Don’t ask Felecia Hatcher about being a Black woman in technology unless you’re ready to have a candid conversation about the experience. She doesn’t sugarcoat the uphill battle many women of color face when trying to execute their dreams and establish credibility in a field dominated by white males.
It’s a couple of weeks before Black Tech Week, an endeavor she started with her husband Derick Pearson, kicks off in Miami and she’s knee-deep in taking care of preparations. She’s set aside time in her busy schedule to talk to Lioness and I can hear the excitement in her voice bleeding through the phone. Hatcher has a larger-than-life personality and not even a phone call from 1,400 miles away can dilute her addictive energy.
“God, we are so far behind,” she said of Black women in tech. “It definitely hasn’t been without its challenges. You want to be comfortable in your own skin. You want to have certain opportunities presented to you without having to seek them out because they are easily presented to other people so freely. You don’t want to have to play the game, but you do.”
At 32, Hatcher has launched at least three successful startups, her first as a freshman at Lynn University. She spearheaded experiential social media campaigns for companies like Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft and food giant Little Debbie. She’s been honored by the White House twice – the first time in 2011 as one of the Empact Top 100 Entrepreneurs under 30 and again in 2014 as a Champion of Change for STEM Access and Diversity.
She is the new face of entrepreneurism in the United States. African American women are the fastest-growing segment of entrepreneurs in America with a rate of nearly 322 percent since 1997. Still, we only receive 1 percent of venture capital that is doled out to startups. A statistic that pales in comparison to the other startling ones revealed recently in #ProjectDiane, a study released by digitalundivided about the state of Black women in tech entrepreneurship in the United States.
Hatcher is hell-bent on changing it.
She and Derick started Feverish, a gourmet popsicle and ice cream catering company in 2008, after she fell running after an ice cream truck in heels. The company specializes in vegan-friendly and spiked popsicles for events and retail and private label manufacturing. Through Feverish Ice Cream she has helped PayPal, Google, Air BnB, Adidas, The W Hotel and other high-end companies and celebrities promote their products through her trucks and social media networks. The couple sold Feverish Pops in 2015 primarily to focus on their next endeavor.
I once had a meeting with a guy who was interested [in doing business] and he said, ‘I think you and your husband are anomalies.’ I said one, ‘I don’t need your money and I’m going to prove you wrong.’”
While building Feverish, she and Derick taught students in urban areas how to become entrepreneurs and they wanted to make sure they developed tech skills that would make them marketable. At that time, she felt like there was nothing out there to get the Black community and African Caribbean community engaged as an active participant in creative communities as creators. So being the leaders and entrepreneurs that they are, in 2012 the nonprofit Code Fever was born.
“As Black people we have to beg and scratch to get at the table. They have the old boys network. You can build your own damn table,” Hatcher said. “Once our community realizes that – and at the same time we have a short window for that to happen – we can pool our resources, get our tribe together and grow. If we do it strategically, this is what will save our community when the barriers are gone.”
Dedicated to teaching kids from underrepresented communities about entrepreneurship, coding and the STEM fields, Code Fever has a goal of mentoring and teaching 10,000 students how to code by the year 2020. With organizations such as the Knight Foundation and companies like BET, Dell and Intel getting on board, so far they’ve trained more than 1,500 youth and adults.
Hatcher, who acts as executive director at Code Fever, said women have to put their ideas into action and stop sitting on them, that the change comes in the doing. “Just do the damn thing. Just do it. It’s not as hard as you think it is and the reward is there. Look at being a disrupter and solving a problem,” she said. “And definitely look at your exit. When you’re thinking about your entrance, you should be thinking about your exit. What does it look like and when? What plans and systems are you putting in place to make sure that happens? I would definitely say don’t get wowed by the money because you’ll need more than that to get by. If someone waves money at you, if you know your exit, you won’t throw away equity. You have to be very selfish with your equity. Put a really solid team together, a team that will truly live the mission and the culture of what you’re trying to create.
“I have a two-year-old that I have to create an amazing future for so that keeps me motivated every single day. I have great parents that I owe a lot to and that I want to retire. If I wake up and I can’t retire them I have to grind.”
Hatcher Wisdoms 101
On working with your spouse …
“We worked together before we started a business together. We’ve been doing it so long we know when it’s like, ‘alright I need to go Starbucks. I can’t deal with you right now.’ But I could not imagine building businesses with anyone else. Having separate hobbies helps out a lot, too and just being supportive. I got his back and he has mine.”
On managing employees …
“That’s some of the best advice I got from my dad. Treat your staff like family. Take care of each other.”
On being the only person of color in tech scenarios …
“I’ve embraced the fact that I’m the only one in the room. We started a meetup called Black Tech Miami. My husband and I would always go to these events and be the only people of color in the room and it spiraled into us doing more events and panels and telling other people of color to look for us [at whatever events we would be attending] … No matter how far you are in your career, it can be uncomfortable.”
On using technology to advance the conversation …
“We are influencing media like we’ve never had this access before. When you look at the LA Times hiring a Black Twitter correspondent … Yeah, we don’t own the media platforms that we should own, but we are still able to share information in that way. The entertaining part shouldn’t be dismissed. There’s a lane for all of it to exist.”
On taking unbeaten paths to success …
“I was not a great student in high school and college. I was a C student and of course that never translated well. I originally wanted to go into TV production or be an engineer but I sucked at math. I was great at science, a great writer, so I did not take traditional paths toward tech as some of my counterparts.”
On finding quality mentors …
“Having some really good mentors has allowed me to brush some stuff off of my shoulders. My mentor Tara told me the only color you should be concerned about is green. It took me awhile to kind of digest that.”