In the midst of the global anti-racism movement, Matthew, Jonathan, and Nicholas, three visionary Black entrepreneurs, set out on a transformative mission to address economic disparities within the United Kingdom’s Black community.
Matthew, a former senior trader at a hedge fund, had spent six months on sabbatical teaching himself about the sociological issues shaping our world. Together, they sought to create a solution that would incentivize patronage in Black-owned businesses, leading to the inception of Cashblack.
Their journey was anything but linear. Faced with setbacks and challenges, the trio navigated the complexities of entrepreneurship.
I was on personal time off from my last job as a senior trader at a hedge fund to go on a journey of self-discovery and autodidacticism to find something entrepreneurial to pursue and to give myself a better understanding of how the world works.
Awakening to Global Realities
But halfway through 2020 with the global pandemic, global recession, and a global anti-racism movement, I felt like we all developed a better understanding of “how the world works”.
This was especially true for me with regard to racism and its socioeconomic impact on the 2 million Black people in the United Kingdom. And how their issues directly correlate with those of the Black-owned businesses in this country who contribute over £25 billion a year to the British economy.
One of the most startling statistics I discovered was that the 2 million Black people in the UK have a spending power of over £300 billion pounds. But I wondered to myself, “How much of that is going to Black-owned businesses?”
Recognizing Challenges and Disconnection
I already knew from personal experience that it wasn’t always cost-effective to shop with them or they’re difficult to find.
Plus, the research I had undertaken had shown me that these businesses felt underrepresented and disconnected from consumers due to various structural barriers.
So my two co-founders (or “brothers” as our mum likes to call us) and I concluded that the best way to fix these issues would be to create a way to incentivize patronage in Black-owned businesses by having the Black-owned businesses re-invest back into the patrons.
The Birth of Cashblack
“How about a cashback website?” We thought.
“A cashback website for Black-owned businesses. Why don’t we call it – Cashblack?” A name that cool (if I do say so myself) had to be trademarked immediately.
Then, with the business registered and the exorbitantly expensive domain name purchased, we got to work on building our project.
Pretty soon, we realized that this wasn’t a simple Shopify e-commerce website, so we went from us, as Development Team 1, to a white label cashback solution for Development Team 2.
Navigating Development Challenges
After a few months of testing a half-finished product while pitching the idea to retailers at various Black business events and starting to make a name for ourselves this new community, the radio silence from Development Team 2 was deafening, so we took up the chance to work with Development Team 3 – a friend of a friend – who claimed they could build the project for us from scratch.
Trials and Tribulations with Development Team 3
A set of life savings later, the product eventually delivered to us by this friend of a friend was so bad that I was now minus one set of life savings and one friend.
So, with the benefit of a grant win and Start-Up loan that resulted in a new set of life savings, we went for a fully custom-built solution with Development Team 4. Our website, mobile apps, and what would become our Cashblack A.F.R.O.B.O.T – our “Algorithm For Redirection Of Black-Owned Traffic”.
The Birth of Cashblack A.F.R.O.B.O.T
In essence, an AI-powered browser extension that intuitively redirects you from your usual big-name brand retailers to our Black-owned retail partners for similar goods and services for you to earn cashback on your purchases.
Everything with Development Team 4 was going so well that when requested, as a favor, we paid for the total amount owed ahead of schedule, despite the work not being complete.
Unexpected Challenges with Development Team 5
As you can probably surmise from the pattern thus far, a few months beyond this, after a period of radio silence had ensued, we were told that they had “run out of resources” and would be “handing over our project” so it could be completed by associates of theirs who would become Development Team 5.
What was supposed to be a 2-month “finishing off” project for Development Team 5 has, from October 2022 to October 2023, taken a year.
Navigating the Entrepreneurial Landscape
In that time, and from even before then, we’ve had to build up relationships with Black-owned businesses at events around the country, meet various multinational brands such as Amazon, Just Eat, and Etsy to secure strategic partnerships, complete various accelerator and incubator programs, and just maintain our sanity as we grew to discover that entrepreneurship is infinitely harder than all the disclaimers claim it to be.
The Culmination: Cashblack Launch
All this being said, after 3 years, 1 month, and 29 days since we actually registered the business, we were finally able to launch on the 1st day of Black History Month 2023: Cashblack – our platform that rewards members with cashback when they shop online with Black-owned businesses and Afrofiliate – our affiliate network that connects Black-owned businesses with content creators, media houses, and enables retailers to convert their loyal customers into economically incentivized brand ambassadors.
Reflections on the Entrepreneurial Journey
Most of this might read as the usual occupational hazards of a tech founder. This is intentional because anything deeper and more personal than surface-level satirical musings on company formation would be as uncomfortable to read as it would be for me to share.
So writing about getting screwed over by developers and losing multiple sets of total net worth is almost cathartic relative to talking about the actual real-life nightmare we’ve had to endure to live out our entrepreneurial dream of paying people to support Black people.
Personally, the greatest lessons I’ve learned would be the fact that nothing is promised, nobody owes you anything and it’s very much all down to you the individual to make things happen.
The journey of an entrepreneur, in actuality, is harder than what was warned to us from founders, mentors, and well-wishers. This being the case, anyone who starts a business must already know the difficulty to be a common conception of the journey.
Enduring Challenges with Resolve
So despite broken contractual obligations from counterparties, I remind myself that “nothing is promised”.
When the hard work we do for an external partner is not reciprocated in kind, I remind myself that “Nobody owes me anything”. And when I feel alone without anyone to whom to turn and help me through this, I remind myself that “It’s down to me to make it happen”.
The Present Reality
And that’s very much where we are now. Now that we’ve launched, no more collecting plaudits on how hard we’ve worked, how much we’ve spent to get here, how many miles across the country we’ve traveled, how many Black-owned business leaders’ hands we’ve shaken, or how many people we’ve blown away with our pitch or demo of our product. The past 3 years are now, somewhat, immaterial.
Incentivising Community Patronage
Incentivising community patronage in Black-owned businesses by having the Black-owned businesses re-invest back into the community. Cashblack x Afrofiliate.
Black Wall St. MediaContributor