Entrepreneurial Journey

Supporting Black-Owned Businesses: YaVette Holts of BAOBOB

August is Black Business Month. And, this week we had the honor of interviewing YaVette Holts, founder of BAOBOB – the Bay Area Organization of Black Owned Businesses. BAOBOB is a network for black-owned businesses and customers who want to be intentional with how they spend their money, keeping dollars circulating within the African-American community. In this interview, YaVette shares her inspiration for BAOBOB and the importance of being intentional with your time and spending.

What inspired you to start BAOBOB?

I’m inspired by the history of Black Wall Street in the 1920s, the Green Book of the 1950s, and the contemporary work of Maggie Anderson in My Black Year.  Even the Montgomery bus boycott worked because we worked together knowing that was the best way to reach a greater good.  They all remind me that not only can we, but we have to.

It’s imperative that we address economic fortitude and resilience as social justice issues.

Why is important to have an association of black-owned businesses?

There has been an immense amount of research and market assessments that evaluate the power of the black dollar in the market today. Over $1 trillion of purchasing in the United States is generated from black wallets, wallets that are in the pocketbooks of black people, black consumers. Lots of businesses and consumers keep their dollars circulating in their cultural communities. The average lifespan of a dollar in the Asian community is 28 days, in the Jewish community it’s 19 days, and in the African-American community it’s six hours.  That’s a startling number.

If we’re able to help people understand the importance of patronizing black-owned businesses, then we can see that dollar continue to circulate within our community longer and thereby strengthen the foothold that black-owned businesses are struggling to hang onto. There are so many different aspects of what is challenging black-owned businesses, more so than the general public, such as a lack of resources, access, political disenfranchisement, etc.  There’s a whole bunch of factors that one can see and point to.

But rather than pointing the finger outward all the time, let’s take a look at what can we do to strengthen our own community. Let’s take a look at what we can do amongst ourselves to strengthen our position, and help our businesses retain their foothold and keep their cultural connections alive.

How does BAOBOB work?

BAOBOB is a membership organization built to support black-owned businesses. We provide networking opportunities, business development workshops, and community events – working to bring the discussion of black buying power to the forefront of the black business community.  We also offer a directory that makes it easy for anyone interested in being intentional with their purchasing power in the black community to simply go to the website and look for the businesses offering the services or goods they are interested in buying. Lastly, BAOBOB members have access to a marketing tool to broadcast events, promotions, sales, and announcements through our social media to more than 5,000+ followers on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook combined. We offer membership opportunities for black- owned businesses to pay a monthly or annual fee. Businesses can save a couple of dollars if they pay annually. And members, receive special rates on our whole calendar of events, listing in our directory and access to the marketing tool. We currently have 150 Bay Area businesses in the directory.

Who was your first member?

It must have been Uptima Business Bootcamp. Or, it might have been my massage business, One Presence.  At the beginning, it was just me and a couple of super fantastic volunteers.  We populated the platform with 50 of the most well-known black-owned businesses in our area.  We started with that. And, those businesses continue to be members. They helped to draw attention to the platform and were a good sounding board for potential new members.

What feedback have you received from the businesses about BAOBOB?

What I hear a lot, and this makes me so excited, is from consumers “I was looking for such and such, but I went and I looked at BAOBOB first,” or from businesses “Someone told me that they found my business by going to BAOBOB.”

Within the last year, I did a mapping project with some students with San Francisco State University. They held a three-day conference, and I was surprised to find that the caterer was one of our business members. I asked how they found the caterer.  It turned out they went on BAOBOB and found them and booked it.  That was so great.

What has been the thing that’s been the most fun about building BAOBOB?

I feel really satisfied and excited when people tell me they heard about what BAOBOB is doing and think it’s so important. When I hear that, I feel like I have to keep doing this even if it’s hard. I have to keep building and growing the services and the membership base. So, I think it’s exciting when people say they have used it and found it important and useful to them.

What has been the most challenging thing about building BAOBOB?

Well, there’s quite a few of those things.  I would say it’s a feeling of so much potential and knowing what steps need to be taken to tap into that potential but just not having the capacity to do them at the same time. I have to to really pump the brakes and prioritize and live through that process.  And, it’s hard when I see such opportunity ahead and know how important this is for people.

What capacity do you feel like you’ve been missing?

Funding in particular.  Because funding means staffing.  This is a key point and something that’s been a learning process for me. There have been some wonderful volunteers who have worked really hard to build BAOBOB.  Some of those volunteers needed to stop.  I came to the realization that because they wanted to stop volunteering didn’t mean that they didn’t believe in the project or anything personal. It just meant they couldn’t continue to give away time forever. So, if I value someone’s time on BAOBOB, I need to demonstrate that in a way that allows them to live comfortably without feeling like they’re paying to help.

What’s next for BAOBOB?

Right now, we are about to launch a new version, an upgraded version of the BAOBOB website that would include more functionality.  We were nudged into this process because our initial platform is phasing out.

We also need more funding.  We’re currently funded by membership dues, through private investments, and we have a little bit left from our first attempt at a crowdfunding campaign last year.  But, we need funding for the platform upgrade as well as staffing.  We have a fantastic team, comprised of very high functioning professional folks who are really down for seeing this grow.  They have been on the project for a while, but keeping them engaged and again valuing their time requires that they be compensated.

Where are you looking for funding?

We are looking at grants and investors.  When it’s grants that we’re talking about, I just got counseled by someone the other day to not worry so much about which grant is being funded at any particular time. Pay attention to that, but don’t let that stop you from connecting with grantmaking organizations that are interested in what you are doing.  Pitch them on what you’re doing and let them know what your needs are. Also, one of the beautiful things about BAOBOB is that it’s a for-profit venture within an umbrella organization called Cowrie Village.  And, Cowrie Village is a fiscally sponsored non-profit project.  So, we have the ability to receive grant funds through Cowrie Village and distribute them to the projects within that umbrella that are most in need at that time.

What advice do you have for someone getting started with their business?

Not to expect to make income from that business for a while. That’s just the truth.  Not to expect to make income from that venture for at least the first two to three years. So, you need to be solid in how you’re going to support yourself and your project in that initial phase. Because otherwise, it’s just unrealistic.

And, I would advise them to just really believe in what you are doing.  Just really believe in it.  If you don’t really, truly believe in it, like if you’re just doing this to make money, that’s going to come through all the way from the beginning to the end. It will show in how excited you are to get up and go do that extra work at early in the morning before you go to work at your other job or how you design and deliver the product or service you are offering.  If you don’t really believe in it, it’s going to surface at some point.

You’re not just supporting yourself, but you have two teenage boys – one of them is about to go to college and the other one is fairly close to going to college.  How do you support yourself and your family while you’re building BAOBOB?  

It is a challenge.  Part of the beauty of it is though is that by working on the alternative economics for the inner city projects that our umbrella organization Cowrie Village does, I do a lot of bartering and trading. Also, I don’t go and do some of the things that other folks who have 9-to-5 jobs and full insurance do.  For instance, I love to go to a consignment store to buy clothes. You’ll never see me shopping at a mall unless I need to find something that’s needed for a children’s uniform or something like that.  I’m working on how to need less, and this allows me to feel more in control of my value.

Also, I do have other revenue streams.  I have another business, a massage practice.  And, I budget myself for what I know I need to do.  I’m also blessed and fortunate to have a rental property and the ability to receive rental income, which adds a lot to the picture for me.  Between my massage practice, the rental property, and more recently some of the work that I do with BAOBOB and Cowrie Village, I’m generating income.

Can you say a little bit about how working on needing less allows you to feel more in control of your value?

People say time is money. It’s more than money. I feel like when people value themselves and value their time, then they gain freedom. Time is more valuable than money because time is irreplaceable. I feel like money is just a representation of time.  People think about being paid by the hour. But, I think more about “how much am I willing to sell my free time for?”  How we value that speaks to a level of self-sufficiency.

One strategy for feeling abundant is to just get more and more of a lot of things because you can use the money.

My theory of abundance is to essentially need less of what I have to sell my time to have, if that makes sense.  And, the things that I really value and need – community, family, a level of resilience – those are things that can’t be bought.

Learn how you can become a member of BAOBOB or find out how you can use your purchasing power with black-owned businesses by searching the directory by visiting their website.