OWe celebrate entrepreneurs for what they do well. But often the scenery for success is set by everything that happens when things go wrong, mistakes seem impossible to bounce back from, and obstacles seem insurmountable.

It’s the truth that propels Manuel and Geiszel Godoy, military veterans who founded Black Sands Entertainment, a cross-platform publishing company focused on strong black characters and story. Black Sands, which started as a video game then became a comic book series before moving on to graphic novels, builds its products around a central question: who becomes a hero?

In responding to them, society goes back in time to create historical stories in which Africans and members of the African Diaspora thrive. “No more slave stories. It’s time for kings,” says Manuel Godoy. “The media have their own idea of ​​what to talk about in black history. Your kids need to know that they had a great past. … A white kid grows up and he has all these people who came from nothing and became the emperor. What do black people have, according to the American school system? This n is not a high standard for your life.

He would know. A self-proclaimed ‘bad kid’ who regularly skipped school growing up in New York – ‘it was a guaranteed system for some people to fall through the cracks’, he says – Manuel was later sent to boarding school before entering the army to turn his life upside down. He also met Geiszel there, and the two launched Black Sands in 2016, eventually raising over $1 million through crowdfunding and successfully pitching star investors on shark tank.

Over the past six years, Black Sands has become a success story in an unfavorable business environment: according to a 2020 McKinsey report, only 4% of black-owned businesses make it past the start-up phase, and black entrepreneurs, in average, have less than half the capital of their white counterparts when starting new businesses.

I spoke with Manuel and Geiszel about the strengths they attribute allowing them to persevere through structural obstacles to build their brand:

The power of fans

Inspired by manga and anime in Korea and Japan, Manuel Godoy, a huge anime fan himself, built his company’s relationship with customers the same way. “You’re not supposed to reach everyone. Don’t try to do something for 17 different audiences,” he advises aspiring startups. “In the West, everyone wants to be so big. In the East, a million hyperfans are worth more than 20 million casual users.

Fans also partly own the company, which has had several successful crowdfunding and crowdinvesting rounds. Fifteen percent of the company is now fan-owned, the Godoys say.

The power of media

Geiszel Godoy describes a multi-pronged journey to find and cultivate these superfans. “When we started, we went to 20 different book fairs. It’s a lot of hard work state by state,” she says. “It really helped us with marketing and a fan base.”

The company now relies on a mix of organic and paid social media, with an online presence that speaks to the political and social moment. “He doesn’t sugarcoat things,” Geiszel Godoy says of her husband. “That plays a big part of its marketing.” Consider a June 2020 Facebook post promoting a character the couple developed named Ineola, a Nigerian woman trying to make her way through Brooklyn, New York, and fighting opposition with humanity. “Are you ready for Ineola? the post reads. “Black women deserve heroes who aren’t remade Disney princesses or comic universe plug-ins…She from Brooklyn, and she’s not gonna take shit from you.”

When they appeared in January on shark tank, the founders excitedly laid out their origin story and struggle to find black-focused comics, and asked for $500,000 to fund a special collector’s edition of their graphic novels. Comedian Kevin Hart and investor Mark Cuban seemed impressed, and the Godoys say a deal is being negotiated.

shark tank made great changes,” explains Manuel Godoy. “We’re still doing our normal day-to-day operations, and the sales are pretty much the same, but now we’re getting different media placements. We have a great story to tell and we’ve never had the opportunity to to be in front of the national press [before].”

The power of the army

Manuel recounts all the ways the military life, regimented and orderly, enabled his entrepreneurial spirit and his inclination to take risks: “The long-term benefits of a successful military career are enormous,” he says. . “We’re all getting old anyway, but it’s the only organization that says, ‘It’s our fault’” and offers education, job placement, special loan programs and health insurance. “Any business costs money. You need cash. The military played a huge role in our life as a chance to take risks.

The power of ownership

In DC’s eternal battle against Marvel, the two comic companies have recently found common ground on one thing: the need to diversify their creators, characters, and audiences. In a TV premiere last week, Disney-owned Marvel reimagined blonde Ms. Marvel as a Pakistani-American teenager named Kamala Khan. And there are several projects in development devoted to “Black Superman”, a new version of the most popular superhero from DC Comics, a subsidiary of Warner Bros. Discovery.

The Godoys are different: diversity is not an afterthought or a business strategy for their company. This is the company. They also remain focused on retaining the intellectual property of their work. When asked if he admires DC or Marvel more, Manuel Godoy directs the conversation to his own hero: George Lucas, whose Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises were acquired by Disney a decade ago. “I always look at it for retaining the rights to things,” he says. “Because he did that, 40 years later, he’s being redeemed for billions.”

This ethos—along with the principles of retaining ownership, centering Black history and experience, and remaining original—guides Black Sands. “We don’t want to compete with Marvel and DC,” says Manuel Godoy. “We want to tell stories that people have never seen before.”