Solve a problem that has a high frequency of occurrence and that is expensive (meaning people are willing to pay a lot for a solution)
Try not to outsource work, especially tech work, but build a team of people who are passionate about solving the problem and want to work with you to solve the problem and that team must be in part comprised of people who are technologists;
As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Black Men In Tech,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Boris Moyston, a Co-Founder of Black Men Talk Tech who is passionate about innovation and economic justice. In addition to Black Men Talk Tech, Boris is a co-founder of two fintech startups: MOBIP and Fundr.Ai. MOBIP helps entrepreneurs increase revenue with remote and touchless payment strategies. Fundr.Ai is redefining startup investing with algorithmic vetting and portfolio investing with the goal of funding all entrepreneurs.
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?
My first job out of college was working for a private investment group. We specialized in vulture investing. If you took money from us and messed up in the execution of your business plan, we’d take over your company and liquidate your business for a huge profit. This type of work didn’t sit well with me, and over the next several years I’d learn about more ethical techniques to fund companies. I became an investment banker, a securities trader, and an investment advisor for companies like Citigroup and Goldman Sachs. The work wasn’t fulfilling. When you get to the top of an industry you work 24/7 and live in a bubble autonomously from the outside world. But, it was the outside world I was interested in — the real world. The real world, it’s injustices and imperfections provided a primal calling that made the work in the bubble seem inconsequential. I left the bubble to take on problems of the real world, mostly focused on creating economic justice and helping disenfranchised groups of people.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
One group I run is Black Men Talk Tech. We haven’t been around for a long time, but our work became a focus for many people as riots and social unrest took hold nationwide. Some of the most influential investors and business leaders have reached out to me for insights into funding and working with entrepreneurs of color. Initially, when we started it was difficult to command the attention of major organizations, but within months, the cultural dynamics have shifted 180 degrees.
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 also run a company that automates the seed investing process for angel investors and startups. The funniest mistake we have made was testing out our marketing strategy without upgrading or systems. We launched several marketing campaigns to bring startups in need of funding to our platform. We thought we’d get a little interest, but instead, we got so much interest that the surge in investment applications crashed our underprepared servers. What a way to start a business, you get a surge in potential clients only to be followed by a complete deletion of all their information. The lesson we took away from this experience was not to underestimate our abilities and always be prepared for an onslaught of demand.
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?
When we were launching Black Men Talk Tech for the first time, one of our advisors disappeared on us and so did several potential sponsors. We had promised to launch a first-of-its-kind conference for Black men who run tech startups and we failed to secure funding. It was embarrassing. It was heartbreaking and terrifying all at the same time, but we didn’t stop moving and we didn’t stop hustling. We continued to meet with sponsors and we continued getting “no’s” from potential sponsors. Then, we had a meeting with a sponsor everyone slandered and called names. We took the meeting with him, and expected another “no.” As fortune would have it, his answer was “yes.” So, with less than 90 days to go, we launched our first conference and secured future funding based on its success.
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?
The one person in my life who demanded excellence gave positive reinforcement and made me believe that I could do anything if I focused on it, was my mother. I think having a strong and secure foundation is a critical stepping stone for having success. There were other people who were influential too, like my first investment banking boss, who taught me how to outperform the competition.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
The most impactful quote I live by was taught to me by monks of the Order Of Saint Benedict: “Benedict hates a quitter.” It means being relentless in all pursuits even in the face of failure or crippling pain.
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?
This isn’t the first time the nation has reached a boiling point on race. With the advent of technology stories of injustice can be shared efficiently. In the 1960’s it was shared via TV. Today, it’s shared in a more sinister way. Social media platforms use powerful psychological computer programs to elicit responses from users with the goal of keeping them online and engaged. There is a whole laboratory dedicated to it at Stanford called the Persuasive Technology Lab. What many social media platforms have found to be successful at keeping us engaged with their platforms are stories that fit well with our biases and feed off of bias confirmation. The problem is many of the stories are false and misleading. And, these stories put groups into tribal camps. Combine this with a country that is foundationally entrenched in racism and white supremacy, entrenched in police brutality against people of color, excessively punitive against low-level offenses of people of color, the Millennial generation that exposes hypocrisy and wrongdoing at scale on social media, the Millennial generation that organizes and protests things they deem are wrong, a corrupt and immoral president, and news organizations that spread bad information and you get a crazy tinder box. All the elements for discontent have always been around, but unregulated social media platforms and unregulated news talk shows brought things to a head.
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?
I don’t think the question should be limited to executive teams. Teams perform better when they have enriched perspectives informed by different experiences. When teams operate in a vacuum of bias confirmation they tend to miss the larger perspective. And that can be costly. Take for instance, facial recognition AI software which was trained only by white developers. What do you think happened when it was launched and distributed to customers? It caused chaos because it denied people of color access. The AI wasn’t trained on people of color — a costly error.
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?
We could solve the underrepresentation of Black men in tech leadership if our own community of Black investors supported these entrepreneurs. Moreover, we need to demonstrate an excessive amount of Black tech success to the point where it becomes too hard to deny Black talent. Today’s tech industry is like professional basketball in the 1940s.
We’d now love to learn a bit about your company. What is the pain point that your company is helping to address?
Black Men Talk Tech addresses the perception issue and cognitive bias issue impacting people of color in tech. Essentially, we’re making it okay to be Black in tech. With Fundr.ai, since we’re a market place we have two types of customers. On one side we have disenfranchised entrepreneurs looking for funding and on the other side, we have angel investors looking to invest in amazing startups. In real life, the process where startups and angels meet and where they consummate a deal and follow up with each other is very cumbersome, expensive, and time-consuming. We have an entire digital marketplace to manage the process.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
On the Black Men Talk Tech front, we’re among the only people serving our constituents. At Fundr.ai we’re trying to use algorithms to reduce bias in investing and we are allowing angel investors do something that is very hard
- originating awesome startups for investing and
- vetting the startups to keep adverse selection low.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We are hoping to include an innovation and ideation summit at Black Men Talk Tech where large corporations and government entities will demystify how to launch tech services or products that can serve major organizations. We’re inviting about two dozen brilliant Black technologists to share their insights on innovation and to ideate with technology executives on improving and modernizing their organizations.
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”?
There are many reasons why growth stalls out. One of the main reasons growth stalls is because startups have a difficult time growing the marginal users. Sure, many startups do well at gaining and growing early adopters who really need their product, but that new marginal user is hard to get — — that user who is not desperate for your product/services and is tricky to acquire. One way to acquire them is to complete massive user interviews to understand what this segment of potential customers require in order to take on your business.
Do you have any advice about how companies can create very high performing sales teams?
Hire people that love sales. Set goals. Require constant performance measuring. Provide recognition to top-performing salespeople. And, work to develop those who are coming up short.
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?
To find and attract the right customers you need to understand them, which can only be done if you approach them and interview them. So immerse yourself into customer feedback and interviews.
Based on your experience, can you share 3 or 4 strategies to give your customers the best possible user experience and customer service?
No, I’ll give you the one main strategy — — constantly interview potential customers, and two constantly seek feedback from your customers.
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?
In addition to getting customer feedback another way to reduce churn is to show customer appreciation. Let them know that their happiness and business is very important to the organization; let them know they are appreciated.
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.
- Solve a problem that has a high frequency of occurrence and that is expensive (meaning people are willing to pay a lot for a solution)
- Try not to outsource work, especially tech work, but build a team of people who are passionate about solving the problem and want to work with you to solve the problem and that team must be in part comprised of people who are technologists;
- In the early stages you should share equity in a proportional manner with your partners;
- Be obsessive about providing for the customer; and 5 constantly interview your customers and show them appreciation.
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. 🙂
The four day work week.
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 hear Rihanna’s story about Fenty’s origin story and strategy for growth.
Thank you so much for this. This was very inspirational, and we wish you only continued success!