Full Transcript: NewMe Accelerator Founder Angela Benton On GHOGH Podcast
Super-early to Black tech media with BlackWeb 2.0, Benton discusses building her personal brand while being a single mother, battling cancer, and whether or not most of the “diversity” gains in Silicon Valley will go to privileged white women.
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: Let’s GHOGH! Today we have Angela Benton, the founder and CEO of NewMe. Well, let’s dive right in. Angela, how’s it going?
Angela Benton: It’s going great.
Jamarlin Martin: So, we go way back. You’re the pioneer and founder of Black Web 2.0. For the folks out there who weren’t really around, I know we have new concepts such as AfroTech, we have different things going on. Angela started Black Web 2.0. I believe she was before her time almost 10 years ago. Can you talk about starting Black Web 2.0, and do you feel like you get enough credit in terms of you’ve been in this space for a while, fighting for our people, being an advocate? Talk a little bit about that.
Angela Benton: Sure. So I started Black Web 2.0 in 2007 and it was basically a platform for African Americans in technology and we covered the gamut from what black executives were doing in tech to what entrepreneurs were doing, and it was a fun time but it was the very early days. So I feel like it was a group of us that all knew each other, you know what I mean, just from being online and everything and now, flash forward 11 years later and there’s this much bigger community around it. And so it’s exciting to see. And in fact when I go to things like AfroTech or other events and people don’t know who I am, I actually am like, wow, that’s great. I mean, I think a lot of people may feel like slighted or something, but I think your true influence comes from if you are able to influence other people who influence other people, you know what I mean? Your influence is huge at that point. So yeah, it doesn’t bother me as much at all.
Jamarlin Martin: When you were using religious terms, but when you were preaching black tech religion way back in 2007, who else was doing that online? Because I don’t remember anybody else kind of out there.
Angela Benton: Yeah, I don’t think there was anyone else. Well there was no platform. So there were individual people like Lindy Johnson, who was one of the founders of Black Planet. So there were people who were involved in black tech, but there was no platform where everyone was like kind of congregating and people were talking about black people and how we relate to technology in an intelligent fashion. So there wasn’t anything.
Jamarlin Martin: OK, got it. So you were prominent in the CNN special. What was the title of this special?
Angela Benton: That was Black in America, which was … O’Brien’s documentary series that she did for CNN. And the episode that we were in was ‘The Promised Land – Silicon Valley’. And you know, this was around the time accelerators and incubators were just becoming popular around that time. And there was a lot of money flowing in Silicon Valley really at that time for people who just had ideas. Yeah, It really was.
Jamarlin Martin: So how did you get on this program? They saw you in Black Web 2.0? How did that come about?
Angela Benton: Ok. So Black Web 2.0 was like 2007, NewMe was 2011. I had actually just transitioned from Black Web 2.0, I had let my last writer go. I was moving on to something else and I actually didn’t know what that something else was going to be until about a month later and I was reminded that I did a conference the previous year in 2010, the NewMe conference, and this conference, I mean it was small, it was like a summit, we hand-picked 100 entrepreneurs from around the country and the whole idea was to have kind of like a think-tank on how we can get more black entrepreneurs successful in the technology industry. And Don Charlton, who was the founder of a company called The Resumator, or formally The Resumator, now called Jazz. He was working on a different company I think at that time, possibly. Actually, no, I think it was the same company, the Resumator. But anyway, his, feedback was, they have these things called accelerators and incubators, why don’t we do one of those, and I remember thinking when he said it and got up and said it, that wow, that’s a great idea, but that seems like really hard to do, a lot of work. And I didn’t think about it again until March of 2011 when I started the planning process of getting NewMe together. And so really it was just a lot of leg work. I didn’t know anybody in Silicon Valley, running Black Web 2.0, I definitely had connections with people in the technology industry, like between New York, between Silicon Valley, but my connections weren’t on the investment side at all. It was all corporate and stuff like that from basically selling advertising and sponsorship at Black Web 2.0. So when I started reaching out to people and pitching this concept, we ended up getting like a ton of really good feedback from people and people wanting to support and sponsor, which was awesome. And so we were able to raise money to host eight entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley for nine weeks. And throughout that whole process, we got a few articles written about us, one of them was an article written about us in the Wall Street Journal, Venture Wire, which is a trade journal. A producer from CNN had read that article and then reached out to us. So at the time we had a lot of publicity and media and exposure and people would always say, ‘who is your publicist? How did you make all of this happen?’ When you create a lane for yourself and you are authentic to who you are, stuff happens, stuff falls into place that’s supposed to happen because I didn’t have a publicist or anything. It just happened the way that it was supposed to.
Jamarlin Martin: I see you on television, you know, there’s a lot of stuff out there where they’re covering the good work you’re doing. Do you use a PR firm now?
Angela Benton: Yeah, I have a publicist now. I’ve had a publicist for, I would probably say the past five years.
Jamarlin Martin: So folks out there who are looking to build their brand and essentially have opportunities come to them organically, like yourself, what is the best advice for folks out there? Like, ‘Hey, I really want to build my brand and I want to put these pieces together to help my business’.
Angela Benton: I think a lot of people, when they start to talk about building a brand, especially online and in this age of social media, they tend to only think about the aesthetic, right? So what do the Instagram posts look like, or what does my logo look like? And branding is actually so much more than that. I’m obviously very conscious of stuff like that, but I’m also very conscious about the people that I work with and that I partner with. There’s a lot of people that just think the more activity they do, like the further they’ll get, the more successful they’ll get. But I turned a lot of stuff away, you know what I mean? So I think you also have to be mindful about who you want to work with, how you want to work with them and how that partnership will move your own brand forward.
Jamarlin Martin: OK, got it. So you moved to SV from where?
Angela Benton: I was in Charlotte.
Jamarlin Martin: And did you grow up there?
Angela Benton: I didn’t. I grew up in the northern Virginia area and I was living in Maryland before moving to Charlotte and at the time, you know, I was married, had kids and we bought a house in Charlotte. Everyone was moving to Atlanta. So the plan was to buy a house in Atlanta, but we stopped in Charlotte because a lot of people were talking about Charlotte at the time and we settled on Charlotte because it wasn’t as saturated as Atlanta, so it was just kind of weird just ending up in Charlotte, with no family there or anything like that. And then when we had gotten the go from the producers at CNN, that we would be filmed and everything, that was interesting. I knew that I was going to have to make a decision on where I was going to live, like full time because at that time I was divorced by then and you know, so I was a single mom with three kids and like have my own business and I knew that the documentary was going to be huge because nobody was talking about it and I just feel like because I’ve been kind of in this space for so long since 2007, you can see and you can feel when stuff is starting to bubble up and stuff is starting to change. And I felt like that was happening at that time and so many more people were even just interested in tech and interested in being involved or interested in how African Americans could be involved. And so I think the timing was absolutely perfect for that. But I also knew when this airs how many opportunities are you going to be able to catch and move forward on being based out of Charlotte? Not many, you know, you can’t be bi-coastal with three kids as a single mom. That’s pretty hard to do. So I made the decision to relocate my family to the Bay Area.
Jamarlin Martin: I’m assuming it opened up a lot of doors for you in terms of making that bet that I’m going to go live in SV and stuff kind of sprouted from your prior work. But the CNN thing, did it really give you a push out there in terms of opportunities opening up?
Angela Benton: How can I put this? So, yes and no. When you have that level of exposure, you get different types of people that are attracted to you. So you get people that want to work with you and help you genuinely. You get people who are just excited about what you’re doing and they want to be involved and they really want to be lead. You get people who want to attach themselves and exploit what you’re doing. And so there were a lot of doors that were open for me, like, you know, my whole investor network, the base of it was Mitch Kapor’s investor network. When we did the documentary series he was an interview subject in it and then really became like a mento for our entrepreneurs, but then also for me and kind of guided us at the very early stages. And when it came time to do our demo day, him and Freada were involved, Freada Kapor is his wife, were involved in the planning process of that. We had it at their office and he genuinely wanted it to be successful. He opened up his investor network. He sent emails out, I sent emails out, he sent follow up emails to make people come. So you get people like that that you know are genuine.
Jamarlin Martin: Can you share a little bit for the audience on a who the Kapors are?
Angela Benton: Yeah. So Mitch and Freada Kapor, for people who don’t know they are, I mean Mitch is a legend. He started Lotus, which was kind of like a competitor to Microsoft products, like Microsoft Word, they had like Lotus Notes, Lotus 1-2-3. Oh my God. I’m dating myself right now. Seriously. But he is for sure a billionaire and then some, and he is the equivalent to a Steve Jobs. Like that’s who he hung out with. If you read the Steve Jobs biography, Mitch’s name is mentioned in it because, you know, Steve, Mitch, Bill Gates, they were like in the same group of entrepreneurs that were working on things back in the day. So he is an angel investor now. They do some amazing work.
Jamarlin Martin: And what’s their racial background for the audience?
Angela Benton: He’s white. He’s Jewish. Yeah. Freada. I don’t know if Freada is Jewish, but they’re white. Yeah.
Jamarlin Martin: Yeah. I hear a lot of great things about them from people who’ve actually worked with them. So we talked two years ago and you talked about some of the bubble heads in Silicon Valley, they didn’t really have conviction. They’re looking for PR. Can you talk a little bit about the challenges you had within the SV culture living out there and then that playing a part in you moving here to Miami?
Angela Benton: Sure. So the culture in Silicon Valley is interesting because you have this perception of innovation, right? And so with innovation you think people are generally open minded, but it’s a small percentage in my opinion. There’s a small percentage of people that are actually open minded, who are actually the thought leaders and everybody else just says everything that they say. And so when you have ecosystems that are like that, there’s actually not a lot of original thought. If one person says, ‘oh, I’m not working with this company anymore’, all of a sudden, this one company has a bad rep with everybody in Silicon Valley. So there’s things about the ecosystem like that that I didn’t like. I mean, I like to think of myself as like an independent thinker. I just like to do things creatively, and I kinda just try to operate in my own lane. However, especially starting the first accelerator for minorities, a lot of people of course got it and they supported us, but there were still people who were like, so I just don’t understand why this is needed because there’s Y-Combinator or 500 Startups, you know what I mean? And it’s really hard to articulate to someone who doesn’t understand, who thinks the information, A, is all online and can be digested in that fashion, and B, who doesn’t understand, even if all the information were actually online, if you are someone who’s not from this ecosystem, you don’t know what to search, you don’t have access to that information. So it’s like little stuff like that. And I felt like I could not progress as an entrepreneur, as you know, a human being independently within Silicon Valley anymore, and that’s why I decided to move.
Jamarlin Martin: That sounds like a nice way to say, hey, these white folks out in Silicon Valley, you know, there’s a lot of fakery, and I’m just not filling in what you guys are doing out here.
Angela Benton: Yeah, yeah. Get out of my head Jamarlin. Yes, yeah I mean that’s really what it was. NewME was in transition. We were really seeing what a lot of people don’t understand is a lot of these accelerators and incubators that are started by people who are independently wealthy, so they’ve had another company and funded it themselves, for me has never been that we basically were able to raise money to get sponsors to support us so that we can operate this thing. But then that became tricky when the sponsors wanted certain things that were not in the best interest, I personally think, of the entrepreneurs that we were working with, so I had to change our business model and then when we were changing our business models, you know, certain people weren’t feeling it at all. And so I had to do a lot of bullshit basically to keep things stable professionally before I moved. So for instance, the one week accelerator that we’ve been doing for years now and now other people you know, that are doing it to other people that are doing online accelerators and I’ve been doing that. I tested that in 2014 but I had to test it privately because it was frowned upon by people who were supporting me and so I just didn’t want to operate in a covert way because I was scared that x, y, z person was going to say something bad about the direction that we were going. And then give this signal. Silicon Valley’s all about signaling, give the signal to the ecosystem when the reality of it was actually quite opposite cause we were doing great work. We were able to help more people but we still had the same outcomes. Like people have raised over $43,000,000 now at this point
Jamarlin Martin: In some quarters, when you’re in the belly of the beast, you’re living in SV, do you feel like in some areas you were blacklisted? In terms of, ‘I keep it real. I’m not coming out here in San Francisco, tap dancing. I don’t care. I have a mission. I’m here for the people. I’m here for my movement and I don’t give a fuck’. Do you feel like they kind of tap dancing kind of safe negroes and you weren’t playing along.
Angela Benton: Absolutely. So you know the people who I felt did this the most shall remain nameless, but you know, people always show you who they are. If you watch and if your eyes are open and if you watch how certain people move within the ecosystem, they only get the black folks that’s around them that can be manipulated, they’re weak, they can be manipulated, do whatever they need to do. And then when I saw that started to happen, I stopped getting invited to certain events.
Jamarlin Martin: It’s like, man, y’all trying to run a modern plantation out here.
Angela Benton: Yeah, absolutely.
Jamarlin Martin: Some of your sponsors, you know, their market caps are hundreds of billions of dollars. Can you just kind of give us an example of, hey, I want this, what’s in the best interest of the people in the mission, but why are you guys asking for this PR stuff? This is not about PR.
Angela Benton: Yeah. So, alright. So when we first started selling sponsorships for NewME, it was a social impact kind of thing. Like people really felt good supporting us because they were doing the right thing and then we had the exposure of the CNN documentary special and then we went back the next year for more funding and because we had this exposure, you know, it was obviously increased and then the next year we just kept bigger and bigger and better and better, and the next year we went to increase it, but it was capped I think at a certain amount that was unrealistic for the level of exposure that they were getting from the brand affiliation, from NewME. NewME is the first black accelerator, off top, just being associated with us says whether you say it verbally or not, says about black entrepreneurs and supporting them. Right? So, um, so yeah, it just really, it became not the best thing for me or for NewME, um, to continue certain partnerships where, you know, people really wanted us to stay the same. They wanted us to be, you know, a 12-week accelerator and not do anything different because Y-Combinator does it this way. So why do it any other way? And it doesn’t matter if this new way is actually a better way and we can reach more people and all of these other benefits, they just, they weren’t feeling it.
Jamarlin Martin: Do you think you leaving SV in part due to some beef with the culture out there that’s correlated with studies that have shown a lot of black people have left companies like Google, Facebook just because in the culture, it’s really hard to keep your blackness intact, ‘hey, I’m not tucking that in. I’m not tap dancing. I want to work in an environment that’s supportive for my mental health, who I am, my own self-awareness’, but these environments are actually neutering the professional and so they’re leaving. A lot of people say it’s not a lot about getting more black folks into Google and Facebook because a lot of these people will leave for cultural considerations. Do you think there’s a comparison between the two?
Angela Benton: What’s interesting is I was just reading an article talking about all the people leaving Silicon Valley. They’re leaving in droves. In fact, there’s a U-Haul shortage because so many people are leaving.
Jamarlin Martin: Mainly for cultural considerations?
Angela Benton: Yeah. It’s expensive to live there. There’s better places to live that are more diverse, you know what I mean? For a lot of different reasons. I personally left because I was there for work. Like I said, I could not have felt like the first. This phrase, the belly of the beast. That’s very much what it felt like, because there weren’t a lot of light people out there. There were some, but I did not feel like there weren’t the AfroTechs of the world and shout out to them and what they’re doing, where there’s other black people that look like you, you know, what I mean, and talk to you and you can actually be yourself. And that’s one of the things I’m most proud of with NewME because when we were bringing people out there for 12 weeks, like that’s what we created in this little bubble that we had. And that’s why everybody that comes through NewME, it’s like a family. It’s not like an accelerator.
Jamarlin Martin: Speaking of a NewME, you’ve touched on quite a few people in the black tech space. I believe you worked with Brian Dixon, who’s now a venture capital partner at Kapor. You worked with him initially.
Angela Benton: I mentored Brian when he was still in school. I was working out of the Kapor’s office and this was the early days of NewME, and he was there like on an internship and I let him kinda shadow some things that I was doing, yeah, with NewME.
Jamarlin Martin: Brian Brackeen, you’re an investor in his company?
Angela Benton: Yep, 2012. Yeah. When, like he was super, super early.
Jamarlin Martin: The founders that have gone through NewME. How much capital have they raised?
Angela Benton: So far they’ve raised about 43,000,000, actually a little over 43,000,000.
Jamarlin Martin: Yeah. Is there a black accelerator that has that?
Angela Benton: No. Can we cuss on here? No.
Jamarlin Martin: Yeah, for sure. Yeah. So the founders that you’re mentoring that you’re teaching with NewME, what are the things that they struggle with the most outside of, ‘hey, it’s hard to raise capital’, but just in terms of getting into the tech game, it’s not like it’s, native to the culture in terms of we know a lot of people in the culture that come up through the system. What are they struggling with the most in terms of the black founders that you work with?
Angela Benton: Honestly, what a lot of people don’t understand is a lot of my job is showing people how to maneuver in this space. Like, yes we do other stuff like work on your product, make sure you know, you actually have traction, work on your pitch deck. But all of those things are tactics so that you are equipped to maneuver the right way in the space to get to your goal. That’s all I do. And so, you know, the relationships that I have with investors are important for that. And then the relationships that I have with entrepreneurs are important for that.
Jamarlin Martin: But what about kind of mapping out their business plan, their forecasting, you know, how are they thinking about recruiting a talented team? Are there any areas that you see a lot of these founders are struggling with this thing.
Angela Benton: I would definitely say most entrepreneurs, not just black entrepreneurs, get caught up in the idea of a product and even if they execute the idea, it’s like they get so caught up in the idea of it that they forget, ‘oh shit, I got to make money’, you know what I mean? And they don’t realize like, ‘oh, you need a business model, oh you need a financial model. How does your business model scale?’ One founder that I had worked with was really, really good at this, and this is not a blanket statement. So this doesn’t apply to everyone, but Frederick Hutson at Pigeonly, who I’m also an investor in that company, what he did extremely well off top when I started working with them in 2013 is he knew his business inside and out from a numbers perspective. We started in 2011, and he was probably the first entrepreneur that I had met at that point that really understood their business from that perspective. So the conversations that he had with investors were completely different. So we’re talking about early stage capital, right, where most of it is focused on the idea.
Jamarlin Martin: If I remember correctly, the founder that you’re talking about, he did time in jail.
Angela Benton: Yeah. He was in jail or in prison for five years for trafficking of marijuana across several states.
Jamarlin Martin: And how did he navigate that, in terms of the raising capital process?
Angela Benton: At the time that was actually a big discussion that we were having. Yeah, it was a funny conversation because we did not know, should he hide this part of him or should we position it that he was more of an expert. For him, he was working, his company is focused on inmate services and so my gut at the time was saying, OK, well you’re a subject matter expert. This is no different than, you know, Joe, who is a machine learning engineer that’s starting whatever Startup. So we’re going to position you as a subject matter expert and that’s what we did, and it worked.
Jamarlin Martin: You talked about being a single mother with three kids. Can you talk to the audience, particularly the single mothers out there who may doubt that they can do big things as you’re doing big things professionally and kind of balance everything. How do you manage to be so ambitious to execute your business plan, but also, be a good mother and raise three kids.
Angela Benton: Well first off, throw the idea of balance out. I would say a long time ago, when I started as an entrepreneur, I was 26, and I was a divorced and single mom of three. So the idea there was never really an idea of balance. It’s every day is going to be different. I think people define balance as I have a routine, this is what I’m going to do every day. I have x, y, z amount of time for myself, and that’s cool and everything. But balance doesn’t necessarily look like that all the time. You know, I worked really hard when I was in my twenties and thank God I had the energy to do so. But when I was diagnosed with cancer, my kids went to live with my ex husband full time and then I was basically just taking care of myself and so all of the balance that I didn’t have in my life earlier on in my life now is like, I have balance later in my life. So throwing out this idea of what balance actually is I think is definitely step one. Also finding your purpose, and your purpose might change, and you can’t always easily articulate what it is and sometimes it’s just a feeling and I have a feeling about myself that I am here on this planet for a reason, and it’s not just to mother children. Like that’s a part of it. But I feel like I have a bigger purpose. And so that’s kind of what drives me. When I was younger. It drove me in a very masculine, and ambitious way. And now I think that drives me in a more creative way where I allow myself to explore different things creatively that will take me to my next level.
Jamarlin Martin: So essentially you buy into the idea that there’s different ways to look at balance where ‘hey, I’m going to go real hard for 10 years and, I can kind of lighten the load and free up, my freedom will kind of come into play later once I accomplish these things?’ So for that 10 years I’m just going to focus mainly on building my business.
Angela Benton: I’m kinda saying that, but I’m kind of not saying that because I felt like when people say, ‘well, I’m just going to go hard for 10 years on this business’, they really do go hard and they forget about their health. No, let’s not do that. But yeah. So go hard I guess with some perspective, you know, but then also just realize, especially if you’re an entrepreneur, especially if you’re about to be an entrepreneur, like you feel like that’s just what you’re going to do was create new things. It’s going to be ups and downs. Like some years you might have five years straight where shit is really popping and then you might have two years where stuff is slow, and that might be your balance. Do you know what I mean?
Jamarlin Martin: Yeah. That was my template. I used to see that a lot that, you know, I would go super hard for about 10 years and then a more balanced life would open up later. But for the audience, I want to share one of my favorite quotes from Jim Rogers, who’s the co-founder of one of the most successful hedge funds with George Soros. This is what he says about success. ‘Most of us don’t have the discipline to stay focused on a single goal for five, 10 or 20 years, giving up everything to bring it up. But that’s what’s necessary to become an Olympic champion, or a world-class surgeon, or a ballerina. Even then, of course, it may all be in vain. You may make a single mistake that all the work, it may ruin the sweet, lovable self you were at 17. That old adage is true. You could do anything in life. You just can’t do everything. That’s what … meant when he said your wife and children were hostages to fortune. If you put them first, you probably won’t run the three and a half minute mile. Make your first 10,000,000, write the great American novel or go around the world on a motorcycle, such goals require complete dedication.’ Do you believe a good deal of entrepreneurs that come into the game thinking they can go out to parties, they can be in a committed relationship, they can spend time with their family, and you can compete with the best in the world and scale a Startup, how often do you see that kind of misperception?
Angela Benton: Do you know what’s interesting? I’m thinking about a lot of the founders that I worked with early on at NewME, definitely subscribed to that, which is foregoing a relationship, foregoing these things of comfort because, whatever they may be, because I’m focused on this business and you know, what I want to get to, which you know, was fine. I definitely think I encouraged that at the time. I just am in a different phase of life that I would encourage now, however, I do believe this quote because most people expect for this idea of success to happen overnight and it doesn’t, it literally takes 10 plus years to happen and there’s something admirable about somebody who can focus on something for that long consistently. There was a quote, was actually just about to post it on my Instagram. It said the secret to success is staying consistent when everyone else doesn’t, and I totally believe that.
Jamarlin Martin: You talked about help. You’re a cancer survivor. Can you talk about that experience and how that has kind of optimized how you view being a mogul and being a leader in the community and kind of what your next step is?
Angela Benton: Sure. You said that so eloquently because that’s exactly what it is, is optimization. It’s like, I still want to accomplish many of the same things, but now I’m smart enough to realize I’m not going to kill myself in the process. And also now I realize like, ‘oh shit, we’re all really going to die’, because when you’re young in your twenties, I mean, you know, you’re going to die, but it’s like you don’t really think about it, you secretly think you’re going to live forever, right? But going through something like cancer. You’re like, my time really is limited. So how am I going to spend the time that I have left here? And once you start thinking about it from that perspective, it is a perspective of lack but it forces you to get rid of all the bullshit, all the stuff that you don’t really want to do. You’re not feeling this anymore? Then stop doing it and focus on something that you do like that you are passionate about. In terms of my personal life, I use that and cancer could have been seen by any one as a negative situation, but it was really a positive situation for me because I just felt like I have a better overall life from that experience. I just learned so much about myself as a business person, as a human being and I feel like I’m more prepared holistically to go to my next level now than I would’ve ever been before.
Jamarlin Martin: So Facebook recently has been in the news. The stock I think is down another two percent today. It has lost over $100,000,000,000 in market cap. A lot of folks are angry and frustrated, disappointed in Facebook in terms of how they have handled user data, their involvement with Cambridge Analytica. Do you believe Facebook has topped out, that it goes down from here? It would be hard for that business to grow. If you had to make a bet, whether to bet on the price of Facebook going up or you can use that money to bet that it’s going to go down from here. Would you be long or short?
Angela Benton: It all depends on the news cycle and what’s being fed. You know what I mean? But what I will say is this, especially with internet companies, I guess with all companies you have your seasons, like Myspace was popping and then it wasn’t. I mean, I would invest in Facebook. I don’t think it’s topped out only because, you know, Snapchat also had some other interesting falls in their stock, but I actually would have more faith in investing in Facebook than Snapchat, even though Snapchat is still a newer platform. So yeah.
Jamarlin Martin: Do you have any critique for the leadership at Facebook going from Zuckerberg, Sandberg, Peter Thiel, Marc Andreessen, do you feel any type of way in terms of how the company’s being run and who’s leading the company?
Angela Benton: What I will say, as I did watch the interview that Mark did with Laurie Segall on CNN and, you know, the interview was good. It sounds like he’s self aware. It sounds like he realizes how transparent he should’ve been way before, and you know, he’s not someone that is like a fan of being public and doing interviews. But I think that’s something that you have to do. You’re the CEO of a huge company and so whether you’re a socially awkward person, he should be transparent.
Jamarlin Martin: Yeah. In Cambridge Analytica out of the U.K., the British parliament wanted Mark Zuckerberg to come and talk to them and explain some things. He kicks it to a product person.
Angela Benton: Yeah. That’s crazy.
Jamarlin Martin: He announced that he would not speak to parliament. So he’ll go after everybody’s data, he’ll go collect that check. But when the government who are elected by the people and represent the people, he won’t talk to them, to the people. It calls into question, not only him, but I think Sheryl Sandberg as well, what spooks them out so much?
Angela Benton: They need to have someone from executive leadership, not a product person. So Sheryl or Mark needs to be the people for sure at that.
Jamarlin Martin: So with Sheryl Sandberg, a lot of people have talked about there being no people of color on the board. They just hired Kenneth Chenault from Amex in 2018, but they seem super light on this concept of diversity. Facebook is facing a lot of criticism, but I feel like Sheryl Sandberg is getting a pass in part because she’s a white woman, she’s getting a pass in terms of being held accountable. So when she came to Facebook she’s like, she’s the adult in the room, she’s going to go watch Mark and tidy up the place, and this little kid, this little geek is running the company. But now that the trouble is really kind of pervasive, the problems are really pervasive, I don’t see a lot of criticism for her specifically, meaning that she can write the stock up and get all the glory, but when it’s time to face the heat, ‘hey, I’m no sticking my neck out there. I’m not saying too much’.
Angela Benton: I felt like if you’ve been in Silicon Valley, that’s not surprising if you are a darling in Silicon Valley, people are just not going to come for you like that. And I definitely feel like she’s one of those people. If you can find this interview, there’s an interview that her and I were on when she was promoting the Lean In campaign, initially we did it on Huffington Post and I asked her a question about, everybody’s talking about how great this is, but you’re not talking about a large percentage of women, which is black women who are single moms.
Jamarlin Martin: Didn’t somebody call her out on social media after the recent election where black women really carried the Democratic candidate over. I think someone called her out.
Angela Benton: I don’t know, I might have missed that, especially if it was on Twitter. I’m not on Twitter as much anymore, but you know, I asked her directly in the interview and she curved the question like a champ, you know what I mean, like this is what she does and then after, I think she started being more aware and including people like Oprah. Right? So now you have a black woman involved and so, I think she did strategic things like that. But if just take a look back, do some research very early on, the Lean In campaign. Very early on it was about white women.
Jamarlin Martin: Yeah, that’s what it sounds like. Yeah. I’m glad you said that because when she comes on Bloomberg and she’s like, ‘we’re going to do more to help minorities, we’re not doing enough’. When I hear a Sheryl Sandberg say women and minorities, I feel like black people are not really at the table, that an African American who comes from a descendant of slaves here in the United States, we’re in the back of the bus when the Silicon Valley people are talking about women and minorities.
Angela Benton: OK. So for people who don’t know, I’m gonna definitely drop some gems on you right now. This is how it works in Silicon Valley. So after the CNN documentary ‘Black in America’, everybody was about diversifying Silicon Valley in favor of black people. Right? That’s what people wanted. Then the narrative started to shift and if you look back at other things in history, this happened historically, the narrative started to shift from black people to women, and now a lot of the resources are going to women when they talk about diversifying, they’re talking about women and it still remains. Google, Facebook, they can all publish this diversity data all they want every year, but until they make some real changes, the numbers are going to stay flat and they have been flat. That’s because they don’t actually really care in my opinion.
Jamarlin Martin: If we were to look back 10 years from now and we looked at the data. So there’s all this talk about diversity, inclusion. When you look at the actual numbers of who or what groups are actually going to benefit the most dollar for dollar, what percentage of that pie is going to be white women out of a hundred percent of the people or the progress we see from here?
Angela Benton: Right? I mean white women are still privileged. So you know, if you think about it, out of this whole pie that we have to diversify the industry. Resources are being redirected to a group that’s still privileged, but they are a minority, but they are still privileged in comparison to black and brown, specifically African Americans, black people and Hispanic people.
Jamarlin Martin: How much of this is our fault where we haven’t checked the Sheryl Sandbergs, the Mark Zuckerbergs, the elites in Silicon Valley that talk about people of color, women, minorities? Why haven’t the black community said, ‘hey, call out African American. I want to hear my name in that sentence. In terms of if you’re really serious about inequality, I don’t want to be lumped in with with everybody else. My story is so different than everybody else.’
Angela Benton: Because they’re scared. If you’re scared say you’re scared? They’re scared. This is why. This is why I stopped taking sponsorship dollars. When you take money from people, they control the narrative. If I take money from said company, how vocal can I really be without fucking up my pockets.
Jamarlin Martin: Is a lot of the problem on our side? At least folks who are challenging, the folks out in Silicon Valley, the elites in Silicon Valley is that it seems like everyone’s banging with like a Dr King flag, but we don’t have enough people who, you know, are really telling people the truth, because obviously everybody wants a check, everyone wants to get a promotion or an investment in a company or they want to get the white folks in Silicon Valley to back them, to sponsor them, to give them a halo over it. So I feel like that has completely compromised a lot of smart people out there where no one’s really speaking the truth because they’re scared.
Angela Benton: Yeah, they’re scared or they are motivated by money. And nothing’s wrong with money. Don’t get me wrong, I like money too, but I know who I am at my core and I’ll make decisions based on what I think is the right period, not because of the money. I’ve had to restart my business and walk away from hundreds of thousands of dollars just because I knew something wasn’t right.
Jamarlin Martin: What do you say to that entrepreneur who says, look, I cannot speak the truth, or speak up for the people, my particular group, I just need to get this money. I’m gonna shut up and dribble for 10 years. Michael Jordan did that for the most part. You know, I’m just gonna shut up and dribble and I’ll worry about the social stuff and fight for my people after I get this money. So I’m just going to shut up in dribble for the next 10 years.
Angela Benton: I think everybody has their place in a fight like this. And I think the best thing that we can do is be strategic and leverage where everyone’s at. So the people who are in that place and are like, I’m gonna shut up and dribble but I’m going to reinvest in my community in 10 years. That’s fine. You’re in this box right here. But the problem is 90 percent of the people, black people in Silicon Valley can’t be in that box. We got to have some people that are willing to call people out, that are willing to take… Well not even. I was going to say take sacrifices but I’m not even going to say that. It’s just really challenge people. This is about challenging people and we’re not speaking up so that people are being challenged. And this was myself included. When my business model was different with NewME and I was living in Silicon Valley and I was in the belly of the beast, it was extremely stressful. I didn’t feel like I had a good personal support network where I have just friends where I could talk to like real, and they didn’t want nothing from me or it wasn’t going to be back channel to somebody else in Silicon Valley. I didn’t have an outlet of people that I really trusted. And so I wasn’t even in a position to call people out. I still think about it. There have been times where I felt like I should have called people out and I didn’t.
Jamarlin Martin: Alright, I want to thank Angela Benton for coming on the show. Let’s GHOGH!
This interview has been edited for clarity.