Professional development and the pursuit of new skills are often critical activities for those looking to advance their careers. Yet it can be difficult for people of color to find support and safe spaces for their own development. With workplace diversity becoming an increasingly important issue, the need for career advancement resources for communities of color is also rising.
Melanence wants to answer that need through its online platform of educational and developmental content. We talked to founder and CEO Juan Young about his own struggles with development and networking as well as his vision for the future of this space.
Note: This interview was conducted over phone and email. It has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
Can you give us a brief elevator pitch for your company?
Melanence is an online professional ecosystem where communities of color are empowered to grow skills, build networks, and earn additional income.
What inspired you to take the leap and build this company?
I decided to build Melanence after searching for an instructor of color to teach me about Marketing on LinkedIn Learning, and I had to scroll for 10+ pages before I found five. I just knew there had to be an easier way to find instructors and other professionals that looked like me.
What past experiences prepared you to start, build, and lead your company?
My background is in education. I am a former Preschool Director. I have a keen understanding of the transformative power of education. I have created youth leadership development curriculum for 7+ years while working for an award winning non-profit organization in Los Angeles as the Director of Programs & Marketing. My senior management experiences have prepared me to build a company and lead our team to launching something amazing.
What is your vision for the future of the industry you are operating in?
I envision that you will start to see more companies like ours pop up. I think there are huge opportunities for communities, especially in this era of COVID. There are communities that are often overlooked and underestimated, and I believe their voices will be loud and clear — and companies will start to pay attention. I am starting to see more focus on creating ecosystems and a focus on everything that is needed for true equity in this space. Technology is only as unbiased as the humans that created it, and I believe there will be a lot more focus on HOW tech is being created and who’s in the room.
Who is on your team and how did you come together?
I have an amazing team. Everyone on my team currently I have either worked with at different companies or met while in college. Sean Ewing, my CFO, I met while in college, and we are in the same fraternity. Simone Justice, my COO, I met at my previous company, and she was killing it there, happy to have her onboard. Ashley Williams, my Senior Product Manager, was the only person that actually reached out to me about a role on our team. We’ve known each other for a few years through mutual friends. Lastly, Briana Young (my wife) is our Senior Learning Experience Designer, and we met in college. A small but mighty team, and we have been killing it so far. We are in the process of onboarding a few more team members soon!
Do you have any competition, if so, how do you differentiate?
Yes, there are definitely some competitors in this space. I describe our competitive advantage in 3 parts: we are more accessible (price), more equitable (community), and more relevant (content). Melanence is able to do something that the larger EdTech giants are not equipped to do — that is, create a learning platform with the sole purpose of empowering communities of color.
What does your business model look like?
We have a pretty simple business model. Users pay a monthly subscription fee to have access to our platform and all of the content on it.
What brought you to equity crowdfunding and how do you intend to use the money you raise this round to scale the business?
We all know the statistics about Black founders and VC funding. I heard it 100 times before we started to raise any money. So instead of starting with that route, we decided to go to our community and really find people who would back us. We are in the middle of a pandemic, so that may be more challenging. But we believe that once a person hears about our company they will be compelled to become an investor.
What do you want potential investors to know about you and/or your company?
The first thing I want to remind potential investors is that the market is big. There is this idea that if you focus on communities of color, it will limit the company’s ability to grow and deliver amazing returns for investors. We are tapping into a $11B market for self-paced learning for communities of color, and we believe there are millions of people that will begin to join in this new wave of learning in the next few years. The second thing is that we are a business that will be around for years. We are not a company that will disappear once people can go back outside. I believe that investing in Black founders is a great business decision. Seeing value where others overlook it is a sign of a great investor.
As you think about the business 5-10 years down the road, what do you see exit opportunities looking like? have you set any future goals for the company?
Our team is operating with a preferred roadmap that leads to a merger or acquisition. The entity or organization that is on the other side of that potential transaction could be from a spectrum of businesses. I believe that we can grow this company to $100M in revenue in the next 5-7 years. That is what is printed and placed on my office wall, and what I remind my team regularly.
We at KingsCrowd are excited to see where Juan and his team take the company. Melanence is currently raising on Netcapital.
About: Olivia Strobl
Olivia comes to KingsCrowd with a background in venture capital and technology. She spent time at Glasswing Ventures, an AI-focused venture fund in Boston, before joining the KingsCrowd team. There she helped develop machine learning algorithms for the opportunity qualification of preseed and seed-stage startup companies. Prior to her time at Glasswing, Olivia worked in a lab studying the neural correlates of attention. She holds a degree in Neuroscience from Wellesley College.