An article a part of Stay Boutique’s Social Commentary Series
Written by Marcus Carey, Co-Founder of Homage Hospitality
Seed funding for brick-and-mortar entrepreneurs, by and large, comes from familial wealth. This is where I want to start – how I’d like to set the table, if you will.
My upbringing looks a lot like the typical African American middle-class experience. The setting is Detroit, MI , blue-collar parents, modest dwellings, and public school represents that environment. Like Americans from various backgrounds, family and faith were at the center of our household. Kim raised me to believe in the power of self-motivation, hard work, and to trust in the steady hand of Christ. If not for some pivotal decisions and parental nudging on the part of my family, and moments of divine intervention on the part of a higher power, my life could have taken a much different direction. But thankfully and humbly, here I am writing to you about my experience as a leader of the next great brand in travel.
My co-founder, Damon, looked around the world and didn’t see hotel spaces reflective of our communities and our experiences. Further, plenty of those spaces were downright unsafe for & humiliating to people that look like us – so he grabbed me to help create what we didn’t see. A couple of years later, with more grey hair and sleepless nights than we can count, we’ve opened our first property in New Orleans, LA with additional openings imminent. We’re incredibly lucky to have reached this milestone, but part of our mission is to kick open the door that allows scores more to come after us. In my mind, that conversation starts and ends at access to capital, relationships, and opportunity.
With an idea on paper, we would’ve loved the chance to talk to our grandparents about our vision and convince them to finance the effort – but that wasn’t our experience. The challenges of ‘friends and family’ investment rounds for diverse entrepreneurs have been explored elsewhere, so I won’t raise that here. But I do want to make an important point – there is an outsized, latent desire for creation in communities across the country. Dreamers and hard workers are at-the-ready with projects that can transform their own lives and those that surround them. Yet, there is no clear and viable path for those dreamers to bring those projects to life. For those of us that cross the chasm of creation – is it a classic survival of the fittest scenario? Sure, maybe. However, I can’t help but wonder what a large scale shift in access for under-advantaged communities might do for society.
Relationships are key here, and have proven to be the bedrock on which our business found its footing. While ours weren’t familial relationships, we were able to prioritize advice and guidance from industry titans that we admired starting on day one. Though not all of them took to assisting our journey, more than we could imagine decided to roll up their sleeves and help us figure this thing out. Strategy sessions over lunch, quick emails with ideas for us to consider, introductions to the right next investor or advisor – these things are the oxygen through which unconventional entrepreneurs thrive. The jolt of energy that arises from someone with no biological connection to us proving that they care about our success is simply indescribable.
Crowdfunding platforms and social media have fundamentally changed the playing field, so they deserve mention here. As unconventional entrepreneurs, the ability to self-publish our story and make public asks for support naturally reduces the barriers through which we run, and for that we’re grateful. The platforms don’t come without shortfalls, however. Entrepreneurs without wide networks typically see little to no support for otherwise phenomenal ideas when turning to crowdfunding campaigns. These solutions are patches to deep-rooted issues; they delay the flow without fixing problems found at the core.
This should not be the state of play. Creators in our society should not be subject to prerequisites of lineage or networks. There are many successful and unconventional entrepreneurs that believe this too, and are doing their part to change these dynamics. From business stalwarts like Magic Johnson and Rich Dennis, Carla Harris and Rosalind Brewer, to cultural leaders like Bey and Serena, Puff and Hov – each has designed their vehicle for impact to pattern match for unconventional creators. Though these individuals, and others like them, can only do but so much, their contributions to this challenge go far beyond dollar amounts. They are a proof point for what’s possible, in service to those of us earlier in the journey.
With all the circumstances and obstacles, this unconventional entrepreneur remains hopeful and optimistic about shifts on the horizon. Hopeful that institutional limited partners take imbalanced opportunity seriously enough to demand serious changes from their asset allocators. Optimistic that high net worth individuals find more joy in assisting rags-to-riches hustlers in lieu of backing those equipped with inherited generational wealth. And most of all, confident that the Homage Hospitality journey will serve as a marker for what’s possible when you don’t take “no” as a rule, make a little bit of trouble here and there, never even consider giving up when you know you’re on to something and continue the marathon by any means necessary.