Full Transcript: Rodney Sampson, Founder Of HBCU@SXSW And Opportunity Hub, On GHOGH Podcast
In the sixth episode of the GHOGH podcast with Jamarlin Martin, Rodney Sampson — the founder of HBCU@SXSW and the Atlanta-based Opportunity Hub — discusses investing in Atlanta blockchain startups Storj and Patientory, and the importance of connecting HBCU endowments to Black tech.
He also covers the intersectionality of oppression, discrimination against people of faith in Silicon Valley, and holding SV leaders accountable for inequality.
You can listen to the entire conversation right now in the audio player below. If you prefer to listen on your phone, GHOGH with Jamarlin Martin is available wherever you listen to podcasts — including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, YouTube, and SoundCloud.
This is a full transcript of the conversation which has been lightly edited for clarity.
Jamarlin Martin: You’re listening to GHOGH with Jamarlin Martin. We have a go-hard-or-go-home approach as we talk to the leading tech leaders, politicians and influencers. Let’s GHOGH! We’re talking with Rodney Samson, the founder and CEO of Opportunity Hub. We’re going to dive right in on GHOGH. Rodney, tell me a little bit about your personal story separate from the business. Where you’re from, what’s your background?
Rodney Sampson: Absolutely. First and foremost, it’s a pleasure to be here with you at South by Southwest (SXSW) at HBCU@SXSW. Thank you for all of your work and contribution to the innovation and entrepreneurship economy as well. So, native of Atlanta, Georgia from a technology perspective, well I go back to eight, nine years old, you know, you flip through the Sears catalog, we all flipped through and we checked everything we wanted for Christmas and we weren’t going to get everything for Christmas or what have you. And I stumbled upon this thing called a computer and actually checked it off. And actually, my mother, my grandparents got it for me. Now of course this was pre-cassette, where if you turned the computer off, you lost your code. Shortly after that, I don’t know if you remember the cassette tape recorders, where you save your code. You actually played it. It sounded like they were scratching back.
Anyway, so that was my entry, I guess, as a young developer, as a technologist. And so, fast forward from the entrepreneurial side, I attended Tulane University in New Orleans for undergraduate and started my, I would say, second business there, like formal business. Then when I was in med school at Penn State, I actually started a restaurant. And so, in 1998 I was a newlywed and my wife and I moved back to Atlanta, Georgia and that’s where I came up with the concept for Multicast Media Networks and StreamingFaith.com, which was my first tech company in 2000. That was one of the companies that I actually experienced an exit from, my co-founders and I started that company at that time really as a go-to market founder. And so, in 2000 there was not a lot of conversation about diversity and inclusion and equity in technology. Then in Atlanta there was definitely conversation about access to government contracts and minority representation at corporations, so there was a conversation about it, but in those days it was very nascent in terms of black tech founders. So there was Omar Wasow and BlackPlanet. Clarence Wooten was around, we all sort of looked up to Emmit McHenry, I don’t know if you know his story about Network Solutions or what have you. So, very nascent in terms of just this concept of a black tech co-founder. And so that was the beginning of my journey, I guess the intersectionality of technology and entrepreneurship.
Jamarlin Martin: Ok got it. Do you have a history in the black church?
Rodney Sampson: I do. I grew up in the church, actually a very traditional Pentecostal apostolic church, very rooted in its own traditions, there’s actually a scripture that says ‘the traditions of men make the word of no effect’. And so a very traditional organization but rooted there, family then transitioned to a more non-denominational open type of environment. I have four uncles that pastor or are pastors and from a creative perspective, I was a musician actually. So my first instrument was the violin, then piano, organ, keyboard. So I actually found myself playing at churches and then I start getting pay for it. I was like, ‘oh, this is a thing that you go play and you get paid for it’. So that’s a whole space. I don’t talk a lot about it more because I’m kind of semi-retired.
Jamarlin Martin: And did you ever preach?
Rodney Sampson: I have preached. So if you go to YouTube, you’ll find some of my messages that have been archived or up there. And actually in 2010, I was consecrated a bishop in a organization, and not a traditional bishop, that pastor in a church, they call it a suffragan bishop. And that’s a role that you focus on some type of space. And I was focused on economics and worked in that space for a few years trying to bring economic opportunities through the traditional system, with not much success.
Jamarlin Martin: At Rodney’s event yesterday – thanks very much for the invite to moderate the panel on building rocket ships. But I had a chance for the first time to listen to you. And when you talk, you come across as someone, where, you’re talking about inequality, diversity, the wealth gap, but you talk with a certain conviction where it’s a lot different than some of the other stuff you hear out there where, I believe our people kind of need maybe for some of the economic principles that possibly be wrapped up in a type of a religious-style message.
Rodney Sampson: And if you listen long enough, you’ll see us is there. I look at everything through an economic lens. So I even look at the Bible in an economic sense. They actually recorded more scriptures in the Bible on business and doing business than any scriptures about heaven, hell, sin, etc.
So my lens is always looking at it, and it’s a challenge because you know, there’s a human complexity to it, but if we go down this path, so in Genesis it says, man and woman were created in the image of God and we traditionally think about that in a human construct. We think of a human image and we look at the example of a God and us in terms of humanity, and if you look at the fundamental construct of Christianity, we’ll go down this road for a minute. When you simplify everything and all the minutia is to become like Christ, right? We mostly look at becoming like Christ and his humanity. We have not explored becoming like Christ in his divinity. So if you study the divinity of a universal creator, there’s this omnipotent power, there’s this omniscient all knowing, this omnipresence.
And so I’ve extrapolated and built a framework or principles to live by that are universal. For instance, omnipotent power is not outside of ourselves. I talk about this and your manifest destiny was one of my books, ‘Seven and a half words to transform your future’, and many times, even as a community, we’re looking outside of ourselves. We are actually looking back to those who have from an institutional perspective, personal and even interpersonal perspective, have oppressed us as a people globally. We look back to them for the answers to our own economic liberation and so when you see yourself with omnipotence from a ephemeral or spiritual perspective, then you understand that everything you need to fulfil your definitive purpose, or definitive purpose as Napoleon Hill talks about, is already inside of you and us personally, is inside of us as a community.
So I translate that. When you talk about all knowing omniscient, just look at where technology’s going now and how at its accelerated pace, what artificial intelligence is doing and what quantum computing is, is starting to manifest. The thought that you could have access to all information at one time, but in all times, you know, just kind of like this consolidation of history as a precedent for the future. And we see as technology proliferates and that’s important because history is precedence for the future. If you don’t know your history, you definitely don’t know where you’re going. So again, just translating that to practical content. And then the final one is this omnipresence, right? And I think even when we wrap our human minds around the divinity of God, and ultimately I make the case for innovation for us as a people and us as humans is because we are created in the image, and not so much a human image but a divine universal image. And I’ll close this piece with that.
So inside of that omnipresence, we tend to think about the impact of a creator or universal being or God impacting one time or one construct. And I expand that to suggest that this creator exists in all times at the same time. And if that creator were not in that time, that time could not exist. And so it broadens our construct by understanding the undefinable one. And if we understand it as the basis and foundation just for living life, business entrepreneurship and wealth creation, then we understand that and undefinable one that’s bigger than even this ever-expanding universe, we have that undefinable one has all knowledge, all power and all presence. And because of that, innately the case of creating something from nothing, solving problems, and turning it into something that actually could create multi-generational wealth is not so far-fetched.
So that’s the foundation. And when you have that foundation, hacking racial bias in AI, you know, corporate culture, you can survive any culture and you can, those of us who have built businesses, you know, most people think about institutionalized racism and discrimination work in a job, they don’t understand how it is embedded in term sheets and how valuations have shifted. I offer you one deal to buy your company, and you walk in the room, when I understand you’re a person of color than the valuation changes, right? And so the level of institutionalized racism increases the higher we quote-unquote go up. And if you don’t know who you are as just a grounded person, then you will be destructed just going through the process.
Jamarlin Martin: Yeah, that’s a good point. And a good lead into divorcing race from this question. Do you feel like there’s a significant amount of discrimination against black people of faith and tech? In terms of the perception and you know, you’re not going to raise through the ranks because you know, you’re not going out, possibly partying as late as everybody else, drinking as much as everybody else. Moreso the ride or die Christians in terms of what type of politics is going on there.
Rodney Sampson: You really taking me back. I mean, you know, building Multicast Media and Streaming Faith, it was interesting that that was an industry that had been created where there were these tech companies that were focused on faith and spirituality. And I remember like Christianity.com, you know, getting $40,000,000 on a napkin because a young man came in, not me, came in, pitched, and the man was like, man, I just felt like I was led to do this. Wrote a check. That same person couldn’t go to Sand Hill Road, they, couldn’t and we’ve seen the articles come out about these super parties. These super exclusive parties or what have you. He might not even get invited so he wouldn’t be in the network. What have you. That’s number one, not being in the network and having access to the relationships. Number two is they don’t understand the economics of it.
And so when I looked at a church, I said, well, that’s a business and that business is an enterprise and that enterprise needs software as a service. It wasn’t even called software as a service. That’s like what software as a service they go to service. So you know, let’s do service as a service. And so I looked at it that way, but we were an isolated a bunch in those days. I think to be honest with you, between 2000 and probably 2012, in terms of diversity-led, faith-based led startup, Streaming Faith was the only one that got traction. Removing race and culture, if we can do it, it was an isolated niche. But when I saw what some of my white brothers and sisters were doing, Salem, Rick Killingsworth, these guys, Christianity.com, OnePlace.com, and they would raise in 20, 30, $40,000,000 back then. A lot of it was with altruism, you know, and spirituality connected to it. I was walking through the hotel today and noticed that there actually was a South by Southwest faith-based technology, kind of niche, small, but there was no representation.
Jamarlin Martin: Do you think it’s fair to say that for the ride or die black Christian in the tech establishment, they’re essentially kind of forcing you to shut up and dribble in terms of waving who you are? I believe in Jesus Christ, that’s what flag I’m throwing up. I’m not throwing up the money flag. I’m not throwing up all this other stuff. You guys are talking about I’m throwing up Jesus Christ. I got to think that in the culture out there, you’re looked down upon, ‘you’re backwards, you’re old school, we not inviting you out’. And so there’s a lot of that stuff.
Rodney Sampson: I went through that phase, you know what’s interesting is what I’ve learned now is when you got the goods, so you got what people want, it’s amazing what they put aside. We had a house yesterday. We’ll have one tomorrow. We had open bar rap music, food drinks, party and dancing. Next week I’m speaking at one of the big mega churches in this country, you know, 20,000 members in Chicago…
Jamarlin Martin: Yeah, I’m more talking about for the engineer or employee at like a Facebook or a Google, I should have been more specific, more so inside the establishment.
Rodney Sampson: If you don’t wanna, you know, do lines, snort coke. You know, hit on girls or guys without permission. You know, it’s like this culture, you hear about some of the stuff coming in like square, folks isolate you, I mean the peer pressure to be in the in-crowd. I mean, let me think about the archetype of a lot of our colleagues, engineers or what have you. They were picked upon, bullied along the way, now they got tech resources. They are in charge now and it’s like they’re creating this in-crowd. They were ostracized and now they’re the cool kids. Right? And so these are the cool kids’ rules. If you don’t do this or that, then you know, so if you are open about your spirituality or if you’re not, you’re just like, ‘nah, I don’t want to go have a beer and I don’t want to have debt’. You could run into some serious issues.
Jamarlin Martin: So as you know, there’s been a lot of discussion and litigation from a white males in Silicon Valley, specifically where they’re saying, ‘hey, we’re discriminated against because we’re more conservative’. Now for black conservatives, particularly people coming out of the church, ride or die Christians, do you believe that discrimination is there and it’s also valid for black Christians out there in Silicon Valley?
Rodney Sampson: I think it’s valid for just black people, period. It’s the intersectionality of oppression. You layer on color, race, southern dialect, geographical issues, gender, sexuality, disability. It never ends. Right? And it just amazes me, you know, Silicon Valley is such a false meritocracy. The idea that the best ideas rise to the top. No, they don’t. I’m even questioning whether the best ideas in America rise to the top anymore. Genius is evenly distributed, but opportunity isn’t. And there are folks that are building stuff and solving problems that are not even having the opportunity to get turned down.
Jamarlin Martin: It brings to mind. In the community our people would always say, ‘I knew a guy who was better than Jordan. He just never got the opportunity’. You believe that applies to tech?
Rodney Sampson: Absolutely. I mean if you just look at this planet and you know, I believe ideas to solve problems come to the universe. The person who created the straw, there were probably several people who came up with the straw. Someone decided to build it and take it to market, and the person who took it to market had the means to get it to market. I said this yesterday, we live in an era that is definitely not equitable, looking at the statistics and I don’t want to use time up regurgitating the data because there’s a lot of thought leadership around data regurgitation and it’s really no solutions tied to that. So I don’t want to do that, but for the first time in history, the opportunity to create multi-generational wealth with no reliance on pre-existing multi-generational wealth exists.
Jamarlin Martin: If you like what you’re hearing, you can check us out at Moguldom.com. That’s M O G U L D O M .com. That’s Moguldom.com. We have the latest information on tech, crypto, the business of Hollywood and economic empowerment. You can also check me out on Twitter at Jamarlin Martin. Let’s get back to the podcast.
Jamarlin Martin: You know, there’s a lot of folks out there who talk about diversity and inclusion, but you don’t hear a lot of voices calling out specific names and institutions. So we have this discriminatory culture and there’s a diversity problem. There’s a discrimination problem, but there’s no names or institutions attached to the discussion. So you have a bad culture. We don’t like that culture. We don’t like the outcomes of that culture, but there are no individuals, leaders or institutions who are on the hook. My point of view is a lot of that comes from our economic insecurity where folks, in varying degrees, you need to shut up and dribble or you gonna miss a check or two or you won’t get a check at all. So how do we go beyond talking about the fact that there’s a problem of diversity and inclusion, but we need to start holding people, institutions accountable. This culture is not coming from some spook or some ghosts, right? There’s people who are perpetuating this. Who are they?
Rodney Sampson: Well, to be candid, they’re some of the founders of some of my sponsors and partners . I partner with these companies. But I evolved long time ago and I guess when you achieve certain levels of success, and part of the success in meetings and other side of it, you just don’t care anymore because you wanna live your truth.The companies, the Facebooks, the Googles, you know, they write us checks, and when you look at how they have literally just monopolized. And that’s what I was about to say, my grandfather and my grandmother came from a different era. Things were different then, times were different then. These 24, 34-year-old immigrants to America that literally adopted inside of their subculture, the same archetypes of a Jim Crow-era. They exclusion there. And that’s why when we have conversations, I have an onboarding with our partners and sponsors. And I say, listen, you’re going to come to this program and you may hear some things that are uncomfortable because we’re going to speak our truth. And if that’s a problem and you need to to hold your check, that’s fine. You know, I’ll write the check.
Jamarlin Martin: One of your supporters is the sister of Mark Zuckerberg, Randi Zuckerberg, is that correct?
Rodney Sampson: No. Chan Zuckerberg, Mark’s wife Priscilla. I’ve never met Randi.
Jamarlin Martin: Chan Zuckerberg? You’re in deep. Uh, so Chan Zuckerberg now. So she’s supporting you?
Rodney Sampson: I never met her by the way.
Jamarlin Martin: Oh, you never met her? OK, so just kind of a distance program.
Rodney Sampson: The head of diversity went to Morehouse, one of your Morehouse brothers, and he’s around and Maurice was hired through Jim Shelton, who was an Obama cabinet secretary of Education, and Jim runs education at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.
Jamarlin Martin: So I want to talk about your new vision, which is an extension of your prior work. You’ve been out here in these streets for a long time. You’ve been consistent, you’ve been one of the early pioneers in this type of work. How did you come about the idea of Opportunity Hub?
Rodney Sampson: This is a part of solving the problems and challenges of when I was a founder, number one, and then number two, high growth technology careers, or in high demand technology careers rather, and high growth entrepreneurship is the most accelerated path out of poverty and income inequality, and the basis is encapsulated in Kingonomics, my latest book. Latest meaning it’s the latest one in five years because ‘Kingonomics: Twelve Innovative Currencies for Transforming Your Business And Life’, inspired by Dr Martin Luther King Jr. That book took me two years to write and I often tell people it was released in late 2012 early 2013. It took two years to write. It was really what I was thinking in 2007, so by the time it came out in 2013, I’m thinking somewhere else now, but it provides great context in terms of how can access to the innovation, entrepreneurship and innovation economy, we call it the ecosystem for socially disadvantaged communities that had been traditionally locked out of other industries, if we can get in those industries and build opportunities or build our own ecosystem, we can disrupt poverty in the wealth gap.
But so for the first year when the book came out, we hosted these large scale conferences. Largest one might have been 2000 people simultaneously. I’d taken a role on the production staff of Mark Burnett Productions, ie. Sharktank. I diversified Sharktank, negotiated Troy Carter’s deal as a guest shark there, started the minority casting calls that values, partnerships and branding are continuing on now. And so it helped us build those conferences. We would do casting calls at conferences. Thousands of people would show up and so I did my own customer discovery and said, ‘if you were inspired by Kingonomics and you want to create wealth through innovation, through entrepreneurship, through investment, what do you believe you require?’
First thing was just a collaborative workspace or safe space to build without the every day interruptions of personal bias. Meaning, when I go to predominantly white tech hubs it’s nothing for the founders and I’ve been there. The owner of a tech hub goes to another tech hub space and I’m walking through and someone asks, ‘can I help you? Do you know where you’re going or where’s the restroom is?’ And it’s like, bro, I’m a founder, and folks were like, could we just have a space? It’s hard enough building a company, right? Can I just have a space where I don’t have to deal with that? When I walk in it’s like Wakanda up in here? Right? And so we created that safe space. The second thing was, ‘I need mentorship not from retired professionals and people who’ve actually never built a business. They may have some insight on when you’re scaling a company in terms of systems, tell me how to build something from nothing. Tell me how you failed. Tell me how you close your first term, your first contract, your first service level agreement, how’d you hire your first person?’ And so we created these mentors, a mentor in residence program. Third thing was ‘I need to understand how to navigate the ecosystem. How do I navigate the entrepreneurial ecosystem? How do I compensate advisors? What’s the different between a mentor and advisor?
When should a mentor evolve to an advisor and when should they have advisor’s shares? What is the cap table, right? All of these nuances, right? And so we added all those programs, pre-accelerator, incubator, started making investment, and so we literally started doing everything that we didn’t have access to back in 2001, from 2000 to 2010. We didn’t have access to it and that’s how Opportunity Hub was born, as the manifestation of Kingonomics, but also to provide to others what had not been provided to me.
Jamarlin Martin: Ok. Explain Opportunity Hub in terms of what your core focus is in terms of the business application to my grandma in Watts, California.
Rodney Sampson: Basically, you pay to get on a platform like a subscription in some shape, form or fashion, and we connect you with the innovation economy, to the exposure. So we’re at HBCU@SXSW, we’re exposing our customers, which are actually sponsored by companies, so they didn’t have to pay, to the innovation economy, to the startup entrepreneurial ecosystem. Number one. Second is access to the knowledge, the vetted knowledge from people who’ve actually done it. Not people who have speculated about it, but people who have done it.
Jamarlin Martin: So essentially, just like Harvard is getting their checks, Stanford is getting their checks, I’m providing knowledge value where, hey we need our checks too.
Rodney Sampson: Absolutely. Then we go a little deeper in terms of like some of our software development programs gets you hard skills in java, java script, one day it’ll be Solidity on blockchain, entrepreneurial skills as well. You know, I have a thesis, to withdraw from an ecosystem, you have to invest in the ecosystem and I believe that you should invest in yourself to get access to this information when it’s various levels of subscription. And It goes back to the fundamental business model of a co-working space, it’s a membership. You pay a membership and you get access. So my first iteration was you get space and mentors. Now we’ve got six years of hindsight, having built out four campuses in that period of time, which is pretty accelerated. Some look to us like the godfather of black tech hubs and it’s like, ok, as long as we can mentor and there’s a network of people that we’ve now assembled that are doing similar things like this. And they looked to us for mentorship. We’re now saying productize it, decentralize it. And so now we’re essentially building technology so that they don’t have to come to Atlanta and get a membership, that they literally can go on their phone, their tablet, web app or college campus and be a part of the Opportunity Hub and be on ramp to the innovation economy.
Jamarlin Martin: One thing I find unique about your leadership is I look at you, you have the experience of an elder, but you’re also on the front end of blockchain innovation where you guys have been doing a lot of interesting things in Atlanta. You’re connected to a lot of the blockchain founders out of Atlanta that have raised capital with ICOs. Tthat kind of combination of, hey, I have an extensive operational management experience, but at the same time I know my stuff on blockchain, and I’m at the start of this. I’m pretty much embedded in this new evolving industry.
Rodney Sampson: I’ve never been fearful of tuition and for many people tuition is in the form of an investment check that many times we know most high-growth startups fail, they never make it. And why do we continue to invest? Because we learn, we meet new people, we get access to the experts that have been there, because they’re the experts and they’re busy, but they respond to a check. And so I’ve been in a position either personally or through the funds that I’m invested in to write checks in early blockchain companies. But I go back, I think about my formal education through Penn State and Keller. And then I look at the education I got from my failed startups where we lost money. I look at the education from conferences that might have costs seven and $10,000. And people say, ‘well, do you pay that to go to a conference? It’s only going to be 60 people’, and to that I say, yeah, but I want to meet the other 60 people who dropped 10k. Because then I built that network. I’ve never been afraid to pay tuition and so I look at angel investing or investing as tuition and if I get a return on my investment then that becomes extra and then we pivot to the next.
So I was able, because of having built this ecosystem, and one of the things when you build a tech hub, the founders come looking for you because they may have domain expertise in their science or the problem they’re solving, but all the other things we talked about, they absolutely have no idea. So they come looking. We say ‘build it, they will come. In this one instance, besides the pyramids, in this one instance, it seemed like we built something that they will come to and then I’m responsive to, ‘wait, what did you say you saw? ok that could change the world’. So like, meeting Shawn Wilkinson at Storj and being able to get in his deal. And then Patientory. And I’m like, this is happening right here in Atlanta. And I saw…
Jamarlin Martin: How much did Storj and Patientory raise? Both black founders. How much did they raise total in aggregate on their ICOs?
Rodney Sampson: There is aggregate and then there’s approximate value today, right? So Shawn raised 30,000,000 on his token sale when Ether was at $200, little under $200. Patientory raised 7,200,000 and what I think a lot of people may not be considering, a lot of folks on the first startup, right? And they go into it to get an exit or to create a lifestyle. What we’ve noticed is that within the span of three days or seven days with Storj and three days with Patientory, they’ve done two things. They’ve created multi-generational wealth for themselves and their families with the reserves they have from the token sales and the value. Think about it, Ether went from 200 to almost over thousand, went to a thousand by the end of the year. So think about Shawn having 30,000,000 in Ether. What does 30,000,000 Ether go to? 200 right? Multi-generational wealth. And then shannon sends out this letter to shareholders and says, I just want to let you know we have a 100 years of runway. So having the capital to then actually build the product, so he’s committed to solving the problem, but multi-generational wealth is behind him. It’s like I went into the future, became wealthy, and came back in seven days to still build this company to help you.
Jamarlin Martin: Yeah. So you know, you’re out here preaching this mission in terms of economic justice, self empowerment for black people. Do you believe there are culture vultures out there including black folks where they’re talking a lot about economic justice and diversity, but they’re like the cv for a rapper? I don’t know if you remember that movie … kind of a fake in a way that was produced by the record industry. Do you believe there’s a lot of fake stuff out there who are looking to kind of capitalize on these ongoing issues, but you know, different from you. They’re not writing checks. They’re not actually investing, putting money at risk in terms of solving the problem, like you’re doing. Do you see some of that stuff out there, or not so much?
Rodney Sampson: Every industry has it and what I resolved is there’s an over abundance of inspiration and somewhat how to, but there’s not a lot of execution and I try to rationalize with balance that there’s some folks that are to expose, there’s some to educate, some to connect, some to fund. We happen to be in a unique position where we operate across all four dimensions. We’re exposing people, we are educating people, we’re helping them get placed in jobs. We’re building these ecosystems to connect them with resources and to encourage them to build resources and then we’re writing checks and then building check networks. Building syndicates. And like Janice Bryant Howard, who was with us, everything at this point is intentional…
Jamarlin Martin: Can you tell our audience who Janice is?
Rodney Sampson: Yes, Janice Bryant Howard and her husband started ActOne Global in the sixties and does billions of dollars a year in staffing and staffing software and staffing consulting through the Act1 Group.
Jamarlin Martin: Some of you may know a portfolio company called AppleOne, that’s in their portfolio.
Rodney Sampson: Absolutely, AppleOne is their staffing company. And this is Janice’s second year and Janice knows this. I’m cultivating women and men like Janice to be our 10, 20, 30, 40, $50,000,000 VCs. Two years ago I had the iconic Mack Wilbourn, who had the first McDonald’s franchise, in the seventies awarded to him, and now the highest grossing Popeye’s. Matt came to South By Southwest two years ago and now he’s investing in tech startups, venture syndicates, funds, etc, because I think innately if you are a successful entrepreneur that has benefited from the blood, sweat and tears policies in government contracting 8(A) certification, minority supplier development and the like, you have a responsibility to pay it forward and you should invest it in and perhaps make some money. So to answer your question specifically, are there those that are culture vultures and all they want to do is inspire you, lead you to the well and offer you no water there, or are they just new at this where they think that’s enough? I’m trying to figure it out. Right? And having spent time talking to people and discerning, you know, kind of like reading. I don’t know for sure. So I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt until proven, but because they’re younger and they’re getting more access to money and capital, they’ve got to catch up faster. What took me 20 years should take them three, so it’s not enough to expose, connect. There’s a lot of. We have too many pop-up events and networkIng, by the time you come out of college or the time you get your certification to code or sale to do something, you should be almost through the pop-up. You should be so busy doing your business. You should go to a pop-up for 30 minutes just to meet one person to speak and leave. Not making your career networking and your business on the side.
And so I think we have to elevate from that to the actual company building work and as the evolution. I have 20 years of hindsight and then I have a wife who speaks into me and watches me and advises me and has a lot of this as well. A lot of these folks who don’t have that covering in that partnership, so I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt today, but I’m going to be watching three to five years because what happens when they can push a hashtag further and they could push media a little bit further and they can get the community swell and they’re not actually doing that work that is critical. It hurts us in the long term.
Jamarlin Martin: Or they might not even have the conviction, it’s just a profit opportunity. Hey, you know, we are in a America right, so…
Rodney Sampson: That’s right. And I think we want to be profitable. Then you cannot disconnect particularly in our community, profits without immediate or simultaneous social impact. It’s not enough for us to do it yourself for yourself.
Jamarlin Martin: Can you talk a little bit about how you’ve handled criticism from within the community where you’re very vocal, you’re doing your thing, you’re not following anybody, but you know, I noticed on Twitter there was a little Twitter beef with another a person doing work out there. How have you handled criticism?
Rodney Sampson: Yeah. That was interesting. You know, normally I wouldn’t have been engaged, but it was because it was a younger lady involved and I felt like some bullying was going on.
Jamarlin Martin: But why bully you? What was the thing?
Rodney Sampson: Well folks come for me and I’m used to it, right? And they weren’t so much bullying me. There are folks in the culture who feel like there should be autonomy around their intersection. This is my block, you know, I’m helping black women, I’m helping latinas. You a man, stay out of that. And I’m like, well, I got a wife with children.
Jamarlin Martin: Would you describe that as a hood mentality because, ‘yeah, it’s my block and there’s not enough room, you know, you’re kind of coming over on my territory?’
Rodney Sampson: There’s a lot of Killmonger in all of this, you know what I mean, to me it’s like I’m on access and you know, I’ll fight you for it. Forget all that other stuff. So yeah, it’s a lot of that, unfortunately.
Jamarlin Martin: You know my background is in digital media. I’ve been in the industry for over 10 years, but it’s important for us as a people, as you know, that there’s not enough crumbs to be fighting for it. We gotta be thinking about the big picture in terms of alliances and one thing I struggle with is I see some criticisms of certain folks out there, but you’re going to call up the name of this activist or this leader, this scholar, but you won’t call out the names of Mark Zuckerberg. You won’t call out the names of white folks. Why? Why is that?
Rodney Sampson: Some folks need rent paid. Some folks still want to be the only one in spaces. If I integrate a space which is in tech, you know, we’re still literally integrating spaces. I’m in the room when I’m meeting people, I’m like, I just really need to meet one person, but if I meet someone who’s another ecosystem builder of color, you know, cause I can’t do it all. Oh, you’re Miami. Oh, ok. I’ll bring you in because you got Miami, you in DC. You got Philly. You got Chicago, you’ve got Seattle, what have you. If we’re going to scale this, I’ve got to have those alliances. We might not always agree on your model versus my model, your branding, how I said something, nuances, right? But when I get into a room, some people want to integrate the room and like close the door behind them and that insecurity is deep rooted in self hatred. It’s a very interesting thing and I don’t think I can hack that piece or what have you, especially in this time here or maybe it’s not my calling to save those people. There are people I believe that want to be in the ecosystem that we got to get to that aren’t nuanced on, you know, ‘man, you got your panel sponsor and they didn’t sponsor your your panel’. We could rate this, you know, we’re the largest inclusive event here. And people troll our panelist and say, hey, you’re in town for so and so. Can you come speak for me? And we ought to be talking because can you split the bill that I had to pay to get them here? Then, you know, let’s crowdsource this thing.
Jamarlin Martin: Yeah. Playing devil’s advocate, what do you say to that brother, sister, when some folks say, ‘hey, this is self hatred, crabs in a barrel, what do you say to that brother or sister who will say this is capitalism and competition, where if you go to any other industry and any other race, this is just natural competition within capitalism. Why are you asking black people to deviate from that where everybody’s going after kind of the same peanut?
Rodney Sampson: Because the average net worth of a black person in 2053 would be zero and it’s … a day. We haven’t arrived. We suffer from arrivism, and we really haven’t arrived. You know, your six-figure job, your 250, your one exit. If you don’t even understand the value of a dollar, you’ll be broke in three years. So I think before we can even have a conversation about subscribing to capitalism and the form that we have been exposed to, we’ve got some problems to solve inside of our community that take money and resources, and these are legitimate concerns. I think we want to have you know, we want to have. We want to take on the persona and archetype of the very oppressor in terms of the oppression that we say we’re hacking. And I think I fundamentally have a problem with that.
Jamarlin Martin: Ok, got it. So I was tweeting the other day about the endowments of Morehouse, Spelman, and Howard being approximately 800,000,000. Why aren’t these endowments, these university endowments, they’re investing in stocks, bonds. Why aren’t they deep in the black tech space? Why aren’t they working with you to develop disruptive investment schemes where they can be more competitive with other universities at the endowment level?
Rodney Sampson: You know, success is the greatest contributor to complacency. That’s what I’ve realized, when you have achieved success, the mecca on top, you become more susceptible to status quo. And your small steps seem innovative where there’s this whole world of disruption. I mean, if you think about it, there’s an amazing opportunity right now to just really reboot our historically black colleges and universities with updated curriculum, internships, apprenticeships, co-op programs, and literally transform the business schools, the managerial sciences, and you look at wanting to have the endowments of like a Stanford or MIT or Harvard. Look at the money that comes into the business school through entrepreneurship and wealth.
Jamarlin Martin: Have you read anything about HBCU investing in black tech equity in terms of being thoughtful and active, and like, we got to play in this space, we don’t need it to be 10 percent of our portfolio allocation, but we have to be playing in this space. We have an advantage…
Rodney Sampson: I don’t think we’re at the writing checks yet. I think they’re still at the ‘can we get a grant to run a program’.
Jamarlin Martin: Is that a welfare mentality in terms of the grant or program to invest in private equity?
Rodney Sampson: I think it’s just what we know, most folks, we have to go deeper and say there’s income and there’s equity. Most of us will go through their entire life, not even thinking about ownership or equity outside of their home.
Jamarlin Martin: But these people are managing in some cases, hundreds of millions of dollars. Howard over half a billion…
Rodney Sampson: And they should have an allocation to alternative investment class and an alternative investment class should include private equity, include seed, it should include venture, it should include blockchain.
Jamarlin Martin: Don’t you think that they would have a competitive advantage if they got deep in the black tech space where they have access to graduates and they’re getting into these companies very early where you turn black into an advantage? Do you think that’s a big opportunity for them?
Rodney Sampson: That’s a huge opportunity. There should be a $100,000,000 fund that if you have an idea that comes through an HBCU or is associated with you got a founder on your team, you should be able to go get capital.
Jamarlin Martin: What do you believe about the statement that, hey, stop crying about Silicon Valley not giving you money and begging Silicon Valley for investment dollars because your HBCU endowments, you know, 800,000,000, your wealthy black people in the United States, they’re not really investing with a mandate to tap black tech, so why are you going to Silicon Valley to ask for white folks to invest more than one percent when your own people won’t do it?
Rodney Sampson: We’re always playing other folks’ games. One thing I do notice is that when we play a game, we win the game. Even if you look at baseball, when we were able to play, when we are able to integrate baseball or football or basketball, whatever game we are allowed to play in, the rules are the same and aren’t changed. When we get in the game, we win, so a part of us, we should be continuing to basically knock down the doors everywhere, pitching everybody, but at the same time it’s a injustice if we do not capitalize on what we already have. Our black churches, one of the largest institutions, we still have collectively and individually in some cases, our black schools absolutely, our black organizations. I was beating the path trying to get these large organizations with deep networks, databases when we were advocating for the jobs at an equity crowdfunding to say you have a crowd of people, do you know if, out of your 100,000 if 10,000 every month would invest 100,000, what we could do?
And there’s stagnation in terms of the level of risk, but what they don’t understand is there are people saying, give me an opportunity to do something that’s never been done before. I’ll take the risk. and so to sum all that up, you know, we talk about the net worth. We’re not talking about the trillion we’re spending at the taxes. How can that repurpose? We’re not talking about the billions that go into the black church that if managed more properly could be almost like workforce funding organizations to fund training and education in our communities for the skills of the future. We simply need to re-position. We’re asking tech companies to transfer 10 percent. We got institutions that could transfer a 10 percent, just a tith or 10 percent, a tith. And so part of my message when I moved, I had to remove myself from the traditional institutions for a season.
Now it’s like Moses had to leave Egypt and go into the desert. He couldn’t have said, you know, Pharaoh let my people go. He had to leave the palace, go into desert, get his stuff together and come back. And now we’re starting to have those conversations again. So when I’m in a room I’m going to have a conversation about, you know, you got a $30,000,000,000 fund. I need an inclusion rider, hashtag inclusion rider, forget representation on panels. Can we get representation on the cap tables? That’s where there’s opportunity. While we had that conversation, can we get you all to pay it forward back home by also helping us build this black tech ecosystem as well.
Jamarlin Martin: Back to looking at the big picture. Black folks, black institutions working together, what probability percentage would you say that there’s a possibility that Morehouse, Howard, Spelman, those endowments will work together on due diligence, on opportunities on knowledge sharing on commissions and fees, where there’s a bigger push at the endowment level to not only outperform on their investment returns, but outperform in terms of giving back to the community. Within the next five years. You would see something like that?
Rodney Sampson: That I believe is an incredible opportunity. We were launching a technology and blockchain lab at Morehouse. We have a pre-accelerator program we’re running with Morehouse now. My wife is a Howard grad and so, my daughter may be going to Spelman. I’m going to make it my business to figure out how to have those conversations at the level, not the level of the president…
Jamarlin Martin: You’re living that life all across the board.
Rodney Sampson: I’m not going to just have the conversation with the president. I need to talk to the board. I need to talk to the major donors who’s writing the check, you know, structure, the ideals. When I take your money, I take your ideas to some degree. I have to listen to you. I have to take you into consideration and I think we’re having a conversation with the wrong people. Were having conversations with folks who are trying to keep their jobs and their status and we need to talk to people who are writing the checks to the institutions to set the precedence, and it has to flow that way and then it also has to come out of the student body. But I’m going to give you $100,000, you know, and four years of my life when I leave here, I expect to be able to contribute to society and not have to worry about poverty, income inequality, because all these other things will remain the same with nuances. We keep repeating some of the same things we should’ve solved as human beings, at least in America.
So I’m going to work. That’s a part of this program. HBCU@ South By Southwest, a thousand students applied. We brought 125. Now we’re launching Opportunity Hub chapters at these schools, we’re not so much working with the administration, we’re working with the students. And then the students are going to the administration and say, we want this. Give us an official chapter. What do you tell your customer? No? And so the students are the customers to the schools and they are our customers, but they are ambassadors and advocates, so there’s working with the students and working with the funders of these institutions.
Jamarlin Martin: Let’s thank Rodney Sampson for coming on GHOGH. You can check out his book, Kingonomics by Rodney Sampson and make sure you pick up a copy, and also check out Opportunity Hub. There’s going to be a lot of opportunities and momentum there. I’m expecting great things.
Thanks everyone for supporting the GHOGH podcast. You can check me out on Twitter at Jamarlin Martin, you can also check us out at Moguldom.com. Be sure to subscribe to our Moguldom newsletter. You’re going to get the latest on crypto, tech, economic empowerment and politics. If you like the show, be sure to go to Moguldom.com. Let’s GHOGH!
This interview has been edited for clarity.