Diversity & Inclusion

Biggest Obstacles Facing Black Founders Today Are Mentorship and Money

Rudy Cline-Thomas can spot a good investment.

Rudy Cline Headshot

“Having access to capital is how 90 per cent of businesses succeed.” – Rudy Cline-Thomas, Founder and Managing Partner at Mastry, Inc.

The founder and managing partner at New York-based Mastry, Inc. specializes in identifying technology, retail, media and investment opportunities for partners, which include Fortune 500 companies, early-stage startups, and professional athletes.

Mastry’s portfolio of investee companies includes the likes of Zoom, DataDog, PagerDuty, AllBirds, HIMS, and Robinhood.

Recently, Rudy served as a mentor to founders and entrepreneurs participating in the Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center's Mentorship Circle program, specifically on go-to-market strategy.

In our interview (which has been edited and condensed for clarity), he discusses:

  • His liberal approach to seeking out mentors;
  • The dual hurdles facing Black founders that have no bearing on the quality of their business idea or viability of their business model; and
  • How building a good team is critical to the fulfillment of an entrepreneur’s vision.

Do you have (or have you had) a mentor(s) and, if so, what impact has this relationship(s) had on the trajectory of your professional life?

RC-T: Mentorship is very important because having a mentor helps you to avoid making the mistakes they did.

Having a mentor helps you to avoid making the mistakes they did.

Unfortunately, in the beginning, when I was entering the world of work after college, I didn’t have any mentorship because I was fired from my first job within three months and I started my business immediately after that. So, I missed out on early mentorship and I made mistakes that I’m sure I could have avoided if I had a mentor.

In my thirties, I reconnected with a gentleman whom I was close to at my first job. He was somewhat of a mentor to me – guiding me, giving me a lot of advice and allowing me to watch how he worked.

Now, I have many mentors and I try to grab as many as possible because I know how important mentorship is.

Why did you decide to mentor at this time?

RC-T: First and foremost, I understand the importance of mentorship and I like to share my experience, so others that come behind me don’t make the same mistakes I did.

What attracted you to the Mentorship Circle program?

RC-T: One of the co-founders of the program shares the same belief that I do, which is that giving is more potent than anything else.

If I can share my experience and resources with someone who can benefit from them, it will be more powerful and purposeful than anything else I can do in my life.

What are your expectations of a mentee?

RC-T: All I ask is for mentees to follow-up. It’s the essence of the mentorship relationship.

Following up not only shows that you respect your mentor’s time, it also shows appreciation for it.

What are the biggest obstacles facing Black founders?

RC-T: The biggest obstacles facing Black founders are mentorship and money.

Firstly, mentorship enables a mentee to potentially avoid the mistakes that other Black founders have made. A mentee can also come to the realization that the landscape ahead is not easily accessible to most Black founders.

Secondly, having access to capital is how 90 per cent of businesses succeed. It’s not necessarily the idea that makes a business work, it’s often just access to capital. This is what most Black founders don’t have.

It’s not necessarily the idea that makes a business work, it’s often just access to capital. This is what most Black founders don’t have.

In addition to mentorship, what else is critical to an entrepreneur’s success?

RC-T: The people that entrepreneurs surround themselves with.

It’s great to have an idea and it’s even better to have capital but, in order for entrepreneurs to execute their vision, they have to surround themselves with great people.

What was your favorite moment of the program?

RC-T: I didn’t have a specific favorite moment, but I loved the energy of the group and the questions they asked.

What did you learn from your mentees?

RC-T: I learned about the different problems the mentees were trying to solve and some of the obstacles they’re currently facing.

Did you reap any unexpected benefits and, if so, what were they?

RC-T: The follow-up was great. I’ve maintained some terrific and unexpected relationships with a few of the mentees.

What I also found unexpected was the group’s energy and response. You never know how people are going to respond to you, your story and what you have to say. But their energy and response felt good.

Any unexpected challenges?

RC-T: None.

How did the experience differ from any previous mentorship programs you may have been involved in?

RC-T: The program was extremely organized and the broad strokes of it were very unique. 

What advice (if any) did you give your mentees on the last day of the program?

RC-T: Firstly, try to get as many mentors as possible and follow-up with them.

Secondly, be flexible with your idea and business model and don’t get too caught up with either of them. The problem you’re trying to solve today may not be your business tomorrow. The reality is that nobody’s business model is on Day 5,000 what it was on Day one.

What excites you most about this new class of founders?

RC-T: They’re fearless in taking responsibility for solving real-world problems, which is incredibly exciting.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

Kieron Johnson

Kieron Johnson is a content/communications consultant to emerging and established brands.

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