Oct. 27, 2020

#8: Orion Brown - Solopreneur and Founder of BlackTravelBox

In this episode, I speak with the Orion Brown, a solopreneur, who founded Black Travel Box. She breaks down her journey from being Pre-med to Brand Management, and how she discovered an opportunity from the booming black travel movement. She is a startup founder and brand management professional with over fifteen years of experience. She has dynamically leading cross-functional teams across multiple industries within both large and small cap businesses. Orion’s areas of deep expertise include consumer insights-driven brand strategy, product and packaging innovation, and portfolio management.

Show Notes

Introduction [0:00]

What Sparked Her Interest in Business [01:26]

Why She Decided to Go to Business School and How She Discovered Brand [05:30]

What She Learnt in Business School [09:15]

How She Knew That an MBA Would Be Worth It [11:37]

How Your Life and Career will Change Over Time [18:10]

How She Transitioned from an MBA to an Entrepreneurial Leader [21:12]

How She Started Black Travel Box [28:33]

Her Philosophy of “I Work Until I Can't Work Anymore” [33:54]

Leaving Her Job and Starting Black Travel Box [38:06]

How She Was Able to Create a Physical Brand People Could Relate to and Grow an Audience? [41:26]

How We Have Been Conditioned to Some Extent by the System [47:47]

How We Are Growing Up as A Nation [54:30]

Key Takeaways

  • “I had to really let go of that dream and create a new one …”
  • “We all need a little validation… you want the people you want to make proud to understand that you are making something, and doing something tangible …”
  • “There's something unfortunate that we live in two Americas, where people really don't understand how the two different systems work. …”
  • “Oftentimes within the Black community, we have those types of pressures, with people relying on us to be successful, and create a legacy…”
  • “I wanted to pick a space that would force me to be gregarious, and to really bond with people to really create connections…”
  • “At the end of the day, as long as you have a story, it really doesn't matter…”
  • “MBA gave me options, and options are what you want in life …”
  • “Stop looking at other people's paths, because you don't know what they had to go through to get to that, you just see the outcome…”
  • “Give yourself enough cushion and options that if something doesn't work, you can try something else…”
  • “Without having the context, it makes things a lot more intimidating…”
  • “I realized every single experience that I thought was a mistake… taught me the right things, at the right time, to get me to a place where I could start my own company.”
  • “We spend $63 billion annually on travel, and that grew from $43 billion over the last eight years…”
  • “Another thing that I love about tenure, and these corporate jobs is that you could negotiate your salary and vacations…”
  • “Failure isn't a stopping point, it's a learning point.”
  • “I created a product and then found the audience, but the audience was me, and having had the consumer insights and experience was really helpful.”
  • “It really is about listening and understanding who your audience is, and then using that as your strategy forward…”
  • “Women receive 4% of funding from VC funds, and women of color is a percentage point or half a percentage point…”
  • “The problem is, is that when they see black and brown founders, or females, they see more risk, inherently…”
  • “We just have to keep working at it, giving each other empathy, and giving ourselves grace, when we screw it up. So, keep working until we can't work anymore.”

Where to Find Black Travel Box

Website: https://theblacktravelbox.com/

Twitter: @blacktravelbox

Instagram: blacktravelbox

Where to Find Orion Brown

Twitter: @Orion_Helana

Resources Mentioned

Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki


Note: Black Enterprise Network transcripts are generated using speech recognition software and human transcription. They may contain errors, although we do our best to avoid them. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting a transcript in print. Questions? Errors found in a transcript? Email us! 

Kimmiko James  0:00  
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 story shared, everyone is like on a unique Pat mitt for themselves. The key word 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 once you can put our fears aside and rise above sticking with the norm. In this episode, I speak with the ryan Brown, a solopreneur, that founded black travel box, she breaks down 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 roles. I want to share their stories.

The first question I have is just like just sort of stalking your LinkedIn and your work and college experiences, it seems as though you had 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  1:26  
So when I went to college, I got there with a good 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 want to be adapter, it's gonna be great. And then I got there. And I was like, This is not what I was expecting. 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 than 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. And I was just, I had to be honest with myself, because I was like, I don't know, like how this is gonna 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. 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 studying. And so I kind of flipped to 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 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, 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, like above downtown. And I'm like, between McDonald's is that a fancy building? Which one's going to have a bathroom that I won't have to have for too long? Yeah, I know, I've been that person. I've been that person. 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 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. 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. And so that was sort of the impetus. And that's what got me into finance, per se. 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 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 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? Like, it's.

So when I got to that place, 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 high 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. 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, and I want to be in the middle of I discovered brand, and I didn't know 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 love 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 it 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? I'm like, I manage 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 would 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. For getting to brand, it gave me sort of that tangible validation for myself and for the people around me. 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. And no pressure to go to med school from your family. No, um, cuz it's expensive.

Okay, all right, I

guess I guess it worked out for all parties. 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. And it didn't hurt to come out of school with a job at JPMorgan. Like, that didn't hurt you. 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 $100,000 on my education again, that was an interesting conversation. I 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, but why don't you just like stop at the local community college, you could 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 majority that it brings the refinement, the wisdom, that stuff that Yeah, you can pop into nice, small classes. But if you're on that grind of I'm just trying to get to the next supervisor level, 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. 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 skittish 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, 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 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  11:02  
Mm hmm. That's, that's very well said. And that's actually related to a follow up, 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, etc. 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? Doctor slap you hear you want to eliminate What you got? Well, 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 that dynamic is meant to work. And that the regular check and insurance that you'll need to have used, but you're like, Hey, we got it, you know, match, match all of my 401k. So So in my mind, I think the thing that you have to because 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 am like, good. But finding the rooms wanting to find the rooms, to be honest, is not something that's natural to me. 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 could be a hermit so easy, I could stay home like quarantine, I'm like, y'all don't even know I got this. 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, etc, etc. 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, 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'll 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, 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 gonna do, then that rigidity breeds a lot of regret, and a lot of you know, issues but if you can give yourself out so that's what I do. I look at a situation like that. 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 areas of functionality and expertise, other than the one that, you know, you may 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 at a recession and your business isn't working, you can go into apps job at Amazon, and kick ass and you've got a school name behind you that at least gets you a managerial position, 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 to 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 ass 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 160 a year, pay off your student loans, buy mama car, put something away, and then go pick 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  
Well, that 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. 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 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 it's very small. It's very, it's it's rather small. But not only that, stop looking at other people's paths, because 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 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 got to 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. Very well said very well said working on it. 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 kind of care about those people, but I really kind of don't anymore. But like, you're gonna 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 was like those were the days but yeah, you know, 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 will get it out. Like we all rely. Yeah, that's all right, I don't really see you that much. Anyway, I'll be working and then I go out and you're not with my 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 gonna 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, you know, corporate grind,

you know, legal job, right, where you're making big money, but you haven't slept for two, two years, you're young enough, it's okay to not sleep, you're gonna go out your weekends anyway and asleep anyway. So let's be honest. But take some of that money and go put it in 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, they're they're gonna 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 get all your physicals and all that stuff with your corporate insurance to 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 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've given 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. Hey, I got time to figure it out and lose sleep. So it's okay. Yeah, just make sure you get to catch up on asleep. You still young rocking, I'm still trying to catch up on sleep 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 JPMorgan 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, black travel box. I, you know, that's

Orion Brown  21:09  
a really good question. Because usually, people are sort of like, Okay, I get it, you were in brand. And 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 810 years of my career, I was paranoid that my story wouldn't make sense. Like, how did you go from pre med to be in, in finance to be in a brand and like working on like coffee, like, I didn't realize, until I look back and even today with with black travel box, because after I left brand, why didn't leave brand but I left food, I went to Hasbro slash like, you know, backflip studios, which is a mobile gaming studio, right? Um, and then I went to Oracle, which is, you know, a data and and SaaS company. 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, 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, like 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 and Wow, 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, 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, you know, working on major major overhauls of 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 flow to our customers and that the new packaging is on shelf, there was just so many different moving pieces, that it breaks 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 because 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 band or $100 million brand. They still got regular problems. And it's the same problems. You can have your 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. 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 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. 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 through our data. So we'd have all this data, I 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 black travel box.

Kimmiko James  26:07  
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're a student looking for an internship or 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 1000s of applicants. The base ebook will be available January 2021. But if you're looking for paperback or Kindle versions, that will be released some time and fall 2021. So be sure to check out the link at bi t.ly slash GTO underscore book. Okay, now back to the episode.

Orion Brown  26:54  
It was a passion project for me because 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 a thing. So I started working on it on my own. But 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 gonna look crazy, people are gonna think I'm all over the place, because I'm going all these different companies and doing different things. And 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  27:35  
Oh, my God, I love that. Cuz, yeah, well, again, a lot of people will teach us especially zero, I think you're a millennial, I would say, like, they'll teach, I'm alive. I'm just class. Yeah.

The young people I know, yeah, a

lot of people tell people the young, conventional way of the straight path that you're 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 experiences, then you're able to push forward. So I love to hear that. And I wanted to just take a quick step back, because I don't I don't think a lot of people because I know I did the research. But could you just briefly describe what the black travel box is? And how you came up with the idea for it?

Orion Brown  28:33  
Yes, yes. So black travel box is a personal care products company for travelers of color. So everything that we make is informed in a format that's meant to travel well get through TSA, and is made for you know, unique hair and skincare issues. So it's one of those things that we already know that the beauty industry is broken for black women in particular, you know, we're seeing more and more brands that are starting to cater to us because we're creating them to be honest. 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 targets, 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. So this is just like a small subset. Because we're only 14% of the population here. We spend $63 billion annually on travel 63 billion and that grew from 43 billion over eight years. So $20 billion over eight years. And we kind of 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, I there are hundreds of 1000s of travel photos that people are sharing, they're sharing stories. There are groups on Facebook, you know, 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 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 some biding time, like for a honeymoon, like or for somebody's wedding. 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 till 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 60s. So it's one of those things that it's it's a very, very clear, and I think, untapped market, like he said, the reason why I ended up launching a company, and that is 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, I just need to get out of here for a minute, just for a minute. 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 would travel as much as I could. And as much as that, you know, most of that time that took off, I would use it to travel. And every time I travel, like I would go, I was going through my photos, and I realized I'm not taking photos of myself, because by day three, I'm looking a hot mess. And I'm like, well, always have that picture at the plane, like peace, you know. And then the rest of it, there is a trip is just pictures of all the other beautiful stuff. And you know, a couple years ago, I was in Japan, and we flew into Tokyo, and I knew we were going to Okinawa and Kyoto and the there. longitudinally, I think that's the right one, 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 is mild, it'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 minutes light, 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, we still got like eight days of this trip. And this is the last of my condition is like trying to hold all of this together. And I was really frustrated and call myself complaining about it. And my partner at the time, he was like, you know, cuz I was like, oh, there should be a brand out here. And there should be 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 some 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, dismiss what you used to do like to do brand stuff, right? Like, why don't you make that brand. Maybe that'll get you quiet real quick, that gets you quiet real quick, right? And I was like, shut up and eat your Eat Your Sushi.

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 to get off the pot, that's a country saying, but you know, do some, right. And so 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. And this will force me to actually do something, and work. 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 of ideation and working on it and all that stuff. But its official birth date was was now three years ago,

Kimmiko James  33:54  
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 think that's an interesting take. I've never heard that kind of business model before. It's pretty unique. So

Orion Brown  34:18  
I actually don't recall which interview that was, I feel like it might have been slightly skewed on context. But because, because so so that philosophy it so when people ask me, How do I do this as a solopreneur? Right? That truly is the answer. I work until 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. I'm you know, tired, not not fainting. It's not that but it is more of 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 and five years, 10 years, 20 years, it really is me going like, let's do the work. Let's do the next right thing. I'll take it as far as I can. I know, 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 7am and then put the computer down at 10pm or 11, or 12. And still be in my pajamas, that is not healthy. We do not want to do that. But the idea of keep keeping continually pushing it forward, 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, that's fine, then I'll just try a different go to market strategy. Like there is failure isn't a stopping point. It's a learning point. So so I would caveat that statement a little bit or or contextualize it a little bit with the keep moving aspect. Because 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, there, this isn't a rocket science business model. 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 and pays for it. And it's a you know, it's a it's a beautiful little circle of capitalism. But what do you talk about my philosophy and how I come at it, this will work in some iteration or another, it may not be called Black travel box in five years, and I'm okay with that. Although we do have a trademark, which was not, but that's beside the point. 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 schoolbooks 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. And now it's changed the point that I get my groceries and my entertainment from Amazon, like Amazon prime is fire, which is why they call it Fire Stick I think I really 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. 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  38:06  
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?

Orion Brown  38:16  
It was almost intimidating at first to hear so many people say that they've been entrepreneurs since they were kids, and they sell candy at school and all this. I've never been that person. I'm like, why would I sell candy they bear and get people that do that? 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 my own. And I was, you know, it's just like, you know, someone's, and this is so sexist to say like someone's dad working in the garage, like building something. It's like, we don't need a nightstand, but you just wanted to make one. That was my nightstand, it was the thing that I was working on. And interestingly enough, 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. 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 Just 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. No, 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 a you know, I gotten rid of my dad, I had done the things that I was supposed to do. And I was but you know, the South Side Chicago was like, are you gonna get another job right quick, you know, in my head. And at the same time, I was like, you know,


I don't know if anything's gonna come of this passion project, this black travel box that I've got created, right? So I basically I pray a lot about stuff, especially now. But I was just like, you know, Lord, let this if it's gonna 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, I was like, let it fail just like ball of flames. And if it's gonna work, then 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 off, you know, I just worked on black travel box, and I didn't try to go off and find in their job. were absolutely spectacular. And things happen through that process that I was like, okay, so I mean, this is this is my next right choice.

And, and that's that's kind of how I became an entrepreneur. As I'm sure you might, you might know some people that have done this in the past or just have seen it. 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?

Yeah, I mean, I think there's a couple things. So there's two ways to get a product out into the marketplace. either create it, have a product and then find the audience for it, or find the audience and then create a product for them. 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, you know, there are a lot of men have been brand managers on feminine care products, that has gone well and not so well for feminine care consumers, right? 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 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 out there, or every other person in that audience. And so I really started out at the beginning, doing a lot of like I said, for about 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 power and their travel habits. They're um, they're like, let's get together for drinks. And I was like, yeah, that's fine for that. 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. 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 the product around the 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, etc, etc. But we still have work to do to become that everyday type item. Whenever you're out of the home. You're using it. And so understanding that meaning into travel leading 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, 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 be 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 5000, you can find 50,000

How would it feel to find 50,000

customers, like, that's not a bad customer base. 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, I forget his name. Anyway, there's an author that talks about finding your tribe. And he talks about getting your first 1000 customers and is the first 1000 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 1000 we look to like 100,000, 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 Sandra, Sandra, Psalm, 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 worried about scaling it tomorrow.

Kimmiko James  46:47  
What's your founder experience been like as a black woman? Because 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 entrepreneurial space?

Orion Brown  47:03  
Unfortunately, not so different. I think I did get a little bit blindsided To be honest, I thought it would be I knew it'd 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 somehow more inherent respect. That is not the case. That is not the case. And I've had some crazy conversations with people. 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. But it does mean that we've all been conditioned, to some extent, myself included. Do you have beliefs that are predicated on powerplay 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. But what I will say is, 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 1000s of pallets of makeup and things like that. Like I'm like, I can't draw that Good girl. It's a miracle these brows like, and they're still a little fuzzy, I ain't gonna lie. But But coming into an industry and being able to be a voice and say, Look, how are you ignoring an amazing market opportunity? 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 had the experiences optra this will be fine. But the idea that what if somebody comes in, you know, there's enough room for everybody to eat. Because we spent 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'm very hopeful. And I just try to use the platform that I'm getting with the brand to shed light on those challenges. And so like I had an article 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 am very happy with the direction that that's going in. So, you know, maybe there is a little bit more mastery of destiny that sort of built into being an entrepreneur. If nothing else, it's sort of like, there's no one to tell me not to say that.

Kimmiko James  50:20  
So when stuff happens, I speak up. Just the lack of respect, as a black founder or black woman that's also a founder, it's, it's crazy to me, how we, yeah, 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. So no,

Orion Brown  50:40  
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 I'm, 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, 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 organizations to be supportive and whatnot, right? Because they're like, I'm not sure exactly what to do. But the unfortunate thing is this statistic, and 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


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 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 when 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 is I will have conversations with people and they started 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, 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, exactly, you do due diligence, or you don't you 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. But, 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 bed 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, yep, 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, we can have as many protests as we want, we can have as many, you know, 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. There was a great conversation on clubhouse the other night when we were talking about, 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. It'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 are not even consciously aware of, that don't even fit necessarily the society that we live in. And so ultimately, we're all just growing up. We were growing up as a country we're growing up as a nation. And it's, it's awkward and you're gonna have like high water pants and your teeth are gonna be crooked and you're not, you know, your voice is gonna be squeaky and it's just, it's gonna be awkward for a while. 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 like 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 are 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 black travel box and where they can buy it, where where can they find

Orion Brown  56:12  
it? All right, so you can find us online at www dot black travel box.com. You can also find us on social at Black travel box on Twitter, 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, my screen name is Orion o ri o n underscore helana h e l a na. 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 on. It was a fun conversation learning about you. And yeah, just your journey. So thank you so much Kimmiko 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 black travel box, then be sure to check out their website at the black turtle box calm and also their Instagram pages. But if you're looking to reach out to Ryan, 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 you could leave a review on Apple podcasts or any other platform that has reviews.

Orion Brown Profile Photo

Orion Brown

Startup Founder & Brand Management Professional with over fifteen years’ experience dynamically leading cross-functional teams across multiple industries within both large and small cap businesses. Areas of deep expertise include consumer insights-driven brand strategy, product and packaging innovation, and portfolio management. Highly effective in recruiting, coaching, and mentoring new talent, while simultaneously developing and maintaining strong interpersonal relationships with senior leaders and peers within the industry.

She founded The Black Travel Box with the goal to bring natural hair, skin and body products to travelers of color. This line of TSA-friendly products help Black and Afro-latinx travelers look and feel their best on the road with our convenient line of balms and bars.