Successful small business owners are experts at illusion. You’ll never see all the hard work and sleepless nights they spent building their companies and brands. Instead, you’ll see polished logos, websites and storefronts that hide all the blood, sweat and tears that went into their creation.
For some business owners, the challenges they face go beyond just selling a product or a service.
That’s because small businesses are run by people with diverse ideas, ages, races and sexes. Sometimes that diversity can make it difficult to build a brand that appeals to everyone. But successful entrepreneurs know how to turn obstacles into opportunities.
Meet 5 minority business owners who have never let their background get in the way of their success.
1. Brandon Cloud Owen – White Rabbit Group, Inc.
Growing up in Southern California as a mixed race child took Brandon along an unconventional path to success. He knew he wanted to be involved in the SoCal nightlife, but without money, a formal education, or friends in high places, he had to be creative about how he got there.
Building his promotion company for nightlife and electronic dance music (EDM) festivals in one of the most competitive markets in the country, Brandon learned to move quickly and think creatively to make a name for himself. In addition he had to seriously consider how to position himself and his brand.
In the beginning, people told him to promote with the Asian-oriented clubs because of his background: he’s 50% Korean, 25% Hispanic, 12.5% Irish and 12.5% Norwegian.
But he didn’t want to be pigeonholed.
Despite being half Korean, Brandon wasn’t involved in the culture and hadn’t even heard the language spoken until he was an adult. He realized the only culture he truly identified with was Southern Californian culture. So his brand, White Rabbit Group, embodies all the energy, diversity and fun of the SoCal area.
Along the way, he learned to appreciate his racial ambiguity and realized it made him feel comfortable in any room. If people couldn’t identify his race, they couldn’t make assumptions about him.
Here’s Brandon’s best advice for any other minorities having trouble establishing their brand:
“Leave whatever debilitating story behind and focus on your business. Your product, your marketing, your branding. That’s what people are buying. I wouldn’t do business with anyone that made race or background an issue. I would avoid any type of sob story because the truth is no one wants to hear it, but if you persevere, everyone loves to hear tales of empowerment.
As far as your brand goes, brand integrity is everything. Don’t go after the quick dollar; consider the customer always and how any decision relates to the brand. Sew story into your brand whenever possible whether its an ad campaign or a note when you mail your product to your customer. People are dying to connect to something so give them an excuse to do so.“
White Rabbit Group Inc is an EDM Event company homegrown in Orange County but with events all around California.
2. Eric Samuel Green – Style Service
A self-described “stylish and sincere African-American male,” Eric Samuel Green has brought his incredible eye for fashion and design to major retailers and boutiques around the world. As a black man who markets and promotes products and services primarily to women (who are often white), he focuses his energy “on factors that are less about gender and race and more about being a person: the desire to feel happy, attractive, wanted and valued.”
In building his brand, he makes it a priority to listen to his friends and community to educate him on perspectives and views he may be missing because of his own background. He asks questions with the intent of learning — not to solve a problem or debate an issue, but to really reach an understanding.
Here’s what Eric recommends to anyone else having trouble establishing their own brand is:
“I believe it’s important to study your competitors relentlessly to understand what makes you different and the opportunities in the market. We can often be very insular in our thinking and focus as business owners. But you must try to always be customer-centric and part of that is studying the market.”
Style Service by Eric Samuel Green provides creative direction, branding, visual merchandising, store design, trend research, and product architecture strategy to retailers.
3. Amy Blitchok – Belo Consulting
As a self-identifying queer woman, Amy noticed a huge disparity in the treatment and salaries of men and women in the publishing industry. According to her, she was also suffocating from a toxic environment filled with sexism and homophobia. So she went out and started her own content marketing consulting company.
She saw it as an opportunity to employ talented people who may have suffered through similar experiences in the workplace. Her brand focuses on what matters in her business — good content. But other female business owners have taken notice, and Amy often hears from them when they’re looking for someone who really understands their business and their audience. For Amy, it’s always exciting to be able to help other minority businesses achieve new milestones.
Here’s what Amy advises for other minorities having trouble establishing their brand:
“Remember that your experiences and the lens through which your view the world is one of your biggest assets. Your perspective not only matters, but should be heard. Understand the value of what you have to offer. Act with confidence, even if you don’t always have it, and people will respond with respect and support.”
Belo Consulting creates engaging web content for businesses. From blogs and press releases to email marketing newsletters and product descriptions, content is built using SEO best practices to drive the most traffic to businesses.
4. Navin Kulshreshtha – Devi Studios
Born in Canada to immigrant parents of Indian origin, Navin is grateful for the sacrifices his family made to give him a better life. “My parents and other immigrants often felt discrimination at their jobs because of their accents and cultural differences. I’m grateful to them for leaving their homes to create a new life in a foreign country. My generation has benefited a lot from their sacrifices. I speak English just like anyone else born here and had the advantage of a comfortable upbringing and excellent education.”
Despite his comfortable upbringing, Navin still faced obstacles establishing his brand. Not being a natural marketer or networker, Navin’s business grew quite slowly. He started creating small websites for local businesses while he worked a full-time corporate job after college. His web development skills weren’t very good at the time, but he knew he couldn’t keep doing the daily commute and grinding out a living at his day job.
Once he paid off his student loans, he took the plunge and quit his job. He focused on improving his skills by studying and learning as much as he could through books and online tutorials. By applying his new skills to the projects he had and making sure his clients were always happy, his business began to grow.
Through word of mouth referrals from his happy customers, his business eventually provided a steady income. He now has the schedule he wants, is doing the work he loves, and is even able to hire people to help him with the workload.
Here’s Navin’s advice to other minorities seeking to establish their brands:
“Don’t worry about your race or sexual orientation. If you are good at what you do, most people won’t care. And you don’t want the others as clients anyway. Keep your customers happy, and your business will grow. It may take time, but your success is inevitable.”
Devi studios performs web design and video production for small- and medium-sized businesses, helping them make the most of their online presence with accessible and engaging video. Clients include yoga studios, yacht brokers and wellness schools.
Check out Navin’s website for all of Devi Studios’ multimedia services!
5. Hoi Wah Ho – Dynasty MMA Clothing
Selling products with authentic Asian designs wouldn’t seem to be a challenge for a Chinese small business owner like Hoi Wah Ho. But in a market dominated by non-Asian companies, he has to make special considerations.
His company, Dynasty MMA Clothing, produces martial arts clothing and gear for the world of combat sports, all while attempting to pay proper respect to Asian culture. It’s a unique industry, because the most popular brands (which are non-Asian) often sell designs that verge on the offensive with cultural appropriation or plain misuse of Asian symbols and imagery.
This means that while Dynasty MMA’s designs are more authentic, consumers are less familiar with them. So, they may turn to more mainstream brands without realizing how inauthentic (even offensive) they may be.
Still, Hoi Wah is committed to his mission of representing his own culture faithfully to the masses. It’s one of the core pillars of his brand mission which states:
DYNASTY is an authentic martial arts lifestyle and street fashion brand made for martial artists, by martial artists.
We celebrate our East Asian roots, the culture of martial arts, Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ).
As one of the only authentic Asian clothing brands in the world – we truly feel that it is our obligation and responsibility to represent to the fullest.
That was, is, and will forever continue to be our brand mission.
DYNASTY is for people with dreams and ambitions. We represent the hardcore martial artist – the ones who possess the unstoppable drive to achieve greatness and create their own DYNASTY.
Hoi Wah’s Advice
Here’s what Hoi Wah advises to other minorities building their brands:
“Try to educate your market so they learn about your stories, design and voice. Keep learning every single day about entrepreneurship and marketing, and apply that back into your business.
Stay determined in doing what you think is unique and right, standing up to and against mainstream perceptions, and hopefully you can change their minds about your brand. Give them a reason why your brand is cool enough to choose over the bigger more established brands.”
Dynasty MMA is a lifestyle brand that represents the hardcore martial artist. According to them, it’s the first and only Chinese MMA brand on the planet.
Building a brand is never easy. Neither is battling cultural stereotypes. Somehow, these entrepreneurs have managed both and come out on top. Their stories remind us all that nothing is impossible with hard work, dedication, and the right attitude.