Audio and Photo Source: The Black Enterprise Network Podcast and Kimmiko James
In this podcast feature Orion Brown, our CEO and Founder spoke with Kimmiko James about her journey from Pre-med to Brand Management, and later to entrepreneurship. Here they focus on the tribulations of the corporate and start up worlds via the lens of the Black, woman experience.
What a few tips and tricks on how to pivot careers and life paths? Then this is the podcast for you.
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The Black Enterprise Network
Episode 8 - Orion Brown - Solopreneur and Founder of BlackTravelBox
Kimmiko James (00:00):
Welcome to the Black Enterprise Network podcast, episode number eight, if you've been listening to this podcast over the last few episodes, you'll start to notice somewhat of a pattern and the different stories shared everyone is like on a unique Pat mint for themselves, the keyword here being unique. We're so used to having these narrow paths car for us in which we play things safe without exploring paths that could potentially help us grow and benefit us so much more. We need to consider having what Orion calls, the C suite mindset and what you can put our fears aside and rise above sticking with the norm. And this episode, I speak with the Orion Brown, a solopreneur that founded BlackTravelBox. She breaks out her journey from being pre-med to brand management and how she discovered an opportunity from the booming Black travel movement. Let's get into the episode. Small percentage of Black people are currently represented in the tech industry and entrepreneurial spaces. This includes engineers, startup, founders, investors, and especially those that hold leadership. I want to share their stories. The first question I have is just like, just sort of stocking your LinkedIn and your work and college experiences. It seems as though you had, and still probably still have more of an interest on the business kind of side of things. So what sparked that interest and why did you continue with that path?
Orion Brown (01:26):
So when I went to college, um, I got there with a good, uh, I guess 15 years under my belt of being pre-med in my mind. Right. So I was like, since I was four, I was like, I'm going to be a doctor. It's going to be great. And then I got there and I was like, this is not what I was expecting. Um, you know, and I had a lot of things going on at home, real talk, lots and lots of stuff going on at home that was like spilling into my schoolwork and my ability to focus. And I've got to basically my third year of college and I was like, I don't think I can do this level of stress and intensity and eat ramen for another six years before I can go out into the world and be independent and like paid and do stuff.
Orion Brown (02:09):
And I was just, I had to be honest with myself cause I was like, I don't know, like how does this going to work? Right. And so I had to really let go of that dream and create a new one. And so that's where my career looks a little bit eclectic because at that point I had to go, what's the most practical thing you can do right now. You've got like a year and a half of school left that you need to get your life together. And, and then you need to go somewhere and convince somebody that you can work. And so I started looking at one, just, you know, studying the stuff that was interesting to me because I knew to be Frank, the school that I was going to university of Chicago has a great name and I would be able to be employed coming out of there.
Orion Brown (02:48):
Um, so it was more like gifts, get something out of this experience that you feel like you've accomplished something. And that you've done something that you've really been interested in, in studying. And so I kind of flipped to, um, psych and human development and worked on, you know, I did a psych study and did a bunch of different things that really just sort of edified me, lifted my grades because I was enjoying myself and, um, and then started to prepare myself for, for business and business seemed like a great thing. The only funny, ironic thing is, is, you know, at university of Chicago, you don't have any undergrad business classes. At least they didn't when I was there. And so I was like, I have no practical experience. The only time I ever go into like corporate office buildings is when I have to pee.
Orion Brown (03:29):
Like if I'm downtown and I'm like between McDonald's and that fancy building, which one's going to have a bathroom that I won't have to hover too long.
Kimmiko James (03:37):
Um, yeah, I know I've been that person I've been that person.
Orion Brown (03:41):
Yeah. Yeah. So, I mean, you know, it was really, it was really a choice of being really strategic about where I went. I ended up in finance because I was looking at management training programs. I was looking at business training programs. So, um, oftentimes companies will have these programs for very junior people to come in and just learn how to be an adult in a corporate setting. I mean, that's really what it comes down to. Um, and so it's so happened that JP Morgan had an internal consulting services program where you rotate around the business and it's a management training program and they don't expect you to be really deep in any area of finance because everywhere you go, you're doing something really different.
Orion Brown (04:18):
And so that was sort of the impetus and that's what got me into finance per se. Um, but in doing that, I learned a lot about people, about business, business models, organizational behavior, project management, which was huge. I got great product management and problem solving skills because I was working on stuff for the investment bank over here, how they do their confirmations, which are basically like receipts for transactions. But then in cash management, we're actually tracking where cash is physically going and how that process works. And then over here I'm doing an HR job and over here. And so I got a really, really broad range of experience. Eventually. I said, okay, I feel like I can take the training wheels off. Now. I feel like I can go into an office building and be like, not only do I know where the bathroom is, I know where the boardroom is. Haha. Right.
Orion Brown (05:11):
So when I got to that place, um, that's when I said, well, what's next because this is, this was a strategic choice, not a fulfillment choice. And I didn't know what I wanted to do. I honestly didn't. I was like, well maybe I should go into banking or maybe I should go into consulting because I was doing consulting at a bank. Let me go to business. School. Business school is a great place to hide when you don't know what you want to do. People don't say that, but that is what we are doing. There's a lot, a lot of people are doing. Um, but it's also a great place to discover other things. And so in going back to school and taking that time to really invest in myself and figure out what felt right from like an edification standpoint, like what do I want to go and do every day that I love?
Orion Brown (05:53):
And I want to be in, in the middle of, I discovered brand and I didn't brand existed brand management. I was like the Keebler elves and make the little cookies. I thought those dudes were straight up just chocolate, you know, chocolate jocks, they got this. I didn't realize that there are people behind these brands and these businesses and that, that make those decisions. And once I started to see that I saw that it pulled the best of what I really loved the strategic stuff. The looking at the big picture, understanding how all the interplay of the business works, all these different things that I really loved about what I had been doing before. And then also added this creative, beautiful physical product to it. Like I could see what I was doing. Nobody knew what project management was. They were like, so what does that mean?
Orion Brown (06:34):
I'm like I managed projects and they're like, I don't know what that means. I don't know what you're talking about. Like what, what's the tangible thing. But when I started working for Kraft foods, people could be like, Oh my gosh, I just saw your crystal light on the shelf that you were telling me you were working on last week. And that was, that was important to me. That made me feel like, especially, I think coming from a community that doesn't have a ton of exposure to corporate jobs. When you try to talk to people like in your family about what it is that you do, they're just like, I don't get it. And you know, everybody wants to pretend like they don't need, we all need some validation. We all need a little validation. You can run off your own steam, but you kind of want the people that are, that you want to make proud, actually understand that you're making something, you're creating something that you're doing something tangible, not just that you make money and it's this like vague thing out there. And so for me, that, that was the transition. Um, um, getting to brand, it gave me sort of that tangible validation for myself and for the people around me. Um, and I was really proud to see stuff end up on the shelf. So that's how I went from pre-med to psych, to finance, to brand that's super awesome.
Kimmiko James (07:47):
And no pressure to go to med school from your family?
Orion Brown (07:51):
No. Um, it's expensive.
Kimmiko James (07:56):
I guess, I guess it worked out for all parties.
Orion Brown (08:00):
Yeah. And I put myself through school for the most part. So it was one of those things that I didn't have, like that type of pressure. It wasn't like you need to be doing this or that because I was really kind of directing the ship. Um, and it didn't hurt to come out of school with a job at JP Morgan like that didn't hurt, you know? So they're like, Oh, you're not a doctor, but you're making money. Cool. Now what's interesting to have conversations when I was like, I'm leaving my very nicely paying job to go, not make money and go spend a couple hundred thousand dollars on my education. Again, that was an interesting conversation. It was like, why would you do that? I don't get it. You know? And that wasn't just family that was friends that was people in circles that were like, well, why don't you just like stop at the local community college?
Orion Brown (08:42):
You can take some classes. And it's like, there's, there's something unfortunate that we live in like two Americas where people really don't understand how the two different systems work. And there is something not to be elitist, but there is something tangible about going to a school that has an amazing network, whether it be an HBCU or a top 10 or Ivy league or whatever it might be having that network and that experience, those are intangibles the education itself. Not to be funny, but like, I don't know how much I learned, you know, mathematically when I went back to school. Right. But in terms of growth and interpersonal and making connections and just that experience, the maturity that it brings the refinement, the wisdom, that stuff that, yeah, you can pop into night school classes, but if you're on that grind of, I'm just trying to get to the next supervisor level.
Orion Brown (09:38):
You're not on that C-suite mindset. It's just two different things. It's just really two different things. And so that was an interesting challenge to try to navigate. And at some point you have to go look, I know people are looking to me to be stable so that when other things happen, I can kind of come in and help. And I have no problem with that. I'm so down with that, I really do. And I think oftentimes within the Black community, we have those types of pressures, especially as entrepreneurs. And we get a little bit skiddish on the risk side because we know it's not just me being like, well, I guess I'll have to couch surf for a few months and figure it out. It's like, no, there's people really relying on me to be successful and create legacy. And I think with that experience, even going back to school, I had to learn early how to focus on my faith, focus on what I believe the next right step is, and really be comfortable with the discomfort of having to almost step out alone on faith to figure out what that next thing is.
Orion Brown (10:42):
And to keep moving forward, because a lot of people can't come with you in that regard, you know? And, and that's okay. It's, it's a challenge. It can get lonely, but it's okay because eventually, you know, down the road, it pays off. Especially if you have a dream and you have something in your heart, that's like really telling you, this is the, this is the next step.
Kimmiko James (11:03):
That's that's very well said. And that's actually related to a follow-up. I, I was going to ask, like, not a lot of people know how to have the seat suite mindset, you know, like kind of just what you were saying. A lot of people will stay on the certain tracks that have been placed of why don't you go to a CC or why don't you do this? Or why don't you do that? Why are you leaving your high paying job to do this? How did you know that an MBA would be worth it? Because yeah. You know, the MBA argument, a lot of people say, it's not worth it. You can get the network another way you can build a business without the MBA, et cetera. Like how did you know that you were lost and that you needed to just do this thing that was so unconventional?
Orion Brown (11:51):
Well, number one, I am not one of those people that came out of the womb as like an entrepreneur. Like I wasn't selling lemonade at the hospital, right? Dr. Slap, you hear, you want eliminate what you got. Like, you know, I've never been that kind of hustler. And so I was very comfortable, very comfortable in the corporate space in terms of how that, um, that dynamic is meant to work and that, that regular check and insurance that you don't even have used, but you're like, Hey, we got it. You know, matched, matched all of my 401k. So, so in my mind, I think the thing that you have to cause it's going to be different for everybody and you really have to know yourself. Like, for instance, I'm terrible at going out and making networks. I'm not the person that's just like gregarious. And I can, I can hold a great conversation with somebody if put in a room, I I'm like good, but finding the rooms, wanting to find the rooms, to be honest is not something that's natural to me.
Orion Brown (12:44):
So I didn't know I needed to be put in. And the reason why I picked Duke for my business school was because it had such a tight knit community. And I know I can be a hermit so easy. I could stay home like quarantine and I'm like, y'all, don't even know I got this. Um, and so for me, it was, I wanted to pick a space that would force me to be gregarious. That would force me to really bond with people to really create those connections and things like that. And so, yes, technically I could do that on my own, but it also depends on where you live, what your economic status is, how much time you got, et cetera, et cetera. And so, you know, for me, like I said, the big thing was I knew I wanted to career change and I wanted to figure out what that next step was.
Orion Brown (13:26):
And I wanted a, an environment that would help me figure that out and give me a safe space to play around and test. Right? So when you go to business school, if you do a two year program, you do your first year, then you do an internship in the middle and then you do your second year. So the great thing about that for me was I could do an internship and I remember I was thinking banking or consulting. I was like, let me do an internship. And one of those, and if I hate it, I'll just go and do the other one. And it all, it'll be all gravy, right? Because I'm in school. And like, you have a story right at the end of the day, as long as you have a story, it really doesn't matter. And so, you know, I say all that to say, like, it really is unique to your experience, but for me, I found that the MBA gave me options and options is really what you want in life.
Orion Brown (14:11):
At least what I think, because you may think today and it may be the right answer, right? Like today, the next right thing to do is to go this step. But if you base your whole career on that one step, and rather than to just say, okay, if the career were to take off from there, what would it look like? But then if it went right, what would that look like when we start to get so narrowed in, on what we want to do and miss that, that could change or miss that we don't have enough information to make great decisions about that, or miss that we, we just might change our minds or our lives might change. We might have kids. We might do things that we never thought we were going to do. Then that rigidity breeds a lot of regret and a lot of, you know, issues.
Orion Brown (14:54):
But if you can give yourself out. So that's what I do. I look at a situation and I go, if this works out, that's wonderful. If it doesn't work out, what is plan B, C, D E. And so it, MBA is great because one, depending on the school you go to, the name can carry you into rooms that not having it, you know, just won't do too. You're getting exposure to other, um, uh, areas of functionality and expertise. Other than the one that, you know, you may not necessarily be focused on. So even if you're not, if you're focused on entrepreneurship and you start getting, you start taking operations classes and you just really like operations, and then all of a sudden we're in a recession and your business isn't working, you can go get an ops job at Amazon and kick, and you've got a school name behind you that at least gets you a managerial position.
Orion Brown (15:44):
You know what I'm saying? So that it gives you flexibility and things to fall back on. And ultimately it doesn't have to be sort of the final, final decision. The other thing that I always tell people too, is if you're unsure about what it is that you want to do an MBA or a JD or whatever it might be can be great because you can work it like this, go get it, kick at it. Feel broke, go get a really good job for two years, pay off your debt and then figure out the next thing that you want to do. Right? Like some people, you know, they'll get the JD and they're like, Oh, I don't want to be a lawyer. I want to do something else. That's cool. Go get the lawyer job for just two years, make one 60 a year, pay off your student loans, buy mama car, put something away and then go all vacation and figure out what you want to do with your life. Like it gives you options. And that's really the key
Kimmiko James (16:40):
That was very well said, even for myself, trying to figure life out while I'm in college. That I think about it. And after reading this book called rich dad, poor dad, he's kind of saying the same thing. I'm like, if you want to make money, you can't just quit your day job and just be Jeff Bezos. You have to work that crappy job for a little bit and work your way up to what you're trying to get to. So very well said.
Orion Brown (17:01):
Yeah. And there's always different ways to get there. And people always use examples. Yeah. But someone is so woke up one day and they had this great idea and then QVC bought it. And then it's like, yes, but the probability of that happening is very small. It's very, it's, it's rather small, but not only that stop looking at other people's paths cause you don't know what they had to go through to get to that. You just see the outcome. We all see everybody's tip of the iceberg. We don't see all the stuff that they had to do. And it's not even, it's just about the work or the thing that they're executing on. Sometimes our personal life stuff, or sometimes our health suffers all kinds of different things that we go through to get to the place that we're at. Just to even be in the mindset, to come wake up the next day and have that thought that makes the billion dollars. And so at the end of the day, your own, your path is your own. And you just got, you gotta be comfortable with that. This is my path. I don't know what mine is. If I want to be that million dollar person. Yes, I can be focused and I can do all of that, but don't try to be them be you doing that
Kimmiko James (18:01):
Very well said very well said, working on it,
Orion Brown (18:07):
College college, everything feels so intense. And I feel like it's similar to high school. Like when you're in college, you look back on high school and you're like, I kinda care about those people, but I really kind of don't anymore. But like, you're going to feel the same way when you get out of college, right? And you get into your real life, your real world life. And then you can look back at college. It was like, those were the days. But you know, and so as you get older, I find things are just less serious. You may become a more serious person and more directed and focused, but like, things are less like this is the end of the world. My best friend moved out of town. Like we don't realize. Yeah, that's all right. I don't really see you that much. Anyway, I be working.
Orion Brown (18:45):
And then I go out and you're not with my friend friends. So like, we'll just catch up once a year. It'll be fine. So I, and it's the same thing with the career stuff. It's like, your career is going to change so many different times and you're living in a world right now that is very different than the world that I grew up in. And then my parents grew up in, in the sense that like it used to be, get that one job, keep your head down, work your way up, get your goal, watch, get your pension and call it a day. And now it's people are finding new ways to create wealth and diversifying themselves. I mean, again, I go back to that example of, you know, get that JD, get that, um, you know, corporate grind, uh, you know, legal job, right, where you're making big money, but you haven't slept for two, two years.
Orion Brown (19:27):
You're young enough. It's okay to not sleep. You're going to go out on the weekends anyway and not sleep anyway. So let's be honest, but take some of that money and go put it in the stock market, take some of that money and go invest it. Like there's a number of ways in which, or invest in a friend's company. Who's like got a startup and you know that they're going to blow up, right? The access to data and information and the access to financial tools to really make, give yourself a level of comfort where you can take risks going forward is immense. So it's like, yeah, go ahead and take that corporate money, get all your dental work done, get all your, go on, get all your physicals and all that stuff with your corporate insurance, put squirrel away your money in, you know, put it in different things, let it grow. And then say, deuces, let me go figure out what I want to do. And maybe you, you begin a travel channel and make it really big. Or maybe you decide to go into MBA and make it really big or whatever it is, but you're giving yourself enough cushion and enough options that if something doesn't work, you can try something else and you don't have to feel like you've let yourself down and the rest of the world,
Kimmiko James (20:30):
Hey, I got time to figure it out and lose sleep. So it's okay. Yeah.
Orion Brown (20:34):
Yeah. Just make sure you get to catch up on this leave. You're still young girl. I can't, I'm still trying to catch up. I'll sleep in four nights ago. I'll tell you what.
Kimmiko James (20:42):
Yeah, yeah. We can just jump into it. Okay. So I'd really just love to get into how like this journey of working at JP Morgan into brand management and this MBA just transitioned into becoming an entrepreneurial leader and yeah. In a market that hasn't really been tapped into, which I think is really awesome. So yeah. Let's, let's talk to the BlackTravelBox.
Orion Brown (21:09):
That's a really good question because usually people are sort of like, Oh, okay, I get it. You were in Branding, now you started a brand and it's like it again, this is, this is where I really think about flexibility and options. Because for the longest time I was paranoid, like for the first, maybe eight, 10 years of my career, I was paranoid that my story wouldn't make sense. Like how did you go from pre-med to being in finance, to be an in brand and like working on like coffee. Like I didn't realize until I looked back and even today with, with BlackTravelBox, because after I left brand, well, I didn't leave brand, but I left food. I went to, um, Hasbro slash like backflip studios, which is a mobile gaming studio. Right. Um, and then I went to Oracle, which is, uh, you know, uh, data and, and um, SAS company.
Orion Brown (22:00):
And so, you know, these are very different things. But as I look back, I look at my experience at JP Morgan where I was doing internal consulting. And like I said, I was learning about strategy. I was learning about people, um, you know, business operations, organizational behavior, all of these core, these are core things that, as a leader, you need to understand how do people work? How do systems work? How do you change them and how do you manage that change? And then I got into brand and I was really about consumer centricity and understanding multi, you know, multinational, global brands and global businesses. Because as a brand manager there, you're not just doing marketing. You're also understanding the logistics of how your product gets to customers, how it's made. I literally went out to the port where our coffee came in and we had like a place where the coffee would go and they would do a testing on it and quality assurance and brewing it.
Orion Brown (22:53):
And so there's so much stuff that I learned about running a business, a physical products business about being in different jurisdictions about, I mean, I had so much contract law experience that I got under my belt from working with celebrity apprentice and working with, um, you know, licensed, you know, we licensed Capri sun that the juice patches, it's not owned by Kraft foods. It's owned by a company in Germany and working with the German company and seeing how they structure their business and how they think about licensing and how they think about their equipment and all of that. Um, you know, working on major, major overhauls of our, our factories and changing over, you know, working with our engineers as they change over lines and bring them down and making sure that product still gets flowed to our customers and that the new packaging is on shelf.
Orion Brown (23:44):
There was just so many different moving pieces that it great. It, I mean, it kind of made me a Ninja when it comes to physical products, businesses, and like, what are all the moving pieces and understanding how they interact and even knowing places where you might have issues and problems. Cause even if you're a big multinational multi-billion dollar company and you're, you know, they're like me, you're owner of a multi-million dollar brand or a hundred million dollar brand, um, they still got regular problems and it's the same problems you could have, you're baking cookies and sell them out of your house. It's just different scale. And so I think all of those things really culminated and it was really interesting when I went to backflip studios and I was helping them with their brand management as they were kind of moving from really successful garage, you know, mobile gaming house to something much bigger that had been bought out by a multinational company.
Orion Brown (24:36):
And they were trying to figure out how to bridge that. It gave me a lens into what the small guys are doing. Like I was sitting next to the person that bought my media. I had never done that before, because we'd always had agencies. I'd always had like five layers of people between me and the person who was physically typing in the copy and hitting send, and like making those ads appear. And so I'm sitting next to a woman. Who's literally got the corporate credit card and she's setting up ads. And so that was an amazing experience. And again, coming back to the entrepreneurship part, I would have been completely lost if I hadn't seen, Oh, you can literally just take a credit card and get on Facebook ads manager and play around with it. That doesn't mean it's simple at all, but, you know, without having that context, it makes things a lot more intimidating.
Orion Brown (25:25):
And then even going to Oracle, I was there really helping them with their fortune 100 clients, better understand their customers and their online users, um, through our data. So we'd have all this data, I'd go and analyze it. And I go to the customer and say, here's what you need to do. Here's decisions and things that you need to make. And here's who this person is. But in the background, I'm also learning how ad, you know, ad spends and ad targeting works, how to build audiences, how they interact, how those audiences behave and, you know, really creative ways to be, to be very granular and focused on how you target. And so again, like when I came up with the idea for BlackTravelBox,
Kimmiko James (26:08):
Hey guys, pardon the interruption. But I just wanted to take a minute to talk about the book I'm releasing in the coming months. If you were a student looking for an internship for a new grad job offer, then you're definitely going to want to read this book. I walk you through how to create the perfect resume, how to build side projects, both technical, and non-technical how to get leadership skills. And just generally speaking how to stand out amongst thousands of applicants, the base ebook will be available January, 2021. But if you're looking for paperback or Kindle versions, that'll be released some time and fall 2021. So be sure to check out
Kimmiko James (26:44):
The link at B I T dot L Y slash GTO underscore book. Okay. Now back to the episode,
Orion Brown (26:54):
It was a passion project for me. Cause I had just missed having a physical product. That was the thing that made me switch careers. Right? And so now I'm like teaching people how to better understand consumers and that's great and it's in my wheelhouse and I'm making good money, but I'm like, Oh, I miss having a thing. I want to think. So I started working on it on my own, but I, I, there was a light bulb moment where I realized every single experience that I thought was a mistake that I thought, Oh, I'm going to look crazy. People are going to think I'm, I'm all over the place. Cause I'm going all of these different companies and doing different things. And all of a sudden I'm like, this was the perfect path. And it taught me the right things at the right time to get me to a place that I could start my own company.
Kimmiko James (27:36):
Oh my God. I love that because yeah, a lot, again, a lot of people teach us, especially cause you're, I think you're a millennial. I would say like, they'll teach them
Orion Brown (27:48):
Kimmiko James (27:50):
Well the young people, I know a lot of people tell people the young, conventional way of the straight path we were talking about. But I feel like when you do jump around to these different positions, they can really benefit you in the future for when you're like in the deep end of the unknown, which is basically entrepreneurship. You don't know what the hell you're doing half the time, but if you have these experience prior to your experiences, then you're able to push forward. So I love to hear that. And I wanted to just take a quick step back cause I, I don't, I don't think a lot of people, cause I know I did the research, but could you just briefly describe what the BlackTravelBox and how you came up with the idea for it?
Orion Brown (28:34):
Yes. Yes. So BlackTravelBox is a personal care products company for travelers of color. So everything that we make is informed and formats that's meant to travel well, get through TSA and is made for, you know, unique hair and skincare, um, issues. So it's one of those things that we already know that the beauty industry is broken for Black women in particular. Um, you know, we're seeing more and more brands that are starting to cater to us because we're creating them to be honest. Um, but still from a scale perspective, we spend nine X, any other ethnicity, but we still have our own aisle. That's like the little four foot, maybe eight foot set at target. Target's the only one that's been like, you know? And so, so, you know, for us, it's, it's a broken industry now overlay on that, that Black people, us and black Americans not even talking globally, right?
Orion Brown (29:25):
So this is just like a small subset. Um, cause we're only 14% of the population here. We spend $63 billion annually on travel 63 billion. And that grew, uh, from 43 billion over eight years. So $20 billion over eight years. And we kinda know this anecdotally there is a Black travel movement happening, right? We've been seeing it over the last 10 years. And now you go on to like, you know, G there are hundreds of thousands of travel photos that people are sharing. They're sharing stories. There are groups on Facebook, you know, uh, Black travel movement on Facebook is a group and they have like almost a half a million people on this group, active, active, daily asking questions. I'm thinking about going to this place, what was this experience? Let me show you all my pictures. So there is something that is very different than again, you know, 20 years ago, it was like, if you were traveling outside of the country, you were Black, you were probably going to Jamaica for somebody signing, like for a honeymoon, like, or for somebody's wedding.
Orion Brown (30:24):
And that was pretty much it. I hate to put it that way, but it's kind of true. Especially like being Midwestern like me. So I grew up in a neighborhood where people didn't travel. People didn't have passports. I didn't get my passport until I was 25. My parents, my mom still doesn't have a passport. My dad just got one maybe in the last 10 years, you know, and they're in their sixties. So it's one of those things that it's, it's a very, very clear. And I think, um, on tap market, like you said, the reason why I ended up launching a company in that is, uh, really just from my own experience. So 15 years in corporate, one of the things that I love to do, because I'm still a Black woman in corporate, right? So I'm like constant headache, constant headache, like, Oh, I just need to get up out of here for a minute, just for a minute.
Orion Brown (31:08):
I loved what I did, but you know, the environment is still a challenge for us. And so I would take vacation every time I could. And that was another thing that I love about tenure. And in these jobs negotiate your salary and your vacation. I mean, I got up to five weeks vacation. I was like, yes, yes, Jesus. So I was traveling as much as I could. And as much as I, you know, most of that time that took off, I would use it to travel. And every time I traveled, like I would go, I was going through my photos and I realized I'm not taking any photos of myself because by day three, I'm looking hot mess. And I'm like, well, I always have that picture of the plane,
Speaker 4 (31:43):
Peace, you know? And then the rest of it,
Orion Brown (31:46):
There is a trip it's just pictures of all the other beautiful stuff. And, uh, you know, a couple of years ago I was in Japan and we've flew into Tokyo and I knew we were going to Okinawa Kyoto and the there, uh, longitudinally, I think that's the right one, uh, about the same as DC like DC was. So it was mid Atlantic in the spring. Beautiful. I'm like, this is great. This is perfect. As my that's wonderful. I'm gonna have a great time. We decided to hop over to Okinawa. Okinawa is a whole North Carolina, hot, sweaty thing, like 30 minute flight and I'm getting off and I'm like, I can feel my hair starting to raise up. And my skin is way and my scalp is sweaty and I got like this, like it's not even a curly Afro. It's just like, you know, and I'm like, I can't believe this.
Orion Brown (32:30):
We still got like eight days of this trip. And this is the last of my conditioners, like trying to hold all of this together. And I was really frustrated and call myself about it. And my partner at the time, he was like, you know, cause I was like, Oh, there should be a brand out here. And there should be things they should know that like, we need more product than this and they should figure out a way to do this and that I can't use this stuff at the hotel. And how am I supposed to ask a Japanese person for something for my hair? And we got a completely different thing going on. I don't even know how to say that in Japanese. Like what? And he was like dismissed what you used to do, like do brand stuff, right? Like, why don't you make that brand that gets you quiet real quick, that it gets you quiet real quick. Right. And I was like, shut up at each or each or sushi. Um, but then I was really thinking about it. And so after that trip, I sat on it for maybe like six months. And then I finally said, okay, either fist to get off the pot, that's the country saying, but uh, you know, do some right. And so I, I sat down and incorporated the business on that day. And I was like, at least if the government knows that I have a business, this will force me to actually do something.
Orion Brown (33:39):
Um, so technically the business has been around since August of 2017. Obviously I took about a year, year and a half to like start the idea ideation and working on it and all that stuff. Um, but it's official birth date was, was now three years ago.
Kimmiko James (33:55):
All, all the experiences you described a side that helped you with your, with your business and build it. I was reading an article that said, that asked you about what your business model was. And I really liked your response for it because it was like I work until I can't work anymore. And yeah, I, I think that's an interesting take. I've never heard that kind of business model for us. Pretty unique. So
Orion Brown (34:18):
You don't recall which interview that was. I feel like it might've been slightly skewed on context, but, um, because, so, so that philosophy is, so when people ask me, how do I do this as a solo canoer? Right. Um, that truly is the answer I work until I, until I can't. But, but when I say I can't, I'm not talking about, I'm starving to death, I'm sick. Um, you know, tired or not, not fainting. It's not that, but it is more of, um, there is a drive. And so, you know, and I'm trying to like get the context, right. But like, when you talk about business strategy, like how are you going to get this thing to, you know, the next step in five years, 10 years, 20 years, it really is me going like, let's do the work, let's do the next right thing.
Orion Brown (35:09):
I'll take it as far as I can. I know I'm, I've learned now when to take a step back. So I think when I first started out, I didn't know when to sleep. I didn't know when to stop because it was just like, I don't have to go to an office. I can get up in my pajamas and, you know, have a glass of water and start working at 7:00 AM and then put the computer down at 10:00 PM or 11 or 12 and still be in my pajamas. That is not healthy. We do not want to do that. Um, but the idea of keep keeping continually pushing it forward, um, driving on my own steam and it being okay to make mistakes. Right? So it's like, well, how are you going to do this? Well, this is my go-to market strategy. Well, I tried it and it's not working.
Orion Brown (35:55):
That's fine. Then I'll just try a different go to market strategy. Like that failure. Isn't a stopping point. It's a learning point. So, um, so I would caveat that statement a little bit or, or, or contextualize it a little bit with the keep moving aspect. Cause you asked me what my business model is like at a high level, I sell things to people and they pay for it and it pays for the margins. Like I don't, this isn't a rocket science business model. Um, there's things that I want to do with the way in which we manufacture once we scale and creating programs and jobs and things like that, that are interesting to me. But ultimately at the end of the day, I make something of value. Someone else values it and pays for it. And it's a, you know, it's a, it's a beautiful little circle of capitalism.
Orion Brown (36:40):
But when you talk about my philosophy and how I come at it, this will work in some iteration or another. It may not be called BlackTravelBox in five years. And I'm okay with that. Although we do have a trademark, which was not, but that's beside the point. Um, but it can change and it can morph and it may turn into something very, very different. We look at like things like Amazon. I remember Amazon when it was literally just the place to get your school books. When I was a freshman in college, it was like, Oh, I'll go on Amazon, this new Amazon thing instead of going to Barnes and noble or going to the school bookstore and paying hundreds of dollars, I'll pay half of it and buy it used from somebody. It was just eBay. That's really what it was eBay for books.
Orion Brown (37:21):
And now it's changed to the point that I get my groceries and my entertainment from Amazon, like Amazon prime is fire, which is why they call it the fire stick. I think I really, I think they knew they were like, this is fire right here. And so I think of the business that way I work until I can't work anymore, until there isn't anything else to do, there's always going to be stuff to do. And so the pauses are necessary. Um, but the idea that failure is this like really terminal concept or that like messing up something or not going away, you thought is, is this massive risk? I don't know if that's really true. I mean, you're not going to wake up Jeff Bezos tomorrow, but Jeff Bezos didn't wake up Jeff Bezos the day after he created Amazon either. So
Kimmiko James (38:07):
Were you still working a full-time job while you were working on starting this business up or did you just totally halt the job and put everything into the business? It was,
Orion Brown (38:16):
It was intimidating at first to hear so many people say that they've been entrepreneurs since they were kids and they used to sell candy at school and all this I'm never been that person. I'm like, why would I sell candy? They got people that do that. I don't, I don't understand. So that really wasn't my inclination. When I created it, it really was a passion project that I was working on own. And I was, you know, it's just like, you know, someone's, and this is so sexist to say, but like someone's dad working in the garage, like building something it's like, we don't need a nightstand, but he just wanted to make one. That was my nightstand. It was the thing that I was working on. And interestingly enough, uh, I really believe things happen for a reason, but in parallel, my corporate experience was getting to a point where I was just like up to here with disrespect, disregard being called the angry Black woman being told that my work is excellent, but I can't move forward.
Orion Brown (39:10):
You know, all of those different glass ceiling type things in these situations that are just honestly unacceptable within the corporate space. And so I had gotten to a point that I was like, I want you guys to stop paying, just stop paying me, stop. I'm good. Just to stop, you know, I don't even want to be here and like file my nails in the back and pretend like I'm working now. I just don't even need to, this is a waste of my time and yours. And so for me, my thought was, well, okay, move on to another job. Right? Like, you know, I had good income. I had savings. I had, I, you know, I got rid of my dad, I had done the things that I was supposed to do. And I was, but you know, the South side of Chicago was like, everybody get another job right quick, you know, in my head.
Orion Brown (39:52):
And at the same time, I was like, you know, God, I don't know if anything's gonna come of this passion project, this BlackTravelBox that I've created. Right. So I basically, I pray a lot about stuff, especially now. Uh, but I was just like, you know, Lord, let this, if it's going to fail, let it fail spectacularly. So there's no ambiguity. So there's no like, well, maybe it could have worked if I had just done this. And I was like, let it fail. Just like ball of flames. And if it's going to work, then I need some like real good, like, very huge signs that like, I need to keep working on this. And I gave it three months. And those three months that I didn't try to like go up, you know, I just worked on Black travel box and I didn't try to go off and find another job. We're absolutely spectacular. And things happen through that process that I was like, okay, so this is, this is my next right choice. Um, and, and that's, that's kind of how I became an entrepreneur.
Kimmiko James (40:51):
Sure. You might, you might know some people that have done this in the past or just have seen it of people want to sell things, right? Like they want to sell a physical product because we know software is like the big thing now. But if you want to sell something physical, it's really difficult. Like people want to sell t-shirts or earrings or makeup, whatever, anything physical, and it kind of, they start, they don't know how to find their audience and it then fizzles out. However, how were you able to create something, a physical brand that people can relate to and grow an audience because that's not easy whatsoever.
Orion Brown (41:27):
Yeah. I mean, I think there's a couple things, so there's two ways to get a product into the marketplace. Um, either create it, have a product and then find the audience for it or find the audience and then create a product for them. Um, you just have to be, I think really honest with yourself, which one you're doing. So I sort of created a product and then found the audience, but the audience was me and, and having had like the consumer insights experience, that was really, really helpful. Like it's hard to explain, but basically like when you're a brand manager, you're not always going to be the, the consumer of the products that you're selling. Right. So like, uh, you know, there are a lot of men, the brand managers on feminine care products that has gone well and not so well for feminine care consumers, right.
Orion Brown (42:17):
Because what you need at the end of the day is the ability to empathize and stand in the shoes of your consumer. Even if you don't have their same experience. The flip side to that is, is if you are the consumer, you cannot be so myopic to think that everything that is true about you is true about every other consumer of the product or every other person in that audience. And so I really started out at the beginning doing a lot of, like I said, provide a year and a half. There was nothing in market. I was developing out the brand look and feel and talking to people, asking them questions, doing surveys, making my poor friends, have dinner with me and then making them talk business and their PR and their travel pallets they're um, they're like, let's get together for drinks. And I was like, yeah, that's fine for that.
Orion Brown (43:02):
So on your last trip, what did you, I mean, seriously, so to get in that mindset and I did a lot of social listening as well. So I started joining all the travel groups and stuff because even as a, as an avid traveler myself, I was never a travel group person. I would go on like little quick adventures with people and stuff like that, but I was never in the community talking about it. And so I had to learn and understand the mindset and the issues. And, you know, it's little insights, like not only when people are talking about the mini bottles of shampoo and conditioner that you get at the hotel, they're saying it doesn't work for them. They're also saying that all of them donate that stuff to homeless people. They take them home because they're like, well, I paid for this room and I paid for this stuff and I didn't get anything that's actually helpful to me.
Orion Brown (43:48):
So I might as well pay that forward. That's a really unique insight. That's a really, really unique insight. And so it really is about listening and understanding who your audience is and then using that as your strategy forward. So for instance, most brands that I see they're in the beauty space, their Instagram is full of photos of their product. And they're doing a lot of influencer marketing, which influencer marketing is something that we're going to definitely get into very soon, but it's all like content around their product, around their product, around their product that works. If your product is being used every day, we're not at that point, right? So we're very much in people's minds for when they're going on a trip or when they're going to the gym, et cetera, et cetera. But we still have work to do to become that everyday type item whenever you're out of the home, you're using it.
Orion Brown (44:38):
Um, and so understanding that leaning into travel, leaning into travel lifestyle, leave, leaning into Black travel lifestyle was really the way in came from posting stuff and seeing how people reacted to it and listening to that and testing it and playing around with it. We have 10,000 followers plus now I think we're almost at 11,000 because we give them content that is uplifted. That is, um, I would say somewhat refined. Like we have a really clear voice and a perspective, and we're really focused on a very particular customer. Not just everybody Black I'm rooting for everybody Black, but that's not my customer. And so being really focused is what grows you because at the end of the day, if you can find five people that are, that have, you know, a few things in common that love your product, you can find 500, you can find 5,000, you can find 50,000.
Orion Brown (45:35):
How would it feel to find 50,000 customers? Like that's not a bad customer base. Um, and so, you know, it's taking the intimidation of, I need millions of people to love me and just distilling that down to, I think it's, um, I forget his name anyway, there's an author that talks about finding your tribe and he talks about getting your first thousand customers and this, the first thousand people that are really passionate about who you are and what you do, and that is your Mark of success. Like just get to them. And then the rest will flow from there.
Kimmiko James (46:09):
We look to the future too quickly. Like, you know, we look to more than the first that, that wasn't, we look to like a hundred thousand or bigger than that. We don't really look to scale down and just focus on that small select group of customers that can grow. So that was very well said,
Orion Brown (46:27):
And there's nothing wrong with understanding your total addressable market and all of that stuff, right? Your Tandra, Sam, your soul and your, your various pieces of all these people that are out there. I think it's just, you know, again, it's about not getting so hung up on the far out and really nailing it today and worry about scaling it tomorrow.
Kimmiko James (46:48):
What's your founder experience been like as a Black woman? Cause you, you briefly touched upon what it was like, kind of at the business enterprise level of things and it wasn't that great. So has it been any different in the entrepreneurial space?
Orion Brown (47:04):
Unfortunately, not so different. I think I did get a little bit blindsided, to be honest. I thought it would be, I knew it would be more work, you know, it's not like that. Oh, I don't have a boss now. This is great. Like that, wasn't the thought. But I did think that given the experience and the work that I've done and the successes that I've had and you know, my corporate experience that there would be, um, somehow more inherent respect. That's not the case. That is not the case. And I've had some crazy conversations with people. Um, and what I realize is is that it is a system that we live in it isn't, there is no corner of life that you can get away from this underlying system that is misogynistic and racist and all of these other things that doesn't mean every single person you come in contact with is misogynistic and racist.
Orion Brown (48:01):
But it does mean that we've all been conditioned. To some extent, myself included to have beliefs that are predicated on power play and not predicated on inherent value of any, any human being or any individual. And so while I want to be able to say yes, if you just become an entrepreneur, you can escape all the BS. It's not true. Um, but what I will say is I feel heavily empowered and especially coming into the beauty industry, which, I mean, I'm not a heavy beauty user. Like I don't have thousands of pallets of makeup and things like that. Like I'm like, I can't draw that good girl. That's a miracle, these brows like, and they're still a little fuzzy. I ain't gonna lie. Um, but, but coming into an industry and being able to, to be a voice and say, look, how are you ignoring an amazing market opportunity?
Orion Brown (48:54):
People are like, well, what happens if somebody else comes in and does this, this has been an issue for years. They haven't come in yet. Honestly, it's a win-win if somebody comes in and they try to do it and they do it better, my community still wins. I had the experience of being an entrepreneur. I'll go work for somebody and go make a whole bunch of money. And they'll love that I, that I have experiences on patrol. Th this'll be fine. But the idea that what if somebody comes in, you know, there's enough room for everybody to eat because we spend our, our buying power in this country is in the trillions. There was enough money out there for everybody to eat. And so it's one of those things that I just, I I'm very hopeful. And I just try to use the platform that I'm getting with the brand to shed light on those challenges.
Orion Brown (49:42):
And so, like I had an article at fast company recently talking about the investment landscape and how people are talking out there and then vice versa using that platform to also talk about the business. And I think that from a personal development and growth perspective from here from learning to use my own voice, I am using my voice differently than I did in corporate. I'm definitely using my voice differently. And I'm very happy with the direction that that's going in. So, you know, maybe there is a little bit more master of destiny that sort of built into being an entrepreneur. Um, if nothing else, it's sort of like, there's no one to tell me not to say that. So when stuff happens, I speak up just the lack of respect as a Black or a Black woman.
Kimmiko James (50:28):
That's also a founder. It's, it's crazy to me. How we, yeah, we, we don't even see, I think we receive less than 10% of funding from VC funds. I think it's even smaller than that.
Orion Brown (50:40):
Oh, no. Women is 4% and women of color is like a percentage point or half a percentage point.
Kimmiko James (50:47):
That's crazy. So the fact that you're still running this thing three years later and probably continuously now, that's just amazing. So, um, I'm just so happy to hear your persistence.
Orion Brown (50:59):
Thank you. Thank you. I appreciate that. I think it's interesting. I was just talking with someone the other day about this, because we were talking about how, um, you know, there are companies and folks out there that are seeing what's happening with Black founders and they're like, well, we want to help. And they start to put their dollars and stuff, you know, to, to organizations to be supportive and whatnot, right. Cause they're like, I'm not sure exactly what to do, but the unfortunate thing is this statistic. And I, I forget exactly where I found this, but it is a real statistic. It was it's $250,000 more for a Black founder to get a company off the ground than their white counterparts, because it comes in a number of different ways, not being able to get funding. So you're not able to hire people at scale or get your, you know, your product at scale or whatever it might be.
Orion Brown (51:53):
Right. Your loans cost you more because we don't get favorable loans, all kinds of things. So 250 K more. And I was just looking at someone that was tweeting earlier about how they were talking to founders, where they were in Techstars. And these guys were like, Oh yeah, I did a 750 K friends and family round. And it's like, Oh my gosh, what did you do with all that money? Oh, that was just for my living expenses. Right. They didn't even have a website yet, you know, for their, for their thing. And so, you know, I was having this conversation with someone because what happens, what I've found has happened, um, is I will have conversations with people and they start getting really heavy into their due diligence for a pre-seed company. That's still fleshing out the idea, you know, due diligence, due diligence, and what's your CAC and what's all this and this and that.
Orion Brown (52:37):
And I'm like, but I know Chad can walk into a room with an idea on a napkin and come out with 150 K just to get started. And that's the problem. I'm not saying that I should just get money for no reason, but I'm saying he shouldn't be getting money for no reason. Then you know what I mean? Like either you do due diligence or you don't do due diligence, if you don't do due diligence, then don't do it for everybody. It's just as much of a risk. And I think the problem is, is that when they see Black and Brown founders and they see females, they see more risk inherently and no, and people are like, well, but I'm not racist. I'm not massages. Okay. You're, you're not going around punching women in the face. I get it.
Orion Brown (53:19):
But what you are doing is you have implicit biases that red flag, you that make you go, let me dig into the way we're supposed to be doing this and do my due diligence. Whereas Chad is just a young guy with a great idea, and you just want to make a bet on him. And that is the problem. And until we get to that until we get to a place where we can just be like, yep, that's what we're doing. Like enough people going up. That's what we're doing instead of no-no, it's just that we look at your numbers. Did you look at his numbers? Like is the onus on me to have to be three times better to get half as much? Is that what we're really trying to say here? That's what we're really trying to say here. We're not going to figure this stuff out overnight.
Orion Brown (54:07):
We can have as many protests as we want. We can have as many, you know, um, conversations on Twitter and at conferences. And I think those are great things, but it's going to be an iterative process. And once we start to break down barriers in one area, we're going to start to see barriers in the other. Um, there was a great conversation on clubhouse the other night when we were talking about, um, you know, biases and, and different things like that. And it's like, well, I don't know if we'll ever get post racial, but even if that's like not the thing, then it'll be something else. There'll be sexual orientation. It'll be ability. It'll be height, it'll be weight. It'll be all these things that we all discriminate against each other and all treat each other in different ways because we've been programmed towards ideals that we're not even consciously aware of, that don't even fit necessarily the society that we live in.
Orion Brown (54:56):
And so ultimately we're all just growing up. We growing up as a country, we're growing up as a nation and it's, it's awkward and you're going to have like high water pants and your teeth going to be crooked and you're not, you know, your voice is going to be squeaky and it's just, it's going to be awkward for awhile. Um, and so we just have to keep working at it and, and giving each other empathy and giving ourselves grace when we screw it up so that we can continue to go and keep moving. So keep working until we can't work anymore.
Kimmiko James (55:26):
Oh my God. That's honestly, I've never heard that take before. Like I really, I really liked that. And I don't know if analogy is the right word, but just saying that we're all growing out of these ideas, we have about people that are different people that aren't looking like Barbie and Ken. And it's like you said, and I think in the middle of the conversation, you're just kind of saying, even as a Black person, you have these, these biases against other Black people sometimes or other people. And it's just like, it's, it's just been instilled given the country we live in. So yeah, if you wanted to just, if people wanted to find out how they can buy the BlackTravelBox and where they can buy it, where, where can they find it?
Orion Brown (56:13):
All right. So you can find us online at www.therblacktravelbox.com. You can also find us on social @blacktravelbox on, on Instagram. Honestly, there isn't that much going on, on Facebook with us right now. That's fine. And if you want to find me on Twitter, Instagram, um, my screen name is Orion O R I O N underscore Helena, H E L a N a. And I highly suggest that people check us out, especially this holiday season, because the gifting is on fire. I'm telling you come through. Yeah. Thanks for coming.
Kimmiko James (56:52):
It was a fun conversation learning about you and yeah, just your journey. So
Orion Brown (56:57):
Thank you so much. Can we go, I appreciate you having me. I love that. You're, you're having these conversations with people.
Kimmiko James (57:04):
If you want to keep up with Orion and the BlackTravelBox, then be sure to check out their website at theblacktravelbox.com and also their Instagram pages. But if you're looking to reach out to it, Orion just be sure to check out her Twitter. And the next episode, I'll be speaking with Tia Caldwell. She's personally a friend and a mentor of mine from Slack, and she'll be talking about her journey from being an engineer to a manager, and now a director of engineering. Thank you again for listening to the black enterprise network podcast. And it would be greatly appreciated if he could leave a review on Apple podcasts or any other platform that has reviews.
Ellee is in the building - and this week she's showing us what it means to be a globe trotting Travel Crush. This native New Yorker has climbed the pyramids of Egypt, took her whole life in her hands on the swings in Bali, and she's still pumped for more challenging, new adventures. Read on for her tips on having magical experiences without breaking the bank, her favorite hack for buying cheap flights, and how she stays in villas without the hefty price tag.
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