Raising capital is an arduous journey that few entrepreneurs successfully complete. Add a female founder at the helm, and chances of success decrease significantly. Now add an African American female founder, and the chances become abysmal. African American women receive a mere 0.2% of overall venture capital dollars, and of the rare few who do receive money, the average dollar amount is $36,000, compared to the average $1.3 million doled out to the typical white male founded startup.
Enter Kristina Jones, Cofounder of Court Buddy, and now the 14th ever African American female founder to raise $1 million or more for her startup. Project Diane calls women like Jones “The Real Unicorns of Tech,” because they are such a rare find.
Court Buddy is a legal tech startup that instantly matches consumers with vetted solo attorneys based on the client’s budget. In the U.S. alone, millions of Americans go to court each year who don’t have the means to pay, and hundreds of thousands of solo attorneys and small law firms struggle to get clients. Jones is bringing these two groups together at scale through her technology.
In addition to becoming the 14th African American female to raise $1 million, Jones has achieved another feat, she is successfully juggling a double partnership. Her Cofounder, James Jones, is also her husband, and together they nurture Court Buddy, their business baby, as well as a young daughter at home.
Jones met her lead investor Andrew Koven from LDR Ventures this year at the SheWorx100 Summit in San Francisco. Her other investors include XFactor Ventures, GingerBread Capital, LSS Fund, Uphonest Capital, Equipo Ventures, 500 Startups, and several angel investors including lawyers, doctors, and Fortune 500 executives.
I sat down with Jones and she shares her journey to becoming the next Unicorn.
Lisa: The landscape is especially tough as an African American female founder. What are the unique challenges that you faced in fundraising and how did you overcome them?
Kristina: To be honest, I actually think being an African American woman worked to my advantage. I think that being the cofounder of a sound, fast-growing business that has revenue and a growing number of users, and that I just happen to be African-American and a woman, helped. One of our mentors, Monique Woodard of 500 Startups, suggested that we cast a wide net during our fundraising process, and not just seek out specific investors who would seem like a shoo-in to invest. And she was right.
It is a lot of hard work and you have to get very comfortable with hearing "no". We had to learn to not take the "nos" personally. Now we have such an amazing and diverse group of investors and we love that! This process has shown us that some investors are simply not the best fit. You have to do some digging to really strike gold. But most importantly, you have to trust the process and make adjustments along the way. You can't learn and develop the skills and tough skin that it takes to achieve the results without going through the process.
Lisa: What do you think it will take to start changing the ratio to get more female founders and especially minority female founders funded?
Kristina: One, having more female founders will help the numbers naturally shift. For the current founders, we need to believe in ourselves more. As women, we tend to undersell our power and the success of our businesses, which can hurt us in situations where investing is involved. For minority women, I think we need to understand that we do have a seat at the table and it’s about believing in ourselves and not letting a "no" stop us from moving forward. For investors, overcoming bias and pattern-matching to determine which founders to invest in, as well as being willing to leave your comfort zone, will help change the ratio to get more female and minority female founders funded. The more success stories that minority and female founders have, the more comfortable investors will feel to invest outside of their norm.
Lisa: Navigating a a double partnership (in work and life) is no easy feat! Can you talk about how you and James work together and how you lift each other up as Cofounders and as life partners?
Kristina: I honestly think it’s because our strengths and weaknesses are completely opposite, but our goals align for Court Buddy. We respect each other's expertise and let each other do the task at hand. We are great at putting our egos aside to help us propel forward. I think having a young daughter also helps us detach from the work relationship for hours at a time and allows us to step into a different role and to see each other in a different light. There are times when we do not agree, but we always hear each other's points, take a step back, and then make the best decision based on both of our points of views.
Lisa: What is your advice for other female founders fundraising?
Get out of the building and make sure to meet as many founders as you can that have successfully fundraised. You should seek out their advice, and also ask for introductions. Investors love intros from founders that they have already invested in.
If you are currently fundraising, force yourself to reach out to many investors. For a successful raise, understand that it is a numbers game.
A lead investor changes everything. Make sure you get a lead investor that you believe in, who you know will fight for you, and who has relationships with other investors.