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“Be Prepared for the Challenges to Come” With Rhoden Monrose

Be Prepared for the Challenges to Come and Have SupportNo matter how committed and passionate you are, and how solid your business model is, there will be tough times and you will need grit and the ability to persevere through them. This is especially true for entrepreneurs of color. Although the number of minority-owned businesses […]

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Be Prepared for the Challenges to Come and Have Support

No matter how committed and passionate you are, and how solid your business model is, there will be tough times and you will need grit and the ability to persevere through them. This is especially true for entrepreneurs of color. Although the number of minority-owned businesses is rising every day, entrepreneurs of color still must contend with existing barriers rooted firmly in place, making it difficult to raise capital.

As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Black Men In Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Rhoden Monrose, CEO & Founder, CariClub.

Rhoden Monrose grew up in Harlem, NY after emigrating from Saint Lucia at the age of twelve. With the help of nonprofits, he attended Middlesex School before earning a scholarship to Trinity College. Upon graduating, Rhoden began his career as a derivatives trader at Citigroup. While the work was rewarding he felt something missing, and he tried to fill the void by working (and playing) harder. In 2011, he found a circle of like-minded individuals who found purpose in using their time, talent and money to make an impact. Rhoden’s personal experiences with nonprofit organizations helped fuel his passion to develop a technology platform where other young professionals have the opportunity to engage with nonprofits at a higher level. He founded CariClub, a unique online platform strategically positioned at the intersection of corporate citizenship and professional networking.

CariClub gives young professionals access to philanthropic leadership opportunities, specifically associate board positions with well-known nonprofits and foundations. Since launching in 2015, CariClub has partnered with hundreds of highly regarded nonprofit organizations to place young professionals on associate boards from top industry firms such as Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, KKR, Blackstone, Davis Polk, Sidley Austin, Deloitte, EY and many others.

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. What led you to your current career path?

Igrew up in Harlem, NY after emigrating from Saint Lucia at the age of twelve. With the help of nonprofits, I attended Middlesex School before earning a scholarship to Trinity College. Upon graduating, I began my career as a derivatives trader at Citigroup. While the work was rewarding, I felt something missing, and I tried to fill the void by working harder.

In 2011, I found a circle of like-minded individuals who found purpose in using their time, talent, and money to make an impact. My personal experiences with nonprofit organizations helped fuel my passion to develop a technology platform where other young professionals could engage with nonprofits at a higher level.

I founded CariClub, a unique online platform strategically positioned at the intersection of corporate citizenship and professional networking. CariClub provides young professionals access to philanthropic leadership opportunities, specifically associate board positions with well-known nonprofits and foundations. Since launching in 2015, CariClub has partnered with hundreds of highly regarded nonprofit organizations to place young professionals on associate boards from top industry firms such as Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, KKR, Blackstone, Davis Polk, Sidley Austin, Deloitte, EY and many others.

Tell us a story about the hard time you faced during your journey. What gave you the courage to go on?

I was two years into my business and had no clients. I put my apartment on Airbnb to pay my rent, but eventually got caught by my landlord. I was running out of money. My girlfriend at the time wanted me to make the safe decision to get another corporate finance job and move to Chicago with her. I knew that would be a mistake, so I stuck with it.

One month later I got my first paying client, and just a few months later, my business was sustainable.

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?

I suppose the funniest mistake I made was my level of naiveté. I honestly thought I could get my business up and running without investors, connecting corporate clients and nonprofits within a span of just six months. In the end it took almost three years and some wonderfully supportive investment partners.

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?

Paul Raether at KKR offered me a tremendous amount of assistance, introducing me to a number of valuable advisors. Henry Kravis, one of the co-founders of KKR, was one of these individuals. Paul and Henry became my first investors in 2016, and have been supportive of me throughout my journey.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life

‘Discipline and hard work lead to success.’

It’s a variation of my school crest from when I was growing up in St. Lucia, which was ‘Disciple and hard work leads to progress.’

I think of this phrase whenever the going gets tough. I’ve even had it translated into Latin and it hangs on the wall in my office.

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?

Growing up in Harlem, I’ve witnessed the bubbling under the surface for years, driven by unequal access to opportunity, education, healthcare, and jobs. When you put all of this disadvantage together, you’re guaranteeing the subjugation of an entire people. We’ve reached a moment where people have had enough and are demanding action.

  1. Can you articulate to the readers a few reasons why it’s important to have a diverse executive team?

Firstly, the United States is the most diverse country in the world, and our executive teams should be reflective of our country, if not the world.

Pragmatically speaking, the data proves that companies that have diverse executive teams are the most successful. We live in a world where diversity is the norm and not the exception.

Therefore, if you want to build a company successfully, it’s advantageous to build one that’s reflective of the world we’re living in to be sure that you are serving the marketplace well.

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?

While tech is an enormous driver in today’s economy, the industry does not adequately or accurately represent our country’s diversity. The weight of this imbalance has created a sense of urgency within the tech industry to attract a more diverse workforce. There is a pipeline problem and a preparation problem that we must rectify in order to effectively change the status quo.

The pipeline issue consists of the under-representation of Black, Latin, and Native American college students enrolled in computer science and engineering programs that feed into technology organizations. One step in addressing this pipeline issue is improving the quality of math instruction available to Black, Latin, and Native American students in addition to exposing more Black, Latin, and Native American students to computer science and engineering programs from K-12, as well as throughout University.

There is also a preparation problem. Blacks and other minority groups are inadequately exposed to and prepared for entry-level roles in the technology industry. Technology accelerators should create immersive development programs for Black, Latin, and Native American students in computer science and engineering majors, training the students to learn how to meet and exceed the vetting criteria of tech firms. In addition, technology companies should seek to put their money behind organizations and programs that support the cultivation of black technology professionals.

More technology industry nonprofit involvement that encourages and assists minority entrepreneurship and technology skills development, such as Build and Prep for Prep, would also be beneficial and encourage more minority ambitions toward careers in technology.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How will that help people?

CariClub is in the process of developing a program to partner with New York-based corporate clients to create board matching programs specifically for people of color that will place diverse candidates on nonprofit boards. The goal of this initiative is to help to place professionals of color on more meaningful short-and long-term career paths, addressing the workplace equality disparity issue that has existed since the beginning of our country head on.

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?

Know your customer. Align your products with what your customers are seeking.

For example, at CariClub, we realize that offering the power of connection between employees at large, influential corporations, and executives running important boards is our value. We don’t just offer these connections in meetings, but also through networking events.

On a quarterly basis — pre-Covid we would have open bar events at wonderful venues for clients, nonprofit executives and meet to meet each other. These events provided an opportunity to make potential nonprofit matches in person as well as to create business relationships beyond these partnerships. The business value to the company is not lost to them, and CariClub’s ability to provide this value is not lost on us. The greatest value we provide is in connecting clients to each other.

Since Covid we’ve been hosting virtual events where we will allow non-profits involved in relevant cause areas to use our platform to reach our members and inform them what’s happening and advertise opportunities for assistance. For example, in June, we offered a series on social justice-focused nonprofits.

Do you have any advice for how companies can create high performing sales teams?

The most practical, seemingly boring, elements about sales, are the most appreciated.

-Be really organized

-Be process driven

-Track your pipeline

-Track KPIs

Often, I think that people can undervalue these elements and just focus on someone with good people skills, but mastery of these business procedures will lead to a great deal more growth.

In your industry, what methods have you found to be the most effective in attracting the right customers. Can you share stories or examples?

Again, I feel doing the ‘boring’ work is often the most critical here. It’s essential to do all the critical work of researching the customer/organization and ensuring you are meeting their true needs and helping them overcome their largest obstacles, not just meeting their surface level demands.

Based on your experience can you share three or four strategies to give your customers the best possible user experience and customer service?

It starts with being obsessed with the user experience on your platform. The platform design should be

1) intentional, 2) intuitive, 3) user-friendly, and 4) make customers’ life simpler.

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.

Step OneDo Your Due Diligence — Inside and Out

It can’t be overstated how extraordinary this moment in history is. There is a growing awareness of and support for the need for change in this country on a number of fronts: education, nutrition, housing, healthcare, and employment to name a few. But, if history repeats itself, the enthusiasm will fade to some degree. So, before launching into starting up a tech business ask yourself: how long will I be able to sustain this passion? What would I sacrifice now and in the future in order to make my start-up a reality? If the answer is you don’t know that’s ok, it’s just an indication that you’re not ready to launch your tech company yet.

Step Two: Develop Your Vision, Mission and Business Model

Once you have decided to move forward, take the time to craft thoughtful vision, mission and goal statements for your enterprise. Consistently communicating brief and powerful statements that represent the essence of your enterprise’s purpose and value will help you attract investors, partners and employees — and build your brand at the same time.

To take it a step further you’ll also need a good business model, which is essential to every successful organization — especially a new venture. A business model is the story of your enterprise that explains how it works. Ask yourself: Who is your customer? What do they value? How will you deliver value to them? How will you make money doing it?

Step Three: Be Prepared for the Challenges to Come and Have Support

No matter how committed and passionate you are, and how solid your business model is, there will be tough times and you will need grit and the ability to persevere through them. This is especially true for entrepreneurs of color. Although the number of minority-owned businesses is rising every day, entrepreneurs of color still must contend with existing barriers rooted firmly in place, making it difficult to raise capital.

So, what can you do? Because high-dollar funding, especially in the early stages, will probably not be an option you must be prepared to be resourceful. You will need to find other ways to fund or bootstrap your business: personal loans, credit, and day job salaries, for example. Finding like-minded individuals to be co-founders is another great way to attract additional resources and minimize individual risk. Tap your network and look for fellow alumni from your school — chances are there is someone just as passionate about your idea as you are.

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. 🙂

Establish the CariClub — as within this circle of both the corporate and nonprofit sector, I have the greatest influence, particularly when bringing people from these influential communities together.

The proof of this has been the results. Since launching in 2014, CariClub has partnered with over 1,000 highly regarded nonprofit organizations to place young professionals on associate boards from top industry firms such as Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, KKR, Blackstone, David Polk, Sidley Austin, Deloitte, EY, and many others.

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 🙂

Ursula Burnes, the former CEO of Xerox, and the first African American female CEO of a Fortune 500 company, and leader of the Board Diversity Action Alliance. The Board Diversity Action Alliance (BDAA) is leading the focused and aligned effort to quantify, convene, and amplify the work being done by building partnerships with the corporate and non-profit community to increase awareness and expand influence. The BDAA is committed to increasing the number of corporate directors on its board of directors one to one or more, disclosure of the self-identified race and ethnicity of directors on corporate boards, and annual reporting on diversity, equity and inclusion measures.

My second breakfast guest would be Malcolm Gladwell. He does an excellent job converting complex ideas and principles into easy-to-digest stories. I strive to adopt a lot of the principles he writes about for running a business. His book that I feel I most relate to is David & Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits & The Art of Battling Giants. It’s as if he wrote that book directly for me.

My third breakfast guest would be the comedian Dave Chappelle, because he strikes an excellent balance of being controversial, but also authentic and influential. He challenges norms around comedy and forces people to confront difficult conversations incredibly effectively.

Thank you so much for this. This was very inspirational, and we wish you only continued success!

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