Podcast Transcript – Series One, Episode 07
brooke Sinclair Velour Imports Feb 2020
[00:00:00] Brooke: [00:00:00] I can’t tell you how many people I will say ms dos do and they go what is that?
[00:00:05]So the nerd in me is it runs deep.
[00:00:07]Alcohol is the single most regulated commodity on the planet. And actually that’s why we love being involved in it.
[00:00:17]Make a dollar out of 15 cents, and then. Using your nonprofit skills to get three uses out of every $1.
[00:00:24]I was stuck in Panama’s international airport for seven days.
[00:00:29]Never accept a no from someone who didn’t have the authority to give me yes.
[00:00:34]Dan: [00:00:34] What’s up Unfound Nation. Dan, Kihanya here, your host for Founders Unfound. Thanks so much for listening in. You just heard our guests for this episode. Brooke Sinclair of Velour imports. She’s our first resident Houston entrepreneur, and she’s developing technology to bring craft brands from your local neighborhood across the planet.
[00:00:53] Our episode is sponsored by the Washington Technology Industry Association, also known as the WTIA.
[00:00:59] As always, if you’re excited about what we’re doing with Founders Unfound, you can find our podcast on Apple, Google, Spotify, SoundCloud, and Stitcher, and please follow us on Twitter and Instagram @foundersunfound or go to a website, foundersunfound.com and sign up for our updates or buy some swag.
[00:01:16] Please follow, like, and share and help us grow now on with the episode. Hope you enjoy.
[00:01:22]Hello and welcome to Founders Unfound spotlighting the best startups you don’t know yet. We bring you stories of exceptional founders from underrepresented backgrounds.
[00:01:43] This is episode seven on our series of founders from African descent. I’m your host Dan Kihanya.
[00:01:49] Let’s get on it. Today. We have Brooke S Sinclair, founder and CEO of Velour imports. The lower facilitates independently owned craft brands, distribution around the world by way of direct relationships today and through a streamline marketplace coming soon. Welcome to the show, Brooke, and thanks for making the time.
[00:02:10]Brooke: [00:02:10] Hi Dan. Thank you for having me.
[00:02:12]Dan: [00:02:12] Awesome. So let’s start off with helping the listeners understand what exactly does Velour Imports do?
[00:02:17] Brooke: [00:02:17] Do. Velour Imports is an online marketplace of beverages for the wholesale community. we are taking the digital platform and using it and the same similar fashion as Uber eats, where importers in Latin America have a digital menu of selection of suppliers and manufacturers to choose from.
[00:02:39] And then they can watch their orders. Come towards them. Just like when you watch your car come towards you on Uber eats.
[00:02:46]Dan: [00:02:46] That’s pretty cool. And can you tell us some things about what areas you’ve been focused on and how big the business has gotten or anything around the traction that you had so far
[00:02:56] Brooke: [00:02:56] Yes, so we’re still a slim team. A lean team of four we’re concentrating on the Caribbean and central America countries right now, but we’re planting some seeds. If we can move down to South America in the beginning of 2021 hopefully sooner.
[00:03:16]Dan: [00:03:16] Nice. I imagine the alcohol, which is primarily what you deal with, there’s all kinds of rules and you probably know more about sort of the import regulations and customs, than the average person in that regard.
[00:03:29]Brooke: [00:03:29] alcohol is the single most regulated commodity on the planet. And actually I have to admit that that’s one of the reasons why we love being involved in it. It’s not an industry that many understand. And, the legalities of it are how you balance those legalities is a unique trait a rare characteristic. And we’re very fortunate to have worked alongside, the us department of agriculture there, foreign agricultural service, the Texas department of agriculture, and just a list of incredible government agencies, that have helped us along the way.
[00:04:10] So, we are uniquely skilled in that area.
[00:04:14]Dan: [00:04:14] And I imagine, this idea that your buyers can actually see where their shipments are matters a lot. particularly in a perishable. Commodity, like, you know, like beer and alcohol. If it’s sitting on some dock or some boat or it’s stuck in some customs cage somewhere, that’s going to make a big deal in terms of them getting the fresh product that they’re probably expecting.
[00:04:40]Brooke: [00:04:40] Huge, huge deal. and getting through customs or, not just locating it, but just actually the paperwork process is something can be a little cumbersome. So. That’s why we’re tightly working with those, government entities.
[00:04:58]but a lot of that is transforming to online paper exchange. So a lot of the customs processes are already in the transformation of flowing online.
[00:05:11] Dan: [00:05:11] Nice. Well, before we dive in more in the business why don’t you tell us a little bit about your background
[00:05:17] Brooke: [00:05:17] Yes. so my background really is in logistics and transportation, supply chain management. My first career starting out at 19, was as a production stage manager.
[00:05:29]Dan: [00:05:29] Like for the theater?
[00:05:31] Brooke: [00:05:31] Yes, actually. Exactly.
[00:05:33] Dan: [00:05:33] Wow. That has a logistics aspect to it? Right?
[00:05:37]Brooke: [00:05:37] Highly, highly logistics. I mean, you have to be able to load in, load out at equipment, costumes, sounds stereo equipment You have to do it correctly so that everything survives the trip
[00:05:52] Dan: [00:05:52] Completely . So production stage manager and logistics… So there’s gotta be some DNA in you that is super organized and methodical, which I admire because I am none of those things. Is there some sort of aspect of who you are that you sort of identified early and said, this is the place where I need to showcase that about me?
[00:06:14]Brooke: [00:06:14] I have to say, unfortunately, it’s genetic.
[00:06:18] I just was born like that. Really awesome. I come from a family of engineers. so my grandfather was a mechanical engineer. my mom was a computer engineer and then my aunt is a electrical engineer. So tinkering is something we learned to do as children. I taught myself to code in the ms dos system, windows dos, Back as a child and I played games through the dos computer system So the nerd in me is it runs deep.
[00:06:51]Dan: [00:06:51] Yeah. There you go. I mean, I guess you didn’t have a choice. You couldn’t become a singer or a soccer player or something.
[00:06:59] Brooke: [00:06:59] Not a good one.
[00:07:03] Dan: [00:07:03] Well, that’s great. I mean, I hear that story a lot. that ,our parents rub off on us sometimes in ways we don’t expect. and sometimes we don’t necessarily welcome, but that’s great to see that heritage. And there was support. and a shout out to ms dos. I mean, come on.
[00:07:19] Brooke: [00:07:19] Right I can’t tell you how many people I will say ms dos do and they go what is that? And I just nevermind.
[00:07:31]Dan: [00:07:31] It was this thing right next to the phonograph.
[00:07:38] Brooke: [00:07:38] Where are the old people. I’ll just go sit with them.
[00:07:41]Dan: [00:07:41] Exactly. so you, started in this production stage manager, which might’ve been, probably really thrilling when you’re young, and then you realize this is not a track to, probably retiring 40 years from now at least. and so how did you make the shift into business logistics
[00:07:58]Brooke: [00:07:58] Actually you hit the nail on the head. so the very last show I stage managed was at the Apollo theater, and I said, this is great. I’m in New York. I’m either going to go full steam ahead and I’m going to sleep on people’s couches and this is where I’m going to be and I’m going to make it on Broadway I couldn’t go back to school and just kind of try something different. so I went back to school and I finished my bachelor’s degree. You got a corporate communications, traveled abroad to India for a semester, studied abroad. I got my master’s degree in project management. So this really just brought home all of my nerdiness and logistical training . And then found my way preparing for my whole life.
[00:08:50]Dan: [00:08:50] So the notion that you basically spent all of this time in your career, building up the industry expertise and the domain expertise that would enable you to do Velour Imports. it makes a lot of sense, right? and so tell us how that epiphany happened around. Stepping out on your own and doing your own thing were you in the logistics for beverage businesses or how did the spark come to start Velour Imports?
[00:09:23]Brooke: [00:09:23] Jesus. Okay
[00:09:30]Dan: [00:09:30] And wasn’t sure I didn’t know it was the beer as well
[00:09:36] Brooke: [00:09:36] Whatever’s available He’s open-minded .And I was running a $14 million logistic distribution programs about four different programs . So one of the main programs was the retail distribution program where 250 different grocery stores throughout 18 counties. where we would have trucks that go pick up retail donations from the Kroger’s, Walmart’s Sam’s clubs, and bring back huge pallets.
[00:10:18] So I had found my way back to the transportation of perishable items. And, met a woman who was volunteering for her church she was in exporting, and she had a friend in Argentina was a vineyard, and they wanted to bring the wine to the States. So I started developing Velour, with the.
[00:10:40] Do you worry that it was going to be an import business? Found out through research and development that the market for opportunity in U S goods in Latin America and does pretty much anywhere outside of America is huge billion dollar opportunity. And so we split the revenue model and ever since we’ve been ironically named Velour imports, even though we primarily export.
[00:11:04]Dan: [00:11:04] But so unpack that though. I see the hop skip and a jump. But to go from being at a bank and kind of, wearing your logistics chops in all its glory to somebody saying Hey this is opportunity how did you make that jump to say wow this is big enough opportuniy and I’m the one that needs to go fix this.
[00:11:27] Brooke: [00:11:27] You know, I was already searching for something. when she offered me the opportunity, I was already, in my early thirties. And that nonprofit life. Wasn’t that great. It wasn’t going to be as profitable as I had hoped Even if I was to work extremely hard I couldn’t rise The glass ceiling would have kept me into a certain level and so I was looking for opportunities So when she came to me, the gypsy in me who was a freelance production stage manager already felt like I believed that there’s more to this life than just the nine to five
[00:12:05] Dan: [00:12:05] so there was a, there was an itch that needed to be scratched that was already. Yeah, that’s quite common. you see entrepreneurs, they have this, yearning, and then what happens is this presentation of opportunity and that matches with who you are what you know who you know or the other scenario is did you just get so pissed off that why doesn’t this work I’m going to have to go fix this
[00:12:32] Brooke: [00:12:32] Right. Cause you can’t, you simply cannot take it anymore. In both of those scenarios, you get to a point where you just know that you know that you know that there’s more to life and and you and your purpose than just fitting into a box.
[00:12:49]Dan: [00:12:49] And I believe firmly entrepreneurs are born that way, and they’re separated at birth from that mission, and so sometimes longer than others to reacquaint themselves in the world with, Oh yeah. That’s what I’ve been thinking about doing all this time.
[00:13:05] so you start the company and then, I mean, obviously the Latin American opportunity became the place where you focused. How did you go about sourcing the craft brands and the makers of the product, the supply side.
[00:13:18]Brooke: [00:13:18] I drew back on my good old friend the computer. And, learned how to use some inbound marketing tactics through Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn I’ve contacted, those are the three main, so Instagram, really Twitter and a few message boards, industries, specific message boards. Well, all of our brands have been recruited in some sort of or remote based category and they’re excited about the opportunities we’re able to present them with serious potential and statistics about exporting and give them the extra revenue without the additional work
[00:13:57]Dan: [00:13:57] for your brands or these brands Are you Usually the first opportunity or the first channel for them to sell sort of beyond their region or beyond the United States?
[00:14:07] Brooke: [00:14:07] In some cases, yes.
[00:14:09]there are some other craft beer exporters from what I know they’re primarily focused on Southeast Asia or, Europe or even India.
[00:14:22] Dan: [00:14:22] So sometimes it’s their first foray and other times it’s, it’s another opportunity at another region that they may not have penetrated yet.
[00:14:31]Brooke: [00:14:31] Correct.
[00:14:31] Dan: [00:14:32] And when you started, did you want to focus on a specific, was it just beer or were you open to anything or how did you determine, I don’t know enough about the market. I’ll, I’ll admit to know the differences. and sort of that independent sector.
[00:14:47]Brooke: [00:14:47] The craft beer market when we were beginning and building the framework of the company in about 2014, 2015, AB in Bev was going through a massive purchase of craft breweries and the market was just booming in, all sorts of crazy money was happening And After that huge bio, I realized that the number one reason that those craft brewers.
[00:15:17] Sold is because they wanted to expand distribution. They wanted to be international brands. So it just is though. Why can’t we just open it up and democratize it and give everybody an opportunity to be an international brand if they can meet the capacity right. and so that calling out for help and the fight to remain independent has been a huge, calling in a strategic mission for us.
[00:15:51] Dan: [00:15:51] I like that. We will take a short break to hear from our sponsor and be right back with Brooke Sinclair from Velour Imports.
[00:15:58] WTIA: [00:15:59] Washington technology industry association, or WTA is a nonprofit that supports tech companies in Washington state, which is home to one of the most innovative tech ecosystems in the world with enterprise companies like Microsoft and Amazon headquartered here and engineering offices for Facebook, Google, and others.
[00:16:19] We have some of the best technical talent in the world. We’re also home to many successful startups, including unicorns like Rover, convoy, and offer up. WTI provides resources and programs for companies of all sizes and stages headquartered in Washington, or looking to expand here for startups, we provide a variety of stage appropriate resources like health insurance, business insurance, connections to resources like investors or service providers, workshops and other support to help startups reach their potential.
[00:16:49] Go to www.washingtontechnology.org to learn more.
[00:16:57] Dan: [00:16:57] We’re back with Brooke Sinclair from Velour Imports. And before the break Brooke, we were talking about the opportunity assessment and sort of the market focus. and you mentioned, I like this this idea that you could help. Think about. How independent craft brewers could become international brands.
[00:17:16] And the idea that that doesn’t have to come through rolling up into another company but that you through the power of technology, can basically introduce them, beyond the shores of the United States.
[00:17:31]Brooke: [00:17:31] Yeah. And we’ve had some amazing reception, lots of curiosity. We’ve even had, people, distributors in other countries ask us of course specific requests if they you know hear about hard seltzer or we’re able to offer pasteurized versus unpasteurized craft beer which is a huge distinction for many countries in Latin America.
[00:17:55] So we really enjoy that.
[00:17:57]Dan: [00:17:57] What is that distinction.
[00:17:59]Brooke: [00:17:59] So pasteurized craft beer. is, the process of filtering. Just like when you think about milk, pasteurized milk. so Cause it’s more more like just full yeast and organic products that may not last as long on the shelf
[00:18:18] Dan: [00:18:18] that makes sense. Makes a lot of sense. Particularly with a perishable product. shelf-life is very material, especially if there’s a part of that timeframe that’s used up with transportation.
[00:18:30]So Brooke, tell me you are in this craft brew, craft alcohol world Do you like beer?
[00:18:40]Brooke: [00:18:40] I’m guilty. I am guilty. Yes.
[00:18:44]Dan: [00:18:44] So as, as the CEO, do you get to sort of sample a little bit of the supply as it comes through and give a blessing on the brands as they come through as, yeah, this is pretty good. I think this is worthy of exporting.
[00:18:55] Brooke: [00:18:55] You know, it’s a hard job, but somebody’s got those 8:00 AM taste tests.
[00:19:07] You know, we have to be able to speak to the product. we want to be able to say that it’s good We’re still going to say that it’s good but just a wine connaiseur If they’ve actually tasted it You believe that A little bit more They’re able to to say whether or not they liked it or why they liked it or things of that nature I I’d rather be honest
[00:19:30] Dan: [00:19:30] Well, tell me, is there like one of your favorites that have come through? Either the way it tastes or the name or the origin story. There’s gotta be some fun drink or alcohol or beer, that just tickles you every time you think about it.
[00:19:45] Brooke: [00:19:45] I don’t have a favorite. and you know, that’s like saying which one of you children you love more? And I don’t want to do that. I love them. Okay. Stand out. I would, I would give a shout out to, you’re in San Fran or knows a Seattle based correct?Portland cider company.
[00:20:08]They make an amazing product, and I would say next time you’re back in town, you know, so by telling them, Brooke sent ya.
[00:20:15]Dan: [00:20:15] I will do that. We’ll see what kind of VIP treatment I get.
[00:20:21]so talk to us a little bit more about this idea of a marketplace and using kind of the front end of technology to facilitate how you grow your business and add value for these brands.
[00:20:35]Brooke: [00:20:35] Well, adding value for the importer is saving huge amounts of time and money and accessibility.
[00:20:44] So, so comfort. and then on the reverse side for the brand, the distributing, again, you save time, save copious amounts of effort and enjoy increased revenue. So we hope our platform brings together the perfect, well, it’s going to start off unproven, but it becomes a perfect blend of what both sides need.
[00:21:12]Dan: [00:21:12] And what’s the stage it’s at now? I mean, is it up and running yet or are you still still building it out?
[00:21:18] Brooke: [00:21:19] We’re doing a white glove version of the marketplace right now. So we’re using the digital platform as a catalog, so to speak. We’re gaining some initial feedback and letting the buyers kind of tell us how we should develop it.
[00:21:37]and then we have some. Additional components coming up in the next quarter. Yeah. so we’re looking forward to expanding upon the features and the capabilities, but there is something there to start getting some movement going.
[00:21:54]Dan: [00:21:54] And I imagine you’ve got some quote unquote regular customers who you can start to introduce this to and get feedback from.
[00:22:02] Brooke: [00:22:02] Yeah. We have gotten some incredible feedback and had incredible opportunities, with the Hilton Trinidad, the Grand Hyatt Bahamar, and, the Four Seasons in Saint Kitts and some duty-free retailers and distributors of a Saint Kitts and Neves. And then right now we’re working on a craft beer pilot program with a restaurant chain in Mexico city.
[00:22:29]so will 2020 is going to be pretty busy for us.
[00:22:32]Dan: [00:22:32] So when people hear terms like. Independently owned craft. you know, especially if they’re an investor, they may think, Oh, that means small cottage industry. But that’s probably not the case. How big a market is this space?
[00:22:45] Brooke: [00:22:45] Oh my gosh.
[00:22:48] Just, the global craft beer market in itself is a $503 billion industry, in Latin American. Imported craft beer market, I believe was $10 billion industry. yeah, I like to drink.
[00:23:08] Oh my goodness.
[00:23:10] Hey, Hey, let’s not judge. Okay Everybody likes to have a good time
[00:23:19] Dan: [00:23:19] Hey for all I know that’s like a weekend in Kentucky I don’t I mean
[00:23:27] Brooke: [00:23:27] I mean, outside of America, the drinking age might be 18 or 16.
[00:23:33]Dan: [00:23:33] yeah, so that’s, that’s a pretty sizable market, so definitely big enough for an opportunity like the one you’re pursuing for sure. and you said you have a team of four and you are based in Houston, is that right?
[00:23:47]Brooke: [00:23:47] Yes.
[00:23:48]Dan: [00:23:48] Have you always been in Houston or how did you end up in Houston?
[00:23:52]Brooke: [00:23:52] the company has always been based out of Houston.
[00:23:54] I, myself am originally from Chicago. but my mom moved around because she worked in television as an engineer and so we moved around. I moved here in high school.
[00:24:07]Dan: [00:24:07] That’s a bit of a change and a climate to go from Chicago to Houston.
[00:24:13] Brooke: [00:24:13] So good. But now it’s getting too hot. It
[00:24:18] Dan: [00:24:18] is hot in houston. I always joke, I have a friend who lived there and it was, you sort of go from one refrigerated box to the other, right?
[00:24:26] your air conditioned apartment or house to the car, to the office to the grocery store, to the mall. And you try to minimize that time when you’re exposed to the ambient heat
[00:24:38] Brooke: [00:24:38] and you get sick from it
[00:24:40]Dan: [00:24:40] right. so let’s shift gears a little bit. Let’s talk about fundraising. Have you raised money in the past Have you self funded and are you looking to raise money in the future ?
[00:24:51] Brooke: [00:24:51] We’re preparing for a fundraise now. so Velour Imports has been primarily bootstrapped, through personal savings and then self-funded through debt.
[00:25:03]and then we had a friends and family round of about hundred thousand dollars. So this will be our first, External invite to bring, investors in. I’m doing a seed round of a $750,000. and we’re reaching out to, or just talking to a few companies right now.
[00:25:25]Dan: [00:25:25] and I’m not sure. Is there a investor community in Houston?
[00:25:29]Brooke: [00:25:29] There is an investor community in Houston. They’re more of a later stage. so because we’re in a seed area I’m really looking to Silicon Valley and New York, and actually Seattle.
[00:25:45]Dan: [00:25:45] I think it’s good to cast a wide net, especially since you’re essentially an international business.
[00:25:50] You’re not just a domestic service or product. So it makes a lot of sense to look for those investors who are more savvy about the international opportunity.
[00:26:03] So have you met any investors yet?
[00:26:05]Brooke: [00:26:05] Actually, I’ll have some meetings coming up this weekend.
[00:26:09] Dan: [00:26:09] Oh, great. Well, good luck with that. Sure.
[00:26:12] So what’s it like to do a friends and family? I mean, one of the things that we explore a lot of times, is that sometimes, it’s. Not trivial as it’s sometime portrayed to go to people that you care about and that care about you and ask them basically to bet on you?
[00:26:31] Brooke: [00:26:31] It’s hard. in some aspects, everybody has bills. Everybody has to run their daily life. So for them to give and know that that money’s not coming back any time soon. Unfortunately, not within the next 365 days. It’s amazingly humbling and I am forever in debt. There are some people who will, I have promised my first born child to, I don’t know how that’s going to work out cause I promise. and I have some college
[00:27:16]Dan: [00:27:16] I think that’s really an important aspect that people overlook. you know, I know for me, or we were able to raise money. But, you know, my friends and family are more of the position where they want me to give them money
[00:27:27]Brooke: [00:27:27] wholeheartedly. Yeah. and I, working in nonprofit, I was already maximizing my nonprofit budget, so I didn’t have a huge amount of savings and yeah, it’s been make a dollar out of 15 cents, and then. Using your nonprofit skills to get three uses out of every $1.
[00:27:49]Dan: [00:27:49] That’s good. We’ve actually had other entrepreneurs talk about, being in the nonprofit world and it teaching you about making every dollar last so it makes a lot of sense. So you’re looking to do this seed round Is there specific milestones that you’re trying to achieve once you raise that money?
[00:28:10] Brooke: [00:28:10] Yes. so increase our broadband, because it’s been bootstrapped in, it’s such an, the way it’s been funded thus far, my team has been mostly part time. And, so I need to make them off full time cause they all have children and, unfortunately have to have a certain income.
[00:28:29] So in order to bring them all on board full time and have their most attention, this is going to allow us to do that. And that’s going to expand our broadband, and be able to help us increase sales and revenues, increased marketing, and just overall help reconfirm our credibility in Latin America.
[00:28:49]Dan: [00:28:49] it’s certainly shows a lot of perseverance to pursue this business on your own dime for several years. so you have a very methodical approach to this, which is great. and refreshing actually.
[00:29:04]We will take a short break to hear from our sponsor again and be right back with Brooke Sinclair from Velour Imports.
[00:29:11] WTIA: [00:29:12] Washington technology industry association, or WTA is a nonprofit that supports tech companies in Washington state, which is home to one of the most innovative tech ecosystems in the world with enterprise companies like Microsoft and Amazon headquartered here and engineering offices for Facebook, Google, and others.
[00:29:31] We have some of the best technical talent in the world. We’re also home to many successful startups, including unicorns like Rover, convoy, and offer up. WTI provides resources and programs for companies of all sizes and stages headquartered in Washington, or looking to expand here for startups, we provide a variety of stage appropriate resources like health insurance, business insurance, connections to resources like investors or service providers, workshops and other support to help startups reach their potential.
[00:30:02] Go to www.washingtontechnology.org to learn more. So we’re back with Brooke from Velour, and we were just talking about her journey, and the company’s journey and where she’s headed with, hopefully as successful fundraising coming up shortly. Let’s unpack Brooke a little bit. so in the course of five years, especially if you’ve been bootstrapping and you’ve mentioned some of the challenges of logistics Is there been kind of a low moment in this experience?
[00:30:32]Brooke: [00:30:32] Yes. I was stuck in Panama’s international airport for seven days.
[00:30:38]Dan: [00:30:38] Wait, what?
[00:30:41] Brooke: [00:30:41] There was a moment where I was stuck in Panama and I couldn’t get out and don’t fly spirit. It’s cheaper for reason. yeah, I was stuck in Panama’s international airport for seven days.
[00:30:56]Dan: [00:30:56] And it was because your flight got canceled. You gotta tell us how that happens. Seven days.
[00:31:02]Brooke: [00:31:02] So they sent me messages saying that my flight had been rescheduled. But it turned out that they were rescheduling my connecting flight. So the original flight was still at 2:00 AM in that morning, but they kept telling me, your, your flight got rescheduled to something like four 30 or five o’clock
[00:31:24]Dan: [00:31:24] So I just keep thinking of that movie with Tom Hanks and limbo and he’s, you know, basically he’s living in the airport. Was it like that?
[00:31:34]Brooke: [00:31:34] I literally, while I was there. And learn tips on how to survive better.
[00:31:45]Dan: [00:31:45] my mind is blown. That’s amazing. So there must be people who are working there and they would see you every day. Like, is this woman flying back and forth to Panama every day? Or, I mean it must’ve become conspicuous at some point. Panama airport can’t be that big.
[00:32:02]Brooke: [00:32:02] You’re still here.
[00:32:10] It’s, you know, so, yeah. A couple of days into it, I started making friends, you know, they were like, Hey.
[00:32:23] Dan: [00:32:23] They probably wanted to take you home and say, I have pity on you.
[00:32:27] So I assume that was on a business trip or it was in the pursuit of the company?
[00:32:33]Brooke: [00:32:33] Yes. Country, a sales trip. I had started down in Guatemala, with the USDA and, underrepresented secretary, mr Ted McKinney. they, the USDA had a really awesome, trade mission in Guatemala, and I had just, was on my way leaving Panama and had gotten an awesome opportunity to explore the country, go out to Dhabi and see a lot of places, seen visit some craft breweries, visit with some distributors and set up some meetings. And I was on my way to Trinidad, a and T de st Lucia and The Bahamas and had a little oopsy Daisy. I’m on my way out of Panama.
[00:33:23]Dan: [00:33:23] Wow. so luckily for all of us that didn’t dissuade you from quitting or it didn’t encourage you to quit, you’re starting off right away. and I think what happens a lot is, you know, we’re kind of joking about it, but I’m sure at the time it didn’t seem very funny. but these episodes that happen when you’re in the early stages of your startup can become sort of good anecdotes and folklore, for when the company becomes successful. You can talk about those hopefully fondly.
[00:33:54]Has there been a highlight? Have you, have you gotten recognition or is there been like a one big client that you been able to land or anything like that?
[00:34:07] Brooke: [00:34:07] Blessed, we’ve been able to network our way to, you know, I mentioned before, we’ve had opportunities with the Hilton Trinidad, that grand high of Baha Mar. the four seasons in st Kitts. the small business association last BA, highlighted us as, as a success story. We got the, step grant from the Texas department of agriculture.
[00:34:32] just graduated from the Houston founders Institute, just had their first cohort, and so, you know, now I have an international, network of mentors and comrades. So, yeah, we have been incredibly blessed.
[00:34:48]Dan: [00:34:48] So tell us, Brooke, we all hear their stories and, sometimes exaggerated, but not really the challenges and the hurdles that black women founders face, at least in the tech community, has there has been some aspects of this journey that you could identify that particularly challenging or were even present because you are a black woman founder?
[00:35:12]Brooke: [00:35:12] There are quite a few instances where the situation definitely was harder because I either was a woman or was half African American or was. An outlier. in some respect. so having a unique sort of, engineer mind, I tend to be a very literal person.
[00:35:37]sometimes I might re sync, you know, while somebody’s speaking, I may look off because I’m, I’m really giving thought to their words. And, you know, there are some things that are gonna make some people uncomfortable. But I try to remind people, you can’t change for somebody else. You can’t be taller or shorter, for somebody else.
[00:36:03] So why worry about the things that you cannot change? Like yours, skin color, or the, the way you think, or if You know, I have a cultural background. Don’t hide it to make other people feel comfortable and be comfortable in other people’s discomfort.
[00:36:21]Dan: [00:36:21] is that an approach you’ve always taken or did you have to sort of learn that? Did you at first sort of try to make yourself fit in or change yourself or have you always been sort of this independent person?
[00:36:32]Brooke: [00:36:32] No, I definitely tried to fit in. I think it’s human nature. humans, we want to fit in. We want to be a part of a group, of a pack. And that’s why things like solitary confinement are so hard.
[00:36:46]so yes, I definitely tried to blend in and tried to be like everybody else. but there were some lessons that I learned I had to learn that level of being comfortable and other people’s discomfort through this journey.
[00:37:00]Dan: [00:37:00] Is there a particular example that comes to mind?
[00:37:03]Brooke: [00:37:03] Well, let me just say that there was, there was a time where, person who was a resource who functioned as a portal of information, thought that they had the authority to tell me, no, I could not do this business. luckily I already had had the experience of learning to never accept a no from someone who didn’t have the authority to give me yes. So understanding that that person was there merely to represent information, whether that information be negative or positive, I’m paying you. You’re not paying me, so why would I pay you to tell me that I can’t do this?
[00:37:47]Dan: [00:37:47] I always find that really interesting when there’s an imbalance in that regard. When you’re the one paying for something and somehow you have to ask permission or you have to, kinda pay somebody to tell you that you can’t do something or, that, you don’t fit or you don’t pass . Do you think of yourself as a black woman founder every day?
[00:38:08]Brooke: [00:38:08] that’s a good question. I try not to, I think I’m reminded every day. It’s not something that comes to my forefront. I don’t necessarily just see myself, Cause sometimes there’s a negative connotation. Just even saying a black woman founder, there’s somehow a negative connotation and I don’t walk around with that negative connotation.
[00:38:31] I walk around thinking I’m incredibly awesome and that seems to bother people and can really tell people that you think you’re awesome.
[00:38:39]Dan: [00:38:39] Yeah. But I think you can live that way. And that’s a great point about I think this is one thing that folks who aren’t from underrepresented backgrounds can’t really appreciate, is that whether you are conscious of it or not, the world tries to remind you, sometimes subtly, but many other times in a very overt way.
[00:39:00]so I always find that question interesting. It’s, you know, I’m an entrepreneur, I’m a business person, but am I also carrying around these other aspects that have to be a part of me? So tell us, Brooke, if you were going to go back in time, say to, 10 years ago, so well before your endeavor into your startup and you wanted to find the pre version of yourself kind of back to the future style and tell yourself, these couple of pieces of advice.
[00:39:30] What would you say?
[00:39:32]Brooke: [00:39:32] Whew. Wow. I would say they’re supposed to tell you no, yeah. And that’s, that’s for everybody. I do not take it personally. It is their job to tell you no, and is your responsibility to move. Either respond or move, get over yourself. Okay? You’re not that. It’s not just you. They do this to everybody who looks like you.
[00:40:02]Dan: [00:40:02] That makes sense. and I guess what will, I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t ask. If there been any organizations or people or events or experiences that you want to shout out that been helpful to you specifically as an underrepresented founder.
[00:40:18]Brooke: [00:40:18] right now I’m in a week four of a six week training program. I’ll be announced graduating, in March six. and beyond that, I’ve. Applied to several things in South by Southwest, so pitch competitions. And so we’re looking forward to the, doing that in the month of March. previously, you know, I have to give a big shout out to Founders Institute, station Houston.
[00:40:45] I’m here now. and then the government entities I cannot, cannot, cannot stop raving about the small business associations and minority business development association. these, just score organizations and even HCC has been a huge resource. So I’ve been really immensely connected and blessed to get to network and connect with some really awesome organizations.
[00:41:14]Dan: [00:41:14] That’s interesting. Most tech companies don’t shout out, government entities and the small business association. So that’s really encouraging that it’s been a positive experience for you as kind of a, you know, more of a tech oriented, company
[00:41:28]Brooke: [00:41:28] yeah. They’ve been with me through the entire development process and have opened more doors than I could ever imagine.
[00:41:36]Dan: [00:41:36] That’s good to hear. well, we’re just about to wrap up, Brooke, but before we do, I’ll ask if you want to share a way to get ahold of you or if you want people to follow you, if you have anything coming up that you want people to know about. What would you tell people if they want to find out more about Brooke S Sinclair and Velour Imports?
[00:41:58]Brooke: [00:41:58] Come and find Valora imports online and Velourmports.com. and take a look at our website. you can find us on Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn. And, Come find us. Come look for us at South by Southwest, coming up, mid March, March 14th, I think is that week.
[00:42:18] And we would love to see you if you have any questions or concerns, give us a shout out, an email or, emails the best just because we’re all remote, but it gives us a phone call or. Anything, just, DM and, and let us know if you have any questions or any thoughts or if you’re interested in learning how you can be on our website or if you’re interested in learning more about a brand that you see on the website.
[00:42:43]Dan: [00:42:43] Well, this has been really a lot of fun. I really appreciate your time, Brooke, and so thank you so much for making the time to spend with us today.
[00:42:56] Thanks so much for listening to the show. We’d like to thank our guests, Brooke Sinclair and our sponsor, the WTIA. Don’t forget to subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts and follow us on Twitter and Instagram @foundersunfound. This podcast was produced by Dan Kihanya. Our music was composed by Ian Barter, Jason Donnelley, CJ Harris, Dennis Kotenko, and Juan Mares.
[00:43:19] I am Dan Kihanya. You’ve been listening to Founders Unfound.
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