Chief Executive Officer at The Black Dollar Corp.
Interview by Greg Hedgepeth
Founded in 2019, The Black Dollar Corp. has established roots in
North Carolina through its Black-Owned Business directory #BlackDollarNC, retail store Black Friday Market…and now, The Factory.
Lets start from the Beginning
Johnny Hackett, Jr. is the CEO of The Black Dollar Corp., an organization that highlights and supports local businesses in North Carolina. His whole life his family has valued supporting one another, something he says still shapes his views today. He is dedicated to using the knowledge he’s gained in his career (from Xerox to IBM to BCBS) to offer resources to small businesses.
SM: Tell us about Johnny Hackett. Who, what helped shape you into the man that we see today?
JH: I’m from Greenville, South Carolina. From down South, migrated to Riverdale, Georgia, when I was about three or four years old, I really grew up there up until about middle school.
I was the typical kid running around the country, so I’m a country boy at heart, but I hate mosquitoes.
I grew up playing football and playing basketball in the streets. We had the old school grandma that got all the kids during the summertime and we would all play and hang out together. So family’s really important to us. We have a huge family across Georgia and South Carolina.
I migrated to North Carolina in 1998. My mom was driving trucks. She’s smaller than me, but driving 18 wheeler trucks, when I started sixth grade—she did that through eighth grade–bounced around with some family here there during that time, me and my sister and then when she finished driving, we moved to Raleigh, NC because her trucking company was based here, she started dispatching.
I started high school, in a completely different state, different city. No family around, so just had to really get out there and meet new people and make friends.
I think that’s what really started to plant the seeds for who you see before you today, in terms of looking out for one another, having that “we all we got” mentality—you know, one person fight everybody fighting, all in for the team. I loved sports and different things like that, so a lot of those things were instilled early.
Obviously, I don’t fight now. But it’s one of those things where like, “Okay, if one person need help, everybody needs to help” or whatever we do all we can to support someone. So a lot of those seeds planted early. Those values and that mentality will always drive me.
SM: Tell us about some of your early career choices and your time in industry.
JH: I’m 22 years old, fresh out of school looking for jobs and I found ACS Xerox back in 2005. They had just started moving operations here so it was perfect timing. I remember being in this 30,000-square-foot building with like 20 people training. It was bascially a call center training, but I remember one of the managers was like, “we want you to apply to be a quality coach,” I was a little relucant, in fact I didn’t even fill out the application because as I said I’m 22 years old, fresh out of school and didn’t know the first thing about managing a call center. What was crazy is all the managers laughed and said, “Don’t worry about that we’ll teach you.” Man and believe it or not I graduated that training, never actually took a phone call and in the first four months I helped improved the quality by 8%. The company put me through Six Sigma Black Belt training and I was leading million dollar projects.
I really gravitated toward that Six Sigma training because I like to be able to use math and statistics, case studies and whatever information you can to make an actual data-driven decision. I don’t like the guesswork. And Six Sigma gives you a lot of that. That really paved the way for my career at Xerox, I moved on from Xerox to IBM, to Blue Cross Blue Shield, and spent time with Wells Fargo’s IT department. I’ve had some really good jobs in terms of executive level and process improvement Six Sigma positions, and each of them taught me a lot. It also taught me the things I needed to know to start my own business. So it was time well spent.
SM: Talk to us about taking the lead and deciding to leave the corporate world to pursue your entrepreneurial dreams and aspirations.
JH: I started the Life Foundation in 2008, with a couple buddies of mine that worked with me at Xerox, it was something we talked about all the time. So we started our first nonprofit organization that was all about education and going into schools to teach young people about the things we were just learning for the first time in corporate America. They didn’t teach us about interview prep, taxes, 401k’s and investments in school. These were things I had to learn on my own. So we decided to found a nonprofit that would be committed to bringing real world knowledge and awareness into the school system. We were still working at Xerox and doing this work part-time until one day we were running a YMCA summer camp that was teaching young high school kids about starting their own business and the value of money. We did business pitching and everything, so we been doing this for a minute. I promise you I remember this like it happened yesterday, this one young lady was like “I don’t need to learn all of this or how to do a business plan because my mama going to take care of me.” And so we went back and forth playfully about it for a minute and then I said “Lord, forbid something happen to her.” And what she said next turned it into a real teachable moment, she said “Well I’ll keep getting the child support from my daddy or fill bankruptcy like they did on the Toni Braxton show.” And what was crazy about the whole exchange was I’m listening to all these other kids in the camp co-sign and affirm what she was saying. I knew then I had to do more, I knew I had to be all in and give it all my time and attention.
So I called my mentor at Xerox and told him my plans, he congratulated me and accepted my resignation that day.
It was the first time I had resigned from a job and didn’t have another one already or one lined up, but I knew it had to be done.
SM: So let’s connect the dots, all that past experience has lead you to found The Black Dollar Corp. and through that a number of other organizations and initaitves. Tell us about them.
JH: So Black Dollar, it started out as a directory in 2018-19, so my work in terms of my own entrepreneurship has changed from, working with youth, to web development and other marketing for small business owners to now just supporting small business owners.
Early in when we were running the nonprofit we ran into a lot of the same challenges and roadblocks that every other business owner had in terms of trying to get access to capital and funding. It’s also hard as a small business owner to build your own brand and develop your clientele list at times. So that’s really how the directory came to be. I wanted to develop a platform for Black-owned business owners, and organizational leaders to be found. I did a lot of website work, a lot of African American entrepreneurs don’t start out with a website or it’s not at the top of the list when it comes to starting their business. Some companies can pay $20,000 or more for a website and branding but not everyone can do that.
I learned a lot regarding the technology needs of Black business owners and entrepreneurs, so I was like, I’m going to find a way to support them. I took all the knowledge and skills I had gained from working at Xerox and IBM, working with top-of-the-line developers, and I threw my energy into developing the Black Business directory. Fast forward, and the pandemic hits, and it hits small businesses hard, not just Black-owned but all small businesses. We all were dealing with information overload and decentralization. So I immediately started thinking about ways we could support and ways we all could support one another. I found that in all that we had done or had planned to do, small business owners, especially Black business owners were at the forefront. So we took the directory and decided to turn it into a real place. So now you have business owners who were able to sell their products in a department store in the heart of downtown Raleigh, commission-free, they keep 100% of the sales. And that store has been doing well from the very beginning. So now we’ve got this directory in place. Now we’ve got this storefront in place, where business owners are bringing products and they’re selling products. And then through working with a lot of business owners in retail, we discover a need for business owners to have a place to create their products. So that is what kind of brought us to The Factory.
While still very new, we’ve seen some great traction. We see people utilizing the production equipment, collaborating and placing their products in the storefront to be sold. We constantly are trying to figure out ways to refine the space and serve small business owners.
SM: The Factory offers all types of small manufacturing equipment like T-shirt printers and press machines. They have coworking desks, crowdfunding opportunities, workshops, and training sessions for any small local business owner. It’s certainly worth joining the community. It’s a place where you can produce, create, collaborate, network, pitch, learn and build with the cultural at the center. We love it!
SM: Tell us why it was so important that you create this space and develop this ecosystem.
JH: It’s important for a couple of reasons. The main reason is access. We always talk about access to capital or access to real estate. For us, once we got our foot in the door and we started being a part of these larger conversations, real meaningful conversations with folks like the Downtown Raleigh Alliance, the City of Raleigh and other organizations who do some great work in the city, we knew we had a duty, an obligation to uphold.
So once we got our foot in the door, the retail storefront happened, and we could have easily just pressed a bunch of our own merch and just sold our own stuff, but it was bigger than us. It wasn’t just about Black Dollar, we came with this whole network of entrepreneurs and Black business owners who were unable to get a retail space like that, for whatever reason, right. So, as I said we were all in, because the first and main reason is access.
The other reason it was so important to develop this ecosystem, or should I say continue to develop this ecosystem is because there are so many talented Black business owners that may not have the right support systems. Make no mistake being an entrepreneurs is hard work. A lot of people have heard me use this example about the brother that can cook. I mean this brother has a gift, and he should open up his own restaurant, right but that brother don’t know nothing about building a brand, doing marketing, conducting real estate transactions, he may not know truly how to put a business plan together or how to financing that dream. He may be good with money but may not be interested in keeping up with the books of his company, in fact if he has to do all that, when does he have the time to do what he’s most passionate about, which is cooking. So I use that example often to say it’s about having the right support network. So I would say another reason this ecosystem is so important is it gives us an opportunity to collaborate and find ways to help each other grow. And when I say grow I’m not just talking about in business, I mean personally as well. I learn something from one of our members just about every day I’m in this space just having conversations.
SM: WOW, powerful stuff. So there’s no way it was all sunshine and easy climbing. Talk to us about one of the toughest challenges you’ve faced as an entrepreneurs.
JH: As I mentioned, it’s not easy. In any business there are going to be challenges. We have our challenges now, even though some people think we’ve got it all figured out. I would say one of the biggest challenges for me, honestly were the failed attempts and then having to pick up the pieces. Because you can be all in on something and it not work out, and you have to pick up not only the pieces of your business but your life. I remember not having any money coming in, not being able to support this dream I have. That takes a toll on you physically, mentally, financially and just having to pick up the pieces or start all over some time is a challenge.
How you get through it is having that support system, those folks that know what you’ve sacrificed and are whiling to help. Some people come to the store or to The Factory and say, “man this is it, you’ve made it happen.” Honestly it’s an ongoing process and some people know, they know it took time and climbing
mountains, but unless you really hear the story you don’t know.
I can’t remember who said it but I remember reading this quote some where that went like this—
“Those that make it are the ones that don’t quit.”
SM: What’s on the horizon, what’s next for Johnny?
JH: Listen, I’ll drop a little nugget. This is an exclusive just for Substantial. My folks can’t wait for me to bring this type of work and support for entrepreneurs of color to South Carolina. Greenville, South Carolina to be exact so stay tuned. We’ve got a lot of stuff in the works man, we always have partners like Thread Capital, Triangle Entrepreneurial Leadership (Ryan Ray) and others doing workshops and trainings. It’s always something happening, so folks just have to plug in and stay informed. For me personally its about building the directory and finding ways to help our small business owners succeed. As I said, I’m all in.
What a powerful opporunity to sit with a young determined Black entrepreneurs that wants to do nothing more than help other Black entrepreneurs and business owners thrive.
Substantial encourages you to learn more about Black Dollar NC, The Black Friday Market, and The Factory. Visit: theblackdollarcorp.us