Starlitt Miller knows what it’s like to hustle. She’s a serial entrepreneur who built an accounting and bookkeeping business. She’s been a valuable member of the SOCO community for many years. Now, Starlitt is changing things up in her career and life. She’s participating in an entrepreneurial fellowship program through Visible Hands, which seeks to empower founders of color. In the first round alone, Visible Hands received more than 900 applications.
Recently, Starlitt went to Tulsa, OK for an in-person meeting with other founders and members of the fellowship. When she came back to Soda City, we asked her a few questions. Here’s her response and why she’s pursuing this new hustle.
Give us the elevator pitch of what you were doing prior to joining the fellowship? And give a little background on how you got there.
I was providing operational accounting and workflow strategy services to small businesses. This was being done through a variety of methods and touch-points. Setting up an accounting system, fixing/cleaning accounting system, training and supporting the support personnel and owners.
I started off by solving my own problem of needing to have agency of my time. I knew that I was overqualified to bookkeep and could leverage those skills because they are needed by many.
I learned many hard lessons around how to start and grow a business as a solopreneur that makes sense for you.
I started a bookkeeping business (Star Accounting and Business Solutions, or SAABS, which is still operating). I quickly learned that the value that I needed to provide and was best fit to provide was broader than that [bookkeeping]. It’s in the overall operational accounting structure and how it impacts the operations of the small business that added a lot of value.
I witnessed what the lack of automation and technology systems on the backend could look like and the negative impact it had, and was really drawn to solving that problem.
SAABS evolved into assisting on the backend with more financial and workflow strategies and developing accurate records and best practices.
What’s been driving you for the last few years?
Such a great question. Prior to the fall of 2020, my goal was to build a profitable, self-sustaining business that would eventually not need me.
There was a lot to learn and establish foundationally to make that happen, and since I just got started and made the leap, I had to navigate the evolution of the business to get it close to that point while running it. My driver is my personal goal to have ownership and agency over what I am doing, to become financially free, and show my daughter that you can create something from nothing without relying on the permission of others or for them to say “yes,” and assign a dollar value to your time and work. While I knew that SAABS might not be the business to get me to financial freedom, it has been the vehicle to growing as an entrepreneur while financially caring for my daughter and me.
After the fall of 2020, my drive is similar but a little more assertive in not questioning whether or not being an entrepreneur is the right path.
The additional motivation is finding a way to create the passive income necessary to free time to live and spend time with family, friends and contribute to impactful causes. So the value that the company provides is not resting on the shoulders of one person, and the customers will be serviced no matter what.
Okay, let’s talk a little about the Fellowship. First, how did you find out about it?
I learned about the fellowship during its early stages of development from my good friend. I started following the firm on social media and subscribed to their communications to stay up-to-date.
Tell us about the Fellowship. Who is supporting it? What’s the purpose?
The fellowship is created and facilitated by VisibleHands (VH). VH has a pre-seed fund and the 14-week program to help support overlooked talent of color and women in the venture-backed tech startup space. VH has received the support of many leaders from all of the country that have provided their time through advising, workshops, funds, and assisting in organizing within their first year.
The funding is in the millions, and VH has grown pretty quickly in its first year. Notable names [of supporters] are Liberty Mutual, Goldman Sachs Launch with GS, JP Morgan Chase & Co., and Bombas.
Atento Capital out of Tulsa, OK was also a great supporter and hosted and financially covered aspects of the in-person orientation that kicked off the fellowship program.
Atento is interested in bringing people of color and their businesses back to Tulsa and revitalizing the Black Wall street area. They are offering investments in early-stage companies and incentivizing a relation to Tulsa.
What was your thought process behind applying? Was it a no-brainer decision, or did you have to think about it a bit?
I was hesitant at first for a few reasons; I do not have a tech background, I wasn’t sure what it would mean for my service-based business that was paying my bills, and I never imagined building something that I would raise funding for.
The decision became a no-brainer after I had a call with one of the General Partners (GP) and understood more about what the program may look like and considering the $25,000 pre-seed investment they would provide during the fellowship. After speaking with the GP, I realized that even if I leave the fellowship without a clear direction on a tech solution (in my mind the worst case), I knew that I would learn a lot as an entrepreneur, and I was already feeling the need to learn and grow.
Running my business had caused me to be stagnant in learning, and I was already feeling the urge to expand my knowledge. I knew that it would be challenging because I had no clue about the world of venture-backed startups, let alone how to build a tech solution.
The other piece would be learning from other people that are in the community. I knew enough about the GP’s to know that their network is rich and has quality people in it, so I assumed the cohort would reflect that, and I was correct!
Tell us how it’s felt to be surrounded by other people building something?
Being in the community with other fellows has been the best part. Each time we get to connect through Zoom calls (individually and in a group), it’s refreshing. The orientation week was awesome and the best way to transform from being on-screen to connections with real people.
I realized that we all have similar fears and insecurities even with the varying stages of the companies/ideas and experiences. I believe the true power and magic is with the people within the cohort. The experts are great, but it’s not the same as building connections, helping, and sharing with other fellows.
After the week of in-person, we all went home and back to some semblance of isolation. It’s there where the challenge seems to grow. I am constantly encouraged when I connect with a fellow in a real and vulnerable way and vice versa.
You’ve changed your hustle a bit to make this new path happen. Why are you doing this and what are you hoping to accomplish?
I decided to pursue this venture because I believe the best thing that I can do is solve a tool problem with a better tool and I am only one person, so I would like to scale the impact of my services by converting into a tech tool. The other side of this is the desire to build a profitable business.
While I am not saying that this is the only way to do so, it’s an opportunity that I have so I plan to leverage and activate in this space to work towards building something that will add value to a world that is bigger than myself.