Two Week’s Notice: The Black Start-Up That Began with a White Lie
For Mutale Nkonde, seven is a magic number.
That is the number of times she was fired before a light bulb finally went off in her head.
“I was thinking, this does not work for me. I don’t know how I’m going to make money, but I’m not going to do it like this.”
For a decade, the Zambian born, UK-bred New Yorker lead a storied career in television news and political communications, filling her resume with notable corporations like the BBC, ABC, and CNN. But she never stayed at any company long enough to ascend the ranks.
“It was always the same pattern,” she recalls. “I’m really good until the fourth month, and then I start making suggestions on how we can do whatever we’re doing better. It makes people mad and eventually I get fired.”
Last April she found herself unemployed again in one of the most expensive cities on earth. Out of money, save for an unemployment check that left with her exactly $100 each month after rent, Nkonde set out to create a business. Trouble is, she had neither the background nor a viable idea.
“I started to fantasize about being in a situation where every single day for a year, I was going to concentrate on how to generate wealth.”
Nkonde admits she evoked the metaphysical law of attraction extolled in the best-selling book The Secret, but rather than manifest in private, she decided to connect with other women of color, who too sought an escape from the rat race.
That simple concept, Black women gathering to contemplate wealth creation, inspired “The Year of the Black Woman” campaign which she launched in January 1, 2015. The initiative consists of 365 days of digital and live events to support Black female entrepreneurs.
She announced her gutsy campaign with an email blast to friends, and within two weeks, a thousand people from around the world signed up.
“I told them that I had no idea what I was doing, but I know it’s going to be really great I want to take as many of you as possible with me.”
In fact, the more she shared her story with perfect strangers, the more women flocked to her cause.
“ I had to go on food stamps, that was the most humiliating experience, but even in the food stamp line, I would tell my story.”
In March, she hosted her inaugural event in Manhattan, a TED-style talk featuring Kathryn Finney, founder of Digital Undivided, an incubator that has helped Black women founders of tech-enabled companies raise over $10 million since 2012.
“Over 150 Black women showed up to hear about this campaign,” Nkonde remembers. “And to hear about why I thought technology was going to be the way Black women could transition into a situation where they could become financially self-sustaining.”
Nkonde’s platform, financial empowerment and wealth creation through tech resonated deeply with millennial women of color. After her premiere event in New York City, invitations to host similar events poured in from all over the country, including an invitation to speak at Harvard Business School.
The money from ticket sales and speaker fees completely eliminated her financial woes, and more significantly, as the hashtag,#yearoftheblackwomen crossed the blogosphere, her digital community exploded.
“I had no idea that my life was changing,” she says.
In hindsight, it was the right message at the right time. Coinciding with#BlackLivesMatter, #YearofTheBlackWoman was an aspirational slogan that capitalized on the exploding number of Black female entrepreneurs, the fastest-growing group of founders in the country. Still, in spite of the escalating number of Black women who call themselves boss, high-scale, high-growth tech companies are overwhelmingly run by white men, under the age of 30. That’s the diversity gap Nkonde set out to challenge.
“I was quite happy with my little campaign and my little bit of money,” she reflects. “I would invite speakers who would cover different parts of the start-up process and I would ingest the information.”
Everything changed when Kathryn Finney invited Nkonde to a high-profile series of tech conference at the Etsy Offices in Brooklyn. At one point, the tech guru asked everyone in the room to introduce themselves and describe their projects.
“The person before me was like, ‘I have an online marketplace for African fashion. I started with five-hundred dollars and I’ve generated $150,000’. And then everyone clapped. And then it was my turn and I didn’t want to say that I’m basically making it up as I go along.”
So instead, she said this.
“I have a company called 2 Weeks Notice. And what 2 Week’s Notice does is help Black female founders from Africa and the diaspora navigate the start up process, because the reason our companies fail is because we don’t have contacts. Contacts in this arena means money. It means funding.”
It was all a lie, albeit a brilliant one. There was no company, but during her half-year of championing inclusion in tech she’d inadvertently stumbled upon her mission, providing a road map for high potential Black women to gain access to the start-up space.
Nkonde says she was “bum-rushed” after the event by investors and tech leaders wanting to hear more about her fictitious company. She made up an excuse, left abruptly, and arrived home in a panic. She figured that lie had cost her reputation, but rather than risk everything, Nkonde stayed up for the next twenty hours, creating a company.
Today, Two Weeks Notice is a digital destination for women of the Diaspora seeking a free entrepreneurial education. Upon it’s full launch, scheduled for October 2015, visitors will find videos from the leading voices in tech and business.
“Build a community around your idea,” she tells would-be entrepreneurs. That was the secret to her rapid success.
“A good idea solves a problem and people will throw money at problems rather than work through them.”
Nkonde believes tech could be the great wealth equalizer if more minority founders had access to business education and venture capital. She’s against the idea of self-employed women of color boot-strapping their way to retirement. She wants them to think bigger. Much bigger.
“I tell everybody that I’m building this company because I want a $100 million exit and I want to do it in three years.”
A tremendous goal, but if Nkonde has proved anything during her six month leap from food stamps to founder, it is that her faith is unshakable.
“Entrepreneurship is a deeply spiritual practice. If you want to see faith, be an entrepreneur, because none of us know what’s going to happen tomorrow.”
To learn more about her company, visit TwoWeeksNotice.co.
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August 6, 2015 | Posted by Ayesha K. Faines