We are super excited to have the opportunity to sit down with our CEO and Founder of The Corporate Concierge Group, Shavaughn Baker. We learn about Shavaughn's entrepreneurial journey, prior to launching The Corporate Concierge Group. Readers will come to know what drives the face behind the brand, and how it aligns with The Corporate Concierge Group's overall mission. We'll also discuss our new entrepreneur membership program, OakSTART. This is a 3 part, transcribed interview which we'll update to our blog over the next three days.
K.E.: Tells us a little bit about yourself
S.B: My name is Shavaughn Baker. I am from the Bay Area, an Oakland native. I’m a sports fanatic (Generally, I root for all Bay Area teams!). I love Basketball, Football, Boxing, I only watch Tennis to see the Williams sisters compete.
I’m a “people person”. I know it sounds cliché however, I truly enjoy the company of great people and having thought provoking conversations. I love meeting unique individuals and hearing their stories and backgrounds, while learning new perspectives.
I enjoy hiking (laughs hysterically) nah let me stop. I tried hiking once and got lost from our group with another person for 30 minutes-that was it for me with hiking.
I am however, very passionate about helping people, especially when it comes to achieving their goals. I know how important it is to have someone that not only believes in your potential, but is willing to help you reach it. That’s truly a blessing.
KE: What role do you work in at The Corporate Concierge Group?
SB: I’m the CEO and Founder of The Corporate Concierge Group.
KE: The Corporate Concierge isn’t your first business correct?
SB: No, The Corporate Concierge Group is my second business.
KE: What kind of startup was it and what made you start the first company?
SB: I started my first business for a number of reasons.
First and foremost, I’m a huge believer in honing in on your strengths and skills set, while finding ways to monetize those assets. That is your greatest power. At the time, I had worked in finance for over a decade. I was searching for new ways to transfer my skills, and background in finance to earn a decent salary.
I felt like I had reached this glass ceiling, which led to me being pretty frustrated with the lack of opportunities available for upward mobility within the companies I worked for. In addition to that, the banking industry became extremely “volatile” once the economic crisis hit in 2008. I was unfortunately faced with several layoffs over the years due to government regulations, which resulted in companies having to downsize or close altogether.
That’s where the idea came from to start my first company.
My first company was an outsourcing solutions company within the financial services industry. I decided to launch my own business, while working a 9-5. I wasn’t in a position to quit my job and jump into entrepreneurship full time. I had bills to pay and no support system to help “carry me” until my “dream” took off, so I had to figure out how to make it work, while working a full time job.
KE: Can you elaborate a little more on your first business? What exactly did the company do?
SB: Financial institutions often use companies to outsource various functions from insurance services, to operational related tasks. My company focused on operations consulting, with the goal of facilitating in helping the organizations meet and or exceed their goals. I worked primarily with mortgage companies, brokerages and financial institutions. I had a strong background working in both sales and operations so I figured it was an “easy” transition to create services that focused on those areas.
I learned that the “journey” was really an “informal” educational program with various “professors” that came in the form of hard lessons, peaks of “highs and lows” advice, people, and processes.
K.E. What’s the one thing you knew going in that would be your greatest challenge with starting your business?
S.B. First, I didn’t have a lot of money to get started. I had to be resourceful and use what resources I had to get started. If I “waited” to have everything in place, I would’ve never gotten started. One thing I knew going in was the ins- and outs of the industry, so this wasn’t “unfamiliar territory”.
What I didn’t know was how to start a successful business in the financial services industry. I began researching for hours, days, and months how to start and launch a successful company. I personally do not come from a family with a history of entrepreneurship which meant, I couldn’t lean on my network to provide resources, expert advice nor capital. I did not have any mentors to guide me through the process of building a business. I was definitely on my own.
When you don’t have a “blueprint”, you pretty much try to figure things out along the way.
K.E. : Explain what your journey was like as a new business owner.
SB: I learned that the “journey” was really an “informal” educational program with various “professors” that came in the form of hard lessons, peaks of “highs and lows” advice, people, and processes. During this time period, you are really stretched beyond limits, which essentially attributes towards growth in both your personal life and business.
This extensive learning period, along with “hands on” experience, definitely helped shaped me as a person overall, not just as business woman. I realize now that my earliest days of entrepreneurship, coupled with my years working, only contributed greatly to this journey.
KE: What were some of the challenges you faced as an entrepreneur.
SB: Oh boy where do I begin? Let’s see… Attracting and retaining customers.
Attracting and retaining customers is critical to generating sales and growing sustainable businesses.
I figured, it would be an “easy” transition into self-employment because I was “already familiar” with the banking industry for 10 years and had a sales background, so marketing shouldn’t be a problem.
Lord, I couldn’t have been more wrong!
Attracting customers was one of my biggest challenges when I first started.
When you don’t have a “blueprint”, you pretty much try to figure things out along the way.
I learned rather quickly that all methods and strategies are not created equal. Everyone’s business is different and each company has its own unique offerings, which meant, I needed to find an approach that worked best for my business. I literally purchased webinars, bought books, read articles of various strategies only to come up short.
Why? Because I didn’t realize that number one who was my target audience. Number two, I didn’t understand that my business was considered to be a “niche” market which meant my target market was smaller and required a unique strategy for sourcing customers.
There are various methods and strategies used to attract and retain customers, conducting market analysis is one of them. This was definitely a stepped I missed very early on that could’ve saved me time and money.
KE: How did you go from running an outsourcing solutions company to launching The Corporate Concierge Group?
SB: I remember one day, I was sitting and thinking to myself “I wish there was a single source, entity or platform that walks you through the steps of launching a business, depending on your industry of choice”.
It was then I decided that I wanted to launch a brand that served as an informational resource. Entrepreneurs need solutions and strategies that makes sense for their specific business needs and I was inspired to do just that. That’s when the idea came to me to start blogging about my personal experiences.
I remember in the beginning, I would follow all of the “business experts” and or “coaches (I swear everyone was a ‘business coach on Instagram back in 2016). I noticed that a lot of the info shared was vague feedback, or the so-called “influencer” would demand that people “pay them for their time” rather than answer simple business related questions. I saw more “motivational quotes” from these “influencers” with no proof of a track record of truly “influencing anyone”.
I could see the frustration of new business owners who were seeking answers. I remember being in that space where I too needed help. I wanted to provide a space where an entrepreneur could come to my social pages or website and find the answers to their questions. I created most of my content based on my personal experiences, as well as the conversations I found online.
As someone who was “in the trenches”, I know that entrepreneurs don’t need another “quote”, or webinars with broad information and brunches which seems to be popular amongst the “online entrepreneur community”.
Entrepreneurs need real solutions and strategies that applies to whatever stage they’re at in their business, and that’s what we aim to do with our company. It was very much about placing ourselves in the shoes of those who can relate to the struggles of starting a business.
Eventually I started creating step-by-step e-books, with the goal of educating entrepreneurs on the proper steps to implement in their business. I knew that there were people out there with limited resources, along with great business ideas, but may be facing the same challenges I was with implementing those ideas. Voila, the birth of The Corporate Concierge Group!
KE: What was the process like in terms of creating e-books? Walk us through the steps of creating the e-books, from concept to the finished product.
SB: Baaaaby, it was a lot of work let me tell you! I’ve written over 25 books covering various topics from how to start a food business to creating effective email marketing strategies for e-commerce businesses. I went on to host online workshops and seminars.
Most of the content and or ideas came from blog posts I had already written, to genuine curiosity about certain business topics, including industries. As previously mentioned, I love learning, so researching information, while absorbing it, then educating others on what I learned was an incredibly tedious, but rewarding process.
KE: Do you still continue to write business educational e-books?
SB: No, I haven’t written an e-book in a while. I originally began writing the e-books with the sole purpose of providing entrepreneurs with informational resources and proven strategies. Each book detailed actionable steps, while adding any resources I could find to help people launch and grow their own businesses. We’re not talking about a 10 page book either, most of them were 100+ plus pages.
The books did pretty well, however, I felt like…. (pauses)…there was still something missing from my brand. Having researched various forums and networking with fellow entrepreneurs, I realized that there was a greater need, beyond the e-books that wasn’t necessarily being met.
KE: It looks like there was an “aha” moment in your business where you may have pivoted into a different direction. Is that a correct assessment?
SB: Yes, that is absolutely true.
At some point in time, on your entrepreneur journey, you may find yourself having to pivot into a direction that you least expect. For me, it was about expanding the brand into an online resource, where we connect underrepresented entrepreneurs to various resources, depending on their specific business needs.
My vision has since then changed somewhat from when we first started. The goal was always to provide early stage entrepreneurs with the right tools, and resources to help them launch and grow successful businesses.
Today, our platform serves as an online hub and training center. We provide accessibility to resources and tools to underrepresented entrepreneurs, with the goal of building profitable, sustainable businesses. This includes pairing Founders with mentors, funding resources, or even connecting them to videographers, virtual assistants, venues and more.
I love working with entrepreneurs! Especially those who are at the exploration stage, just trying to figure out what direction to go into. I like working with entrepreneurs who have a business idea but just need help executing it. It’s such a rewarding experience when you can show someone all of the possibilities of turning that concept into a real business entity.
KE: What did The Corporate Concierge Group’s “new vision” look like in your mind and how are you able to bring it to fruition?
SB: The “new vision”, for The Corporate Concierge Group, in my mind and what has currently manifested itself is three-fold so to speak:
Business experts who will serve as mentors, that would reserve time to spend with early stage Founders to provide them with feedback, insight and sound advice. We know that seasoned business experts are busy, but an email or even an hour with a Founder can go a long way. Our mentors either reserve an hour or two a month to chat over coffee with early stage Founders, or leave their email inboxes open for questions. I’m incredibly grateful for the outpouring of Founders who lend their time to the entrepreneurs who reach out to us for help. We’re still in the process of building our mentor network at the moment and hope to add more soon.
Raising money to grow and scale your business can be extremely challenging, especially for underrepresented Founders. Often times, early stage entrepreneurs do not meet the requirements for loan programs.
Traditional banking products are nonexistent for new business owners with little to no capital, assets, and no history of being open as a business. Stringent underwriting guidelines are inflexible which discourages some business owners from even applying for business loans.
We’ve had a few Fintech startups reach out to us to discuss various products and financing solutions that may fit our Founder’s needs. We’re hoping to find a financial partner to add to our network for the benefit of our Founders.
Accessibility to funding is critical to growing and scaling a business, which is why we’ve partnered with Investors and other financial partners to bridge the gap. Our investors also provide feedback to entrepreneurs who are looking to pitch their companies, which is helpful when raising capital. We also have Founders who host workshops teaching Founders how to create effective investor pitch decks.
Currently, we’re working on hosting a panel with Founders who have successfully crowdfunded their businesses. I think it’s important for entrepreneurs to exercise a variety of options when raising capital for their business.
Our goal, is to provide real, practical solutions and strategies for new and aspiring entrepreneurs. From an online academy to consultants that can offer services that assists with helping Founders reach milestones in their business.
We’re working diligently to build our network of investors, business mentors, as well as our resources data base. This incredible transformation within The Corporate Concierge Group has allowed us to pivot from how-to step by step guides, to eventually expanding the brand, by offering resources from mentorship, peer-to-peer forums, access to investment capital, as well as an online academy.
KE: How did the Online Academy fit into The Corporate Concierge Group Brand?
SB: I remember driving in downtown Oakland one day, and seeing this transformation of our city taking place, including the closure of many black owned family businesses. The closures were a result of many factors; either the building was sold to developers that the businesses occupied, or the commercial rental prices were increasing at a pace that made it impossible for entrepreneurs to turn a profit that would allow them to sustain their businesses. I thought, there has to be a solution. I could hear the conversations around me filled with frustration, anger, and lack of hope for many families. Those who began to believe that Oakland was no longer a place to call home, let alone, a place where families were able to leave legacies and create generational wealth.
The OakSTART program was founded as a solution to create both generational wealth, as well as restore hope in those who haven’t given up on the city, let alone their entrepreneurial aspirations. We deserve to operate in these spaces reserved for those that aren’t even from here. We deserve to have our dreams fulfilled, while creating legacies within our communities. As I witnessed black owned businesses disappearing, I was also reminded that, that business was once a family’s legacy and that we can create more while building generational wealth. If that means starting from the ground up, then so be it. We can reclaim our position within this economic growth phase that we’re seeing in our city.
KE: You recently finished up your first business program through OakSTART Academy. Tells us a little bit more about the program.
SB: The OakSTART Academy is an online training program. Our first Cohorts completed a 10 week course called “Launch My Business” in April of 2019. The course walked new and aspiring entrepreneurs, step-by-step through the process of starting a business. The program consisted of 18 modules, and bi-weekly meet ups, one on one consultations with myself, and a peer-to-peer forum for participants. We didn’t want Founders to just simply take the course, but actually implement the information as well. Discussion boards and bi-weekly meetings allowed us the opportunity to really connect with the entrepreneurs in the program, as well as gain valuable feedback about the course material, including information we need to improve our program.
I really wanted to create an immersive, interactive learning experience for new and aspiring entrepreneurs. Yes, you can learn a great deal from books, but you can gain a much deeper level of understanding when you’re able to connect with the educator and the student, including your peers.
When we first launched the program in January of 2019, I wasn’t sure what to expect. We accepted 25 entrepreneurs into the program, we had 60 applicants which to me, was again, not the response I was expecting. I wasn’t sure if anyone would be interested in the program.
KE: What did you enjoy the most about working on this new project?
The most exciting aspect of this entire process of the program was learning about each Founder who entered into the program. Their strong belief in their abilities, ideas including their communities, inspired me in so many ways. I appreciate those who are determined to end poverty in their families and leave legacies for the next generation. I have a great admiration for the entrepreneurs who are the first in their families to start a business.
As the great business mentor Vusi Thembekwayo would say “we are version one”. Meaning, many of the entrepreneurs that are in the program are the first in their families to start businesses.
These entrepreneurs are literally in the process of challenging the status quo in some cases, by creating their own blue prints for generations to come. Our goal is to help each entrepreneur within our network, to reach milestones within their businesses, while having a support system that they can rely on.
KE: What is BLCK N Startup?
SB: BLCK N Startup is our bi-weekly newsletter. Here’s why we launched our newsletter:
I strongly believe in the notion of us, telling our own stories. For far too long, we’ve allowed others to create narratives that further perpetuated negative stereotypes, including, misinformation involving our economic development as a community.
I wanted to change the narrative, by telling stories of Black men and women around the African diaspora that are disrupting industries and challenging the status quo. I wanted people to know about the companies and the founders behind them that are not highlighted in mainstream media.
I also felt that it was important to spotlight new business owners. We often times hear about those that have “made it” and are successful, however, we rarely hear about the companies who are at the beginning of the business stage. We should be giving these business owners as much press, as the successful brands, otherwise, how would we know that they exist? We wanted to use our platform along with the BLCK N Startup newsletter to highlight new businesses.
KE: What does the future hold for The Corporate Concierge Group?
SB: My personal goal is to eventually move into the Venture Capital space, as an investor to facilitate in the growth of businesses around the African Diaspora. The Corporate Concierge Group brand will hopefully expand globally as we to continue to build our ecosystem with mission driven partnerships, initiatives and collaborations.
Stay tuned for part three of our interview with Shavaughn Baker