David Cabello’s business was barely a year old when the pandemic struck. He’s the founder of Black and Mobile, the self-proclaimed first Black-owned food delivery service in the country to exclusively deliver for Black-owned restaurants. At times, he says, the pandemic and the protests have made him feel like a character in A Tale of Two Cities. His business has quite literally experienced, as Dickens put it, the best of times and the worst of times.
On one hand, the pandemic brought a level of disruption that made it difficult for any small business to survive, let alone expand, as Cabello was in the process of doing when Covid-19 brought many industries to a halt. And the pandemic hit Black and Mobile hard. In early March, the company had expanded its delivery services to include more than 25 restaurants in a new city, Detroit. Two weeks later, stay-at-home orders led all but six of them to close. The 25-year-old self-taught entrepreneur made the difficult decision to temporarily suspend his company’s services there just weeks after they’d started.
But these difficult times have also brought Black and Mobile its share of good fortune, though Cabello struggles with how it was gained. In late May, when news of the police killing of George Floyd led to nationwide protests, Cabello’s business saw an unexpected shift. Alongside widespread calls for criminal justice reform, people began encouraging others to support Black-owned businesses to help Black communities achieve economic justice. Even amid competition from much larger delivery services like DoorDash and Uber Eats, Cabello’s business soared. In June, Black and Mobile more than quadrupled its average weekly sales.
The company even caught the attention of Pharrell Williams and Jay-Z, landing Cabello and his brother and business partner, Aaron, a cameo in their music video for a song aptly titled “Entrepreneur.”
Now Cabello is charting a path forward. Despite economic instability in many regions, he’s continuing Black and Mobile’s expansion in Atlanta and Detroit. And he remains hopeful that the generous support his business has received will continue in better times.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
You launched your business in February 2019. How difficult was it to manage such a major crisis in your first year of business?
It was very hard because I didn’t have any other major Black-owned businesses like mine to turn to for advice. I had to teach myself about a lot of things. I couldn’t go to my competitors and ask, “How did you get through this?”
Why was it so important for you to work exclusively with other Black-owned businesses?
This was very important to me because I believe we need to circulate our dollar. So many times in the Black community, we get money and then it goes outside of our community to other businesses, restaurants, and stores. Money doesn’t circulate long enough in our community.
But also, everyone needs to know where Black businesses are. A lot of people didn’t know about the Black-owned businesses that we post up and promote. That’s an issue. And that’s why I wanted to create a way for people to find them and then be able to support them right away.
What challenges did your business face due to the pandemic, and how did you overcome them?
Ultimately, we had to pull out of Detroit because of Covid, because a lot of restaurants just weren’t open. And then when we were trying to expand into Atlanta, we experienced some technical issues with our app that delayed that process and made us lose some money.
But we also had a lot of blessings. I got a $12,500 [pandemic-related] grant from the Small Business Administration (SBA). And just recently, I won $25,000 from the NAACP and Daymond John at Black Entrepreneurs Day. So I’ve been able to pull in a little bit of money from different resources to help us stay afloat.
How did it feel to get so much attention amid the protests after the death of George Floyd?
When I saw the amount of orders we were getting, just from Covid happening, I was surprised. And then when George was murdered, unfortunately there were a lot of people that supported us in that moment for the first time. It was a good thing to see the potential of the business, but it was also overwhelming, emotionally. I didn’t like how, once he was murdered, other companies and people wanted to support Black businesses and Black people like things like this weren’t happening to us long before George Floyd. So it was bittersweet.
I definitely didn’t like the way we were being treated like a trend that’s going to fade away, but it was a celebration in the sense that it made people wake up and unify and do better.
Your business is part of the gig economy, meaning that the people that work with you don’t receive the health benefits or financial security that typically comes with traditional jobs. How do you work to ensure your drivers are compensated fairly and that they feel valued, despite their independent work status?
We have about 120 employees in Philadelphia, about 140 in Atlanta, and about 60 in Detroit, and they’re all independent contractors. We did a survey of all the drivers asking, “Would you rather be an independent contractor or W-2 employee?” and a majority of them chose independent contract work because they liked the flexibility of working whenever they want.
I also try to help my drivers as much as I can. We use group chats in all our cities so the drivers can communicate directly with me and my team. If a driver has a problem, like if their car dies or they need an advance on their pay, I try to help them as best as I can. That’s what makes me different. You couldn’t go to Uber and ask them to front you some gas money.
But it’s a fine line. If you need a helping hand, I’m here to help you, but I also have a business to run. I just try to keep an open line of communication to keep that personal relationship going.
Considering the challenges you’ve faced throughout the pandemic and in your first year of business, what advice would you offer to other small business owners?
Don’t take it too personal if you hear “no.” I heard no all the time. People have said I couldn’t do this or that. Just don’t take it personal, and don’t let that affect you.
And you have to be prepared to work hard. If you’re not going to work hard every day, seven days a week, for unlimited hours, you’re not ready to be successful.