On February 17, students from Cornell University’s Black Entrepreneurs in Training (BET) program convened in Upson Hall for a community dinner to gather, network, and celebrate entreprenenurship. As part of the Role Model Speaker Series, entrepreneur Crystal Wallace joined the group virtually to share advice and lessons-learned from her career.
Wallace is the Program Manager of the Founders Go Big program at Launch NY. Her 19 years of experience combine work in strategic coaching, project management, training, collegiate and adult instruction, business planning and strategy, assessment and testing.
Crystal’s industry experience spans both public and private sectors, and her passion has been the integration of learning, technology, strategy, and entrepreneurship. She has also served her community to raise awareness on the issues of disparity and access through her work with the National Society of Black Engineers, the Face2Face Initiative, Covenant of Grace Ministries, and other organizations.
The topics of her talk spanned from the importance of customer discovery to tips for financing and scaling a startup, and she wrapped up the evening by taking questions from BET students. Read on for her top tips to thriving as an entrepreneur.
- Never Skip Customer Discovery: One of the most resounding messages of Crystal’s talk was the emphasis placed on customer discovery. The due diligence process is one of the most important stages of launching a starting, and she shared that she’s seen founders fail when they put tens of thousands of dollars into developing a product without ensuring a market need exists. She recommended that entrepreneurs complete 150 customer discovery calls and interviews before moving on to the next stage of the business development process.
- Manage Your Time as a Founder: Crystal shared that one of her hardest-learned lessons was learning to balance managing her time while still scaling her ventures. She recommends devloping and adhering to a strict schedule, and being intentional that the clients you take on are the types of people and organizations that match your mission and your values.
“If someone doesn’t fit the specific nice I’m looking to market to, I happily refer them to anyone in the ecosystem, because there’s so many different resources that are out there for them,” she says.
- Show Up as Your Full, Authentic Self: When asked about how she’s made headwind as a black woman in entrepreneurship, Crystal talked about the importance of showing up as her full self. She discussed code switching, and how doing that in all areas of your life can become daunting after a while.
“It’s important to me that I show up as my authentic self and be who I truly am, and not feel like I have to fit a role or mold or stereotype or perception of myself,” she said. “I think that that really helped me actually see how I’m able to really impact the lives and the businesses that I work with.
- Get Comfortable being Uncomfortable: In her final piece of advice to attendees, Crystal urged the students in the room to be willing to speak up and let people know when they can make their organization more diverse, equitable, or inclusive — even when that can be uncomfortable.
“Developing a thicker skin and learning to be very comfortable when making those suggestions is going to help the entrepreneurial ecosystem grow and thrive and become more inclusive,” she said.
Stay tuned to Eventbrite to learn about more upcoming BET Community Dinners and Role Model Speaker Sessions.