"The opportunity to raise money is a privilege in this country. I couldn’t get one thing wrong, or I’d lose the shot. There is no room for us to fail.” - Josuel Plasencia
Josuel Plasencia is the Co-Founder and COO of Forefront. He has been featured in NBC, ABC, PBS, C-SPAN, and The Wall Street Journal. Recently, he was selected to the Forbes 30 Under 30 list for the year 2020. At Forefront they are helping employers meet the demands of Gen-Z and today's virtual world with AI assistants that are speedy, transparent, and culturally-relevant. Forefront is your partner for engaging top entry-level talent and building diverse teams. Today we interviewed Josuel to discuss his journey into the VC world. We wanted to get to know the founder behind the fundraise.
Q1: What was your life like growing up?
I’m a kid from Queens NY and I am the son of Dominican immigrants. My parents, like many thousands of Latinos, came to the US in the late 80s and early 90s looking for economic asylum. My parents were part of that wave. Unfortunately, the opportunities here weren’t all rosy and full of colors. My mom had to drop out of school to help meet the rent and my dad got caught in the criminal justice system in his country and was deported, leaving my mom to raise me herself.
Q2: As you went into the business world what were the changes you witnessed within yourself?
I had to change a lot about myself. I need to point out that as Latinos we are an incredibly unique group, because there is no single race. Many Latinos are white passing, many don’t talk about their heritage, and instead try to fit in. In that process they are working twice as hard because they are working at their job and working to hide their identity. In that model no one wins because they’re not getting the best of the work from their people. The individuals don’t win because they’re not putting their best foot forward. Society also doesn’t win because you’re perpetrating systems of oppression and abiding to the norms. What if your hair or skin color aren’t the norm? What if the way you speak isn’t the norm? For me, I’ve identified the privileges I’ve had there. At times I’ve played that role and I know still today I’m working on having those honest conversations around it.
Q3: Did you ever expect to be in the VC world raising money?
No I didn’t. I didn’t even know this was a possibility. Part of it is the limited scope you have when you grow up poor to be frank. This is not normal. Now I have friends younger than me who grew up in this world. When I have children this will be the norm for them. For me to make the mental transition to understanding this VC world was a possibility took a lot of things going right. The opportunity to raise money is a privilege in this country. I couldn’t get one thing wrong, or I’d lose the shot. There is no room for us to fail. The people who aren’t here today that grew up like me are those who made that one mistake. They got sick before that test, they were at the wrong bar at the wrong time. Privilege is being able to get one or three strikes and continue forward. If I’d make one mistake there’d be no room for it.
Q4: What surprised you the most about fundraising?
It’s full of surprises! The one thing that did surprise me was how inefficient it is. There is this commitment to funding the best companies but it's rarely what gets people funded. It’s tricky for entrepreneurs because you’re trying to figure out what it is. A lot of it is people liking you which is hard when you’re underrepresented. They may not know you or your culture.
Q5: When it comes to fundraising what are your favorite or least favorite aspects?
I actually love the relationship piece. It’s really fun. Even though it was a surprise, I liked that because the investors that do want to get to know you and know your story is something I enjoy. There’s a lot more people you need to interact with to raise money. If you don’t have those connections you have to work really hard to find those champions.
Q6: What would you tell founders trying to raise money now?
Don’t let any crisis go to waste. What that means is, yes it's a crisis, there’s a lot of uncertainty, but there is also an opportunity in creating something through that process of shifting and uncertainty. You need to find where you shift. I’ve changed my mindset from a year ago around growth. Instead of focusing on growth, it’s focusing on how you can make people's life easier.
Q7: Anything else you want to add?
Yes, what’s happening now post the murder of George Floyd is we are seeing that the we, the business community, tend to be very reactive. It’s highlighted inequities in a way that has helped people step up but it also shows what’s wrong. We need to be proactive, not reactive. Otherwise nothing changes and we aren’t funding the best founders with great companies when they’re being overlooked and being underfunded. For example, Women of Color receive less than 1% of funding dollars, but clearly they don’t have less than 1% of great ideas.