It's really simple, just show up
We interviewed Dominique Landry, Account Director and Co-Founder of Common Ground Management (CGM) as part of December’s entrepreneurship series. CGM helped file The CQ Collective’s organizational docs and get us registered and licensed for business. Like our founder, Dom is also a Philadelphia native and Saint Joseph’s University alum. Here’s what he had to say:
What does your company do?
At CGM, we help small businesses here in Philadelphia and across the nation a) start their business b) manage their businesses if they’ve already started and c) improve business operations if they need those things- I guess its like a business doctor.
How did you get into it?
You want the long or short?
I was a business management major at the Saint Joseph’s University, in the Haub School of Business. I wanted to go to New York after I graduated for a short time, because we would go up to Wall Street and Madison Avenue during my freshman year. In my sophomore year a friend of mine, John Neil, who was older than I was took me downtown to five different restaurants. We went to Jones,’ Morimoto, Tangerine, Buddakhan, and Continental…
Yea and this was back in 2005. John looks at me like “One guy owns all these things, this is all he does.” That really sparked my entrepreneur ship bug.
My stepbrother and a friend of ours also went to SJU. We wanted to start a sneaker store, online and consignment after we graduated. So 2009-2010 we all got together and said ‘Hey what are we gonna do?’ From there we put the play in motion. We knew we wanted to do something bigger than just shoes and apparel so we said, Hey lets make a holding company, with Steven Starr in mind. One business can be the shoes and athletic apparel, another can be community driven, etc. and that’s how CGM came into play.
In order to get CGM up and running we started doing events. Our first event was a trip to the Limerick Outlet malls, and then onto another down at American and Allegheny (avenues). We were initially doing it to build our network and get a good list of people, and the way we did them was super organized. We invited small businesses to vend, and eventually the companies would say, “Hey can you help us do X?”
I was already doing PR consulting for a firm in Philadelphia when we did an event series called “Entrée.” The owner of the space owned three different businesses and wanted to hire CGM to manage his operations. That’s how we got into management.
I remember I went home & said, “I think Its time to leave (my full time job).” I told Sherm and James (his business partners) “We wont be able to grow unless one of us takes the lead and pushes this thing full time, and this is how we can do it.”
We already had people interested in having us run and manage their businesses, so in August 2012 I left my job and started doing management full time. Here we are almost 6 years later.
It was interesting because I didn’t think about doing this, but the lane just opened up & we took advantage of it.
Can you talk about why the work that you do is so important for Black people in business?
95% of our clients are African American and a lot of them may not have had an SJU education, or received a lot of information throughout their life. For one business, we saved this guy… anywhere between $65-90k in a bad deal he had with a vendor just because he didn’t know.
Every day we help start businesses doing our LLC company registrations, (in addition to) corporate, nonprofit, etc. Most people go for the LLC since it’s a vernacular; it’s a term everybody knows now.
We can help because we know things that are specific to (doing business in) Philadelphia too. Being a resource, having knowledge of other vendors and other people that do good work here in the city- that’s something that we’re really proud of.
We may not always be the solution BUT I always tell people, if you have a question just call me, send an email. It could save you headache, money, time, and we can point you in the right direction. Our whole thing is helping business owners get to where they want to go, whether we provide the service or not. Sometimes it’s just clearing up a confusing situation.
As a community I don’t think we’ve had that in the past. We’ve worked with hundreds of business owners in the city over the past five and a half years... you’d be surprised how much people don’t know just about organization and I think that’s the best thing about what we do. Being able to provide that support for people in our communities.
Everyday I see talented people that are black, and own businesses and I’m like WOW- if we only could tap into 15% of our (collective) potential, that’d be crazy.
…That’d be a huge game changer.
What do you think the biggest barrier to entry for black people in entrepreneurship is? What does your business do to solve that?
That’s a really great question.
Its 1) education and 2) resources. It doesn’t prevent them from getting in, but it does prevent them from starting and excelling. We get a lot of raw information as African Americans, and on top of that Philadelphia isn’t the best place to get an education, nor is it the most affluent place to live.
We kind of do things out of a sense of necessity. We do things backward a little bit. People will say they don’t want to create a business because they don’t want to pay taxes. Taxes are GOOD, they indicate the health of the business and allow you to get loans and investments, and leverage your business for growth. But because we may spend every other part of our life trying to cut a corner, just trying to make it and survive, we roll that into business and its not always a good thing. It’s not always productive. So we try to decode and break down the rhythm of life that we’ve been accustomed to living.
In order to be good at business, we have to forget all that because everybody else is playing by these rules. We cant bring our rules from 12th and Allegheny and 22nd and Snyder, we have to understand that this is the game that we’re playing and this is how you win that game. Credit, taxes- these types of things are how you’ll excel.
What we try to do is say hey, if you want to be on the cover of Forbes, Philadelphia magazine, these are the things you need to do. If you want to pass anything onto your children or grandchildren, this is the way to do it, because it won’t sustain long term if you get sick or can’t run it anymore.
Do you have any advice for Black people entering the entrepreneurship playing field? Anything specific after helping hundreds of people get their businesses going?
I’d say be you, don’t compromise who you are. And the second biggest thing is- don’t stop. People get discouraged in the beginning, and will say ‘This doesn’t work.’ It’s an organism were talking about. If you had a kid, and on the second day it started crying, you cant just give it up and walk away.
It’s going to be hard. Don’t give up. Businesses start, they iterate, they continue, they iterate, just don’t give up.
I like to quote Jay as much as I can, and even he says, “The most genius thing we did was, we didn’t give up”
There’s a chart of Instagram’s life cycle before it actually became a product that people downloaded and even that changed 3 or 4 times. That happens. You just figure out a way to get it done.
As entrepreneurs we have a tendency to tie pride, popularity, even how smart we are into it, when those aren’t an indicator of anything. Most really smart people, we’ve never heard of. Nobody is too smart for business to be tough.
Be yourself, and keep going man. Keep fighting. Its really simple, just show up.
You can connect with Dom and the CGM family on IG and Twitter @cgmphilly. To contact them about services or consultations, visit cgmphilly.com