The lead investor for my last startup, Slauson & Co., hosted a virtual event called “Framing the Pitch.” Slauson is an early stage venture capital firm rooted in inclusion that believes your lived experience is your competitive advantage. They’ve done a lot of work trying to expand access to capital for underrepresented founders. As founders, the deck is stacked against us. You’re not alone. Competition, limited capital, rising CAC costs, finding and hiring talented teammates… the list is long.

Pre-seed is about traction. But, it’s equally about whether investors believe you and your team are the right folks for the job. During the presentation, Slauson shared this graphic from an article posted by a VC firm named Antler. It highlights potential raise amounts when considering the founder’s pedigree and the product traction achieved. (in EUR, not USD)

Chart by Antler VC showing expected fundraising targets based on founder pedigree and traction.

I’m writing to you on Juneteenth. I’m less than 3 months away from a potential fundraise. It’s hard not to reflect on how this world is built. Specifically, the pathways for success are built for people that look and behave a certain way. Staring at this chart, I see myself. I’m ex-Goldman. I’ve been a founder already. I successfully raised venture capital too. But, what doesn’t this chart say?

VC investments in Black-owned startups reached nearly $5 billion in the U.S. in 2021. In 2022, it was cut in half to $2.4 billion. Last year, Crunchbase found that only $705 million in venture funding went to Black-owned startups. I can’t see the productivity in postulating all the reasons capital doesn’t get deployed to Black entrepreneurs. I can say that is crushing on the psyche.

It means most of the advice across the internet and social media might be useful but it wasn’t made for founders like me. Because, the system wasn’t built for people like me. They simply allow us to participate. Our parents weren’t lying to us when they said, “You need to work 2-3x harder than the other kids in school if you want to make a life for yourself.”

Your ideas can be great. Your validation and traction may be impressive. You will walk into a pitch. And, an investor will still judge your success probability based on your race or gender. Bias is real, even if it is subconscious. Justin, what am I supposed to do with this harsh reality?

Make yourself undeniable. Take advantage of resources created by people that look like you and care about you, whenever possible. Your gut is important, but be a f*cking expert. Be an expert on your industry, your product, your customer and their problems. I’m currently reading scientific research papers and having daily conversations to mine data and up my game. Be so fluid you can teach a class. Then, learn how to synthesize your expertise in a digestible way through compelling storytelling. Above all else, engage with the community so we can support one another. Nobody should have to do this alone.