Wednesday Wisdom from Nnena Ukuku, Partner at Venture Gained Legal and a Co-Founder of Black Founders

We’re halfway through the week, and it’s time for a boost of inspiration to keep us going. Our #WednesdayWisdom blog series taps into the minds of industry leaders and disruptive visionaries who are working to build the future of entrepreneurship.

We sat down with Nnena Ukuku, Partner at Venture Gained Legal and a Co-Founder of Black Founders, to discuss the key knowledge needed by every early stage startup.

You provide legal counsel to startups through Venture Gained Legal and you provide black entrepreneurs with a support network and resources through Black Founders. What inspired you to focus your career on supporting emerging entrepreneurs?
The passion of the founders is what inspired me. I became a lawyer because I want to help people achieve their full potential and to live a life that is more than surviving. Working with entrepreneurs gives me a chance to work with founders at the beginning, which is when they need the most help, and to encourage them to dream bigger than their circumstances has allowed them to dream. I am inspired by the creativity of women and communities of color and their tendency to create companies that create profit and benefit their community. I know that in helping these type of entrepreneurs I am able to impact more than just one business owner (though that is enough).

What’s one thing entrepreneurs should learn more about before launching their startup?Entrepreneurs should learn more about themselves. Each founder should take the time to understand 1) what motivates them, 2) what makes them stuck, 3) and what are their weak points.

1. What motives you? What do you need to keep in front of you when things become hard and you want to give up? Once you understand that, then you need to keep that front of you. Maybe you are working on sustainable ways to provide mental health services to communities of color because you have seen too many Latina’s struggle with mental health in silence. Then remember the people that inspired you to care about that issue.

2. What makes you stuck? I am a future thinker and I can think of all the possibilities that might happen with a given choice. This can cause me to be paralyzed and not move forward. My way to dealing with this issue is to take my worst case scenario to the logical end. Then I look at it and ask myself, what are the odds of this happening? And if it does happen, is it really so terrible? Each person has a different issue that makes them stuck. Figure out what yours is and create procedures that will allow you to get past your issues.

3. What is your weak point? Figure this out quickly and find people that can fill that gap. You need to focus on your strengths and let other people help you from a place of their strengths.

What is the most common legal challenge for early stage startups? How can entrepreneurs address this challenge ahead of time?
The most common (legal) challenge of startups is not setting expectations at the beginning. Too many founders do not discuss equity ownership and create the paperwork necessary to give different team members equity in the company. You cannot leave the discussion of equity, what happens if the company dissolves, or what happens is a founder leaves the company for later. Fortunately the legal community has made this easy for you. Your basic organizational documents will answer all these questions. All you have to do is take the small movement to get a lawyer to help you create these documents.

What specific needs or resources are currently unmet for black entrepreneurs and how can the startup community address these needs?
Black entrepreneurs need the startup community to trust that black entrepreneurs know the needs of the black community, that black entrepreneurs have solutions for the needs of the black community, and that the market need is large. Addressing this need plays out in trusting your black CEO or CTO when they suggest a feature in a product. This trust plays out in investing in companies that address the needs of the black community. This plays out in investors trusting that the black founder guiding the company understands their market and can speak for their market.

Ultimately what black entrepreneurs need the startup community to understand is that there is white culture and it is the dominant culture. Because it is the dominant culture it has been viewed as the norm/standard when in fact it is just the dominant culture.  The startup community needs to understand that the fabric of the USA is diverse and that though white culture is the dominant culture, white cultural norms are not the norms of other communities of color. Normative patterns for the white culture is not the same for black American culture, which is also different from an African culture, which is also different than an Asian American culture etc. Let us tell our stories and help you understand our needs. I promise that when you trust our experience you will make a high return on investment.

Why is it important for entrepreneurs at the startup stage to address issues of diversity within their businesses?
1) All your good hires will come from internal referrals. If your internal referrals are all from the same people group you will have a hard time later on making your company culture more diverse. You will ultimately not make as much money as you could have because of point Number 2.

2)  If your company is not diverse, you will have a hard time capturing all of the market because you don’t actually understand the needs of ALL of the market. You are leaving money on the table.

For an extra dose of #WednesdayWisdom, read our interview with Angela Lee, Associate Dean & Chief Innovation Officer at Columbia Business School, and founder of 37 Angels, an angel network that invests in early stage startups and activates new women angels through a month-long investing bootcamp.