Harold Hughes
Running a business

Harold Hughes is connecting fans to what they love

In honor of Black History Month, QuickBooks is spotlighting Black-owned businesses, their stories of courage, and celebrating their success. Find more resources for Black business owners here.

Name: Harold Hughes

Location: Austin, TX

Business: Bandwagon

Harold Hughes Economic Report

Photo credit: Instagram/@builtxbandwagon

Why did you decide to start your own business? How did you get started? 

I decided to start my company because I saw the opportunity to create community around affinity groups using technology. I started out by focusing on learning about the current market offerings and surveying customers for what they valued. After that, I identified our opportunity and began testing our MVP. 

What is the biggest lesson you learned in the first year? 

The biggest lesson that I learned in our first year of business is to be mindful of the collateral damage of disruption. So many startups enter a space expecting to disrupt it not realizing the bull’s eye that it puts on your back. By entering the space from a lens of collaboration, we were able to quickly get into the market by complementing the offerings of the incumbents.

Man drawing on the board during a meeting

Photo credit: Instagram/@builtxbandwagon

What was the most surprising thing about becoming a business owner? 

The biggest surprise about becoming a business owner is the perception that people have of you. Many think that owning a business is really easy and that there’s lots of flexibility and vacations. In actuality, there are a lot of administrative tasks that you are responsible for—payroll, taxes, and so on— but those things rarely end up on social media. I can imagine that people that have never been business owners simply aren’t aware of those challenges. 

How does running your own business make you feel? 

There are times when running my business is stressful and challenging. Other times, it is rewarding and empowering. I believe that most business owners feel a wide range of emotions on any given day so that is why it is so important to make sure that you have a north star that remains largely unchanged.

What are some of the challenges you’ve overcome or are working to overcome? 

One of the biggest challenges that I have to overcome is market education. When you are creating a new offering, you are normally talking to a customer that doesn’t have a line item in their budget for your product or service and they likely have never quantifiably considered the problem that you solve for them. 

What is your best advice to other small business owners for hiring and retaining staff? 

When it comes to hiring and retaining staff, I encourage business owners to be transparent. Allow your team members to process information and make their own decisions. They will thank you for it. 

What challenges do you feel are unique to Black small business owners? 

I believe that Black entrepreneurs and small business owners lack the inherent trust from investors to get the seed capital that is necessary to start their companies. That means starting with less while competing with peers that are overfunded. When we do finally get the capital—after over delivering on product relative to our constrained resources —we are competing against competitors that have a financial head start and bias in the venture capital industry. 

Harold Hughes on Startups

Photo credit: Instagram/@builtxbandwagon

What advice would you give to other Black business owners just starting out? 

Know why you’re building and know when to throw in the towel. It is easy to get distracted and lose sight of the goal and it is also easy to hold on too long. Lastly, when you start, know what you’re getting yourself into. We know all of the woes that are talked about in funding. We know how hard it is to hire. Pay less attention to that and build a solid business that solves a problem for your customers.

How do you engage with the community? 

I do my best to make myself available to Black founders on social media, in real life in Austin, or at various conferences. I am a co-founder of Black@, a token-gated web3 community for Black founders, funders, creators, and community-builders. I am a mentor for various incubators and accelerator programs and I also angel invest into companies led by women, people of color, and Black founders.

Harold Hughes on black tech green money

Photo credit: Instagram/@builtxbandwagon

What is a moment in your small business career where you had to be courageous? 

In Q4 2017, my company was running out of money. I decided to sell my house to fund the business. In a last ditch effort to get the necessary traction, I left my wife and 1-year old son in Greenville, South Carolina and I moved to Austin, Texas for six months to participate in the Capital Factory accelerator. The gamble paid off as we added new investors and advisors, and secured more customers to launch our business into the next phase. 

What are your proudest moments? 

I’m most proud of getting started. We had a ribbon cutting on August 16, 2016 and then two days later, my son was born and I cut his umbilical cord. I’m proud of the jobs that we have created and the customers that we have been able to serve as they chose us from a number of competitive offerings. I am proud of the relationships that I have been able to create and nurture with entrepreneurs that I respect and the next generation of entrepreneurs that I have been able to mentor and support along the way.

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I’m proud of the jobs that we have created and the customers that we have been able to serve.

What are the next big plans you have for your business? 

2022 was a big year for our business as we saw a full year of our newest product, POET, in the marketplace. In 2022, we grew our revenue 199% YoY and are aggressively going after partnerships as we sign more brands and entertainers. 

When you’re having a tough day, who or what inspires you to keep going? 

I’m very fortunate to have founder friends that I can call on days that I get low. Entrepreneurship can be really lonely at times, so being able to jump into a group chat or make calls at any time of the night to people that are going through the struggle or have been through it, can help give me some advice or console me. I’m thankful for the relationships that I have made with Shondra, Clarence, Sevetri, Denise, and so many others.

Harold Hughes explaining blockchain

Photo credit: Instagram/@builtxbandwagon

How do you maintain a work/life balance as a small business owner? 

I do not practice work-life balance as an entrepreneur. As I shared earlier, I started this business just as I was becoming a Dad and I can say with 100% certainty that there has not been a day since my son was born that I felt like I delivered equally as both a father and a founder. Honestly, I believe that we should normalize that. The word “balance” implies equal weight and I know that on some days, I really need to show up as Dad; on others, I need to lean on my support system—wife, family, and friends—as I put in extra hours in the office. 

What’s your “power song” and why?

I don’t think I have one. I love R&B so when I’m working, I am normally listening to some ballads. But that said, right now I’m really loving “Hotel Lobby” by Quavo & Takeoff, the Drake and 21 Savage album, and Big Sean stays in rotation.

To learn more about Bandwagon and support the business, visit their website or check out their adventures on Instagram.

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