Business journeys are hard to pin down. People start in one sector and could end up in a completely different zone by the end of the year. Entrepreneurs are especially prone to dynamic shifts in their business pathways. For some the idea of entrepreneurship is sitting in wait. They’ve never considered being an entrepreneur before until one special moment. Some entrepreneurs know from the minute they get their first paycheck that going at it alone is the right call. Other entrepreneurs stumble over their business epiphany in the middle of a meeting or an event at their job. Then there are yet more entrepreneurs who catch the bug after building a career and gaining experience. No matter which way you find the desire to take on the title of entrepreneur, the outcome is always exciting.
Ramunda Young, co-founder of MahoganyBooks had a long career in the book industry before starting her business. “I have been in books for close to a decade now. I actually started at Howard University bookstore. I was there general book manager and we worked with a lot of the college students but it was unique because we were able to connect with the community and host author events there. I went on and got recruited by Karibu Books which was the largest African American owned bookstore chain. I was there as their director of operations. After they closed I went on to work at Barnes and Noble. I was their community relations manager and did all the author events there too. What I realized after working for in mainstream books was that there weren’t a lot of African American authors that had the opportunity to connect with African American readers in the DC area. My husband and I, who co-founded the business with me, thought that there was an opening in the market to do so. We wanted to give back.”
Giving back is a common theme with entrepreneurs. Communities have long depended on local businesses and entrepreneurs to help ignite passion in citizens and economic improvements to cities both large and small. Naming her company and planning out its foundation was always an important part for Young. “Our daughter’s name is Mahogany and she came around the same time. We love the name because both my husband and I assume a life of strength and beauty and richness. When you think of the color mahogany it kind of evokes those images. We wanted the name to reflect something of color. We’re both African American so we thought Mahogany would kind of fit all those little pockets for us. That’s how it came about. Our whole business is focused on community. We’ve hosted book drives for the community. We were actually partnered with Howard and some of the local radio stations. We hosted and created Books for the Block which was essentially books being distributed and given away to people on the block, so to speak. We did this for free throughout D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. We see a huge importance in reading and literacy and getting a book into the hands of our youth. That is so critical to us because it’s the foundation for everything that you will ever do. That was something that was very important to us.”
Entrepreneurship can start at any age. While some kids learn the art of entrepreneurship by finding the right niche, other kids have the opportunity to learn by watching parents or family members actively pursue it. “My husband and I would have meetings and a lot of times we would bring her with us,” Young says. “We wanted her to be there to experience and see first-hand. It was important for us to have her there but at 7-years-old, she’ll be 11 in a few weeks, she had been around us so much that she kept saying, ‘Mommy, I want to have my own business’. For a whole year I kept saying she’s just talking, she’s just little. Finally she wore me down and I had a coupon to order business cards for really cheap and I ordered her a little box of cards. We sat down and came up with a name that she liked, a free email, and ordered her a tote bag. We created a t-shirt for her as well. At our next event we sat her up at a table adjacent to ours with all her little jewelry she had made. She had gone to a craft store and put together all this jewelry, even hair clips, and she sold out. People were so excited to see this little entrepreneur selling. Fast-forward 3-4 years and we just launched her Facebook page under Mahogany Crafts and she is knitting scarves. She has sold close to 50-60 scarves that she knits on her own. That’s her business and we’ve always taught her that a portion of her sales goes to the community. It’s important for us to listen. Kids are amazing these days.”
While focusing on business is what keeps entrepreneurs motivated, all work and no play is never a good idea. It’s important to keep your passions balanced. Young does this in a variety of different ways. “I’m an old-school hip hop head. So I love listening to that. Within the past year or so I launched Ramunda Young Inc. It’s actually about empowering and encouraging women to soar. Again I focus on community. My goal is to figure out how we can bring women together and have a conversation about things we may not be aware of and how we can get educated in those areas. How these things impact our lives, our community, and our families. That takes up quite a bit of my spare time. Being in the room with other thought leaders personally and professionally is great. Having a rich, full life is important to me and being centered. We spend our lives hanging out in D.C. as a family and enjoying where we live and our culture. That’s important to me.”
Any new entrepreneur looking to break in should always seek the advice from those who have experienced the highs and lows of entrepreneurship. Young’s advice is all about trust, “I would tell them to trust themselves. When I say that, I mean trust their thoughts. Trust what they know to be true. A lot of times people have ideas about starting a business and they get around other people – I call them the naysayers – that think they are helping us out a lot of times. A lot of times they will talk you out of those ideas. They’ll talk you out of those possibilities. Then you kind of get left wondering ‘should I have done this?’ I tell them to trust themselves. It’s okay to make a mistake. It’s okay to try something and it doesn’t work. Trust yourself is the biggest thing and a personal mantra of mine that I keep written down is ‘I’d rather hear no then not know’. If there’s an idea I have or a person I would want to meet with or connect with, I’ll call them. I’ll try it. I’d rather know that it didn’t work then not try it and always be wondering. I’d rather hear no. I’d rather hear that then never, ever test it out. Go for it!”
Being an entrepreneur takes a lot of determination. There are a lot of factors which can also help get points on your side when you go at your business alone. As they always say – location, location, location. Being in the DMV area has great benefits according to Young. “There are so many different people, different events, and the government is right here so it’s a hotbed of people and connections that can be made if you have a business idea. You don’t have to reach far to connect with all kind of influential people. I think D.C. is a great place with a lot of progressive people. I love the energy here. If I had moved anywhere else I don’t know if I would be in the environment to see people really going after their goals. It really nurtures any kind of entrepreneur. You get to meet people from all walks of life, people with different experiences, CEO’s and all the way to the startup people. I love that accessibility to all those different types of people. The events are great too. I love that there’s a great cross-section of people.”