Young Professionals Spotlight: Danielle Deavens
1. Tell us a little about yourself
I attended Elon University in North Carolina, where I studied Journalism and English. Two months after graduation, I moved to Brooklyn to work at Food Network Magazine as the assistant to the editor-in-chief. A year later, I transitioned to Brides Magazine, where I was the Assistant Editor (and later Associate Editor). While at Brides, I hosted Cocktail Hour, an Instagram story series focused on all things wedding food and drink.
While I was in New York, I started thinking about what would come after journalism. As I weighed my options—pivot to another career path or pursue an MBA—I was introduced to Venture for America, a two-year fellowship that sends recent graduates to work at startups in emerging cities. I spent months learning all I could about the program, and was accepted just shy of a year after I found out about it. In August 2018, I moved to Charlotte, NC to work in business development and sales as the first full-time salaried employee at ShopOff, a company building a local shopping app.
2. How did you first get into entrepreneurship?
Throughout the nearly two years that I lived in New York, I worked on two side projects with my longtime boyfriend and business partner. In October 2016, just months after graduating from Elon, we launched The Curatours, a media platform that amplified the voices and stories of young black people doing great things. That gave way to Bold Xchange, a marketplace that connects consumers with high-quality, black-owned brands. We launched Bold in July 2018.
The Curatours and Bold Xchange opened up a whole new world for me—I’ve never pursued business or entrepreneurship before. But once I found something I was passionate about, it was a no-brainer. When I think about the potential impact of Bold Xchange—the businesses we can help people build, how we can be part of shifting narratives around buying black—even the hard days feel more than worth it. I pursued Venture for America, and my current position more specifically, to learn more about building a business, scaling a marketplace, and developing a distinct company culture, among other things.
3. What are the biggest obstacles you faced so far? What’s been the most surprising?
Building a marketplace is really hard. Getting any business off the ground is tough, but marketplaces are even more challenging. We knew that coming into it, but it doesn’t make it easier. We’ve also played around a bit with our approach to a few facets of the company, in an effort to gauge how to get maximum buy-in from customers on both sides of the marketplace.
A major surprise was winning our first pitch competition. I competed at the Black Girl Ventures Pitch Competition in D.C. in October and won $3,000 plus $7,000 in in-kind donations for Bold Xchange. Not only was that a huge vote of confidence in what we’re doing, it was also a critical influx of capital and resources that we needed to keep our businesses moving forward.
4. In your opinion, how has tech lowered the barrier to entry to entrepreneurship for underrepresented demographics?
It’s really encouraging to see so many coding boot camps creating direct pipelines for nontraditional candidates to pursue jobs in tech. These are opportunities for people who are younger than average, or have less formal education to gain access to career paths that once required a degree and more experience. That’s an ideal outcome: lowering the barriers to entry to create a level playing field in terms of skill level.
Aside from the tech world specifically, the tools necessary to build a brand are more accessible than ever. Apps and other resources for social media management, business development, and education cost little to nothing. That’s huge for people who have something great to build but not much capital to build it.
5. What can this generation to do narrow the gap of representation in tech?
Keep building. Tools. Brands. Impact. Allow everything we do to set the stage for more access and success for those who will come behind us.
When everyone has equal access to the same tools, and are evaluated on the use of those tools rather than arbitrary markers of potential success, those who deserve to win actually win. And those who don’t win are encouraged to push themselves harder instead of perceiving mediocrity as excellence. Efforts toward equality stand to elevate everyone’s level of work, and I’m excited to see the other ways that tech can help us achieve that.
6. What kind of impact would you like to have on the world?
I’d love to help de-stigmatize buying black. Even among black people, there are socially constructed barriers to supporting the growth of wealth in our own communities. I want Bold Xchange to be part of the movement to tear down those barriers. And one day, I want to write a book. At least one. My late grandmother used to say that we each have a book in us. I’m not sure what mine is about, but I can’t wait to hold it in my hands and read it cover to cover.
7. What makes you feel most excited about your future?
If there’s anything I’ve learned from the past two years, it’s that I can do anything. It takes work, but it’s possible. I graduated with a journalism degree and now I’m an entrepreneur working in business development and sales at an ecommerce startup. My path isn’t straight, but straight is overrated. The thread that connects where I’ve been with where I’m going is that I’ve worked harder and harder each step of the way, and I’ve followed my instincts each time. I’m excited to see what lessons and milestones I reach in this stage, and how that leads to whatever is next.
8. What is your advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Make your current situation work for you. So many of us have to start out working on our passions as side hustles, but try to find a way to turn your day job into a space where you can build or hone a skill that can help your side project flourish. Also, be patient with yourself and your business. Success takes time. Behind every success story on IG, there’s sleepless nights, anxiety attacks, closed doors and disappointments. The photo (nor the caption) tells the full story. Just keep pushing.