In this installment of #BusinessTalk , we chat with Louie T. McClain II, the creator/founder of Melanin Origins, LLC. He's a young, talented entrepreneur whose children's book company is changing the way your children learn about black history. Read as he shares his journey and gives practical business advice to our community.
Tell us a little bit about your background?
McClain II: My name is Louie T. McClain II and I am from of Arlington, Texas, but my parents were born in Liberia, West Africa. I received my Bachelors of Science in Criminal Justice from Pensacola Christian College and I am also licensed to dispatch aircraft by the Federal Aviation Administration.
I have spent the majority of my adult life creating avenues of change via volunteering, founding a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that helped adult ex-offenders get connected to jobs, establishing a project that grants scholarships to children in Liberia, and working to impact the lives of troubled youth in Pensacola, FL as well as Dallas and Fort Worth, TX. I am a proud father of two beautiful children named Serenity and Noah.
Tell us about your business, its purpose and how its products are unique?
McClain II: The company is an LLC that was incorporated in the State of Delaware in January 2016. Our mission is to provide quality education materials that inspire young minds to aspire for excellence while embracing their heritage at the same time.
The vision of Melanin Origins is to be the largest Afrocentric book provider in the United States. We stand on the foundation of excellence lived through the lives of Marcus Garvey, Madame C.J. Walker, Booker T. Washington, Frederick Douglass, Ida B. Wells, Bessie Coleman, and the list goes on and on.
Melanin Origins, LLC was founded with the purpose of sharing messages of lesser-known African American pioneers to the children of the world to empower them to aspire for excellence and chase their dreams regardless of any complications that may be in their way or come their way. There is not another book provider that tells our stories to our children in the manner that we do.
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Is this your first business venture, or have you been involved with any other businesses in the past? If so, what happened in those situations?
McClain II: I have been involved in a couple business ventures prior to establishing Melanin Origins, LLC. In 2010 I founded a 501c 3 organization that helped those with criminal backgrounds get connected to jobs – Humane Resources Inc.
As a part of that organization, I also created a project that helped children in West Africa go to college – Project: Liberia Smile. To be honest, I was satisfied with the work that I was able to accomplish, even though I did want to do much more, but I was not satisfied with the fact that we discontinued the business due to feasibility purposes.
Actually, I never asked myself, “is this going to be feasible?” Granted, our team did create a financial projections portion of our business plan, however, it was all based off of hypotheticals and wishful thinking. Therefore, the decision was made to not continue in our non-profit ventures and refocus on other personal goals.
Looking back on your journey, were there any notable mistakes that you made that you were able to recover and grow from?
McClain II: I lead my past ventures with my heart and not my head. My passion superseded the logic of establishing a solid team and acquiring the proper finances prior to moving forward. Had I been more strategic we might have still been something special today. As far as Melanin Origins, ask me this a year from now. I’m sure we have a lot to learn and much to share by then.
What has been the toughest aspect of entrepreneurship for you up this point?
McClain II: Managing my time effectively and being efficient has been my greatest obstacle. There is always so much to do, and as a small business owner, you might not have all the people capital to ease the operations. We always remain hopeful, however, because we constantly have our eye on the prize – increasing the quality of our product and effectively reaching the consumer.
What advice could you give a someone who is maybe looking to start their own business, but don’t know where to start?
McClain II: I would encourage an entrepreneur to 1) surround his/herself with positive people and mentors (there is a difference in the two), 2) brainstorm a product or service that he/she wholeheartedly believes in, 3) write the business plan in full – don’t keep it all in your mind and don’t have bit and pieces lying around here and there.
Research the SBA: Small Business Administration. The SBA is a governmental entity which will direct a person to one of its many Small Business Development Centers nearby and connect that person with a business professional that will walk them through business creation and sustainability processes for free. Yes, it is free. Actually, your tax money is already paying for it, so why not make good use of it.
The major thing to consider is: IS IT FEASIBLE? I must emphasize this. Many times we have great ideas and we want to do it just because it sounds great to us, but the world might have difference of opinion. Sometimes we don’t have all the necessary resources at the time to accomplish our vision, but we still try to put it out there prematurely.
This is a huge no-no. To thine own self be true, so we just have to be honest with ourselves regarding the “ifs” and “whens” of establishing a business. Lastly, do not fret at failure or disappointment, because this is expected during certain points in life and in business. Revert back to the wisdom and guidance from your positive friends and mentors, accept your shortcomings, learn from your mistakes, and then bounce back ten times stronger.
Many people feel as though they don’t have enough money to start their own business. Could you give our readers any advice on how they could finance their small business on a tight budget?
McClain II: Hopefully, an aspiring entrepreneur has been saving money for his/her venture. It is good if one has a team willing to invest time and resources as well.
After determining the financial amount needed to create and sustain the business then the aspiring entrepreneur can look into getting loans from a financial institution, seek out Angel Investors or Venture Capitalists, attempt to acquire an investor from a person they know, or look into crowdfunding.
All areas include a certain level of risk, but a solid, well-researched business plan will limit the chances of failure.
When it comes to growth, what are some of things that you’ve done that have helped you expand your business?
McClain II: I have personally given interviews and speeches at several places, I am always talking about the business, I am running a successful social media campaign, and I am constantly seeking ways to improve our brand. At first, we simply wanted the schools to procure our books, but now we want them to procure the curriculum that we provide along with the books.
We believe in community work and we believe in the community that we do this for, so we donate books and speak with children. As we make moves and progress we let the world know through our various media outlets.
Also, we are in the business of incorporating authors that want to follow the mold of our business plan and goals. So we have recently acquired two outstanding individuals with clout that will bring awesome stories to the table as well as growth to the company. We are ever seeking to progress.
How influential have partners, team members, or friends/mentors been to your overall success in business?
McClain II: My friend is my mentor and he is our editor and he is my right-hand man in business. It has been an ultimate blessing and Godsend to have him on the team and a humbling experience to witness him put in just as much work for the company as I do. It’s always a magnificent feeling when you simply meet people that just get it.
They understand, the see it, they don’t want to just talk about it and say what if, but they want to play an active role. It is not always easy to ever meet such people who are close to you and willing to partake in such a way, so for that, I give thanks every day.
When it comes to ‘melanated people’, why do you think it’s so important for us to build and support black businesses?
McClain II: We must build our own businesses because it is the key to our wealth. Success is measured in many ways, and I don’t think that it’s frowned upon to want to rise up the corporate ladder. I just think that it’s better to build the ladder and profit off of it.
I am working day and night, so that my children can take over the company once they are properly educated and of age. One thing is true – you can’t pass your corporate job down to your children. When I graduated college I had to get a job making $12.25 an hour and then when I relocated I was making minimum wage of $7.25 an hour all due to the recent Great Recession. Properly operating a successful business can take away that strain. We must support our own because we need each other. Period.
Lastly, are there any books or other resources that have helped you along your entrepreneurial journey that you can recommend to aspiring entrepreneurs?
McClain II: The Alchemist is my favorite book. It speaks to the reader on so many levels. The thing that has helped me out the most has been just staying aware of current social order and issues. I read a lot of news articles and listen to a vast majority of interviews. Two people that I follow intensely are Dr. Umar Johnson and Dr. Boyce Watkins.
Dr. Umar Johnson’s messages inspired me to dig deeper and learn more about my heritage as well as being unapologetic in my approach, and Dr. Boyce Watkin’s overall theme of being your own boss and creating your own business is what presently motivates me to achieve great things.
These two gentlemen changed my life and gave me the willpower to create a company that stands on such beautiful pillars as Melanin Origins’. I happened upon these gentlemen about at age 28; my children and the children of the world will be empowered with stories of greatness from actual historical figures beginning at 9 months because of their legacy.
More About Louie:
"Be the change you wish to see in the world" -Anonymous
Favorite musician/music group
One thing that you have yet to scratch off your bucket list
Personal goal you want to accomplish in the next 12 months
Develop a well-defined six pack!!!
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Mission: Provide quality educational materials which inspire young minds to aspire for excellence while embracing their heritage.
Vision: To become the largest Afrocentric book provider in the United States of America.