An Interview with Chike Uzoka

Chike was the featured speaker at the recent NYULYP Annual Entrepreneur Marketplace

NYULYP annual entrepreneur marketplace

You began your career in finance from NY Life, Merrill Lynch and JP Morgan Chase. What was your inspiration for starting your own businesses?

Realizing that I wasn’t a great employee, especially as I got older. If I was going to get paid more somewhere else to learn something different, I was out. It was timing as well. A good friend of mine asked me to start a company with him at a pivotal transition point in my life. Bank of America had just bought Merrill Lynch and two weeks later, I got called for an interview at JPMorgan Chase. The two years between the end of 2008 and the end of 2010 were very instrumental in helping me identify my passion for what I do now.

What have you learned in the corporate finance world that is relevant to being an entrepreneur?

Money management is key. If you can’t manage pennies, either you won’t make millions, no one will hire you to manage theirs, or both. Being able to manage your money is an important discipline for any entrepreneur or business owner to have; it’s the difference between sustainability and not being in business for very long. I do my bookkeeping and track all my own business expenses, so I know what’s coming in and going out… and so I can help my CPA do what he does best.

Being able to manage your money is an important discipline for any entrepreneur or business owner to have; it’s the difference between sustainability and not being in business for very long.

What are some of your professional highlights in your career as an entrepreneur?

Working with some amazing people and organizations such as The United Way, The Urban League, The NAACP, Black Enterprise, and others; self-publishing my first book, The Young Man’s Guide to Entrepreneurship; and having Rev. Dr. Alfonso Wyatt write a foreword for a book I co-authored.

What are the biggest challenges to securing early seed money for entrepreneurs?

Knowing your numbers is very important. Also, understanding cash flow is very key, especially if you ever want to get money from a bank, angel investor…

What is an angel investor?

Angel investors are people who know about helping others start businesses and have a lot of money to give them. So, if you have bad credit, for example, and you have this great product that you want to bring to market, you may not go to a bank. You may not go to a micro lender. You may go to an angel investor. Sometimes they are referred to as venture capitalists. Those are people who say, “I have a million bucks, but I need to know how I’m getting my money back. So whether you’re going to sell the company, or go public like Facebook did, or if you’ll keep the business going and generate revenue to pay me back, I have the million dollars but you need to show me why I need to invest in your business.”

Is it easier to get funding from a venture capitalist, an angel investor or a bank?

Easier? Hmm, I don’t know. It depends on what you’re willing to give up. If you want to go to a bank and you’re okay with possibly messing up your credit, if you’re okay with having a 2 to 5 year payment every month, then a bank may be the best choice. If you’re okay with possibly giving up equity in your business, anywhere from 5%, 10%, sometimes 50% of your business, meaning you are no longer the owner of it, then that’s what the VC’s and angel investors are for. It really depends on what your product or service is, and what you’re willing to stomach. I’d rather take out a small loan than give up equity in my business. But everyone’s different.

What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve incurred as an entrepreneur and what have you learned from these challenges?

  1. Revenue. Finding and creating revenue on a consistent basis. Most millionaires have seven revenue streams. Seven!
  2. Networking. Knowing how to network, where to network and when to network. I network on the subway, on the PATH, on the van, bus and especially if I’m sharing a cab with someone. I’m going to get to know them!
  3. Pipeline. You have to keep a pipeline of proposals and clients that can possibly pay you for what you’re doing. I’ve learned that you have to stay active.

So what is your typical workday? Is it a typical 9 to 5, a 9 to 10?

There’s no such thing. 9am to 9am. No, I’m just kidding. But seriously, some days I focus on meeting people, some days I focus on marketing my business. Some days I focus on the financial aspect, like bookkeeping.

For example. today I had a meeting with a gentleman at a place called alleynyc, it’s a co-working space near Times Square. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a pretty dope space, about 16,000 square feet. They have a bunch of start up companies and entrepreneurs in this co-working space. I met the guy at a previous event and we wanted to sit and chat for a minute. Then I came here [to the Annual Entrepreneur Marketplace] and that’s something that’s not typical. So I don’t have a typical day. If you like having a typical day, I would suggest that you not become a business owner.

That brings me to my next question. How do you find personal and professional balance?

You have to create that. I think its best to merge those. If you can do what you love with the people you love or around the people you love, with the support of the people you love, I think that’s a great way [to create balance]. People try to compartmentalize business and family, but why can’t you merge the two? It sounds easy, but it’s a process. Its going to take a lot of trials and tribulations but I think that if you truly love what you do, and people say they truly love you, then there should be a way for you to merge your professional and personal life.

People try to compartmentalize business and family, but why can’t you merge the two? If you truly love what you do, and people say they truly love you, then there should be a way for you to merge your professional and personal life.

Being that we are minority candidates, what are some of the challenges we have versus our white counterparts, and how are we able to get ahead in the business world?

We all know you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but whatever, people judge you, people are going to judge you especially if you’re a black male. Whether you’re clean with a suit on, tie, pocket square is right, shoes are shined, they are going to look at you and say, “That’s a brother.” There’s just certain things you are not going to be able to get away from.

Knowing what your purpose is, knowing what you’re passionate about and letting that flow through to others is key. I may not always show my passion but I’m very passionate about what I do. Don’t let color get you messed up. Use it to your advantage. I work with a lot of young men of color, because I didn’t necessarily have positive male roles in my life so I’m very passionate about working with our black males. A lot of people say, “You can’t work with them or forget about them.” I’ll work with them! I don’t think color should be a barrier.

Knowing what your purpose is, knowing what you’re passionate about and letting that flow through to others is key… Don’t let color get you messed up. Use it to your advantage.

What is your best advice for future minority entrepreneurs?

  1. Leap and the net will appear. It’s my favorite quote by John Burroughs. You have to take some sort of action first. You can’t just say, “Oh I want to start a business one day, some day.” Last I checked, “some day” was not on the calendar or in a planner anywhere. You have to put a date on it.
  2. Have fun making money. You’ve never made money like the money you make when you’re having fun. That’s the best money to make. I can say that now after all these years on Wall Street not having fun, but making good money. It just wasn’t worth it.
  3. 100% action, 100% education. Always be doing something. Hopefully it’s taking you one or two steps closer to your goal or your dreams. Always be learning. As entrepreneurs we tend to think we know it all, but I’ll be the first to say I don’t know everything. Taking entrepreneurship classes and paying for a life coach will help tremendously. Training yourself as an entrepreneur is key. Always be doing something; always be learning.

About Chike Uzoka

CHIKE-UZOKAChike Uzoka is the Founder of Valentine Global, a consulting firm that specializes in the development of Entrepreneurial workshops, games, and curricula. He works with organizations and institutions throughout the country such as The NAACP, Columbia University, The United Way, NJIT, Black Enterprise, World of Money, and Temple’s Fox School of Business.  Chike self-published his first book last year, The Young Man’s Guide to Entrepreneurship, and has a chapter entitled ‘Passion to Profits’ in the book Boys to Men: The Guide for African American Boys.

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3 thoughts on “An Interview with Chike Uzoka

    1. Kwanza,

      Thanks for your response! Many of us have different passions, so the decision of which one to pursue as a business idea isn’t an easy task and is the most important one we have to make. The question of why we’re doing something has to be answered before we can figure out how. When I coach people who are not sure of which passion they should pursue, I often have them make a list of things they like to do and compare it with their personal and business SWOT analysis.

      First step, the list: Write down 10 things (at least) that you love to do, like to do, and bring you joy and happiness. Don’t over-think this list, write the first 10 things that come to mind, whether it’s a love of cooking or shopping, or a love of working on cars. If you have more than 10, keep writing, you’ll need to come back to this list when thinking of other revenue streams.

      Second step, complete a personal and business SWOT analysis:
      (For those not familiar…)
      SWOT stands for:
      S – Strengths (internal, controllable, can help)
      W – Weaknesses (internal, controllable, can hurt)
      O – Opportunities (external, uncontrollable, can help)
      T – Threats (external, uncontrollable, can hurt)

      This looks like a 4-quadrant graph, with Strengths and Weaknesses next to one another, on top of Opportunities and Threats. Some questions to ask: What do people know you for? What are you exceptionally good at? What are some traits you lack or are not as comfortable with? What outside events can you be a part of and strategic partnerships can you forge to do more and reach more people?

      Third step, comparing the two:
      Compare your personal and business strengths and opportunities with your list – What matches up? What business opportunities match your loves and likes? Which personal strengths match up with business opportunities?

      As far as developing your business idea, a few main questions to ask yourself are:
      1. What is my product and/or service? What does it do?
      2. What need does it fill or problem does it solve?
      3. Who is going to buy my product and/or service?
      4. What is my revenue model? (How am I generating consistent income?)

      Apologies for such a long reply, I just wanted to make sure I was helpful as much as possible! If you have any follow-up questions, you can post here or email me at chike(at)chikeuzoka(dot)com.

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