Benjamin Wanzo is one of the Co-Founders and Partners of ESO Ventures, a social impact organization created to help black and brown entrepreneurs build competence, increase confidence, and access capital in an environment that isn’t always supportive.
Today, Ben joins the show to share the origin story of ESO Ventures, the various types of businesses they support and the importance of entrepreneurs having access to capital.
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00:58 – Jonathan introduces today’s guest, Benjamin Wanzo, who joins the show to share his passion for entrepreneurship and how he met his fellow co-founders of ESO Ventures, Alfredo and Martha
07:27 – Ben reflects on early money lessons he learned
10:43 – The origin story of ESO Ventures
14:17 – Four cohorts and Ben’s role at ESO Ventures
17:49 – The different types of businesses that ESO Ventures supports
19:29 – An action-oriented approach
22:09 – How Ben spreads his consulting talents across numerous companies
26:17 – Customer Acquisition, Operations, and Access to Capital
31:53 – Overcoming the hesitancy to take on debt to access capital
35:14 – Ben provides one entrepreneurial practice to implement and one to avoid
40:55 – The last thing Ben changed his mind about and one thing that he would like people to know about him
44:27 – Jonathan thanks Ben for joining the show and let’s listeners know where to connect with him and learn more about ESO Ventures
“The dream always was to become an entrepreneur. So, after I left McKinsey I became an entrepreneur and created a company called TeachBar, which was a classroom and a cafe all in one space, really to attract students to be in a learning environment and want to stay in that learning environment.” (04:07)
“My football coach used to always say to me, ‘Control your own destiny.’ Of course he was talking about just winning games so we can go to the playoffs, but that message rooted in me as well. Who really controls their own destiny? Typically, if you have the right product-market fit, it’s the entrepreneur.” (08:37)
“The entrepreneurs we want to serve are black and brown underinvested communities. And it’s gonna require a huge investment for them to start their businesses. So, we want to make sure that when they started their business that they weren’t making a huge investment upfront in us.” (12:25)
“Entrepreneurship is a lonely space. You do it. You try it. And, if you’re not around anyone else who’s doing it, you feel like the world is on your shoulders and, if you make one mistake, it’s game over. But, what you don’t realize is there’s fifteen other people who are in that same boat with you. And if you guys can encourage or share your victories or even your losses, it just shows that this is commonplace. This milestone that I did not reach, this failure that I had, is commonplace in entrepreneurship and I just need to keep pushing forward.” (15:46)
“Our primary goal is to stay action-oriented, and all of our competence-based training is pushing entrepreneurs towards action.” (19:46)
“When we started this, we had the confidence and the competence in the incubator. But we quickly realized if we don’t provide access to capital, we’re essentially creating ‘Dreamers.’ And we wouldn’t make impact in our communities because they’re gonna have a great business plan, they’re gonna know how to execute it, but they’re not gonna have money.” (29:16)
“Comparison is the thief of joy, but that’s what social media platforms often have people do is comparing themselves to what they see. So I just encourage folks – especially young folks and especially entrepreneurs – to get off social media for a while.” (39:28)
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Jonathan DeYoe: Welcome back. On this episode of the Mindful Money podcast, I’m chatting with Ben Wanzo. He’s one of the founders of Eso Ventures in East Oakland, California. ESO is a, uh, social impact company created to help black and brown entrepreneurs build competence, increase confidence, and access capital in an environment that isn’t always supportive and is often downright hostile. So ESO started in a single neighborhood, East Oakland, with a single community college. But they recently received a pretty good sized grant from the state of California to broaden the footprint of the ecosystem. And some of us are hoping to go statewide relatively soon. Full disclosure, I’m an early donor to the ESO program, and mindful, uh, money provides some financial education to the ESO cohorts. Ben, I am super excited to have you on the Mindful Money podcast.
Benjamin Wanzo: Thank you for having me, Jonathan, always, for your continued support.
Jonathan DeYoe: Absolutely. So, Ben, just real quick, where do you call home, and where are you connecting from?
Benjamin Wanzo: I call home where I was born and raised, Oakland, California. More specifically, East Oakland. And right now I’m calling in from East Oakland, where I live in my offshoot of an office from my deck.
Jonathan DeYoe: Got it. So you haven’t traveled far. You grew up there. Where did you go to college? Tell us a little bit about your background and getting here.
Benjamin Wanzo: Yes. So getting here is quite a journey. I, uh, went to Cal Berkeley. So it was essentially about 13 miles from my home where I went to college. And I realized I only lived in a 13 miles radius my whole life, up until the age of 22. So I was like, I should probably leave. And I went far. So I went to London first for six months to get out of the country, which was eye opening. I didn’t realize how much stuff I just took for granted, living in the same 13 miles of my life. So just really eye opening in terms of, hey, what type of milk do I even buy? Because it just became, like, habit. Just reach for this one. But you changed the color code, and it’s like, I’m confused. But after that, I moved to New York and lived there again for a while, which is definitely different from California. Loved it. I would call it my second or third home now, but enjoyed my time in New York. And then what brought me back to California was doing education and economic development in Sacramento. So, although I was, like, living my great life, great bachelor life in New York, making lots of money, collecting lots of great friends, people I’m still connected with today, I decided to move back to see what I can do to impact education, economic development, and depressed areas. And the first one I went to was Oak park in Sacramento. Did that for a while. Great experience in both becoming a teacher, getting m my teacher certification, but also doing economic development work. I helped the organization saintho create a barbershop, uh, coffee shop, theater, and some apartment buildings, all in a depressed neighborhood. So that was sort of my early exposure to the work I’m doing today. But from there, ended up at Stanford business school, because I realized that I needed more business acumen if I want to do really what I want to do in life and coming back and helping out under invested communities. So from there, at business school, I was like, whoa, I don’t know everything I need to know. I’m not 100% confident in my business acumen. So I decided to go to McKinsey and company for a few years to really hone sort of just my exposure to business. And the dream always was become an entrepreneur. So after I left McKinsey, became an entrepreneur and created a company called Teach Bar, which was a classroom and a cafe, all in one space, really, to attract students to be in a learning environment and want to stay in a learning environment. And it was a great business that I ran for six years in that format. And then later on, it’s still in existence today, just in a different format, where we provided services directly to schools and school districts. And that led me to right here where we’re, uh, at today with Eso Ventures.
Jonathan DeYoe: So how did you meet Ben and Martha? You were co founders of ESL?
Benjamin Wanzo: Yeah. So Alfredo and met. Yeah, Alfredo and I met at Bayfair Mall. So that’s where my business teach bar was. And he was walking by one day, he was a journalist, and he said, hey, this is an interesting concept. Nothing I’ve seen before. Do you mind if I do an interview for you to just understand what the business is, and hopefully you’ll be able to promote your business through this article. So I said, sure. Not knowing him, not even knowing if he’ll come back the next day. And he came back and he did a really great interview, and he wrote this article that was amazing, really capturing the essence of what I wanted Teach bar to become. And it was actually the best article ever written on the business. It was an innovative concept, so I had a lot of articles written on it, but he wrote probably the best one, so I was really appreciative of that. And now that we formed a friendship, but we actually lost contact because life happens. And next thing I know, I’m at my daughter’s childcare, and I’m looking at this guy like, I know you from somewhere. This is now five years later, and I can’t place him. And we’re trying to place each other because he knows. He knows me. And then at the same time, like Jinx, it just connected where we knew each other from. And at that point, he was the director of Nifty, but he had a really entrepreneurial itch himself. So we just started going to breakfast every week just to talk about entrepreneurship, the path, what it means. And he more wanted to be, not only pursue entrepreneurship, but he wanted to be more real for the entrepreneurs he was consulting with at Nifty. So we just formed this great relationship discussing entrepreneurship. And when the opportunity became for ESO, which was presented by councilmember Lauren Taylor, to him, he was like, hey, I need to get Ben involved. So he called me up. He was like, council member has this opportunity for us. I don’t know really what should become of it, but I know if I’m in thought partnership with you and Martha, our other partner, then we can figure it out.
Jonathan DeYoe: Awesome.
Benjamin Wanzo: And it was actually Carrie was involved. Carrie Multiloot was involved as well. So that’s how I met Martha is now I’m on the Zoom calls in the beginning of the pandemic with this little fiery lady who just has a lot of passion and ideas for entrepreneurship, and we just had a lot of value alignment from the jump. So Alfredo brought all three of us together, but we’ve just been, like, all dreaming the same dream, coming from different places. Alfredo from New York, teaching, going through Nifty Martha, being a us citizen, moving back to Mexico, selling chickens, know, becoming a tech entrepreneur. And then my little journey from going to Stanford Business school in McKinsey to exploring entrepreneurship brought us all back to a path of how can we really invest and turn around under invested communities, especially black and brown entrepreneurs.
Jonathan DeYoe: So just real quick, I know that I want to go backwards a little bit. Did you have much exposure to money finance, business entrepreneurship growing up? Where’d that interest come from?
Benjamin Wanzo: Well, the money part came from my, uh, father. So he was a grocery store manager, so he managed the books for the company, and he also would be the one who set like coupon prices and sale prices for the store. So he always just taught me to be smart with my money, look for deals, look how I can double up on coupons and stuff like that. So that’s where I really got a sense of money and the importance of money and managing your money or being a good steward of your money. The entrepreneurial bug probably also came from my dad, who always wanted to be an entrepreneur, but didn’t want to take the risk and put the family income and providing m for his family at risk of his dream. So I thought it was always was encouraged by the fact that he took care of responsibilities first versus going to become an entrepreneur and taking my sister and I out of school or making sure that we did not go on that trip, ensuring that we did not go on that summer trip. His entrepreneurial dreams, which he never realized, sort of just said, hey, ben, maybe you can become an entrepreneur, and maybe it’s cool to become an entrepreneur. So my football coach used to always say, control your destiny. Control your own destiny. Of course, he was talking about just winning games so we can go to the playoffs. But also that message rooted in me as well, which is who really controls your own destiny. And typically, if you have the right product market fit, it’s the entrepreneur who could control their destiny. So between my dad and his finances and my mom, my football coach could have been my football coach. It was those two messages that really resonated and really said, maybe you should try entrepreneurship.
Jonathan DeYoe: This is a total aside from the conversation, but my dad’s 82 now, and he did pursue some entrepreneurial goals and he was not successful. And looking at his life, it’s one of the things he regrets and he’s really upset. He sort of expresses like, um, not that he’s a failure, but I could have been so much more. Those kinds of phrases. Do you have that kind of conversation with your dad? Does he ever wish, I really wish I would have done, or is he like, totally just proud and happy that this is what he did. And you guys are launched well and all that.
Benjamin Wanzo: Yeah, well, my dad passed ten years ago, but prior to that, I think he was fine with the life that he ended up having. And I think, if anything, he was the type of person that said, okay, let me encourage this in my children. So I may not have lived my entrepreneurial dreams, and, uh, I may have put restrictions on myself, but let me make sure my children don’t put those restrictions on, um, themselves and allow them to dream. So he was happy, content with the life he lived, and he ended up being an entrepreneur in some way. He started a church, totally entrepreneurship, and it just wasn’t big money, big business things that he started, but he never expressed regret. And I think his investment was his children, and seeing his children grow up to be relatively successful, whatever people call success, was his pride and joy.
Jonathan DeYoe: Yeah, I mean, I often talk to my wife about that. That’s our last responsibility. Make sure these kids are launched and successful in their own right, and support them and coach them and be there when they fall down and all that kind of stuff. So I think that’s a huge testament, man. If a parent can just focus on that and be happy with that outcome, that’s great, regardless of the other know it’s real.
Benjamin Wanzo: Yeah, regardless.
Jonathan DeYoe: Tell us about Eso ventures today. I’ve been along with you guys on the path for a while. What are some of the challenges, some of the thornier issues that, uh, the partners had to figure out informing it as a business? And then what’s your role today?
Benjamin Wanzo: Great question. So, in the beginning, the thorniest issue was, how do we incorporate ourselves? And it was a big conversation around, do we want to be a nonprofit, or do we want to be a for profit? And Martha and I, we had to convince Alfredo that, hey, let’s do this as a for profit, because there’s a lot of nonprofits in this space trying to operate in this space, and at sometimes their message doesn’t come off because it doesn’t allow the person to keep their dignity, uh, or there’s this huge hero complex behind it, and it’s just treated as charity. And we said, if we want to really do this work and we want to model to the entrepreneurs that we’re working with, that, uh, hey, a for profit business is attainable, ownership is achievable, then we have to do as a for profit as well. So we started about a year, nine months before we actually decided to incorporate as a C Corp. And then following with the B Corp, because we really had to prove that there was a business model there. And it’s something that we could sustain ourselves without going after grants or doing huge fundraising activities year in, year out. And we really want to convince ourselves that there’s a customer who valued our services directly versus sometimes indirectly, what you see with the nonprofit. So that struggle initially has propelled us today to where we’re now seeing some success. We have partnered with community colleges, and they pay for incubators, which keeps the incubators free for our entrepreneurs. So the entrepreneurs we want to serve, again, black and brown underinvested communities, and it’s going to require a huge investment for them to start their business. So we wanted to make sure that when they started their business, that they weren’t making a huge investment up front in us. And we said, what’s the best way we can keep it free? We found, and we talked to partners such as community colleges, municipalities, who said, hey, we have a common goal here, which is to build businesses in our communities. If you guys can help us attain that goal, then we have a mutual benefit to the community, to the entrepreneurs in the community, and it’s a win win for both of us. So, fortunately, that came into place. We are now in conversation with other. So they started with Merrick College in Oakland, and we expanded with our partnership with Wil to six, five other colleges in the Bay Area. And now we’re looking at expansion across the state, starting in Central Valley and then down to southern California.
Jonathan DeYoe: Maybe you’ve made this. Do you have any big announcements? I was talking to Sabrina. She was saying there’s some big decision coming down. Do we know.
Benjamin Wanzo: Can’t announce it. Can’t announce it on Friday. We should do this on Friday. Call me back for the redo part two. I will.
Jonathan DeYoe: So just real quick, I know that I wanted to just reflect on what you said there about the difficulty in determining whether it’s going to be a for profit or non profit, because I remember you had to convince me of that as well. When we had that really early conversation, I was like, God, it really sounds like a profit. But then the three of you sort of in a line said, hey, it has to be for profit because we’re trying to serve a for profit world. And otherwise, it’s always, ever, the solution will never come if we can’t say, here’s how you do it yourself, here’s how you build it, here’s how you make it happen. It’ll never come. We’ll just keep pumping money into it as a charitable thing. Kudos to you. I think it’s way harder what you’re doing, because I know that there’s grants out there, and I think it’s amazing. Both the B Corp, this is a for benefit Corp, as well as just committing to that for the benefit of your cohorts. So, how many cohorts have there been, and how many business are in each cohort? And then what is your role in that whole process now?
Benjamin Wanzo: So, there have been four cohorts, and we serve just about 100 entrepreneurs. So, 98, 99, we could probably round it up to 100. Each cohort has had about. Our lowest has been 15, and our other ones have been a minimum of 25. So our second cohort reduced a little bit. That was a 15 one just because we had to. Still learning. We were learning, growing organization, getting our marketing out, uh, getting our value benefit analysis out. So entrepreneurs understood why they should come work with us. But ever since then, we’ve been rolling and doing really well. So the third cohort had 25 entrepreneurs, and the second cohort had, I think, 27 entrepreneurs in it. My role in all of that is the programs and platforms. So, initially, cohort one, two, and three, I stepped in, and I was like, I’m going to do the programming to make sure that it’s right. So the entrepreneurs are getting everything they need to learn so that when they come out of this business, they at least understand, hey, I have a great opportunity. I need to go formalize, or I, uh, thought my opportunity was great. I need to go and pivot and figure out what’s next, what’s a better opportunity, or how to improve this one idea that I’m working with, and it’s been great. We do that through confidence and competence. So it’s two of our three c’s. Our full three c’s are confidence, competence, and capital. The confidence piece is, again, just getting the entrepreneurs together in a cohort. Right. Because often entrepreneurship is a lonely space. Like, you do it, you try it, and if you’re not around anyone, who else is doing it? Then you feel like the world is on your shoulders. And if you make one mistake, it’s game over. But what you don’t realize is there’s 15 other people who are in that same boat with you. If you guys can encourage or share your victories and even your losses, then it just tells, okay, this is commonplace. This milestone that I did not reach, this failure that I had, is commonplace in entrepreneurship, and I just need to keep pushing forward, um, and putting them in a cohort. They’re able to share stories to say, okay, hey, that didn’t work for you, but what did work? Okay, that worked for me. Let me try this. Hey, by the way, have you contacted this person because they’re really doing great at manufacturing, or this grant is out. Uh, this loan opportunity is out. Like, let’s take advantage of it. So just keeping them and a cohort keeping them together has really propelled the success of some of these businesses. The other piece is the competence piece, and we realized we’re willing to work with anyone and everyone who walks through our door. So that means you can be a high school dropout. And for a high school dropout, if you weren’t really self motivated to learn, how much do you really know? And now you’re trying to create a business which requires seven different functionalities to run and operate well. And you’re probably just great, uh, at making your product or, uh, providing your service, but you haven’t thought about bookkeeping, you haven’t thought about HR, you haven’t thought about marketing. So you’re never going to really get to an elevated place of business. You’re always going to be stuck where I’m just the creator, I’m just a technician. So the confidence piece is really say, hey, this is what you need to know, and let’s learn it, and let’s figure out if it’s going to be something in your wheelhouse or something that you would rather outsource to someone else or get a partner or hire an employee who can help you do this, or how important is it to your business today versus some of the other stuff that may be more important. So getting customers through the door may be important than thinking about your next product. Just helping them think through all the different scenarios of business, all the different management issues of business has, uh, been really helpful.
Jonathan DeYoe: What types of businesses are we talking about? I know that one of the stated goals is to, and this makes perfect sense coming out of, like, community college investments. One of the stated goals is to have jobs development. So what kind of businesses are we talking about?
Benjamin Wanzo: Yeah, so we run a gamut of businesses, which is where we support a gamut of businesses. So we’ve had everything from tech companies, we’ve had restaurants, food based businesses, we’ve had beauty based businesses, so skin creams, lotions, we’ve had consulting businesses. So again, another hard business decision that we made earlier was that we were going to be industry agnostic. And at the time we started this, like, manufacturing was hot. Like, let’s bring back manufacturing back on shore, you guys say, hey, you’re doing a manufacturing incubator for black and brown, then that’s just a money pot waiting for you guys. And we said, no, we don’t want to do that, because typically, that’s how most incubators are run. Like, tech is hot, so they do black and brown tech, but it leaves out the dry cleaner business, it leaves out the t shirt business. It leaves out the coach who wants to grow a national coaching brand. And that’s what we didn’t want to do. We said, just let’s focus on our audience, which is black and brown, and then serve them as best as we can be. And that’s also where the importance of the community college partnerships come in, because we realize we can’t be all things to everyone. But if we have this partner in the community colleges who can provide cannabis, uh, education or retail based education to do the follow on or to even do digital marketing certificates so that entrepreneurs feel that they don’t have to get everything from ESo, but there is access points outside of Eso that are willing to support them.
Jonathan DeYoe: So, how do you mix the community colleges have classes, and they’ve got classes, know, word and excel and all these kind of things, and maybe HR, maybe they’ve got some cannabis classes, but then you must have some sort of core structure that everyone goes through. So how do you blend those two and stay agnostic to businesses?
Benjamin Wanzo: Yeah. So our primary goal is to stay action oriented, and all of our competence based training is pushing entrepreneurs towards action. So we are not just telling them to do a business plan for business plan sake or to do a marketing strategy. It’s, how can you apply this to your business today? So, whenever we support entrepreneurs through the cohort and through the curriculum, it’s application to their business. Today, it’s not a theoretical based exercise. And that’s been really helpful because every entrepreneur can say, okay, how can I apply this concept of marketing to my business? How can I apply this concept of strategy and goal setting to my business? And that’s where we really put the empHasis, is just, here’s the concept. How’s applied to your business? How are you going to take action on it today? Then? What we do is, uh, say, okay, if you feel you need a little further knowledge. So, if I want to be trying to think of a great example of one of our entrepreneurs who had a skin cream company to remove facial hair. So she was a woman she struggled with. I forgot the name of the specific disease, but it basically generates facial hair on a woman’s face. And she took time to develop a product. Nothing worked for her. And she found a solution that worked. And she actually tested it on some other females who had similar problem works like, hey, I have magic in the bottle. Literally, this is working. But what she didn’t have Was the digital marketing expertise. So she came through esl, came through our incubator. She realized, hey, my shortcoming is still, I don’t understand how to leverage Instagram or FaceboOk to really spread the word, because that’s where she was going to spread the word and get the biggest bang for her marketing dollars. So she went through the community college system to get the digital marketing certificate, and again, she took the mindset of what we’re teaching at ESO. Like, just apply everything you’re Learning immediately to your business. And she did that. And then within the year, or not even within the year, within six months, she selling her product off the shelf and out the door. And she also connected with a doctor who was able to get, I don’t know if she needed FDA approval, but she got the right certification so that people know she was selling a legitimate product. But it’s situations like that where we’re just Encouraging entrepreneurs. Take this piece of knowledge, apply it to your business, see how it fits. And if you need deeper knowledge, then here’s a resource where we can help you get that deeper knowledge.
Jonathan DeYoe: So how much are you relying on? Some of your own MBA and then time at McKinsey. It sounds like you’re doing some consulting work in every single one of these businesses. And there’s 25 businesses, a cohort. So how do you scale that?
Benjamin Wanzo: So that’s been the challenge. That’s been a challenge, but that’s also when we were small, I was using my Stanford MBA, I was using my McKinsey knowledge, and I got to shout out, UC Berkeley, because I just said, stanford, somebody else. I was using my Berkeley acumen. But, I mean, those three really helped me. You can see behind my shoulder, like there’s a bunch of business books. And I feel like that’s really my job is to pour know not only those experiences, but also my entrepreneurial experience. Right. Also Martha’s entrepreneurial experience and working, being an entrepreneur, working through a business, knowing the pitfalls, knowing what comes next, and just helping to guide the entrepreneurs through that. So we have now set up a process where everyone receives coaching as they go through the cohort, coaching specific to their business and those who are serious and those who want to move on. We are now formalizing growth teams and what we realized is entrepreneurs would do great through the incubator, but then they leave the incubator and the peer support is gone, the coaching is gone. They don’t see me on a regular. Some of them don’t know that they can just call me and I’ll pick up the phone. So all that’s now gone and they’re stuck and they have to make tough decisions on their own. So either imposter syndrome or paralysis by analysis comes in and you start to see some of their productivities that they were having in the cohort drop. So we really said, how can we put them with a team that’s going to help continue to propel them post incubator? And that’s called our growth team, where entrepreneurs can sign up and they essentially still get access to advisors, get access to a coaching, and they also get access to decision making. So I call it like a little microboard that we’re forming around small entrepreneurs, because that’s often what’s lacking when you think about small business. There is no board that’s going to be thinking about 100 and 8360 days out because small business is like, tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow. So if we can start helping them think, okay, here’s your board of advisors, who’s going to help you think 100, 360 days out so you can still do the tactical work needed for a small business, but also have a team that’s going to help you do the long term strategy, physical thinking.
Jonathan DeYoe: I wonder if it’s. I’m just thinking about some of my own experiences because I’m an entrepreneur as well, and so I suffer from the same imposter syndrome. And all those kind of things happen once you leave your coach and you’re like, oh, now I got to do this myself, and you sort of get lost sometimes. Have you thought about taking the cohorts and splitting them into, like, b to b versus b to c? And you have two different boards, and then they can call on each other something like where they’re self supporting, and then maybe there’s a guide that checks in every now and then. But then if you got ten of them in a group, often one of them has already dealt with the problem that somebody else has, and it’s easy to kind of get an answer to that. It may not be perfect, but it’s a way to scale without adding more of another hour to your day, which is. That’s tough.
Benjamin Wanzo: Yeah. And we’re thinking about that, and we’re also thinking about how can technology help all of this right. Like if there is a platform where I can tap into to say, hey, this is the issue that I’m struggling with are these are my growth goals, are these are metrics that I’m measuring and someone can chime in and say, hey, that metric looks great, but it looks like you are 10% off your goal. Like what are you going to do to get there? How can we help you get there? From just a peer perspective, that’s the best thing. So we’re really trying to create, and our ultimate goal is just create entrepreneurial ecosystem within every single community so that they have somewhere to tap into, to. I know Ben can help me think about this, right? Or I know that Lisa can help me really think about this concept because she was in my cohort, I see she’s active on this platform and I know she generally just cares about the overall success of entrepreneurs in this community. Right. And she could be a peer entrepreneur or she could be a coach. But ideally, the more we can get peers helping peers, the better off we’ll be from a scalable and impact perspective.
Jonathan DeYoe: Yeah, for sure. So what are some of the unique struggles, obstacles that some of your cohorts or some of your businesses face?
Benjamin Wanzo: It’s a lot, but if I’d summarize it to three, one would be customer acquisition and I’ll go through each one and then the other one would probably be access to capital. Right. And then the last one is just the operations. So customer acquisition is big for any company. If you don’t have customers, you don’t have a lifeline. And typically what you see entrepreneurs do is they start with their grand idea, but they didn’t vet it and they figured, hey, I really like my art and I like my art on a t shirt. So somebody’s going to buy it. So they go out and they purchase all these t shirts with all their art on it and no one purchased it. Right. So now you’re depressed because you have 1500 shirts sitting in your basement or next to your bed about this grand business idea and you really didn’t do the work on how, um, am I going to acquire customers, right? Who’s going to walk through the door? Who really wants this product before I sell it? So in technical terms it’s called product market fit now. But I think most entrepreneurs struggle with that in which I am going to open up this restaurant, but I really haven’t done sampling before or I haven’t done the steps. Now, which is successful for most restaurant owners, which is I start at a farmers market or I start with the food truck, or I start small, or I start doing catering first, right. Versus just jumping straight into the restaurant. So really teaching them how to take small bets, how to do customer interviews, how to really make sure that there is demand for your product and there’s enough demand that’s going to support the long term growth has been helpful in the incubators. So that’s number one. Number two is I’m going to go over the operations first and the operations just really, how do I do this more efficiently and more effectively? And my days in McKinsey, that’s all we really did, was like, go into Fortune 500 companies and realize, okay, this is an inefficient process. Like, let me tweak this, tweak this, tweak that, and you’ll be in a better position. But again, most small entrepreneurs, they don’t have access to McKinsey consultants, right? Or any consultants for that standpoint. And they also don’t have time in a day to set aside 2 hours of, just let me think about how I can improve this. So it’s like, go, go. But if we just by simply just encouraging that, hey, think about your business, think about how you can do it more efficiently, like take time and just give that encouragement to take the space to think about how can you do your business in a more smart way has really been helpful. And then addition to the coaching, addition to the access to entrepreneurs, prior entrepreneurs, they have been able to really improve their operations and to remove some of the costs or get product or services out the door faster. And then the last one is access to capital, which is when we started this, we had the confidence and the confidence in the incubator. But we quickly realized if we don’t provide access to capital, then we’re essentially creating dreamers and we wouldn’t make impact in our communities because they’re going to have a great business plan, they’re going to know how to execute it, but they’re not going to have any money. And black and brown folks, if you look at the numbers across the state, on average, they don’t have friends and family money that they can borrow from, um, and they don’t have home equity lines of credit or just equity in their homes where they can get a home equity line of credit to invest in their businesses. So what you see is, as a result, is 90% of the black and brown entrepreneurs are only making like $30,000 annually in their business. So it’s really moonlighting or just enough so that they don’t have to get a real job or just enough to support their part time job that they have. And we wanted to flip that and say, okay, if we can provide them capital, initial capital, so they can make their small bets. And all we really ask them is to promise us that they’ll become an employee based enterprise, or they have aspirations to become an employee based enterprise. Then our small capital, which can be anywhere from $5,000 up to $100,000 and $100,000 is the extreme case, can hopefully get them to a place where when they need more capital, they’ll have one their books in order, they’ll have a story to tell, and they’ll have essentially a business and a need for capital, but they’ll also have access to a continuum of capital. So if we work with some of our partners, ESo just recently got into the entrepreneurship of color fund, which is the biggest donor is lisk partnered with Morgan Chase. But with that, that gives us access to CBFIs and other banks to where now the relationship we formed with this entrepreneur, the, uh, ten weeks to six months that they spent with us and helping to solidify their business, we can almost go and just say, hey, here’s a person who has a real opportunity, and all they need is this further around the funding to get to the next level. And hopefully our ESO endorsement will make it easier for the conversation, for the entrepreneur to get that capital.
Jonathan DeYoe: That’s fantastic. I mean, giving someone their first 10,000 lets them scale to a certain point, but you guys can’t keep funding it. And presumably, if the coaching is still there and there’s still a support system after the fact, and JPMorgan Chase has pretty much, I think that’s the largest bank in the country, so they will be able to provide additional capital. That’s fantastic. I didn’t know about that piece yet, so that’s good news.
Benjamin Wanzo: That is good news. I could have said that, you know.
Jonathan DeYoe: We’Ll get to it. That’s why we have questions and answers. Sabrina was telling me in the office, she was telling me that a lot of the business owners are sort of leery of taking capital. The idea of taking on debt to expand, they’re not like, yay, that’s a great idea. So how do you overcome that?
Benjamin Wanzo: Well, first thing in overcome is like, understanding the root of it. And the root of it is debt is a bad thing. I remember I went to actually, like, one of the first things I learned in business school, that debt is a good thing because it’s called leverage, and it allows you to take advantage of an opportunity with somebody else’s money. And you get that opportunity, you pay the money back or you get more leverage, you just continue to leverage yourself up. They even have like, leverage buyouts versus all debt based. But growing up, uh, in my household, like credit card debt, loans, car loans, even a mortgage was a bad thing. It was another form of just chains around you that’s going to stop you from growing or achieving where you want to achieve. So you often hear that, and you often hear the horror stories, like somebody lost their house, or somebody has bad credit so they can’t buy a car, or they have, uh, basically a 30% interest rate on their loan, something ridiculous. So when you grow up hearing that all the time, you don’t have a business school experience that says, hey, there’s actually a good way to use debt, or debt can be a great thing, it’s a great thing to leverage. Then, um, you want to avoid debt as much as possible, especially when you’re starting your business. You want to be, I’m debt free, I have my own business. It’s part of my cash flow. It’s not paying somebody’s interest. And what that does is really limits the entrepreneur from, um, going after bigger opportunities or having enough inventory to market more and to sell more. And understanding just the trauma of money, the trauma of debt has really helped Eso sort of create a curriculum or create a point just to address it and really educate that, hey, debt can be a good thing for your business. It can help you grow. And if you really believe in your business and the opportunity, you’re going to be able to pay this debt back. And you’re not going to lose your business, you’re not going to lose your house, you’re not going to lose it straight off your back because of debt, especially if you incorporate the right way. So educate, educating them on that aspect of debt. And then also, I talked about the growth team, but it’s part of that growth team is also making sure that the entrepreneur understands that they are not alone in this decision making process. Right? Like, I may see an opportunity and decide not to take it, but if I have a coach next to me saying, it could be in sports, it could be anything, say, hey, this is actually a good opportunity, and this is how you can position yourself to make sure that you come out on top with this opportunity. It’s some of the conversations that the entrepreneur needs. So our job is to, uh, ensure you’re never taking on debt for a bad reason, right. You’re not taking on debt so you can pay off other debt, or you’re not taking on debt so you can purchase, uh, have that party. You always want to go. Right? It’s really, what’s the need, and how are you going to pay it back? And how is the business justifying this and helping them understand that has helped them? Most of our entrepreneurs understand. Okay, this is how I’m really going to use this credit product to advance my business.
Jonathan DeYoe: Yeah. So one of the goals of the, uh, Mindful Money podcast is to sort of simplify personal finance. So I ask every guest to offer a couple tips, and they’re sort of related, the two tips. So, first, can you give listeners a single tip? That’s kind of an action. Somebody, you’ve got an MBA, you went to Cal know McKinsey, you speak to entrepreneurs all the time. So what’s something an entrepreneur can do today, just this week, right away, that’ll actually improve their outcomes? That’s the first question. And then the second question is, we swim in this soup of just insane volume of social media and just, and we’re hearing all these ideas all the time. Is there something that we’re hearing a lot of that we should just ignore? Like, it’s not going to be helpful. It’s not going to provide the benefit that people talk about. So first, on the one hand, something to do, and then on the other hand, something to just blow off, to ignore entirely.
Benjamin Wanzo: And this is related to finances or just in general?
Jonathan DeYoe: Just in general life business. I mean, I think your expertise is kind of in the small business business category. But if you have some great tip about life, lay it on us, man.
Benjamin Wanzo: So, something to do. I always liked, I think it was Robert Kiyosaki who said, pay yourself first. And I would say that’s true in all aspects of life. So when I wake up in the morning, I make sure I meditate, I pray, I exercise. And if my children around, like, I give them a hug, because that guarantees I’m going to have a good day. And for me, no matter what happens the rest of the day, I’ve, uh, grounded. And paying yourself first, it could also be when you do get paid, like, put 10% away for you or put 10% away for retirement. But people often laugh like, hey, paying yourself first. Isn’t that kind of selfish? Where it’s essentially, I’m saying it, be it more from a selfless way, which is if you could take care of yourself, then you can be there for others. An entrepreneur that’s extremely important because we have customers to deal with. We have suppliers to deal, we have partners to deal with. And people will take, and entrepreneurs often burn out because they didn’t take care of their physical health, their mental health, their spiritual health. So always prioritize and pay yourself first to a point of where it makes you productive for others.
Jonathan DeYoe: Before you go to the next one, before you go into that, I want to say that. How old are your kids?
Benjamin Wanzo: Nine to five.
Jonathan DeYoe: Okay, so it’s funny now, I totally agree with the wake up in the morning, you got to do the workout, you got to do the whole thing, and then you got to give your kids a hug.
Benjamin Wanzo: Totally agree.
Jonathan DeYoe: Mine are 14 and 17. They’re less. I mean, we still get a hug every day. We still get a hug. But my son, like, lay on the couch, say, you give me a hug, dad. You come to me, I’m not going to get up. So I do.
Benjamin Wanzo: Like, I’m all the way down.
Jonathan DeYoe: Give him a big, give him big squeeze. Uh, I got no shame. Like, I want the hug. Let’s get the hug done. Uh, but I love that.
Benjamin Wanzo: I love that.
Jonathan DeYoe: Pay yourself first in all aspects. Very important. Go ahead.
Benjamin Wanzo: What can we ignore in all aspects? Yes. So what I like to ignore is you said social media, but often ignore social media. It’s something, I mean, I chose to do it early, which is probably like 2012, because my entrepreneurship story is a little bit different. Like, I went to Stanford Business school. There’s high expectations for a Stanford business school MBA. And it’s often said by success, which is like, I have classmates who’ve had sold billion dollar companies and did all these other things, and here I am in my little mom and pop teach bar. Wasn’t like, for my reference group, I should be having higher aspirations, right? Like, I should be trying to figure out how to franchise it or how to get it invested in so I can put it in different 20 different metro areas. And that just wasn’t my goal. But quickly you get on social media, and at that time, social media was like, there wasn’t studies out, uh, of the damage of the mental health that it does for you. But I realized if I kept looking at just images of people being successful and comparing myself to them, I was never going to get to a place I wanted to be and have peace of mind. So I haven’t fully gotten off of social media, but check it, probably once every two months or once every six months, or even sometimes, depending on the platform, once a year, just to get on and typically, it’s like I’m doing it for some function and not for pleasure, but hone in. And I heard comparison is a thief of joy. But that’s what social media platforms often have people do, is comparing themselves to what they see. And so I just encourage folks, especially young folks, especially entrepreneurs, to get off of social media for a while. Unless, you know, you’re on it for your business and you’re trying to run an advertising campaign, you really need to hone in and dial in on the inner self to be at peace with yourself and moving forward and growing your business or whatever you’re doing right there at that time.
Jonathan DeYoe: There’s been a theme this season on the podcast. It sort of speaks to putting your ladder on the right wall. You probably heard that metaphor where you get to the top of the ladder and you find out you’re in the wrong place. It seems to me that, uh, there’s a lot of people that make their ladder onto something that’s financial. You’ve made your ladder both in your prior world and in the current world on impact. And so maybe you’ll never have the same kind of financial outcome, but you’ll have a lot more impact than some other folks because you got the same education. You’re just applying it a different way. So I think you can be happy and have a great life and have incredible impact and not have a lot of money. That’s my dad’s life, that’s my parents life. Tons of impact, really big heart. Not incredibly financially successful. And you know what? We need all that. We need all that, and we love you for that. We love the impact entrepreneur for that. Hey, I want to say thank you for coming on. There’s a couple of personal questions that I want to ask, and they’re not always easy. Some people stumble on them, but I think it’s fun. So I like to put the chakras at the end here. What was the last thing you changed your mind about?
Benjamin Wanzo: I’m a tourist, so last thing I changed my mind about. Uh, so we’re in conversation. I’d be like, give me a topic area. We’re in conversation, but if we’re not on the podcast, let me think. Last thing I changed my mind about was, can we pass? Can we come back to that one? Give me the next one. I need to think about that. Sure. Can we? Absolutely can.
Jonathan DeYoe: I mean, any topic area is fine. That’s totally fine. So the next one is. And this can go deep, or you can just touch the surface. Whatever you want is there anything that maybe you’ve shared but people forget? Or is there anything that you’ve not shared but you really think that people should know about you?
Benjamin Wanzo: Yeah, I think people should know about me. These are some tough questions that I like. I was going to say I like dogs. Something simple, but let’s make it a little bit more complex than that. I think people should know that to your earlier point, like, balance is important. It’s always been important for me. So I’ve had financial goals that I’ve either reached or not reached. I’ve been seeing my bank account at six figures and seeing it at zero in my adulthood life, multiple times. So up and down, up and down. But I think, again, having a strong faith is important in anything you’re doing in all journeys of life. So I want them to know, essentially, that I pray that I do a lot of things on faith and I let it carry me and guide me. And one thing to say, hey, it’s for accountability. Make sure I’m doing the right thing. But two for also just, I want to say for prosperity, not financial prosperity, but just know I’m on the right path that I’m supposed to be on. Yeah.
Jonathan DeYoe: Want to take that first one again?
Benjamin Wanzo: Yeah, the first one. Something that I changed my mind about is I am trying not to be too deep or self righteous on this one. So, uh, I think it’s around being so serious all the time. There you go. So just having fun. And I think we talked about children a lot on this one, but my girls are growing up and they’re like nine and five. In my community where we live, there aren’t a lot of kids. So all their jokes, all their elementary school, kindergarten fun stuff comes to that. Sometimes dad doesn’t appreciate it because it’s not funny or it’s like, so pure rile that I’m just like, okay, but just enjoying the moment and being able to laugh at it regardless. Right? And that’s been really helpful for me. It’s just, hey, even though you can’t relate to their fourth grade kindergarten tendencies, just enjoy it being the moment and let yourself enjoy it. And that’s just helped me to laugh and appreciate life a little bit more. But I would say six months to this, coming out of the pandemic, they’re like, in your space the whole time. And it’s like, at a point where it’s like, okay, go be silly somewhere else. Not right now. But now it’s more like, hey, you really just need to allow them to be silly and allow yourself to be silly with them. So I’ve changed my mind on trying to set a tone or tempo with their silliness and just embracing it.
Jonathan DeYoe: So in my household, I’m the straight man like everyone else, laughing all the time. And I so identify with this don’t take it all so seriously thing. I’m very serious. I’ve got my lists and I’ve got what I’m supposed to do, and I do those things, but I share that with you. I’m trying to relax a little. So if you want an accountability partner to relax and enjoy life some, I’m happy to be your accountability partner. As long as you’ll be mine, I’ll be yours.
Benjamin Wanzo: Yes, I’ll text you. Just live. Did you laugh today at their joke?
Jonathan DeYoe: Tell people how they can get a hold of, uh, or get in touch with you or Eso ventures. They can follow you and support the.
Benjamin Wanzo: Good work you guys are doing. First, I’m off for my email address, which is Ben at eso ventures.com. And then the website is the same domain, eso Ventures.com. And that’s the best way to reach out to us and contact us. We are a fully virtual organization, so we don’t have an office phone or an office. You can stop by, but you can get all the information you need, whether you are a municipality, a community college partner, an organization who wants to sponsor an incubator. If you’re an entrepreneur who wants to participate in an incubator, all the information is, uh, there as well.
Jonathan DeYoe: And he already told us that he’s not on social media, so don’t even bother trying to find him there. Thanks for being on, Ben.
Benjamin Wanzo: I appreciate it. But Eso is on social media.
Jonathan DeYoe: We’ll make sure we get those in the show notes. All that stuff will be in the show notes then.
Benjamin Wanzo: Okay, thanks, Ben. All right, perfect.
Jonathan DeYoe: Thank you.