elikwu: That's a really interesting point. So what was that journey of starting your first business like knowing the background of, you know, it's not necessarily something that's being supported. You're venturing off, you're doing something new, and I think you had some challenges along the way as well.
Dawn Dickson: Well, my first business was a tech company. I went to school for I.T and tech, and so, I learned how to code, build websites and just do general information technology, job functions, and I think that it really opened my mind to like what the worldwide web was and what technology was and how it can be used for so many things. It was like the very beginning. It reminds me of how things are today with blockchain technology, where people are like using it in all the different kinds of ways, and I think we haven't even really scratched the surface of how we can use blockchain and the internet was in that way. So back [00:06:00] when I was younger, the only way to find out what was going on was to get a flyer or word of mouth, like a flyer like, paper in your hand.
So my very first business was just solution to a problem that I faced was like trying to find out what's going on, where to go out, where to hang out as a young person and my partner and I, Brandon, we decided we were gonna build a website. Now this is before Wix, this is before all these things. We hand coded this, we built this website and we said we're gonna build a website for people to go online and find out what's going on. And we're going to create like a database of events and entertainment and restaurants and parties and concerts and just all kinds of entertainment. It was the first of its kind, one of the first of its kind in the country. Definitely the first of its kind in, in the Midwest. And so it really took off because it became an information source and a new source, and it took off, you know? And so again, my very first entrepreneur experience, like official. It went well, it was successful. We made money, it grew, you know, and it really positioned me to be where I am today. It helped me to build my network because I was like the [00:07:00] go-to person to know what's going on in our website. We always would get free tickets to events and we would be the ones where promoters call us to reach the community. Because we had the largest email list in the city. We built the email list by going out to events and collecting emails by hand, like literally writing them on a clipboard. I would have like five people on my street team go out and collect emails on a clipboard. Then we would go back and put it in Excel and then we would BCC and send emails in AOL because it was before any email system existed. There was no such thing. There was no MailChimp, no Klaviyo, no, none of that. Like if you wanna send a mass email, you're gonna be sending it in aol. And so that was like how we got our start and I was like in email marketing and in online digital marketing before that was even called that.
David Elikwu: That's so interesting. So how does that pivot then to doing flat out of hills, which is then, you know, you're going from Super tech enabled to almost retail to physical [00:08:00] goods. Like how did that come about?
Dawn Dickson: I mean, it doesn't pivot from that. There was a large gap between that business and flat out. So the natural progress from me being like in online media and marketing was to then start a consulting company where I helped other businesses do the same thing. Establish a online presence, a digital media strategy, emails, how to monetize your website and building websites, convincing business owners that they needed a website, back then, many businesses said they don't need a website. They thought that the internet was a fad. They didn't take it seriously and so that was like, I made really good career just consulting in that area. I did that for six, seven years. I also did, as a part of that, I started doing event coordinating and planning events because I had all the relationships with venues and people and sponsors and, so in the radio. So I just, it just was a natural thing for me to start doing events, and that's how Flat out came to be because of being out doing events and seeing women walk in bare foot after events. So it kind of [00:09:00] just flowed one to the other from being an information source and then doing my own events and then, you know, meeting the need of people who are at the events and who are going out with when their feet hurt after wearing heels, they need some relief so that's kind of how that flowed. And then, Pop com flowed from flat out because I wanted to sell the flat outs in Vending machines and couldn't find a vending machine supplier that would work with me. So I started my own vending machine company. And so that's kind of how that flowed. So everything just kind of, it's me, my way of like supply and demand and like identifying an area that I can solve a problem that I experience and that other people experience as well. So it's all about problem solving.
David Elikwu: That makes a ton of sense, and it's incredible how you're able to pivot each thing into the next thing and kind of build that path for yourself. I'm really interested to know from all of these different experiences that you had, each is almost a different type of business in a sense. You have the, the tech business, which is online. Obviously you're having to do a lot of stuff in person to get things online, but that's [00:10:00] online and then you're consulting, which is a different type of business. Then you are doing the retail where you own something directly that you're selling, and then you with pop com. I guess you have both the software and the physical product, but then you are stocking other physical products, and so each one of those has a slightly different relationship with the customer.
So I'm interested to know maybe what you've learnt and unlearn as you've pivoted between some of these kinds of business personalities.
Dawn Dickson: Well, again, I don't pivot because a pivot is a change. All of these businesses are still you know, the only business that I started that's not in business anymore is my first business, The Urban Star. And that's just because I didn't know how to exit it. I didn't know anything about exits or acquisitions or I just didn't know what to do. So I just closed it because I was ready to do something else in my career. The learning for me as an entrepreneur overall is just, what makes a business is if you can make money, if there's customers willing to pay for your services or your product, and, I thrive in spaces where like, I'm usually like very early to do things, [00:11:00] first to market. Like it's same with vending, same with, you know, the urban star. So being able to identify a problem that you can solve and that you can get people to pay for. And that's really like the whole journey. As you see, none of my businesses really actually correlate. They relate, but they're very different in their functionality. I guess a problem that I realised that I could solve. So the main thing is like, don't start anything you don't know anything about. Don't start a business until you know that there's a customer willing to pay for it. Definitely do your market research and understand how far you can go with that business.
And I do all of these analysis before I start anything. I don't just like start businesses. That's why my businesses have been around for so long. My D one consulting business has been around for now 16 years, and every single year in those years I've made money because you know, I'm just adapting to the market and flat out will be 12 years old in April coming up. And so, you know, just a product I founded you know, women need them and every day a woman, a young woman, is wearing heels for the first time [00:12:00] and heels hurt no matter what. Nothing you can do to change that. And so it's just like finding a place where you can be longevity. Finding a sweet spot where like there's a product differentiation and what makes you your product and being able to communicate what makes what you're doing your product or your service unique and better. You know, what's your value proposition?
So I think that's just like, I hope that answers your question, but that's just like my lesson. I don't really pivot. I just respond to the demand.
David Elikwu: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. So how did you validate the demand for pop com as an example? Because I think you mentioned, you know, you were already working in the event space, so it made a lot of sense. You could easily see the number of people that had the exact same pain point. All of these women that they're wearing heels, their feet are hurting. It makes a lot of sense just to be able to get flats instantly. You're in club live, you're wherever, you can just get flats straight out of a vending machine. You can walk with them. And I that part of it was solving your own problem, but I'm interested to know like what would the challenges in then going to you are building [00:13:00] and first of all, manufacturing machines, but then also building the software to power those machines as well.
Dawn Dickson: Yes, I mean, we partner with manufacturers, so we're not an actual manufacturer, but I did invent that machine. I came up with a design, I worked with different engineers to really perfect it, but it is my original design. So that was a very, very long and tedious process for sure. But I really like doubled down on the software side of things because there was not a lack of hardware. I mean, there's vending machines everywhere, but what I realised was there was no data being collected and there was really no way to scale your business. Like you can easily scale e-commerce. And I really wanted to bring that e-commerce experience to vending machines.
So that's what made me focus on the software. Plus, with my background in tech, I'm always looking for ways to, you know, for something to be tech enabled. And I knew that, that would be a key differentiator if we had software because all the other machines are just pretty basic.
David Elikwu: Yeah, and one of the things that you just touched on I think is [00:14:00] also gonna be important as well. This idea of pivoting to tech or focusing on the tech element as something that is important. What I found really interesting about what you just mentioned is the fact that I think in the broader entrepreneurship space, or the broader founder space in general, there's been a lot of people trying to find a tech element to what they're doing to try and get venture capital or to try and make themselves more investible.
And I know you've had a really interesting journey with investments. First of all, I think you are the one of, if not the first black woman founder to raise a million dollars.
Dawn Dickson: I'm the first female founder to raise over a million dollars in crowd funding, and I'm one of the first 25, or I'm in the like 20 to 25. Who knows, like the day who raised it faster but, I'm in the first 25 black women to ever raise a million dollars from venture and institutional capital. So, now that number is in the hundreds, so that's definitely a great thing to see.
David Elikwu: Yeah, it's incredible and I'm [00:15:00] sure you and the people that came up with and around you had a big impact on that. So I'd love to know maybe more about, okay, what was it like your first time raising venture capital and how did that go and how did that lead to you then deciding in the future to go through the crowdfunding road?
Dawn Dickson: The first time I raised venture capital for Pop com, it was pretty smooth. It was in 2017 after I finished the Techstars program. And so that gave me a lot of momentum. I raised the money pretty much right after demo day, and that was like the first million. But getting the money was pretty, I don't say easy because it's never easy raising money, but getting the money, it was pretty smooth. You know, it was pretty smooth. I had a good network, I had a good momentum, but I felt like I just really was like the token black, you know, the token black investment in a portfolio at the time into 2017, again, there wasn't a lot of black people getting money, and so there was a lot of pressure [00:16:00] on the VCs to be more diverse. They were saying, you know, it's not a pipeline problem. There a lot of black people out here raised, I mean a lot of black people building businesses, but you're not giving 'em a chance. So this was like where you see the first surge of black founders getting money, but they weren't giving me the help I needed. They would give me money, but they didn't give me support, resources, customers connections, helped me build my team. And so I kind of just was like out on my own. And they, when we ran outta money, like all startups do, they didn't follow one and they didn't really support me. And that's when I said I'm gonna try a different path, because what happens is you keep raising vc, keep raising vc, you keep on diluting yourself down, you know, giving up your equity. They ended up really having control of your business. And at the end of the day, I didn't wanna do that if they weren't gonna really help me contribute to my growth. So I decided to try crowdfunding because it was a new way of raising money. Not many companies had did it before and I have a really big network. And I was, you know, for my years of being like doing events and I have a media outlet, [00:17:00] I had a lot of followers on Facebook back then, you know, this is before like Instagram, you know, I've been on in the online space since pretty much the beginning.
And so I built a great community and I felt like it was a great opportunity for me to be able to leverage that network and that community that I had. And that's why it worked out, because of my network and my background and my history as an entrepreneur and after I raised my crowdfunding round, my first round in 2019, it really opened the doors for a lot more. entrepreneurs do the same. So now, I don't even know how many people have raised money through crowdfunding because they just, the gates kind of, the floodgates kind of opened up after that.
David Elikwu: Yeah. How important do you think it is maybe in general for people to build community alongside what they're building? Because I think you're seeing that a lot more now where even venture capital funds are trying to become like media companies. You have a lot of people that are building businesses, but also realising they need to build a Twitter profile, they need to build an Instagram presence, they need to do a lot of these other things that previously, I don't [00:18:00] think people focused on or thought were necessary to just purely focusing on building a business.
Dawn Dickson: I mean, yeah, because I don't know, it's two sides of it. A lot of times I felt like I wish I could just be heads down and not so visible as a founder and just actually go work. And there are a lot of founders doing amazing work and doing things that you never heard of. You don't know their name, they're not, they're not active on Twitter, they're not on Instagram. They're just out here really building the business. For me, it was helpful because I already had kind of a high profile, but there's pros and cons because I'm under a microscope as well. Like I have all these people to answer to all of my struggles, all of my successes, everything is public and I always have to be like communicating about what I'm doing all the time. And I don't really get a chance to like work in stealth.
So it depends on the kind of business that you have and the kind of entrepreneur that you have. But I don't believe that everybody has to be that way. It looks like that, because like a lot of them, the VCs are on Twitter. You know, they have this like persona and these, but some of [00:19:00] the best entrepreneurs that I know and some of the people that are raising the most, making the most, they are not out there tweeting and posting. They heads down, locked in. And if I could do it all over again, you know, then I wouldn't have raised crowdfunding money. So I was like, if I could do it all over again, I feel like I would like to be more out of the spotlight. But then how would I have raised 6 million dollars if I wasn't. So there's pros and cons to both of those things, but like my financials are out there, like everything I do is out there. You open up yourself to a lot of criticism when you're not doing something, but then also you get a lot of praise. But as we know, people are very fickle. So like, they loved you one day, they hate you the next day. That's kind of the culture, and so it's like it's hard as a startup when you're growing and you're learning every day and so many things change and things happen and things don't go as planned. It's hard when you have to constantly explain to like thousands of people what's going on.
David Elikwu: Yeah, I think that's the, [00:20:00] other side of the coin, and that's the big balance, right, as well. So even though with the funding, you are not having to give up as much equity just to one big VC or to one big fund, but then now you have thousands of stakeholders and shareholders that you actually have to respond to or keep them updated and let them know what's going on, not just from a public relations perspective, but now actually from a legal perspective as well, because they have shares in the business. Have you found that easy? I guess because of the background that you have, or has it still been equally difficult now dealing with the volume of people that have bought into your different businesses?
Dawn Dickson: It's not hard, because that's kind of my personality, my first degrees in journalism and media, so I wanted to be a reporter. So I'm like comfortable speaking, I'm comfortable being in front of people, I'm very comfortable communicating. I feel like I'm a strong communicator, so it's my calling, but again, sometimes I just don't feel like being bothered, like I'm a human being as well. So like every day I get some kind of a [00:21:00] message from an investor asking a question that I know I told them the answer to already And so that's kind of, it's just like, okay. But at the same time, it's my responsibility. So like I don't take it lightly. I always answer every email. I'll repeat the same thing over and over and over again if that's what I need to do because it's my job. And I take it very seriously and I update my investors at least every other month. But we have a Facebook group, I'm very active and engaged in there, I have a community manager, so I just make sure that they're informed. I think a lot of companies who crowdfunded do a very terrible job of updating their investors, and that is actually the key to your growth it's like, inviting them as a part of the process and letting them see the journey that's your responsibility. And I think that people can do a lot better.
I've invested in about 20 startups I think, about 20 and a lot of them through crowdfunding, you know, between $510,000 basically. And I never get updates from any other companies that I invested in. They just don't send updates. So people listening to this [00:22:00] like, Updates make such a big difference for you. Even if good things, bad things, it doesn't matter. Just let them know what's going on. It'll be a lot easier for you to do that. And that's the key to even when I, I mean a lot of things happen that are not ideal, but I'm always honest, I'm always transparent and I always come forth with a plan and I don't really have any issues. You know, my investors are supportive.
David Elikwu: Yeah, that's one big thing I think a lot of founders deal with. I've personally dealt with as I've run businesses in the past, not so much fully out in public in the same way as I would have if I had raised money from Crowdfunders, but definitely I think one of the things that a lot of entrepreneurs struggle with is the being open and honest about the fact that it's really difficult, and I think it's so easy to buy into this narrative of you have some of these like superstar founders. You have these tech entrepreneurs, people that make it look really easy on the outside, and you just see success after success, after success.
But really behind the scenes, there are so many different things that people actually struggle with. It's not always [00:23:00] easy, things don't always go your way. You get rejected for whether it's for funding or whether it's for. Like, some kind of government related permissions, loads of things, wrinkles come up behind the scenes and I think it's hard to remember to kind of get in front of those things.
I think we've seen a few examples of this in the crypto world, for example, with Sam Bankman-Fried with FTX and a few other, I think with Luna, there's been a few other crypto crashes recently where a lot of the fault of the crash comes from a lack of communication. I think, you know, there might have been an aspect of it where there was something fundamentally wrong, whether you call it fraud, whether you call it whatever. But I do think a big part of the impact that happened is because people didn't get out ahead of things, they didn't communicate openly. They waited until things have already started to fall apart, the cracks are already showing and then now they're on defense and they're trying to say, oh, but it will be okay and by then people have already lost confidence.
Dawn Dickson: Exactly. [00:24:00] I mean, we see that unfolding in before our eyes. Right? And you know, I like it. Because I feel like it's time for this to stop where people just are investing in off of fomo given these big, huge, multimillion dollar investments to people that are not really qualified. There's no checks and balances there. And then, I mean, founders they don't feel like they have to tell investors what's going on, and they actually just live. And they get away with it. So I'm loving to see, I can't wait to see what they give Elizabeth Holmes with her lion self. I'm waiting for her verdict that should be today. And all these, all of these entrepreneurs that are raising investor money and, you know, not being responsible. Meanwhile, all these black founders doing real good work. We're not hardly getting any money while we just watch the other kind of founders just squander away the money and get a pass. So, you know, I think it's a new day and you know, I love to see it. I love to see it unfold. But Elizabeth Holmes faces 20 years for wire fraud and is supposed to come down to, you know, that's gonna be [00:25:00] a big whatever they do. It's gonna set a precedent and I hope they send her to jail.
David Elikwu: I think what's also tough is. Okay, so we've got the thing with FTX and Sam Bankman-Fried as well, and I just heard today that someone is predicting that he might get sentenced for life as well for everything that's happened with with that business. And what I so interesting, just what you were touching on, is this idea of we have all the statistics every year people release new statistics and all of these reports about black founders aren't getting any funding and black women aren't getting any funding, I think at this point. I'm almost getting tired of it because after releasing the report, people don't actually release the money. And so, they just keep
Dawn Dickson: We had a little, a little pocket of time after they, you know, murdered George Floyd in front of our eyes and then everybody felt like, oh, we're gonna rule black people. That lasted a hot 10 months and then they went right back to the same BS and when the so-called, you know, crash or recession's coming, they're not running to give us money, but [00:26:00] they're running to keep their systems in place and fund whatever they need to do to keep their control. And so, you know, for me, I've been an entrepreneur for so long that I've seen a lot, you know, all of the ebbs and flows of like the market. And I've worked through a recession in 2007, 2008, and so, I'm kind of like numb to it at this point of how things go, but I'm just ready personally, which is why I'm currently in Africa, is like looking for new places to expand and grow my, you know, my businesses, my legacy, my family, where things are more welcoming for me as a black woman and as a female and where I'm treated better. So I think instead of us trying to continue to keep fighting for money that they don't want us to have, we can go to the many other countries on this planet that will be more accepting of us. Because when I travel the world, they don't be like, black woman, black entrepreneur, I'm just an entrepreneur. Or they may say an American entrepreneur, but it's not about black and white [00:27:00] when you're, unless you're in America, you know? That's the main place that I've seen. It'd be that way. Now, I've never been everywhere in the world, but I've been to 30 countries and still counting, and I still believe like America is just not welcoming for black people and black businesses. And we have a chance now with global business, with a lot more, you know, VCs popping up around the world that we need to tap in other resources.
David Elikwu: Yeah. I love that. And I know you are in Kenya right now. I'd love to know your thoughts on this idea of. You know, African Americans and Africans collaborating, doing business together. I know, I think it was in 2018, Ghana signed some kind of law that allowed African Americans to come and buy land and to invest in local communities, and I'm seeing some really interesting things like that.
But then I also wondered the extent to which it might just be a moment in time where, right now it might be really interesting and then people forget, or people lose the impetus and the drive to continue doing things like that. So how have you found that and what are you finding it like?
Dawn Dickson: [00:28:00] I've definitely seen a peak of entrepreneurs you know, looking outside for other opportunities. Definitely Ghana, I'm gonna be in Ghana in December and I spent 2019 December in Ghana and really built my network there and it's, a lot of opportunities there for sure. Not as easy as it sounds to go over there and just get established, but there's a lot of opportunities.
The country that I'm really focused on is Rwanda. It has a lot of opportunity there. And, a lot, 56% of all the CEOs in the country are black women, which is strong because in America, only 7% of CEOs are female, and that's of all races. So to have a country that is really, you know, a lot of, I mean 56%, that's more women and men in positions of leadership in corporations that says a lot. And President Kagame in Rwanda is doing so much to make the country smart. Kigali is a smart city. So I think it's just a lot of opportunities we just need to tap into in general. And I've seen it happen. It's happening slowly because I [00:29:00] feel like Black Americans, people who are like born in America, we are programmed to feel like America's all we have. And it's the best. When I meet black people who are born in Africa or Europe, they have a different worldview. They're very well traveled. They know multiple languages. They're very worldly. But black Americans are always like, seem to be scared to leave their family or to go abroad, or they have like a terrible, you know, misconception about what it's like to do business or to live or work abroad.
So I just think that people just should continue to open their mind. But it's also helpful that countries like Ghana, Rwanda and others are saying, Hey, come here, come, we'll give you opportunities. Come bring your talents to our, you know, country, and we'll reward you for that. Instead of giving you the short end of the stick all the time. Now we can really actually get respect. And so, you know, it's up to me. If it's up to me, I would never step foot back in the United States. But I have to for now, but eventually I, you know, I know I won't spend the rest [00:30:00] of my life, you know, end of my life there for sure.
David Elikwu: Really, that's so interesting. And okay, so I know that you. Running your business means that you still get to, like, travel around and be a bit nomadic and you're not tied into one place. I think, a large part of that was due to the pandemic across industries in general, but do you feel like for you as a business owner, you are seeing the same transition where the world is becoming a lot more global versus this necessity of being at one place? People talk about Silicon Valley, people talk about, you know, within like black businesses like Atlanta, there's a few hotspots of businesses and sometimes there's benefits of that. There's benefits of having community, there's benefits of having people around you. You can go, you can network, you go around the corner, you're meeting people everywhere. I know New York is a lot like that from the times that I've been, but then simultaneously, it's so interesting now being in a world that because you can be anywhere, you can be much more global. You could be physically in another country like you are right now and and still be networking and still [00:31:00] able to connect with people in the US, people in the UK, people from around the world. So how are you thinking about that part as well?
Dawn Dickson: I mean, I've considered myself to be a global citizen, so I mean, I definitely do tourism and things, but I'm always looking to tap in and see the opportunities for me. And so the way I think of it is I don't limit myself, I don't limit myself to anywhere on this planet. I believe that this is a huge, you know, planet with many opportunities and we just have to stop putting ourself in boxes.
The only limitations of those we set up in our own mind. And so I told myself, you know what? I have no limits. I can do, I can be anywhere in the world and I wanna be in Africa. I wanna take my talents to Africa. You know, I could go a lot of other places where we see black people going and doing business, but I think that we all should be focusing on the continent and we're, you know, reclaiming what where our ancestors we're stripped of.
David Elikwu: Yeah. I think maybe this ties to something else that I've heard you talk about a few times in the past as well, which is just building community [00:32:00] wealth, and I think you mentioned that as being part of the impetus for doing crowdfunding because now the LPs in your business, the people that have invested are people that are in the local community. And so as your business does well, if you eventually have exits, which I think is exactly your plan to exit a lot of the businesses that you have, then that money a lot of these communities. Yeah.
Dawn Dickson: And that's the plan. You know, a lot of times we'll see and we've heard of like, founders exiting and Black Founders. Like Lisa Price or you know, other founders who have sold their companies to larger white corporations, but, and they'll say, oh, they're selling out, or not a black business, but it's more impactful actually to not keep the business in your family for a hundred years, but to put that money back into the community and get it back working. So for me, I never had the goal of like building a business that I hang onto forever. I wanted to get the, you know, raise the investment capital and give those returns and it, and I'm working on it still. You know, it's not, definitely not easy and especially in today's market conditions, but that is my ultimate goal, is to give [00:33:00] liquidity to my investors and the people that believed in me and then restore their faith in doing business with black people and restore their faith in even investing in one another.
We've been just, kind of train not to trust each other overall, and I'm speaking from like the Black American experience that you can do business with black people or black businesses are, you know, ghetto or black businesses are unprofessional or you know, don't give any money to them. They're scammers. And so I just wanna show something different on a larger scale that will, you know, I feel like once I am able to provide a return, to my investors, they will have more faith and then that will then. Give them the confidence to invest in other things and hopefully start to really change generational patterns of investing overall. Because a lot of my investors investing in Pop Com is the first thing they ever invested in. Like ever. They're not in the stock market, you know, because remember, the stock market was not available to everyday people until things like RobinHood and Stash and these things came up. You had to get a broker, you had to have a certain amount of money. You can't just go investing [00:34:00] in stocks. So this is kind of new. This is for this new generation. But still, some of the older people are not all the way comfortable with it, and a lot of people still are not investing. And then especially in today's market where everything's down, everything's crashing. People are still fearful, not realising this is actually the time to double down and invest in everything because we know from historical patterns, from the beginning of humankind, it goes up, it gotta go down, it goes down, it gotta go up, goes down, it's gonna happen. So it's figuring out how to like ride those waves by the dip, make your profits and you know, really grow your wealth over time using several different tools, and I believe now. Startup investing is a real tool because the returns on a significant startup exit could be life changing, family changing for people.
David Elikwu: Yeah, I think you make a really good point in that, and I'd love to know your thoughts on the fact that. Realistically, people in the black community specifically, but also I'm sure of a lot of minority groups have been kind of locked out of a lot of the big economic [00:35:00] booms over time. When there was the real estate boom, I think, you know, there weren't as many black investors or minority investors being able to capitalise on that in the .com boom. The same thing in the crypto boom. Similar thing and even now, I'm interested in the extent to which you felt yourself having to do the education around that piece as well. Because you have a lot of people that have never invested before. Like you said people have never invested in the stock market. People fear the stock market because they fear. I think a lot of this comes from like historical community events as well, where you know, you put your faith in a certain institution, you give some a certain bank your money and it's gone or something happens. And so people actually have this fear of trusting new things, things that they don't know. You still have a lot of people that barely even trust banks in the first place, and then even the people that do, they're scared to invest or scared to do things that are more speculative. Because I think that's the other side of it, If you don't have loads and loads of money, it feels like more risk cause it feels like there's a greater opportunity cost if something goes wrong.
So how have [00:36:00] you felt that aspect of things in terms of trying to get people to realize the scale of the opportunity that they have from buying in versus worrying about the fear of losing something.
Dawn Dickson: Yeah, I mean there's a long history of mistrust of banking institutions in general because of things that happen to the black community with institutions like Freedman's Bank, where they created a bank for black people. Black people were putting all their money into the bank, and then the bank just crashed and black people lost so much of their money. And this was people like grandparents, you know, people that they're still alive today and they lost their money in this way. So it's always been an underlying thing. Keep your cash under the bed or, you know, keep your money in the sock drawer or, you know, and that's like, that's how black people have continued to operate for so long. And so it's like, it's gonna take a lot of education, a huge paradigm shift. It's gonna take showing success over and over again. I mean, this is like so deeply ingrained in us as a people. That it's gonna take not just me, I mean like everybody in my cohort, all of us entrepreneurs [00:37:00] that are taking money, raising money, we need to really like make sure that we work hard to return this money because it's so much bigger than us. It's about like the future of business, of black businesses. So I think it's just constant education, constant transparency, helping them understand it's not a quick flip. Like you said, the reason I feel that we weren't in the real estate boom is because what the real estate boom was them buying the hood.
What they did, they turned all of our black neighborhoods that were rich and that were full of resources and our own banks and our own stores and all these things. They turned them in. They put crack and drugs in neighborhood. They turned them into the slums, and then nobody wanted to live there. Black people didn't wanna live in their own neighborhoods. They fled, they moved to the suburbs. The white people bought up all of the property, and they sat on it for like 15 years. and then now look at it. Now look at the gentrification. This is like a new word they have over the past decade, but they were sitting on it. We have to realise there's no quick way to get rich. There's no quick [00:38:00] flip. If you wanna really change and create generational wealth, it takes time. You have to take risk to sit on it. That's why I'm holding so much crypto, and I don't even log into my wallet because if I log into my wallet, I would throw up. Cause all the money that I'm down, but I believe in it. And you know what? If it don't work out, it don't work out, but I believe in it, and you gotta just believe in something and just go double down on that.
Same thing with startups. Startups are not a quick thing. It does not work that way. So think me, when I invest in a company, I'm thinking like, all right, 10 years from now, I'm hoping this comes back to me. That's the time I always give myself 10 years. I want, I wanna see what this does, and I put it away and I don't even I don't even think about it, and I think we need to start thinking in those terms. I'm gonna do this for the future, and then that like investors will reach out to me like, oh, you know, I need, I have an emergency come up. Can I sell my shares? No, because when you invest for your future, you do not take the money out for an emergency. It's like if you're at your corporate job and you have [00:39:00] a retirement plan or IRA or 401(k), you don't be like, oh, we're having a bad month. I'm gonna go take out my 401(k), no, you don't do that. Same thing with your investments in startups and your investments in just crypto or the stock market. If you're really a long-term investor, you gotta hold and you can't get scared when things like this happen. So it's just, I think teaching them, and just continuing to reinforce like the emotional side of things and not to be fearful, not to let it get you upset and scared of losing it because we've lost so much as a people that we're, we try to hold on tight to everything to give. We have to realise that in order to create more, you have to release it. You cannot hoard resources, you cannot hoard money. You have to put it back and let it work for you. And I think our people just don't know how to do that because we weren't raised that way, we weren't taught that. Some people were, of course, obviously there's a lot of black families that have this, but the majority of black and the diaspora in general, we weren't taught that we didn't even have opportunities that we now have. And those opportunities are scary and they're risky.
David Elikwu: [00:40:00] Yeah, Are there any other mindset shifts that you've had through your journey as well? Both in terms of becoming a founder and also being successful as a founder and then discovering some encountering some relative wealth as well where, just like you were saying, I think one part of it is having long term bets, thinking of things in much longer timeframes, where you can't just be looking for a quick flip. You can't just be looking for, okay, I've got a thousand dollars. How can I turn that into $2,000 tomorrow? But actually thinking, okay. How could I compound my efforts, both in the work that you're doing through your businesses, but then how can I compound my investments and my money over much longer periods? Are there any other things like that, shifts that you've needed to have to, I guess, discover more success and then also maintain the successes that you've had?
Dawn Dickson: I think the main shift that I had was more so the way that in my approach to building businesses and the way that I believed initially, was the way that you can grow wealth and scale as an entrepreneur. I mean, what I was taught and told was [00:41:00] DC was the way, like that's the model now. Even though the system wasn't built for us, we all had this shining star like, okay, we've raised VC money, we made it, we're gonna do it. And when I raised my first million, it didn't work out that way. And so I realised that my paradigm shift was there's other ways to do it there and in my book that I'm, that I'm working on now and writing, and it'll be out next year now of 2024, is called Built Differently and it's a way of building a business. From zero to million on your own terms, not how they tell you to do it, not how what's typically been done, but the way that best aligns with you and your particular business. It's time for us to start taking our businesses and our equity and our, the control of our resources into our own hands, and that's the paradigm shift.
I was literally trying to fit into a system that wasn't built for me. Really hard trying to fit into a system that wasn't built for me. And so I realised like, why would I keep trying to do this? Why? I always refer to it as like the civil rights movement of access to capital, [00:42:00] like the Jim Crow of getting vc, because like, it's that blatant, it's that blatant, and so why, you know our forefathers, our ancestors, the Martin Luther Kings marched and talked about we want change and we wanna sit in the front of the bus. And we're still in the back of the bus. We're in the back of the bus for sure, not the physical bus. But we're in the back of the bus, so why keep on trying, go somewhere else, try another way. And that's, you know, and going to your community is another way. Raising money out of the country is another way, you know, tapping into, again, the crowdfunding using banks and not traditional banks, other types of financing. There's another way.
David Elikwu: That's incredible. Yeah, I think that's such a good point. And I think. I'm not sure if it's a question specifically for you, but it's something I've been thinking about as well where, just like you said, for example, I think it was during the pandemic period there were loads of businesses that came out and they said, oh, we're pledging all this amount to black founders. We're gonna do all of [00:43:00] this for black founders. We're gonna give this amount of money, we're gonna do all of these different initiatives. And you see people set things up and then if you come back a year or two later and you say, okay, what actually happened with this thing that you set up? Nothing really happened. Or things that did happen but for a year and then people lose interest people lose steam, and it's so interesting how nothing has really changed in a massive way. Even when you look back over, let's say the last 10 years, as much as at different points, there's been a lot of noise about, oh my gosh, we're gonna do this. Oh my gosh, we're gonna do that. But, I wonder the extent to which a lot of this is systemic within, whether it's venture capital or it's just access to funding in general, that despite the best, the so-called best wishes of people and people that say they want to change things, things end up not being able to change. And I think we've seen almost exactly the same with, for example, bringing women on boards, bringing women into like having parity between men and women, like I think, there still seems to be [00:44:00] this big distance in my mind between what people have said on paper a few years ago, and the now, which still seems to be exactly the same, and what I'm seeing more and more is that what ends up happening is people have to go create their own spaces. So you have people that founded like Chief, building something for female leaders for themselves to be able to support each other, to be able to guide each other, mentor each other, do all of those things. And we're seeing the same or similar within the black community as well. So I wondered what you thought about that?
Dawn Dickson: Okay, that was a lot. So what do I think about us going out here and just forging our own and creating our own?
And if that's the question, I think that's what we should go back to it. But you know, people say I'm radical and I remember I was on the Breakfast club and I said and I said that integration hurt us, as a people. And so Integration into trying to assimilate into systems, organisations, facilities that weren't made, built for us, that they don't want us to be there. We're right back still there, and I believe we have all the resources that we need within our community. We just need to double down and have the confidence, you [00:45:00] know, that we can do it. So I love to see us building our own communities. It's gonna take time. We may not even see the change in our lifetime, we may not even see the result of our work in our lifetime. It's like a seed, but it's not like a seed for like a plant or a flower. It's like a seed for a big tree and it takes time and people need to understand that. And there are still are like some token black people that get the money, but I feel like venture capital invest is not based on merit or your business, it's based on fomo and like who's the chosen blacks? Who are gonna get all the money? I love to see it either way, like either way. I'm happy to see it happening, but it's still not fair and it's still not based on a system that is just like a rubric where it's like, Hey, are the boxes checked off? Let's give them money. You could check off all the boxes, I know several founders check off all the boxes and still are not able to raise capital. So what does that show you? We need to stop focusing on them if they come, [00:46:00] and if the VC's come and they wanna invest, go ahead if that's what you wanna do, but don't feel like that's the only way, that's the end all be all. So like, I love to see us doubling down on our own stuff
David Elikwu: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. How many businesses do you still run actively at the the moment?
Dawn Dickson: Though I own five, I say Flat out of heels, Nia Studio, Pop Com, Boujie Nomad, D1 Consulting and then I have a fund, a donor advised fund where I, for philanthropy and then my husband and I have a business. So it's really like seven. But they are diff, they don't operate as a full business. Like the, the fund is like, it's a business, but we just donate. The business that my husband and I have together, that's what we wrote a book under that business and we do like other smaller projects. So the ones that I really have that are like generating revenue, making money are the five, and I'm CEO of Pop Com, that's my full-time job and my priority. And the other businesses, you know, I have team members at work.
David Elikwu: Okay, so you have team structures. Cause that was gonna be next question is how do you find,[00:47:00] it's one thing that a lot of people talk about is this idea of priority and prioritisation and being able to put your best efforts into structuring the effort that you have in the way that gets you the maximum results. So I'm interested to know maybe how you structure, how you work between some of the different businesses, how you leverage your time so that you are able to travel, to be in different places and you're not tied down to one place or just to one business or to one mindset or mind frame, and you're able to kind of put your thoughts into all these different areas.
Dawn Dickson: It's just a matter of a day to day. I would say not day to day, maybe like week to week. What's the priority? This week it's in the next 12 days. My whole focus is just Pop com because I'm working to close our crowdfunding campaign, we have 11 days left. But then, you know, also Black Fridays coming up. So even though I have a team, flat out does need my attention on certain things. So, not today, but over the weekend, I will definitely work on some things, but it's not a priority. You don't have to just like literally say, what is the [00:48:00] most pressing thing for me put my attention to today of those five businesses? What needs me the most? Everyday pop Com gets my time because that's my actual job, you know. Like, I have a job. It's not like I'm a business owner for the other ones, but my job as a CEO where investors pay my salary, I take that very seriously. My other businesses, those are my businesses, those are cashflow businesses, lifestyle business. I can stop doing it for a while and come back like I did for flat out. I stopped doing it for like a year and just came back. You can't, I can't do that with popcom. So like I take my pop like it's my job. So some people will be like, have a corporate job and have a side hustle. Certainly, even though I started the company Flat out is my corporate job and everything else is on the side, you know, secondary and that how has to be, even though I feel like some of those other businesses have a lot of potential, I have to realise, like I have to focus on where I have made a commitment to these 10,000 plus people, and that's always my priority first.
David Elikwu: That makes sense. So what's the vision for Pop Com? I know that you are [00:49:00] closing around currently now, what do you see as the next steps going forward?
Dawn Dickson: Scale. You know, definitely continue to prove out the business model. Monetize, we've only had a product in the market for a year. It'll be a year in December that we put our first product out and we've definitely made money this year. It was a great year, but we learned a lot and we definitely churned out customers when we didn't want to. We've seen what we did wrong. We have to restructure the program. So now it's like, okay, we've spent a year figuring out all the different ways we can sell the product. Now we know what actually is the best way, and we're gonna make some major changes in our business model with the focus on profitability, and that's what it should always be.
I don't wanna keep raising money. I really would like for this to be, this is gonna be my last crowdfunding round, but I really would only like to raise a little bit more money because I just wanna focus on profitability that will get to an exit. And I just wanna like focus on being stable weather in this market. Whatever's about to happen with this recession, whatever's about to happen just making sure that I survive through that. [00:50:00] Because a lot of businesses are closing and you see all the major tech companies, big companies are laying off people. It's a crazy time right now. I gotta just stay right here. I'm not trying to do too much. Just stay right here, because when it's time to pull the trigger, I'm gonna be ready.
David Elikwu: Yeah. I love that. And maybe this will be the last question I have for you. What advice would you give to other founders, whether they're just starting their businesses or whether they're mid season right now? I guess on one hand, based on the experiences that you've had, general advice, but then also knowing the current economic conditions that we have at the moment.
Dawn Dickson: I mean, certainly number one, trust yourself. If it doesn't feel right, don't move forward with it. If it does feel right and other people tell you it's not right, still do it. Because so many people told me not to do Pop Com. So many, so many times. Don't do it. Don't do it. Not a good idea. It's hard. Hardware is hard. Hardware is capital intensive. There's not, it's not a big enough market. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And I'm doing it and I'm a market maker. So if I would listen to people and I trust in myself, I don't know where I would be. [00:51:00] So trust yourself first and foremost, but focus on cash. Focus on making money, cash flow businesses. Don't focus on raising a ton of money, getting into a ton of debt. It's okay to grow slow. Venture capital has us feeling like we gotta go from zero to a hundred million really, really fast. And when you take their money, they do pressure you to do that because they wanna get their returns.
But you don't have to go fast. If you look at the history of businesses that have stood the test of time, that have been around for a long time miss successsful, look at the Apples, look at the Microsofts, look at the, you know, the nationwide insurance. Look at the Proctor Gambles, it takes a long time to really hit that threshold where you're making a lot of money in truly a profitable business. So what you can do now during this recession pending? Make money. What can you sell that people are going to pay cash for today? Not raising money. Not giving away free products. Cause you know, I was having an issue with my team. Keep wanting to give away free stuff. We are in the business of making money. You [00:52:00] need to just be in the business of making money at all times. Especially in a time like now where cash is King. Not crypto. Not crypto right now, last year it was crypto. Cash money is what we all need to have right now.
David Elikwu: That's a word, that's a real message. And it's good for me as well. So thanks so much Dawn, thanks for making the time.
Dawn Dickson: You're welcome. Definitely my pleasure.
David Elikwu: Thank you so much for tuning in. Please do stay tuned for more. Don't forget to rate, review and subscribe. It really helps the podcast and follow me on Twitter feel free to shoot me any thoughts. See you next time.