Black History Month Startup Profile: Crystal Victoria and Target Evolution
Black History Month was created and is observed annually for remembrance and appreciation of notable people and events in the history of descendants of the African diaspora or people of African ancestry. This month gives us a chance to highlight what these notable people and events not only mean to Black history but to general history at large. Within the startup and entrepreneurial community, black men and women are increasing their contributions but are still behind other racial groups in owning their own business or creating a product. Less than 1 percent of Black Americans receive the venture capital necessary to get their business or product off the ground. Despite those setbacks, there are Black men and women, especially in North Texas, who have been successful. Here are some of their stories.
Could you give a summary of what your company does and the idea or inspiration behind it?
Target Evolution is focused on providing entrepreneur education to underserved markets. We’ve built our own curriculum and we’re building out an online campus where students, young adults, primarily those leaving and graduating from high school, can come to us to start a business before going to college. It gives them the opportunity to generate revenue before getting into student loan debt, it provides another way for them to pay for school and it also gives them an idea of what they want to go to school for. It’s what I call entrepreneur education focused on change. My co-founders and I have put together a workbook where students can go through and write down a business plan and gain a light education. What the online platform is going to do is pretty much dig a little deeper into that and help students understand and begin to navigate the world of entrepreneurship and start their business.
I started about five years ago with my old business and I realized that there was a lot of difficulty in the minority community as it relates to navigating the business world. There were not enough structured programs that were organized to kind of help people in a flow through manner. Nothing that was start-to-finish, it was mostly things that provided technical assistance and very little soft skills. I came up with the concept of wanting to provide solopreneur education.
Now, that’s not a new concept but the education of it hasn’t really been designed. Some people say that it’s small business education but it’s really not, it’s more a development of the person, it’s mental and emotional. You’ve got to learn how to fail and be okay with that or how to look for lessons in failure. So learning that and being on my own, being my own solopreneur, I realized how many things that were key that weren’t getting taught. For instance, event planning. People don’t think about how crucial event planning is when you have a small business or just a solopreneur trying to network. Learning how to network at events but also learning how to plan and host your own events is very important.
I wanted to create a way for people to start a business, whether they were coming out of college or coming out of high school. I wanted to do so to prevent them from falling between the cracks of the criminal justice system and I also felt like the African American community has got to learn how to take back our buying power and improve our own community. It shouldn’t take the mayor to Grow South, we should improve the community on our own but it’s about teaching people the eye for the business, not necessarily leaving the “hood,” but looking at the “hood” as a white canvas and saying ‘what can I contribute, what can I paint on this, how can I make this more beautiful?’ and seeing the opportunity in it.
What got you into entrepreneurship?
I couldn’t find a job. In the past, I have made some mistakes. Although I went to college, right after I went to college, I had a felony in six months. That made it difficult for me to find a job. Even though I was really smart, I was a hard-headed teenager period. Because of that, I suffered a long time for it. Trying to reintegrate into society and how to just have a business and how to just have a normal life. I couldn’t find a job that would pay me what I was worth. I had to do things most people didn’t want to do. I even went back to college and had to pay tuition out of pocket and that was hard. And I thought, how do I fix this? I realized, after getting out of it and starting my business, entrepreneurship was the way out for me.
My first business, I accidentally knocked it out of the ballpark. I had a network marketing company with a text message marketing service and I was trying to learn how to sell it. So I created my own training kit that would teach me when I’m in talking to people and when I’m trying to sell my service how to sell it. One day, I responded to a blog online and there was a lady having trouble selling her product. I told her to call me, text me, I have a great training kit I’ve used for myself. As a result, 80 agents nationwide reached out to me for my training kit. So, I ended up training 80 people on how to sell this product, this text message marketing service. I thought, ‘how did I do that?’ but it wasn’t how did I do that but how could I do it again.
My best friend said we should start a business brokerage firm. With business brokerage, you learn mergers, acquisitions, joint ventures. Basically, how to break down a business to sell it. Evaluate the value or cash flow of it [the business] and I reviewed the tax returns and the bank accounts to make sure the business was profitable so that it could be sold. I learned this, and within my first two weeks of training, I listed and almost sold a business and received a $10,000 commission check. I was like, this is getting really simple. It’s just about learning the different skills associated with that business. So I decided to start a non-profit and help people. I know how to market the business, to sell it, so a lot of the issues I was seeing with people starting businesses, or actually selling them, went back to incorrectly starting them and that’s when I decided to help people start businesses and I’ve been there ever since.
I’ve actually, as a result of that and working on fundraising Target Evolution, I’ve written five books. My first book was an autobiography. I went from one book to another, to another and now I’m at number five. It’s an awesome opportunity and a way out, not just for me but for so many people and I just want to give everyone that opportunity.
As an entrepreneur who is Black and a woman, how have those intersections affected how you do business or how you approach your market?
Well, I will be candid, it has caused me to embrace diversity in a major way. If you look at my team, none of my team looks like me. That is because I had to learn to do business outside of my community in order to help my community. A lot of times when you are working with too many people that look like you, that’s all of the feedback and all of the experience you get. You’ve got to embrace diversity, you’ve got to embrace other cultures and be willing to go outside of the box and work with people you know nothing about and that know nothing about you, in order to establish a consensus, to start a dialogue and do something greater.
Not only can you reach your community, you can reach theirs. Be willing to blur those lines. I haven’t done just an all-Black-owned business. I also stopped thinking that I had to know everything. Sometimes in the African American community, we have this thought that we have to know everything or we have to appear the person in charge. And, I’ve learned a lot from humility, I think I’ve learned more and my business has grown and my team has grown because of the humility. I’ve kept and managed the same team for two years and I have a dynamic team. Being willing to listen to their advice and allow them to implement strategies and ideas into the company and realizing this isn’t just about me, it’s about us and how we can build a better tomorrow has been everything. It’s been the very reason that we’ve stayed together and at the same time, I’ve been able to manage that African American woman in business.
Although we understand and see that I’m a Black woman, if you don’t do business with that mindset then you don’t have as many issues. You don’t have to walk around with a chip on your shoulder or believe that people don’t want to do business with me because I’m black, they don’t know any better. Sometimes, it takes for us to introduce ourselves and to get involved with others. We [people in general] just don’t cross barriers too often, and it’s unfortunate because we miss out on an immense pool of knowledge and resources.
Do you feel that it’s important to have people of color, especially Black people, in the entrepreneurial/startup field?
Absolutely, it’s crucial. I have this philosophy that we’ve been sold this go to school and get a good job misunderstanding. Once upon a time, it was the truth, I don’t want to say that it’s a lie but now it’s a misunderstanding. Once upon a time, you could go to school and get a good job, and that good job would take care of you and your family and everything that you needed and you could stay at that good job for 25 years.
Our work environment and workforce have changed dramatically. In addition to technology, the things that we used to do that would require a person to do is now automated thus, causing us to be more creative and adapt to different fields and environments more often. If you’re an entrepreneur and you know how to be entrepreneurial, then those types of things won’t bother you because you just learn to adapt to something different.
I’m on my fifth business and it’s not because the others failed, it’s just because I had to learn to adjust to the market and not get so comfortable with where I was and being in this same place. I watched my mother do it for 25 years and when life and inflation started affecting income, she didn’t have the knowledge to go out and create another revenue stream, she didn’t know how to. For me, I’ll go create another [revenue stream/business] every year or two. It’s important that we learn to do that because that’s the only way we can empower ourselves economically.
The last fight that MLK was getting ready to start battling and really addressing was income inequality, the economic inequality, the fact that we’re not starting businesses. The fact that we have jobs and because of that, we can empower and improve our communities. But at the same time, we can’t hire each other if we don’t have businesses.
What advice would you give anyone about becoming an entrepreneur?
Be ready for a roller coaster ride but embrace every opportunity. Don’t take failures and mistakes so personally. I think that being okay with messing up has done wonders for me, doesn’t mean I fail on purpose, but I look at those as some of the greatest lessons I’ve learned and they have come through misfortune, what I’ve considered temporary defeat. At those times that I was so broken and wanted to quit, was when I realized how strong I was. I was like, ‘don’t quit, do you realize what you just went through, you’re super strong.’
I also learned my personal value and worth is not attached to anything that I do. It’s also not attached to what I don’t do. I am who I am and I’m worthy and deserving, without the books, without the company, I am who I am and I’m proud of that. Learning not to attach myself to successes like that has given me the freedom to fail and make mistakes. Also, I think so often we get caught up in our titles and who we are; I’m this person or that person and I’m supposed to know this and all we do is shame ourselves when we don’t do as we expect.
By learning to be comfortable in our own skin, love the skin you’re in, appreciate who you are as a person and appreciate that we’re human and we’re here to make, allows us the freedom to take on new roles and challenge ourselves to different and better heights. If we fail, we learned a lesson but at least we dared greatly and we did something else that someone didn’t do. We don’t get stuck in or live by our fears.