Davonne Reaves is not your typical 34-year-old.
Last year, Reaves and her former college roommate turned business partner, Jessica Myers, brokered a historic $8.3 million deal to acquire a Hilton hotel. Through this deal, Reaves says they became the youngest Black women to co-own a hotel under a major hotel chain.
Investing in a hotel may seem like a faraway dream, and for most Black people, it’s an even bigger stretch. “Only 2% of hotel owners are African-Americans, and less than 1% are Black women,” said Reaves. But she is determined to change the narrative.
Reaves is a 14-year veteran of the hospitality industry, and in 2017 founded The Vonne Group, which provides coaching, courses, and advice about hotel investing, raising capital, and becoming a hotel owner. Reaves also sits on the board of her alma mater, Georgia State University’s Cecil B. Day School of Hospitality. But her path hasn’t been without challenges.
From Front Desk Agent to Hotel Owner
While attending college, Reaves worked as a front desk agent at a Hyatt hotel in Atlanta, which sparked her interest in hospitality. After graduating with a degree in sociology, she wanted to explore the corporate side of the business, but felt she lacked the financial skills that would make her a strong candidate for certain positions. Reaves accepted an unpaid internship to learn the skills she needed.
“That was my introduction to financial analysis, feasibility studies, and the investment side of hotels,” she said.
In 2017, after a few years in Boston and several positions with different organizations, Reaves took the biggest risk of her career and left the corporate world. “I’m continuously building other people’s brands, making other people wealthy,” she said, which led to a realization: “Why don’t I take that same initiative, drive, passion, hard work ethic and put it within my company?”
Reaves now lives in Atlanta and in 2019, she partnered with Jessica Myers to form the Epiq Collective, a real estate venture which pools community resources together to invest in commercial real estate deals. Through Epiq Collective, and in partnership with Nassau Investments, Reaves and Myers closed the deal to acquire a Home2 Suites by Hilton in El Reno, Oklahoma, in 2020.
Hotel Ownership as a Black Woman
At the Vonne Group, Reaves kickstarted the 221 initiative, her mission to create 221 Black hotel owners and investors in 2021. “I hope my story will inspire people to not only think big, but also think about hotel investing and ownership as a possibility,” she said.
Outside of buying a hotel, there are other ways to invest, like hotel real estate investments trusts (REITs), which allow investors to add hotels to their portfolio in a similar way they would add stocks or bonds. “I want more people to look at hotel investing as a way to diversify their retirement portfolio and build generational wealth,” she said.
According to the National Association of Black Hotel Owners, Operators and Developers (NABHOOD), Black people hold 1.5% of positions at the director level and above, with only 0.5% of those positions held by Black women.
Reaves didn’t get to the top by chance. Here’s her advice for young professionals interested in building wealth and following their dreams:
1. Follow the Blueprint
If you’re interested in a certain career path, seek out people who have accomplished what you aspire to do and follow in their footsteps. “Find out what they did to get where they are and mimic their trajectory,” said Reaves, even if those examples are few and far between.
2. Find What You’re Already Good at — Then Improve It
It’s tempting to follow trends when you’re trying to increase your income. Resist the urge, says Reaves, because you’ll find more success by leaning into your natural talents and sharpening those skills. “Don’t follow the money. Follow your purpose,” she said. “If you don’t know your purpose, figure out what you are good at and focus on that.”
3. Invest in Yourself
Continuing to learn about your industry is critical if you want to become better at what you do. Spend time to educate yourself, and when you can afford it, spend money on your education, too. “Sometimes people can get frustrated that other people don’t invest in them,” said Reaves. “But if you don’t invest in yourself, why should anybody invest in you?”
4. Create Your Investment Thesis
When you’re financially ready to invest, it’s necessary to find your focus. Many opportunities will be tempting, but having an investment thesis — a blueprint for your goals — will help sort through the best opportunities for you. “Determine what you want to invest in, whether you want to be an active or passive investor, and what type of return you are looking for,” she said.
5. Don’t Recreate the Wheel — Take It to the Next Level
Find something to improve, whether that’s a product, service, or lesson that you learned. After her grandmother passed away a few years ago, Reaves committed to honoring her by taking what she learned from her to the next level. “My grandmother believed in always keeping a paid-off house in the family,” she said. “I want to expand on her legacy and teach my son to have at least one paid-off hotel in the family.”
With her mission to help more people follow in her footsteps, Reaves provides an example to those who didn’t think hotel ownership was possible due to lack of representation in the industry. Her journey is an inspiration to dream big — and to put action behind your dreams.