Ceata Lash has had "meet Tristan Walker" on her bucket list for years, and we can thank The Russell Center (RCIE) for making it happen. Of course, this is within the scope of what RCIE does for the Atlanta black entrepreneurial community — continually creating and facilitating a myriad of opportunities for learning and growth.
She and Garrett, her partner in life and all things business, moderated a round table discussion and Q&A featuring the one-and-only Tristan Walker, founder and CEO of Walker and Company Brands. Walker and Company Brands, makers of health and beauty products for people of color, recently merged with Procter & Gamble in 2018, which had us all big-eyed in wonderment.
The conversations at the RCIE Level Up event with Tristan provided an abundance of ah-ha realizations and jewel-dropping moments, leaving Ceata and Garrett feeling proud and honored to be in an atmosphere of such great minds. Minds, such as Tristan's, that are forging new, long-awaited pathways for black entrepreneurs.
It goes without saying, the world of business is multifaceted. We all learn a base set of rules, protocols, procedures, and an overarching "that's just how it works." Tristan's endeavors, both as an employee and entrepreneur, marked him as a force to be reckoned with in Silicon Valley. But he decided, "that's just how it works" was no longer working for him after observing the lack of diversity in the Valley.
"The majority of the world is people of color. The majority of this country in 20, 30 years will be. It's the most culturally influential demographic group on the planet. Why are we not participating in this?"*
This awareness fueled an underlying desire to close the diversity gap in the personal care market by applying the skills he honed, cutting his teeth in the Silicon Valley tech market. Having identified and experienced the struggle to find shaving products designed for curly-haired men of color, he fixed his eyes on his mission - resolve the neglected and still segregated ethnic beauty aisle.
"So I [Tristan] said, 'I'm going to respect those things before anybody else does, and really create a long-term view around celebrating this beautiful community and culture.'"*
The round table discussion was intimate and casual. The u-shaped table had seats for founding members of RCIE, with Tristan taking the head flanked by Ceata and Garrett.
Tristan was asked about venture capital and how to proceed with opportunities for funding. He responded with an unforeseen, "do you need it?" and continued to guide the conversation to the root of the question - what are your goals?— a profound issue that involves a high level of introspection.
Funding isn't always a saving grace and doesn't necessarily grant you legitimacy. Consider how much ownership you want in your company, the direction you want to go, and why you feel the need to grow at a faster rate. Surprisingly, Tristan also hinted he now would do things a bit differently than he did before. He wishes he had pushed himself to think outside the mainstream box.
A series of questions then prompted a discussion surrounding social media, the necessary beast we have to feed, maintain, and manage. Tristan found a way to tailor social media to his company's specific needs — to garner conversation around his product and manage customer relationships.
However, it's not one size fits all. Some ebbs and flows circle us back to focusing on our mission and goals. Tristan says, "know who you are," and that resonates with us all.
When glancing at Ceata's notes from the round table discussion, you'll see written in large letters "[Employees that] align with my core values." Skills and experience are essential when growing your team, but finding team members whose values align with those of your personal and inherently, your company's values is a jewel like no other.
Tristan spoke on this from experience, from lessons learned, and his knowledge on this subject is worth its weight in gold coming from a man who runs a successful company with 15 employees.
The large forum Q&A had us seated in a large auditorium with Atlanta-based entrepreneurs thirsty for knowledge. Camera equipment abounds, large screen with headshots of Ceata, Garrett, and Tristan, and mics ready for questions from the audience.
Ironically, similar themes carried over from the round table discussion and drove home the same point — evaluate your goals and know who you are.
It's okay to grow slow; it's okay to grow fast. It's okay to implement new plans and initiatives to merge with a larger company, to stay independent, or run at your self-determined max speed. It's all relative to you, your abilities, and your plans for your future. You might see that your path looks a bit different than you previously imagined, and ultimately more valid to you. Either way — it's okay.