Entrepreneur Craig Lewis Says ‘Dream Bigger, Get Better’

The Dallas-based startup founder talks about finding investors as an African-American in the startup world.

funding

Dallas-based entrepreneur Craig Lewis is in the business of payroll services for small businesses, and he’s pushing hard to make a dream pay off for him.

His mission: provide free payroll to one million small businesses and startups with cutting edge features in the next five years.

Lewis was profiled last week by The Case Foundation in an article on its website that detailed how he has navigated the world of fundraising as an African-American entrepreneur who lives and operates outside of Silicon Valley.

He worked in the payroll industry for 10 years, spending more than 200 days a year on the road selling payroll software to businesses, the article said. Lewis said he thought it was time to come up with a better easy-to-used, low cost solution for small businesses.

Lewis put $100,000 into his startup — Visage Payroll — from his savings and debt.

And while raising money is hard for almost all entrepreneurs, Lewis said it’s even more challenging for an entrepreneur who is African-American or a member of another minority group.

“Less than 1 percent of startups raise venture capital, less than 1 percent of the 1 percent goes to African-American founders. This drives me crazy.”
CRAIG LEWIS

“Less than 1 percent of startups raise venture capital, less than 1 percent of the 1 percent goes to African-American founders. This drives me crazy,” Lewis told The Case Foundation.

He has met with more than 250 potential investors in the past two years, with the meetings resulting in $710,000 in outside capital. Some 80 percent of the money came from high-net-worth individuals and the rest from Massachusetts-based Stage 1 Ventures.

That’s a lot of money, but Lewis said it’s not enough.

“Similar companies have raised three, four, five, and 10 times what we have at similar stages to build,” he said.

Lewis said he has seen obstacles based on race but he told The Case Foundation, “before we discuss bias, I believe we need more people of color in front of investors. Too many of the minority entrepreneurs in my network are not in front of enough investors to have a chance at closing … the first riddle to solve, is getting in front of investors.”

He cautioned minority entrepreneurs to be prepared before you get in front of investors so that you can explain yourself.

LEWIS SAYS ESTABLISHING CREDIBILITY IS CRITICAL

“High net worth individuals, venture capitalists, and all the centers of influence that make key introductions to the investor community are just not exposed to minorities on a regular basis,” Lewis told the foundation. “They don’t have a clue who we are, what we are about and more importantly the extraordinary things we’re capable of. Providing the proper level of context and establishing credibility is extremely difficult but necessary.”

“Make sure your “why” is big enough. Dream bigger. Fail faster. Get better. Do it your way and be YOU-nique.”
CRAIG LEWIS

Lewis said that Visage is focusing on the problem small businesses face with 1099s, because so many businesses today use independent contractors to do their work.

Living in Dallas, he said, has big benefits because the city has an entrepreneurial spirit, a lot of capital, and a lower cost of living.

He also offers aspiring entrepreneurs this advice: “Make sure your “why” is big enough. Dream bigger. Fail faster. Get better. Do it your way and be YOU-nique.”


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