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That the Gerrards were able to trademark a phrase as common as “bae” and sell such a simple idea illustrates just how few startups are being created for black users.
“Bae” has been part of the cultural vernacular for years, especially in the black community.
“Two generations ago if you were black in America, the best job you could have was post officer or schoolteacher,” Brian says.
“So there’s really no generational wealth to rely on.” That means black entrepreneurs rely heavily on investors even for the earliest rounds of funding, which can be challenging given that most tech investors are white men.
The operation is based in Brian’s small apartment in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, where basketballs roll around in the living room and old record covers hang on the wall.
Their progress is tracked on a whiteboard, which lists the tasks of various team members and two questions scrawled in teenage-boy handwriting: “What did you accomplish yesterday? ” There is beer in the fridge, an Oculus Rift virtual-reality headset near the TV, and the bathroom is what you would expect from a 20-something dude in Brooklyn.
The Gerrards say they know of many white entrepreneurs who were able to get a head start through inheritance or, as Brian puts it, “a quick friends-and-family round of 0,000,” but black entrepreneurs rarely have that luxury.
Bae received an angel investment last year before kicking off a seed round at Tech Crunch Disrupt earlier this month.
But their oil-and-water partnership helped them create Bae, a dating app for black people.
There, they both pursued fencing — Brian was ranked one of the top foil fencers in the state — and they frequently faced off against each another in tournaments, even though Justin is two years older.
The brothers say their contrasting personalities have strengthened them as a team.
But the idea is to create an app for black people to safely meet people of all races who want to form a genuine connection.
“It’s shocking that there’s a dating app for people who like bacon, there’s one for burrito lovers, for Jewish folks, for Asians, there’s Hinge and Bumble, but nobody wanted to solve this problem,” Brian says. People don’t think about solving problems that don’t affect them, and investors don’t invest in ideas that don’t affect them.” Indeed, funding is one of the biggest obstacles facing many entrepreneurs of color.