Tara Robinson is a fashion entrepreneur who has already defied the odds as a woman who has raised Venture Capital funding for her company (see my post on The Basics of Venture Capital here). Venture capital investment in all-female founding teams hit $3.3 billion in 2019, and while that sounds like a lot of money, it represents only 2.8% of capital invested across the entire U.S. startup ecosystem last year. It is extremely challenging to raise capital for women, and even more so for Black women. I was introduced to Tara through her start-up accelerator which is providing the structure for her to help scale her company, TracksRacks, with speed and support for success. Her business, TracksRacks, has streamlined the fashion sample industry, and here she’s sharing an inside look at her journey to success.
I asked Tara to share her perspective on raising venture capital – a perspective that is hard to find because it is something so few have had the chance to experience. “As a black woman founder raising funds from VC’s it’s a daunting, intimidating, and elusive task. You are not only worrying about the quality of your product, the scalability of what you’ve built and the KPI’s you’ve reached. You are thinking of what the reaction will be when you appear in the room. How will you be perceived? How can you make sure they focus on your product rather than any prejudice they may have about your capabilities. You think about the network and the intros you don’t have access to. I have seen the impact having that network makes by having white allies and thought of how much further I could have been if I had this help from the beginning of my journey. You question your ability to even raise funds because so few people who look like you have been able to do it. The founder journey isn’t easy for anyone but as a POC you often think of how many great ideas and companies never even got a chance because of lack of access to resources many people take for granted.”
Today I’m sharing an extended interview with the dynamic entrepreneur, and I hope my friends in the industry will consider connecting with Tara to learn about opportunities to work together.
You worked in the fashion industry before launching your own venture. Could you tell me about the moment you were inspired to create TracksRacks?
I had a typical terrible fashion internship for a popular fashion stylist when I got the idea for TracksRacks. During my internship, I got firsthand experience on how chaotic the sample trafficking process was, and I was confident it could be much easier and efficient if there was a digital solution dedicated to streamlining the process.
When I presented the idea to my class everyone started talking about their experiences at other fashion companies and how much this solution was needed in the industry.
How does TracksRacks work? What problem does it solve?
TracksRacks is a business to business sample management platform for fashion companies. Our software as a service solution (SaaS) is for fashion companies who track thousands of samples internally throughout different departments and externally out to press.
Unlike our competitors, we focus solely on streamlining the sample management process with an easy-to-use web and mobile platform, transparent pricing, and messengers to deliver samples to clients. We do this by using product recognition, QR codes, real-time reports, and a centralized client database. This process leads to decreased sample loss, increased efficiency, and smaller sample management teams.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced when you first started? How did you overcome them?
My biggest challenge when I first started was figuring out how to build a tech product without having any technical experience. I initially didn’t know where to start, however I was able to be resourceful and find a developer. I used my experience of working in e-commerce to build out my idea and express what I needed to build. I overcame these issues by using the tools, resources, and skills I did have, and finding someone who could help me bring my product to life.
What was the most difficult part of raising capital?
Raising capital has a lot to do with having access to the right people and networks. You need warm introductions to meet VCs to even get the opportunity to pitch your company. When you are an early stage WOC founder, it’s hard to get these intros. It is also very difficult to get the feedback and mentorship needed to guide you through this process.
How did you gain confidence/what helped you while you were in the room with venture capitalists?
Practicing and mastering my pitch! Once I did that, meeting with VC’s and investors became a lot less intimidating because I felt prepared and knew what questions to expect. This truly raised my confidence and changed how I entered the room.
Can you describe how you felt after successfully raising capital for your business?
When you become a founder, you get a lot of rejection. You are constantly hearing no or being told to come back when you are further along. When you finally get a “yes” and find people who actually believe in you enough to invest their time and money into you and your company, it reaffirms you as a founder.
When you finally get a “yes” and find people who actually believe in you enough to invest their time and money into you and your company, it reaffirms you as a founder.
What resources did you have limited or no access to? How did you adapt?
I had limited access to a network of VCs or angel investors. I also didn’t have access to enough funds to hire staff, so I had to build my company on my own. I adapted by saving money and starting a side-hustle so that I could focus on TracksRacks full-time. I then found freelancers and contractors to help fill in the roles until I was able to grow my company.
What words of advice would you give to young entrepreneurs facing similar challenges?
My advice to young entrepreneurs is to start as early as you can. It’s also important to fully test your idea for the most cost effective price and get feedback from early potential customers. This feedback is so valuable to building a scalable business. There are also so many tech hacks nowadays that give you many options when trying to build out your product.
Is there any particular resource you would recommend to aspiring entrepreneurs?
One of my favorite resources for aspiring entrepreneurs is Fiverr, an online platform for freelance services. I have had everything from landing pages, explainer videos, to logos made by using that service. You can find affordable and quality work from freelancers all over the world, which was a total game changer for me.
Who is someone you really admire and why?
Mandela Schumacher-Hodge Dixon is the CEO and Founder of Founder Gym. She helps underrepresented founders raise money to create a more equitable world.