Fundraising: Many people in our black community think they have to do everything themselves but in order to run a tech company, you need help or you won’t make it. Fundraising and investors are major key players on this journey of building a tech company.
Support of friends and family: They will be your first customers. They will tell you critical things that are wrong with your plan. They are part of that foundation and love that you need to keep going.
As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Black Men In Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Daricus Releford.
Daricus, CEO of StoreCash, is a serial entrepreneur who started his first business at age 12 and earned $3,800 per summer in order to financially help his military mom compensate for his father’s drug addiction. At 14 years old, he started a hot dog cart that generated $6,000 on weekends, and in college, started an online business that went from $25,000 to a multi-million dollar business featured on Steve Harvey show, Kiplinger Magazine, and several other news outlets. Seeking funding and an expansion of the business, Daricus drove from Pennsylvania to Silicon Valley where he landed jobs at Apple, Facebook and Google and ultimately founded StoreCash, the Venmo for the unbanked.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
With a love for tech, I drove across the country to Silicon Valley and landed jobs at major tech companies. One day, my nephew called from Nebraska and asked me to send him money for his laptop. I found out that not only did he need to be 18 years old or older, but he also needed a bank account to receive and use the funds. It got me thinking, “I can build a tech company to fix this problem.” And that’s when StoreCash was born.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
The most interesting story is how I met my co-founders in an Uber. One day I was in an uber and made a friend named Venkat. After a quick Google search of me, he believed in my vision from that one car ride and introduced me to more of his friends who are now my co-founders.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
The funniest mistake I made was thinking I could build an app in 3 months which ended up turning into 9 months with still many bugs and iterations that needed to be done. I learned to never complain about app bugs ever! haha but really, everything down to a back button requires a lot of coding and to be cognizant when developing applications.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Raising our first round of funding was the hardest time I faced on this journey. After being rejected several times from different accelerator programs I decided to give fundraising one last shot. We applied to Techstars Western Union. We made it to the second to the last round and were rejected. Although we got a “no,” sent one final email to the staff asking for the opportunity to talk to the final judges, convinced that I could sway them. I was offered time to talk to the final decision makers and an hour later, we were offered a position in the program!
I’ve learned it’s not over until it’s over and the hail mary’s always seem to work at the last minute. I also thought that if this thing works, it will be a great lesson to add to my future docuseries (haha fingers crossed).
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Like I mentioned early, we were rejected several times from accelerator programs even though we had all of the qualifications needed and more. I got connected with Jason Thompson, former VP of diversity & inclusion at Techstars, and expressed my concerns about the unconscious bias that I felt was part of the rejections we received. Although I was very frustrated, as a black man, he was able to connect with the hurt and helped by actively investigating and helping me find solutions for other programs.
There might not be a StoreCash without Jason Thompson. You’ll find that one person who will put their reputation on the line and be the support you need. Just make sure to show appreciation when you find them. Thanks Jason!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“I’m a champion, so I turned tragedy to triumph” -Kanye West
Throughout my life there were a lot of ups and downs and when negative things happened, I always wanted to use them as a drive for positive change in my life, which allowed me to be successful despite the odds. For example, in college, I didn’t have money for a dorm room so I stayed in my car the first year. That drove me to not only graduate from college, but also earn 3 degrees.
To me this is similar to what champions like Steve Jobs, Lebron James, Elon Musk. They’ve all dealt with tough times in the national spotlight that they turned positive. I really like this quote because it uplifts me and energizes me to keep moving forward.
Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. The United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This is of course a huge topic. But briefly, can you share your view on how this crisis inexorably evolved to the boiling point that it’s at now?
Race has been a huge problem in the U.S because it’s a part of America’s DNA. Although I love America, I know a lot of America doesn’t love me. There was a point where I thought if I did the right thing as a black man I would be treated fairly. After all I’ve accomplished- never drinking alcohol, never smoking, no criminal background, I found that to be false. I’ve been pulled over by police at least 50 times, police have had guns pointed at me, police accused me of being a drug dealer, and now with the rhetoric of this country’s leaders throwing flames at the fire has been dangerous. At this point and after having a black president and seeing the backlash, it’s got us to this boiling point. I think we understand that something has to be done.
This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
Things are changing. By 2040, minorities will be the majority in the U.S. Minorities own the majority of the spending in the U.S. If your executive team doesn’t reflect the consumers, that team is creating an enormous disservice to the organization and probably won’t last as we move forward in today’s society.
Let’s zoom out a bit and talk in more broad terms. It’s hard to be satisfied with the status quo regarding Black Men In Tech in Tech leadership. What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?
The status quo exists because we don’t see many black men in these tech leadership positions. The person hired for these positions is the person who looks like what the hirer has seen in the position previously- usually a white man. I’ve often heard recruiters say teams are looking for the best “fit” which is just another way to discriminate. This is where it starts. For example, let’s say there is a great tech leader who is black and leads a team of 200 people. Now those 200 people have that image of a great black leader and as they move forward with other teams/companies, when a qualified black person comes along, they’ll be more susceptible to hire them because they’ve seen a great black leader before. This is where it starts and change begins.
We’d now love to learn a bit about your company. What is the pain point that your company is helping to address?
There are 85 million American teens and adults who don’t have bank accounts and have no way to receive and use funds instantly from their phones, yet 95% of the unbanked have access to smartphones, making it impossible to send, receive, or transact digitally. StoreCash allows the unbanked to request and use contactless payments from their phone- no bank account needed.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
The feature that makes StoreCash stand out is that we are focusing on a market that the digital world has left behind. StoreCash believes no one should be denied access to funds including the unbanked. A homeless woman outside of Safeway was asking for money for food, but had a cell phone so I sent her StoreCash and that gave her access to digital funds without being denied access because she didn’t have a bank account. It was a great aha moment knowing this application could make the world a better place.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We’re so excited to add a single-load MasterCard option to the platform that will allow the unbanked population to use funds anywhere contactless payments are accepted. It will help give people access to funds and provide them a safe way to transact throughout this COVID-19 pandemic.
What would you advise to another tech leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth or sales and “restart their engines”?
Normally when you’re at a standstill it means you have to switch things up a little bit like changing operations and bringing in new talent to bring in a new perspective. There’s always a good reason to expand and grow, you might just need a different set of eyes on the project.
Do you have any advice about how companies can create very high performing sales teams?
In whatever industry you’re in, there’s always someone who has first-hand experience related to what you’re looking for in a team. Look for those people. They bring wisdom, speed and acceleration to the process of sales. Things that would normally take months to figure out, they already know. Building a tech business is all about speed and losing a few months, is like losing a lifetime in the tech world.
In your specific industry what methods have you found to be most effective in order to find and attract the right customers? Can you share any stories or examples?
I would take it a step before that. Make sure you have a way to target your industry. StoreCash has a method to target our industry through social media but there are many other ways to target your customer. If you don’t have access to that industry, make sure there’s a clear path to talk to your customers in a big way before you even start a business around that customer set. If not, this is one of the bigger reasons businesses fail. You should ask yourself “Where are they”, “How are you going to get to them,” etc.
Based on your experience, can you share 3 or 4 strategies to give your customers the best possible user experience and customer service?
- Make it easy for customers to provide feedback
- Always talk to your customers (for example, we’ve sent weekly surveys to find out what our users wanted)
- Use companies like Mixpanel to track your users’ journey in order to discover issues in the UX design that can be improved through data.
As you likely know, this HBR article demonstrates that studies have shown that retaining customers can be far more lucrative than finding new ones. Do you use any specific initiatives to limit customer attrition or customer churn? Can you share some of your advice from your experience about how to limit customer churn?
Incentivize your customers like loyal employees. The loyal employees will be with you forever if you treat them right and that’s the same with your customers.
Here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful tech company? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Team: A great team can build anything. It’s the foundation of any great company.
- Mentorship: Going through Techstars, 90% of it is the mentorship and without that, I’d be lost in the process of building a tech company. Without my mentors, I wouldn’t have funding or a direction. Mentors are your North Star.
- Fundraising: Many people in our black community think they have to do everything themselves but in order to run a tech company, you need help or you won’t make it. Fundraising and investors are major key players on this journey of building a tech company.
- Support of friends and family: They will be your first customers. They will tell you critical things that are wrong with your plan. They are part of that foundation and love that you need to keep going.
- Analyze your data: While building a tech company, I’ve learned I never get to see my customers so the only way I can answer vital questions is through data. Analyzing your data is a key factor in building a successful tech company.
Wonderful. We are nearly done. Here are the final “meaty” questions of our discussion. You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Help people. In this industry, billion dollar companies have been created because people have freely helped one another without wanting anything in return. I’ve received free help from people who barely knew me and wanted nothing in return. This made me want to pay it forward and I think if there’s one thing I can say is if we all pay it forward, we can all grow together.
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
I would love to have lunch with Elon Musk, although I don’t think he even has lunch with all the companies he runs simultaneously. He is a living legend and we will talk about him in the history books the way we talk about Albert Einstein, Nikola Tesla and Steve Jobs. I’d want to ask what drives him, tips and tricks, and thank him for caring so much about the world’s future.
Thank you so much for this. This was very inspirational, and we wish you only continued success!