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Uplifting Black Entrepreneurs: Behind Khadijah Robinson’s Acquisition by Diddy’s Shop Circulate

Black Girl Ventures is thrilled to announce that BGV alumni Khadijah Robinson, Founder of the premier online marketplace for Black-owned products, The Nile List, was acquired by Combs Enterprises. Combs new venture, Shop Circulate, will be led by Khadijah who will be the head of product and lead its global expansion. We couldn't be more excited for Khadijah!

Acquisitions are a significant milestone for a company and are one strategy that helps startups to grow. It can be exciting for the acquiring company, employees, and investors. However, this can be scary for the acquired business because they may not know precisely what will happen to their business and where they fit into the new team. We met with Khadijah to get a sense of what it was like to be acquired.

Did you want to get acquired from the beginning?

I didn't have an exit plan, but I believe you should start with the end in mind. This is an acquire-hire I'm not quite exiting. I'm now leading a whole new business. I didn't think it was going to happen this way or this soon, with this set of players. I didn't build The Nile List to a point to be acquired by one of these established marketplaces. I didn't say, 'Let me hit Diddy up. Maybe he's interested.' That's not how it went down.

But you know, this is very exciting for me to say that I built my first startup while working full-time as a lawyer, and it's not even two years and we were acquired. Like we were acquired by another Black company which is even that more amazing.

Was this a hard decision to make?

I grappled with it at first. I'm used to being the head honcho. I never had to counterbalance what I had to do. I was concerned about coming in and not being able to move the same way. I mean, ultimately, it wasn't a super, super hard decision. The Nile List was always about the mission of uplifting Black entrepreneurs. You know, to change the way—how people think about buying Black. Now that mission is more attainable with these forces combined rather than going out alone.

Can you walk us through the process, how did you even get acquired by Diddy Enterprises?

The process really was just doing the work. I wasn't thinking about being acquired. I was just doing everything that I needed to do for my business. I applied for a pitch competition by Revolt TV, but I wasn't invited to pitch like I didn't make it in the top 10. But afterward, their partners at Goodie Nation reached out to Combs saying they liked what I was doing, and so we got to know each other a bit last summer.

We kept the communication channels open, but then I applied to Techstars Social Impact Accelerator in Atlanta. And I didn't get that one either, but somehow I made an impression on the person leading the accelerator who's also a VC. He contacted the Combs team about the project, and he mentioned me. He really felt that there was something there and that our synergies would work well together.

But you know what, I love all of this. Because I was pushed along towards these opportunities and I went after them and didn't get them at the time. But what I realize is doing bigger and better things changed the way I look at rejections.

How has BGV and entities like BGV helpful on your journey to being acquired?

It wasn't about those entities, really, because I didn't get in. Honestly, most accelerators you don't get into because it's mostly about the people you meet and their impression of you. The most important thing to remember is people are talking about you when you're not in the room. It's about people who are putting you forward in front of these opportunities. I didn't know it at the time. But you've got to put yourself out there.

I've never been a believer in stealth mode and being quiet about what you're building. People need to be able to see you, talk to you, engage with you and where you are, and it's about that mindset, but most importantly, it's all about relationships. There's no secret recipe about being acquired. But this case definitely was about relationship building and putting myself out there over and over again, regardless of the rejections and even when it seemed like it wasn't going to be fruitful at the time.

What advice do you have for founders who are considering being acquired?

I really can't give tips for people who want to be acquired. It just literally like happened. The moment we started talking about acquisition, I didn't know what that meant. So I started calling people in my network. I mobilized people in my network. I called lawyer friends, financial advisors, and other advisors. I called investment bankers about understanding how to value my company. I got advice on employment law. I built relationships with people who were able to help me with various aspects. I mean, I've never seen a term sheet before, even as an attorney. I've never been to a merger acquisition process. I don't know how to be acquired, so I didn't do it with the mindset to be acquired.

It was more like, this is what I'm trying to do with my business and impact the world through my business. That just so happens to resonate and have synergies with the folks at Combs who was trying to do the same time. We were connected by mutual people who saw that and brought us together. I can't give any advice on what you gotta do for your company. There's no playbook about being acquired.

Honestly, when I talked to other founders or VC's they said this is the place where you want to be—is selling your company. I wasn't selling my company. I had someone interested in my company. A friend of mine said something, they said you're like happy at home, and you made your house nice and comfortable, and someone knocks on your door, and they're willing to buy your house. It's better to be in that position than to have to sell your house because you can't pay your bills. So you're not really pressed about someone buying, and probably as a founder, you don't want to be hitting the pavement. You want someone to be knocking on your door.

You know, people be thinking there's all this polling and research and planning and all this strategy, and it's not, and then you get into the startup world, sometimes s*** just happens, and you don't have time to plot out as much as you might think. So we stop being startups when we have to plan strategically at some things when we see all these processes and approvals formalized. So now you're talking about companies that aren't startups anymore. These are corporations.

You know, when you're an entrepreneur grinding, and you're working until like 4 a.m., you put something on the website one minute, and then you can take it down the next, you can make the decision on the spot. You're not this corporate entity where you have to like; check things out first. If it doesn't work, we'll try something else, cool.

What kind of ongoing support can we provide?

Yes, support Shop Circulate! Sign up for early access, spread the word because we're going to revolutionize Black shopping and revolutionize the way people think about shopping consciously.

Shop Circulate is a digital platform that is launching later this November. It will feature an expansive list of Black-owned businesses ranging from fashion, health, wellness, home products, art, and beauty. The vision of Shop Circulate is to become the largest online marketplace to provide Black entrepreneurs with economic growth opportunities. Yes, to shopping and circulating the Black dollar! You can call it the revitalized Black Digital Wall Street.

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