Diversity & Inclusion

Go-to-Market Strategy: Positioning A Product for Success

Before the high-profile killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police last summer, countless unarmed Black men had suffered a similar fate at the hands of law enforcement across the U.S..

Tony Lawson and Shantrelle Lewis

“We weren’t quite sure how to articulate what we do.” – Tony Lawson (CEO and co-founder) and Shantrelle Lewis (co-founder) of SHOPPE BLACK

In the summer of 2014, the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, set in motion renewed calls for wholesale changes in policing, race relations and American society as a whole.

It was also the catalyst for husband-and-wife entrepreneurs, Tony Lawson and Shantrelle Lewis, to create SHOPPE BLACK,  an online directory and content platform for Black-owned businesses.

The platform was created by public demand.

In the immediate aftermath of Mr. Brown’s death, the couple noticed a huge surge in interest from people wanting to “buy Black” – that is, to purchase Black products, use Black services and generally support Black-owned businesses, but they didn’t know how or where to find them.

“In 2015, 12 months after the police shooting of Mike Brown, we parlayed our previous experience in sales, marketing and the arts into building an online portal where people could easily locate Black-owned and operated businesses – and SHOPPE BLACK was born,” says Tony.

Courting commercial success

The Philadelphia-based entrepreneurs are confident about SHOPPE BLACK’s commercial prospects both domestically and internationally.

At the start of the Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center's Mentorship Circle program, the couple told their mentors they were “very clear” about their company’s purpose, mission and value.

They added: “We’re at the point of identifying and implementing the nitty-gritty details that will allow our business to scale globally while generating millions of dollars in revenue.”

Whilst their ambitions were crystal clear, unfortunately their initial business offering didn’t quite have the same degree of clarity.

The couple conceded: “We weren’t quite sure how to articulate what we do. We were also having difficulty narrowing down the scope of our offering.

“But through multiple insights during the program, we narrowed our focus and created concise language to explain what we do. These insights came from the collective experience of working with the mentors along with experts who were brought in to support us.”

One byproduct of the couple doubling down on their efforts to capture SHOPPE BLACK’s offering was that their go-to-market strategy also became clear.

With more than 100,000 subscribers to date, Tony and Shantrelle believe their company has global potential.

“SHOPPE BLACK is concentrated mainly in the U.S., but we also want it in other countries such as France and Germany,” says Tony. "By helping small businesses scale nationally and internationally, they can provide jobs and improve the communities they’re in.”

Cultivating brand clarity

Tony and Shantrelle have contrasting experiences of mentorship.

Prior to the program, Shantrelle participated in a United Nations mentoring program for people of African descent whereas Tony had never been a mentee before, so the experience was wholly unfamiliar territory for him.

Describing himself as a “low-key workaholic,” Tony says one of his concerns was whether the program would detract valuable time from working on their business.

He later came to realize that, by taking time on the program to define SHOPPE BLACK’s business proposition, he and Shantrelle were indeed working on two of the most important components of their business – its unique value proposition and go-to-market strategy.

“What helped us the most on the program was articulating what we do – and how we do it – with a lot more clarity and precision. That was one of the biggest highlights,” says Shantrelle.

What helped us the most on the program was articulating what we do – and how we do it – with a lot more clarity and precision.

The couples’ work defining their brand clearly paid off.

During the program, they secured a partnership deal with Faire, the San Francisco-based wholesale marketplace that helps mom-and-pop stores discover and stock new products. (In 2019, Faire appeared on the Forbes ‘Next Billion Dollar Startups’ list.)

Empowering Black businesses

Recalling his time on the program, Tony says peer-led learning was one of the highlights:

“Because SHOPPE BLACK is set-up to support and empower Black businesses, I enjoyed learning about businesses that I didn’t know about – finding out their challenges and what is and isn’t working for them.

“I also enjoyed helping them because part of what we do at SHOPPE BLACK is offer consulting services that provide Black-owned businesses with access to capital, branding, digital marketing and customer experience training.

“We even partnered with a few of the mentees on the program, which was really exciting.”

Shantrelle’s recollections of the program were centered on a similar theme.

“It was great to hear from people who created very successful companies, but who didn’t necessarily have a lot of family funding to lean on – how they came up with their ideas and used innovative ways to launch their products into the marketplace,” she says.

“Evidenced by the success of our fellow cohorts whose companies have been monetized, started generating revenue and seen fundraising stages, the program ultimately confirmed that, through creativity, innovation and lots of grit, you can take a bright idea and establish a highly successful startup.”

The couple has some advice for other founders and entrepreneurs joining mentorship programs.

“Always be prepared,” says Tony.

“This lesson came from the pitch competition. Know your business, know your numbers, be ready for unexpected questions to be thrown at you and be prepared to answer them.

“Also, be open to feedback and don’t be married to your ideas. As an entrepreneur, you build something and consider it your ‘baby’ and, if someone wants to give you constructive feedback on how to improve it, you can sometimes be resistant to it. But being open to suggestions can benefit entrepreneurs greatly.

“Lastly, be clear about what you do before entering the program, so you don’t waste time trying to figure it out.”

Shantrelle’s advice hones in on the idea that mentorship is a two-way street involving giving and receiving.

“I like to enter any space with a willingness to give,” she says.

“So, ask yourself what you can give to your peers. Maybe it’s your time? Resources perhaps? Or connections? A little giving goes a long way.”

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

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Kieron Johnson

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

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