Tristan Walker is a rarity—a Black entrepreneur who successfully raised $40 million dollars from Silicon Valley to start his own company, which makes health and beauty products for people of color. He also earned a spot on Fortune’s World’s Greatest Leaders list in 2019. This week, he was Ellen McGirt’s and my guest on the podcast Leadership Next (Apple/Spotify), reflecting on the lessons he has learned during his entrepreneurial journey.
Studies show less than 3% of venture dollars go to Black or Latinx entrepreneurs. But being one of the few who successfully raised some of that money doesn’t make Walker a fan of the system. He told us how happy he was the day in 2018 he sold his company to Procter & Gamble:
“We announced our acquisition on Dec 12, 2018. On Dec 13, 2018, I had this epiphany moment where I realized I knew what freedom felt like. Freedom, to me, was not owing anybody anything. We had returned our investor’s capital, I didn’t owe them anything. I didn’t own P&G anything… I thought when I started the company, I wanted to build a $10 billion company, only to realize what I really cared about is ownership and autonomy.
“You have to remember, venture capitalists, it is their job to be wrong 90-95% of the time. And then you have to think, am I wrong 90-95% of the time? As a businessperson, I want to be around 100 years from now. Venture capitalists, they have to get their money back in 10 years.”
Walker became the first Black CEO of a P&G subsidiary, and also founded CODE 2040—a nonprofit dedicated to promoting Black and Latinx participation in the tech business. Its name is derived from estimates that Black and Latinx people will become the majority in the U.S. around 2040. “There are three things I like to focus on,” he told us: “The demographic shifts in this country, the importance of tech, and the power of great brands. Everything I’ve tried to do sits at the center of those three concentric circles.”
By the way, Walker thinks the pandemic could turn out to be good for Blacks and Latinx people in tech. Why? Because they no longer have to move to Silicon Valley. Walker, who is a graduate of Stanford business school and logged his time in the Valley, now lives in Atlanta.
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