Disrupt Dallas Kicks Off Dallas Startup Week with Founders of Color Panel

The event also featured a talk with Morgan DeBaun, co-founder and CEO of the digital content startup Blavity, which raised $6.5 million in a Series A round late last year.


Disrupt Dallas, an event celebrating minority founders and the North Texas diversity pipeline and entrepreneurial ecosystem, kicked off Dallas Startup Week 2019 Sunday afternoon at Spaces in Uptown.

After a happy hour, the first event of this week’s presentations was a panel discussion, “Building Your Seat AND the Table: Strategies for Success from Founders of Color.”

Susy Solis, founder, Solis Media Strategies and KRLD radio afternoon anchor, moderated the panel that included Craig Lewis, founder and CEO of GigWage; GiGi McDowell, founder and CEO of Fêtefully; Lincoln Stephens, campus director of Flatiron School; Marty Martinez, founder and CEO, Social Revolt Agency; and Kala Garner, co-founder of Betterness Box and founder of The KG Lifestyle.

“It was refreshing to see such a diverse audience. The audience was very engaged, and they were eager to learn from some of the most successful entrepreneurs in the Dallas startup world,” Solis told Dallas Innovates. “The entire event was structured for engagement and networking, and I saw so many people making real connections. It was a great event.”. 

McDowell served as the Disrupt Dallas chair and was the mastermind behind the event that also included a talk with Morgan DeBaun, co-founder and CEO of the digital content company Blavity. The startup raised $6.5 million in a Series A round late last year led by GV (formerly Google Ventures) and Baron Davis Enterprises, an investment firm owned by the former NBA All-Star.

Local founders share stories and strategies at Disrupt Dallas

The concept behind the opening panel was to allow local founders share their stories and insights on founding and growing a business in Dallas from the minority entrepreneur perspective. Topics covered everything from mistakes made while raising capital, to minority entrepreneurs supporting each other, and real-life stories on bootstrapping a startup.

“The audience and turnout blew me away,” McDowell said. “Hearing the feedback from the attendees made the event even more special. Particularly the feedback from women who approached me afterwards and expressed their interest and fear when it comes to building and growing a tech startup. As well as the founders who simply thanked me for putting on an event celebrating and showcasing minority entrepreneurs.”

Dallas Innovates reached out to the panelists for a deeper dive into some of the topics covered during the panel discussion:

GiGi McDowell

In response to the question on bootstrapping a startup, you shared an anecdote on the challenges of getting a business off the ground.

When I started building Fêtefully I had no idea how much money went into building a tech company. I just knew there was a problem that many people was experiencing and I needed to fix it.

Once I realized how much it would cost, I knew I wouldn’t be able to afford it on my own and bootstrapping or help from family and friends was not an option for me. So, I ‘bootstrapped’ with my time because I couldn’t afford a team.

I taught myself to build our platform, used grassroots strategies to find our first users, and watched every marketing video Udemy had to offer. I had to become the team I needed to get Fêtefully off the ground. I couldn’t hire 10 people, so I had to be 10 people. During the day I was the CEO, VP of Sales, Planning Community Coordinator and our Customer Experience Manager. At night I was the CTO, VP of Marketing, and our Supply Chain Manager. 

On raising capital, you also pointed out the value of stopping the funding chase and just start making money with the business.

While fundraising, I kept getting feedback that I didn’t have enough traction — even with celebrity customers. So, I stopped asking, and started focusing on building Fêtefully with what I had and also on building myself as a founder. I decided to put our MVP in front of users to see if they’d pay for our service even in its leanest form, (and) they did.

While focusing more on Fêtefully and our users than on fundraising, doors opened up for me like never before. I met person after person who was excited about what I was doing. Eventually, those individuals led me to Silicon Valley’s Women’s Startup Lab Accelerator where I began connecting with investors who were excited about our platform and who were excited about me as a founder.

Lincoln Stephens

One of the “mistakes when raising capital” you shared with the audience was a moment when you were asking for $60,000, but the program you were raising money for was going to cost $300,000.

It is essential in starting a new business as an entrepreneur or even inside of a company building a new place for the brand to live in a different market, such as I am currently doing in Dallas with Flatiron School, that you have a firm grasp on ensuring that you truly build a budget that is reflective of what is needed to start and to not think too small about it.

Be realistic. And that does not always mean to create an excessive budget, but it also doesn’t mean limiting your needs. 

Another great story from your experience was while bootstrapping you were saving everywhere you could—from living arrangements to food choices—in order to be able to take business trips to other cities. This included not having the expense of owning a car, which also meant taking Uber everywhere which at the time was in its early days. You mentioned getting some pushback from friends and colleagues who questioned how you seemed to be doing well while you knew the sacrifices behind the scenes.

Sometimes people look at how you ‘come off,’ whether it is the quality of your business card, website, or events that you do and make assumptions about how ‘well’ you are doing which could be further from the truth.  

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