Full Transcript: Black Tech Week Co-Founders Felecia Hatcher And Derick Pearson On GHOGH Podcast
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Listen to GHOGH with Jamarlin Martin | Episode 09: BlackTech Week
Jamarlin talks to husband-and-wife team Felecia Hatcher and Derick Pearson about Black Tech Week, economic empowerment, and the potential impact of Atlanta landing Amazon HQ2.
This is a full transcript of the conversation which has been lightly edited for clarity.
Jamarlin Martin: You’re listening to 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. Today we have the co-founders of Code Fever and Black Tech Week, Felecia Hatcher and Derick Pearson. How’s it going?
Felecia Hatcher: Pretty good, pretty good. How are you?
Jamarlin Martin: We met up in Austin at South by Southwest. Talk about your experience there and what type of stuff you guys were doing in Austin.
Felecia Hatcher: I mean, every year for me is kind of a sensory overload, with just like so much going on, but we were there because we were kicking off our 10-city tour. Austin was a first stop for us. We had three events that we did, so a fireside chat with the program manager from the Chan Zuckerberg initiative. We did some VC and residents mini sessions in partnership with Kauffman Foundation and Tech.Co. And then we hosted our annual meetup that we do, our Black Tech Week meet up that we do in the lobby of the JW Marriott. So it was a fun time just kinda getting people together and then also just being able to experience South-by, right and everything that it provides. So the panels, the parties, the parties, the parties, but then just like good people that we usually don’t see throughout the year except for at South-by.
Jamarlin Martin: You guys are the hardest working couple team in black tech. Walk us through the audience in terms of where you guys are from, how you guys met and how are you guys managing being married and family, but you guys are still working hard in the streets and pushing your movement forward.
Felecia Hatcher: Yeah, I mean you don’t want to know how we met, other than we met in DC because it’s a long story that we both have two different versions of, but we met in DC. No his is not the correct version, mine is the correct version, but whatever. We met in DC, maybe about 11 years ago. And I am originally from Delray Beach, Florida. Derick is from Georgia, and I would love to say every single day is, you know, the same, but it’s not. We run a lot of programming. We have a team that helps us with a lot of programming. So no two days are the same and I think we actually kind of like it that way.
Derick Pearson: So I’m from Bainbridge, Georgia, a small city 30 minutes north of Tallahassee, Florida and 30 minutes south of Albany, Georgia. Just to give you some indication that it’s in the southwest corner of the state. Like Felecia said, no two days are ever alike. It’s about the mission of the organization and what you want to accomplish. So what do you want to be known for? What do you think your life purpose is? So I think my life’s purpose is to change the lives for black people and be a pillar in the community as well as to create wealth for myself, and my family. So I live every day like it’s my last and I go for what I want. So that’s what I feel my purpose is and that’s what I feel that I want. So when we go and we do these events and we stay up late nights and we have these debates on the correct way we should be moving and pursuing things in this world. It’s always fun. It’s always fulfilling. So it’s never a job.
Jamarlin Martin: Talk about what Black Tech Week and Code Fever is. Share that with our audience.
Felecia Hatcher: Yeah. So we started Code Fever about four years ago to address a need. So, Miami’s startup ecosystem had just kinda like sprouted out with a lot of organizations mostly, like the Knight Foundation, wanting to put a concentrated effort around building Miami’s tech and start up ecosystem. And very quickly we realized that it just wasn’t inclusive of the black community and we wanted to do something about it. And so we started Code Fever originally just to kind of address the talent and the training issue. I think the exposure to our community, because our community was just being left out of the conversation, that activity, like all of it, and then also just wanting to be able to build an ecosystem but then also just kind of help resources cross bridges, and so it was a lot that we were trying to accomplish, but we started off just like training young people and training their parents and then just doing like some monthly info sessions at Miami Dade College, at Carrie Meek Entrepreneurship Center in Liberty City of just like, this is what’s going on. These are the programs that are here, just so our community knew what was going on, essentially. Kind of like on the other side of the tracks. But after Code Fever we quickly launched Black Tech Week because we realized that one training is just not enough. Right? And if we want to ensure success of people in our community, whether they want to launch a traditional small business or they wanted to have a career in STEM, there are a lot of things that need to be within arm’s reach. So access to mentorship, access to training programs, access to spaces and those spaces kind of existing in our neighborhoods. But then also access to funding, right? And at least have those things within an arms reach and not constantly trying to figure out where the hell do I go to find this or understand the context of that. And so that’s where Black Tech Week came from, is like how do we, if not any week throughout the year here in South Florida, how do we put those things together within arms reach of our community and so that everyone can kind of come together. But then also to see that, we’re not new to this, you know, the numbers may not necessarily be there, but like there are people in our community that are excelling, launching tech startups in tech fields. And so for me, that’s why we started Black Tech Week.
Derick Pearson: Black Tech Week is that heat. That’s where you come and this is where you live with love. And this is where you get inspired to go down the next, I guess, the next path of your life. You know what I mean? So like when we have these amazing speakers here, we have these amazing investors, this is where you need to come so that you can take advantage of it. And you have to, we have to reframe the way we look at technology. Technology is the equalizer. It allows you to compete with the big boys. Everything in society today has some kind of tech component to it, some context influence, it utilizes technology. So the better you understand that industry and that area of study, the better off you’ll be. So don’t look at Black Tech Week like I don’t know anything about tech, whatever business, whatever career path you have, it has some tech bend, so you need to be there at the event and take advantage of it.
Jamarlin Martin: So there are other people doing great things with black tech events. What makes Black Tech Week different, without the geography?
Felecia Hatcher: I mean I think you can’t say it without the geography, right? So there is a Miami experience that I think is really important because people are drawn to Miami for every other reason. Aside from that. But the other part of that is very much a family reunion, you know, we say that a lot. But it is, you know, we all kind of come together. Some of us see each other in passing throughout the rest of the year and we come together at this conference. I think the other part of it is like there’s a huge concentration on the conference part, but it’s a full week, right? And it’s a full week for a reason. So there’s a huge community component to it. There’s a huge component of what it takes to put together like a black tech ecosystem, like we have a women’s innovation brunch, right? And then we have a family tech day where the whole family is there and not just dropping your kid off at like a coding bootcamp or robotics bootcamp and go about your day. The whole family is included and what that means, what that feels like and how to celebrate innovation in our community. And then we have the pitch competitions and things like that, but that community component for us I think is what really makes Black Tech Week different. Right? And so you look at the other conferences and you know, these are phenomenal conferences, but they are just conferences. Most of them don’t take place in our neighborhoods, which I think is something that’s extremely important for us to do. And then they’re not really including all of our community. Right? So you either got to know someone that can get you a pass, or you gotta be able to afford the ticket. There’s all these things that when we’re in these rooms and we’re talking about diversity and inclusion, and when we talk about access, sometimes we’re still creating these separate rooms even when we are together trying to not create these separate rooms or not create these barriers. I hope I’m making sense, but I think that’s what really separates the Black Tech Week from some of the other initiatives is like we try and bring all of that under one umbrella and just really kind of being able to show people no matter where you are, this is how you fit into the technology conversation. But most importantly, this is how you fit in from a point where you can financially benefit from the activity that’s going on, or as it relates to the tech and innovation economy.
Jamarlin Martin: You invited me to a panel. The title of the panel was ‘Moving Beyond Diversity – Economic Empowerment’. My point of view is that diversity is so ambiguous. I’m not using that word. I’m trying not to use that word. Right? So everybody’s pimping that out with various agendas and it doesn’t really have a definitive meaning. I feel like the word that we need to be using, which you use is economic empowerment, right? Can you explain that in terms of how you guys look at the evolving politics of diversity as it relates to black people specifically?
Derick Pearson: I look at it like the statement I made earlier about technology being an equalizer. It allows you to play. It allows you to compete. So it’s all about inclusive and competitiveness. It’s about black people being competitive at everything that we do in creating wealth for ourselves. So the way I look at it and through our programs is that we have to provide our people with enough resources and tools so that they can compete on a global scale because they’re not competing with just the people in the United States. They’re competing with people from other countries and the fact that you’ve got to have your own in this society because you have to. People are five times as likely to hire people that look like them, you know, so we don’t have these entrepreneurs, we don’t have these tech professionals in positions to hire our people. Then we’re going to be left out of this new economic revolution.
Jamarlin Martin: Will your kids be using the word diversity outside of, let’s say a business conversation? Do you see your kids using that word, diversity.? ‘Hey daddy, you know, they’re talking about diversity’. Are you against that? The use of that word?
Derick Pearson: No, I’m not against it. The word, but I need to…
Jamarlin Martin: What does that word mean to you?
Derick Pearson: You have to clarify the word. What diversity are you speaking of?
Jamarlin Martin: I’m saying diversity in broad terms, at least how…
Derick Pearson: And that’s the issue. Everybody’s using broad terms. If you look at us, we’re specific about what diversity we’re talking about. We probably talked to them about the diversity for black women and men.
Jamarlin Martin: Like, for example, when Sheryl Sandberg goes on Bloomberg and she talks about diversity. For me, in terms of the practical application that really is like white women, in terms of diversity, but I believe that word has been weaponized in a way that undermines our experience here in America as descendants of slaves, meaning that we’re just thrown into the bucket with privileged people and just, everybody’s in the same bucket, but everybody’s not getting shot. Everybody’s not getting turned down with a 700/680 FICO score for a loan. obody’s riding in that seat, but we’re all in the same diversity bucket.
Derick Pearson: Well, the redefining of diversity in the present time is white women. That’s what they mean by it. So we have to be clear about what is the diversity that we are seeking? What is the type of inclusion that we’re seeking? And we have to fight for it. We have to have institutions and people that are willing to have these hard, tough conversations.
Felecia Hatcher: I was gonna say like you, you see it all the time, right? It’s women and minorities. A lot of times people say, right? And so when you talk about diversity, but then you follow that by saying, well, we’re focusing on women and minorities. You already cutting the black community out a lot of times. That’s how I see it. Right?
Derick Pearson: And black men.
Felecia Hatcher: Yeah. But I think for us it’s like, you know, there was a reason Black Tech Week is called Black Tech Week and that came with a lot of issues in the very beginning of people wanting to say like, ‘why don’t you do it like urban tech week or why don’t you do diversity tech week?’ Or like all these other terms that kinda take the bite off of black, right? Or people will come to us and say, well it just feels like it’s excluding people. And I’m like, ‘do you know how many people and ethnicities and nationalities are represented under the umbrella of when we say black?’ And so like most people just don’t understand that and they fight back against that. But there’s a reason why we have been steadfast and not changing the names, and corporations have said to us, ‘hey, if it was called something else it would seem more inclusive and then we could fund that’, and we’re just like ‘no’.
Jamarlin Martin: Those people should go through slavery and face some of the oppression and exploitation and discrimination of black people. Then we’ll start pushing the flag of everybody else.
Felecia Hatcher: Right. Or we’ve been asked ‘like why are you doing this for, we love what you guys are doing here, like what else are you doing for these other groups?’ And I’m like, ‘nothing’, there are organizations to support that, get off of it and stop saying that, stop feeling like this is excluding people. We are unapologetic about who we are serving and it’s either you like it or you don’t. But like who else is rooting for our community if we’re not making blatant statements about what this is for?
Jamarlin Martin: With your Mark Zuckerberg, Sheryl Sandberg’s, your Silicon Valley establishment, venture capitalists, big tech, do you like them when they’re talking about the problem of inclusion, underrepresented groups? Would you liked him to call out black people, people of color set up people of color instead of diversity and instead of minorities? Black people deserve to have their specific group called out.
Derick Pearson: I think we absolutely deserve that. We’re the ones that fought for civil rights in this nation. No matter what, others would not have their rights without black people fighting for it. So for you to not call us out and fight for our race, our ethnicity is a slap in the face because half of the women that you have hired wouldn’t have the jobs without affirmative action, which we implemented. You know what I mean? So like you have to and they’re doing the same thing over and over again to us by them not calling us out, they’re not focusing on our issues and our needs. So we’re not being included in that conversation. We’re not benefiting from those discussions. So out of sight, out of mind, and if they’re not calling our names we’re way out of mind.
Jamarlin Martin: If we use, their word, the establishment’s word, diversity, and we quantify the professional gains that are going to be made over the next 10 years. If we quantified it n a hundred percent pie chart, what group is going to get the most gains? And what percentage would you say that group is going to get out of that hundred percent? If you were to quantify the professional gains based on the diversity of politics that are going on.
Felecia Hatcher: I would say probably 70 to 75 percent.
Jamarlin Martin: So for the black folks out there, I want us to appreciate this, that when you’re waiving that diversity flag and you let everybody come in to the diversity politics, when a lot of these groups data have not gone through your oppression, they’re not facing what you faced. When you let everybody into that diversity box, you are really waving a flag for white women. There’s nothing against white women. But to keep it real, a lot of them are paired up with the white men, right? So a lot of them come from privilege. A lot of them are not going to be discriminated against, close to what your people are. So until everybody can bang on that oppressed slot on that exploited slide. You can’t, you shouldn’t be able to ride. You shouldn’t be able to ride in the same group. Do you guys agree with that?
Felecia Hatcher: So I agree. And I think we’ve already seen that, right? So when we talk, when people are on stages, when they’re promoting their new diversity program, they’re very clear in saying women and minorities, right? They separate that already. So I think to see what that looks like moving forward. We’re already seeing that. There hasn’t been a change in that. Sheryl Sandberg does not talk about the intersectionality of me being a black person and also a woman. She’s really talking about white women. And you saw her kind of take a step back on that a few years ago when her husband passed away and she became a single mother. Right? And so you started seeing her kind of take back a lot of the things she was saying in the very beginning because she’s like, oh, I now understand that I’m talking to a diverse set of women. I’m also now understanding that single women have different challenges than I had, so like there became like all these steps back that she started to take and what she was rallying behind because of a lot of clarity around that. But you know, the other side for me is like, yes, we have all these people that have platforms, but I also want to see more people that look like us that are in those positions, you know, really kind of making a statement like what diversity should actually look like and what it is about our community personally. Because what ends up happening is people do say things and then they do a lot of like kind of either back-stepping or apologizing or making concessions for every other community. But that is of ours. And I think that’s a problem.
Jamarlin Martin: Facebook recently recruited Kenneth Chenault from American Express, former CEO of American Express, to its board. When you see that, hey, you know, they have their first non-white board member after a decade or does that make you happy? You got a black face on Facebook, do you think that’s progress?
Felecia Hatcher: I think I’m laughing because like on one hand we kind of just got to celebrate every small win, right? Like at a minimum of kind of being able to accept that. On the other hand we still have so much, so far to go. Right? And so it’s like one coin in a big bucket of fixing a lot of things, it doesn’t really, it’s great, but I don’t know what it solves at the end of the day, of us moving forward. But it is a step, right, and think if things can kind of multiply out of him being in that position, I think that does become a win. Right? So if you see more board opportunities open up for people that look like us and he’s pushing that, then that’s important. If you see more of us being an employee for the corporation because of the position that he’s in then those are wins. Do I hold my breath on those things? Not necessarily, but I’m just trying to look at it from an optimistic standpoint. For me, it’s like I’m tired of the firsts, right? Like, when do we move past that? And like Derick said, how do we become more competitive? How do we start making a bigger deal out of all this BS that we see in order for real stuff to start to happen?
Jamarlin Martin: Derrick, have you heard of Kenneth Chenault being in the streets? Is he in Overtown? Is he in Harlem? Is he in Compton? Has he been connecting with the black tech space? Have you heard anything about him doing anything in the community?
Derick Pearson: Yes, I’ve heard of him pushing things through for say the Harlem Children’s Zone or Digital Undivided. They were sponsoring them a couple of years for the conference in New York. So those are some of the things that I’ve heard. But I don’t know intimately about his day to day operations. Does he have a family foundation are not? My thing is, hey, are you going to fight for or fight against the biased algorithms that Facebook has running around? I mean that are going in and not allowing people to put any ads up with the word black in it. Um, but then allow white supremacists to put ads up 24-7 or Russians to use dummy accounts and put ads up. So it’s just a bias that they have through the operation of the organization that I hope he focuses on and that he’s knowledgeable of so that he can begin to influence.
Jamarlin Martin: You guys are diversifying, talking about the Silicon Valley establishment, big tech establishment. You’re diversifying because of the pressure. People have to put pressure on you. It becomes visible. Then you do something, but when you do something, nine times out of 10, are you hiring someone that you’re comfortable with, someone who’s not going to disrupt your thinking, where a lot of the people that these people will hire, diversity chiefs or diversity, they just start saying the same thing as the company. So are you hiring negroes and coons where you can check the box, but you’re pushing a largely white supremacist agenda and it’s more of a PR play? And has Facebook done anything to make you less skeptical of a hire of a Kenneth Chenault, where you’re doing that because we have conviction and you’re hiring somebody because your thinking needs to be disrupted. He’s that guy. Is he that guy?
Derick Pearson: Facebook has done nothing to change my opinion of the way their software platform operates.
Jamarlin Martin: One supporter of your movement is Chan Zuckerberg. If someone donates or supports, your movement, could you soften up what you got to say about Facebook? I mean, do you see a rational connectivity to where a Chan Zuckerberg comes in by maybe, I don’t want to go that hard against Mark Zuckerberg at an event or something like that?
Felecia Hatcher: We are steadfast in our opinions, you know, so, they have come on as a sponsor for two of our stops on our Black Tech Week tour. But that doesn’t change the way that we feel about, not just their organization or other tech organizations, that we don’t think are doing a good job. Anyone going into a corporation, and that’s why we don’t work for a corporate corporations anymore, but anyone going into those positions that get silenced a lot of times or that may have just never been their position to begin with, and that’s why it’s a fit for them to be in those positions. But if you are a sponsor of Black Tech Week or anything that you do that we do, you have to be mission aligned with what we stand for and not be afraid to have those conversations with us because we definitely have them. And a lot of times those take place on the stages at our conference.
Derick Pearson: We also have to note that Facebook and the Zuckerberg foundation are two totally different entities. So one is profit driven and one is controlled by investors and the largest shareholders. Even if Chan Zuckerberg feels something totally different from Mark Zuckerberg, you still have all of the investors in the hedge fund managers who invested large sums of money into Facebook that control and dictate the operations of the organization because they’re the ones that sit on the board.
Jamarlin Martin: In my view, in terms of a geographical area or industry, Silicon Valley is the biggest in aggregate, the biggest force of white supremacy in terms of programming, in terms of influencing the world. There’s no other mecca in terms of geographical area in industry that has more impact on white supremacy and influence than Silicon Valley. Do you agree with that? Or if not, what has the biggest expression of white supremacy as an institution or a group of institutions.
Derick Pearson: Koch Industries, institutions that support all of these right wing platforms and organizations. The Koch brothers have done more to support that movement than any other entity or a group of people. You may say Wichita, Kansas is the mecca.
Jamarlin Martin: But when you take the venture capital money and the influence and the money and the folks at Google, for the folks at Facebook, many believe that this is more of a monolithic community where a lot of them think like the bubble heads in Silicon Valley. So if you take their wallets and you take their tools, social media, Facebook, Twitter, as we have seen in the election in terms of how influential their platforms can be, how influential the robots that they’re funding, that’s disrupting a lot of jobs, particularly jobs o people who look like us. They’re looking to disrupt burger flippers. They’re rolling on a robot, Flippy. They’re looking to disrupt bodegas. They’re looking to disrupt truck drivers. So when you think about the institution of slavery, right, you’re looking to exploit, looking to make as much money as possible. I believe in aggregate this group, they have more impact in terms of white supremacy than any other group, whether it’s intentional or not. I’m not saying that, hey, they’re going around waving the kkk flag, but the actual end result from a white supremacy perspective in terms of inequality and keeping folks on the bottom, on the bottom or go lower at the bottom, there’s no force more powerful than Silicon Valley right now.
Derick Pearson: I would say no force more powerful than the Wall Streets, because you have to look at it, there’s multiple financial capitals within the United States. You have Boston, New York, Chicago, you have Charlotte, and you have Silicon Valley and you have Seattle. So if you are a major player in finance and you reside in one of those areas and you’re the ones who are looking at this, Silicon valley is like, ‘hey, I need to get in on this B round, this C round, this D round or this A round, and I need to invest into the fund for Y-Combinator. I need to invest in the fund for another accelerator’. So I think it’s more distributed than we think. We just need to follow the money and a lot of cases you gotta just look and see who are all of these financial institutions that are investing into these companies and controlling things and where do they get their money from, what pension funds are they’re taking their money from?
Jamarlin Martin: That is a fair point. But in 2008, maybe you’re right in terms of Wall Street, but in 2018 I believe the power has shifted over to big tech in Silicon Valley where Obama, as you know, the Silicon Valley establishment heavily backed him to get elected. A lot of folks from Silicon Valley went into the Obama administration. A lot of folks in the Obama administration went back to Silicon Valley. Eric Holder starts getting checks from Silicon Valley. There’s no regulatory regime even wanting to study where this stuff is going on in Silicon Valley in terms of how it impacts society. I believe politically and financially and economically, the power shifted from Wall Street post-financial crisis to Silicon Valley now, and Silicon Valley now from a wallet, political perspective, they’re running things right now, from my perspective, which brings up the point of Amazon. Not a SV company obviously, but some people think Miami has a good chance of getting Amazon HQ2. Would you like to see them here in Miami. And do you think Miami has a good chance of getting that bid in terms of Amazon bringing 50,000 jobs in Miami?
Derick Pearson: Yes, I would like to see them win it, but will they win it, I don’t know.
Jamarlin Martin: You’re not worried about gentrification or how it could disrupt the community in terms of Seattle, let’s say the home prices, the cost of living shoot up…
Derick Pearson: Well gentrification in Miami Dade County has been going on for years and it has accelerated, the (visas), where they can get their visa by investing a million dollars in cash, in Miami. So, then that goes into the real estate and that goes into the buying of homes that people could eventually purchase. That has always been going on. So if you look at our communities, Overtown’s been bought up years ago. If you look at Liberty City, a lot of that has already changed hands. So we’re not going to be the economic beneficiary of an Amazon coming here, because we no longer own large swaths of the land and the communities that we traditionally reside in, we’re renters, or you still have a few homeowners. We’re all the way up in north Miami Dade County. So when Amazon comes in, they’re looking to acquire land and the staff is looking to live in an affordable area. They’re going to go into the communities that have already been bought from us.
Jamarlin Martin: So I talked about Amazon HQ2. I liked, at least before some of the recent political controversy, I liked Atlanta’s prospects of Amazon choosing Atlanta. And so one brother had mentioned that there’s a lot of pushback for that because they feel like if Amazon HQ2 lands in Atlanta, the city is guaranteed to flip from a black city to a white city. The first thing I thought about, man, there’s a lot of black homeowners in Atlanta. And so the equity values would really go up, creating possibly billions of dollars of wealth over 10 to 20 years in terms of home owner equity appreciation from Amazon coming in. Do you think if Amazon landed in Atlanta, the benefits would outweigh some of the concerns and costs?
Derick Pearson: What are their concerns? They should have no concerns. Let’s look at the history of Atlanta ever since Maynard Jackson, the untouchables, the black people who are not part of the middle-class or who have money, have always been pushed out to the outskirts of the city and the, and the outskirts of different counties. So when you talk about, um, the current predicament that Atlanta has, it’s because they have been pushing their voter block out. If you look at the residential ownership rates, its increasingly being purchased by white people. So Atlanta is no longer a chocolate city to begin with, you know what I mean? Because everybody drives into Atlanta to have fun and then they go out to the outskirts. So when we started talking about the control of Atlanta, they caused this themselves. I saw this back in 2002 when I was going to Morehouse.
Jamarlin Martin: So whether Amazon comes in or not, it’s already going to flip?
Derick Pearson: If you go and look where Martin Luther King used to reside. If you’re talking about Little Five Points, that has been bought up. If you look, Georgia State has purchased more land on Auburn Avenue in the recent years than any other institution. Their main campus is right down there. So if you’re talking about where people can actually live within the city, the only pieces of property that they can buy now are lofts and condos and rent apartments, and they’re not paying those astronomical rates. Even though the cost of living in Atlanta is cheap, they’re going for the cheaper rentals in the outskirts.
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. So we’re here at your headquarters. It’s a massive space. I see a lot of people working here at night. Can you tell our listeners how did you get this space? What are you doing in this space and kind of where you see things going in the space? We’re in Overtown, while we’re on the subject of gentrification, but if you could talk a little bit about that as well.
Felecia Hatcher: So this space is a space called Tribe. It’s a co-working and urban innovation lab based in historic Overtown, Miami, right outside the downtown area. A community with a very similar history to the Harlem black business district that was here some 50 years ago that was demolished by the highway going through. A very similar kind of black Wall Street story that we see across the United States. And so this space came about from a conversation that we had with one of our sponsors almost about three years ago and it took us about two and a half years, through kind of constructions and permitting and fundraising to get the space up to us being able to sit here today and have that conversation. And for us the space, with Code Fever, our mission is been, how do we rid black communities of innovation deserts like the disconnect that’s there. Knowing that our community has a lot of really amazing ideas and the resources, and magnetism to the resources just don’t exist. And for us it’s about creating a space like this that allows for all of us that do really cool stuff to kind of come together, and work together, break bread together and co-work together and like everything that that means. That’s why this space exists and it’s, you know, it’s for black entrepreneurs and black creatives and people, freelancers and all those people that want to kind of come together, as well as students. In order to just kind of collaborate, yes, but then like gentrification, like Derick said, is really real here in Overtown. Right? And the Brightline is going to be two blocks away from here. And so it’s like, how can we create a space that’s going to combat that or…
Jamarlin Martin: The Brightline station is going to be close to here?
Derick Pearson: It’s literally three blocks.
Jamarlin Martin: Wow, and that is The Miami station?
Felecia Hatcher: That is the Miami station. Yeah. But I think our biggest thing is like how do we prepare our community to be able to take advantage of that, right? Because the truth of the matter, it’s going to be a shitty situation, but there are still opportunities for our community to take advantage. And so how do we do that? Will this space be able to provide the people to come together in order to help people get procurement opportunities into that train station that they’re building here. And what does all of that mean? We don’t have it all figured out. But our goal is this space, from now moving forward, that it allows like those kinds of conversation and those collaborations to start to happen.
Jamarlin Martin: So I was on Arlan Hamilton, the founder and CEO of Backstage Capital’s podcast, and I talked a little bit about a dividend that comes from failure. And I believe culturally a lot of our people, partially due to economic insecurity, we’re really scared of failing and taking a lot of risks as relates to entrepreneurship and business. Can you talk a little bit about, you know, you guys were working on other businesses before this and I’m sure there was a lot of failure there that prepared you for this opportunity where you’re growing your business, you’re growing across other cities, you have a lot of momentum, but how did your history of failure prepare you for this opportunity?
Felecia Hatcher: Yeah, there’s a long history of failure, a really long history of failure. You know, I think from my first business in college and hiring one of my classmates that ended up stealing my contract from me, and I was devastated and I swore off ever being an entrepreneurship again, to running Feverish and all the challenges that we had. Right? So the challenges that we had with our investors, the challenges that we had like opening a store and closing a store. The challenges that we had when we sold the company but it wasn’t a big sell. You know, some people look at it as an accomplishment and we’re just like, we didn’t hit the goals that we wanted to hit with that company. Right? And then even just with Code Fever and Black Tech Week, like it’s hard. And then when you’re talking about like doing that as a couple, that’s a whole other layer. And then when you’re talking about raising, now a four-year-old, that’s a whole other layer. So there’s been a lot of like really dark days, we try to be really candid with that because not a lot of people are. They like to kind of gloss over like, oh, this happened and then like I’m here and I’m just like, no, there are a lot of shitty days. It’s like a whole lot of shitty days through everything that we’ve put together, to kind of lead us to this point. And it’s a lot. It has been a lot of kind of betting the house, right? Just like we’re going to go all in order to make this happen. And when that doesn’t happen, in a lot of instances, it’s devastating. We believe so much in like building this and building capacity in our community that it allows us to keep going, but it’s not always easy to keep going, like not at all, you know.
Jamarlin Martin: Culturally, in terms of how our people look at taking big risks and failure, do you see any nuances in terms of our appetite for business risk?
Derick Pearson: I think we have a huge appetite for business risk. We just like to do things collectively. The issue is that we’re no longer working together on these business ventures. We’re thinking we should go at it alone like everybody else when that’s not necessarily the case. And a lot of cases we think they’re going out there alone, but they’re not. They’re getting money from the trust fund. They’re tapping into their friends, and the friend of the family is a lawyer or the brother is a lawyer. They have all of these auxiliary sources of support that we don’t have and that we think that, oh, we don’t need in order to survive as an entrepreneur, we should stick with our guns and stick with what we feel because we know we want to go in with somebody else. We want to work and have partnerships in organizations.
Felecia Hatcher: The other part of that, from a cultural standpoint, I don’t think our community really understands what it means to fail. Right? That’s a big heavy word in our community. I think one of the biggest mistakes that we make early on is we tell our young people that they have to work twice as hard and I think that’s probably one of the most dangerous things that we can tell our young people, because that means that you don’t innovate, you don’t go outside of the box, you don’t take risk because like I have to work twice as hard to be like half as good and that’s a problem. And whether that statement is true or not, it just, it doesn’t allow us to to do anything that even remotely is going to lead us down a road where we think we’re going to fail because too much ends up riding on our back. And that’s a heavy burden. A lot of times for people to kind of have is I cannot do anything outside of the norm because if I fail like what do I fall back on and will my community understand that and will they rally behind me like other communities do? Like, ‘yes you failed or like yes you’ve failed using somebody else’s money, go back out there and raise some more, go back’, and like that’s very rarely a conversation. My parents are right outside, my mom’s Jamaican, my dad is American. And having a conversation with both of them around failure, it’s two different things, right? And it’s two different things because my dad is an entrepreneur, he’s been an entrepreneur for 20 years and so he understands that. My mom is just like, what are you going to do? Like, you know, you can’t do this, and so we do have to change that conversation around what failure actually means, but then also change the conversation about what does success actually mean because like those things need to be personally defined and I think they need to be redefined as it relates to the black community because it stifles a lot of us. It stifles a lot of us more than we ever know that that pressure to always be that one in your community that has to bring it home for everyone else in your family, your block or whatever. That’s a problem that we have to fix.
Jamarlin Martin: Yeah. And then also we need to appreciate that when you look at Uber, for example, the founder and CEO, his first company went bankrupt, filed for bankruptcy. You see Sheldon Adelson, the founder and I believe now chairman of the Sands Corporation, which owns a few hotels in Macao and Singapore and the Venetian. He failed his first few ventures and just based on real world experience, I feel like you’re not winning as an entrepreneur until you go through one or two failures, generally speaking. And that most likely is going to set you up for you to do the thing. Maybe the third or fourth time. Do you share that?
Felecia Hatcher: I agree. So even here locally, I just remember there was a conversation with the House of Mac truck, right? And then closing down their South Beach location and like the comments were crazy. Like he didn’t know what he was doing and blah blah blah. And then the founder of JugoFresh closed down all their stores two days ago. So in the common section. It was just like, oh my God, he was a pioneer and he’s still going to do this and I’m just like, why are these conversations so different? You know what I mean? And that’s a problem because on the one end you can see like the vision that he, this guy was able to create and respect that and understand that he’s going to bounce back and he’s going to be able to build something else. But on the other hand, this whole other conversation that was like, ‘dude didn’t know what the f he was doing. Like he ruined it for every other black person that’s going to try and open a restaurant’. That’s a problem.
Jamarlin Martin: Yeah, definitely. I see a cultural issue, where people who are overly critical of entrepreneurs failing most likely don’t come from a family that’s building business. Right? And I feel, at least my personal experience is that, sentiments particularly from black people when businesses fail, without appreciation of the fact that nine out of 10 businesses do fail. And you talked about your nonprofit. Talk about that.
Jamarlin Martin: The black tech community. I noticed that folks who raised a lot of money from the elite venture capital firms, that these are the people who a lot of people admire. Do you think that the values in the community are kind of twisted where even from a business perspective, right, in my mind, you’re admiring people who generate a lot of revenue, that people who generate a lot of profit, people possibly employ a lot of people in the community. People who possibly are giving back to the community, people who are out there in the streets doing stuff for community in terms of CEOs, entrepreneurs. But it seems like a lot of people, their proxy for success is, who the white folks are backing, and how much money are those elite white folks giving to that black entrepreneur. Do you believe that the game is kinda twisted where you know how much money you raise, that’s the measure of success of the particular black entrepreneur?
Derick Pearson: Business 101 is about how much profit you’re making. So if it’s not sustainable, it’s not valuable.
Jamarlin Martin: The goal is not to raise the most money. And not only that. The goal is not to back whoever white folks are backing. That could be a luck game or there could be something else going on. Don’t you feel like the measure in terms of when we give props to people, we respect people, the measurement from a business perspective should be about, you know, hey, there’s this company generating a lot of revenue This company has great margins, or profit, or on the social side. This person is really in those streets, you know, doing good work in the community that the values in the community cannot be cheerleading for whoever raises the most money from white folks. That’s great, but that’s not the proxy of success we’re looking for, right?
Derick Pearson: No, it’s not the proxy of success. Again, it’s about, is that a sustainable business that they’re creating? Are they hiring people from the community? Are they adding value? To the community, so when we talk about the raise of the money, yes you get that short term money, but what are you doing long term? What is going to be the economic impact of that organization? Are you going to be able to hold that organization and become a billionaire because we have to understand where we want to play, where do you want to play? Do you want to play the power game or do you want to play the show game, because people work. Are you trying to be like the Koch brothers, become a billion dollar company and just influence policy and create the change that everybody wants. That’s what you have to do.
Jamarlin Martin: Yeah. I feel like the game in some cases is really twisted. We want to be supportive of everybody in the community. But as an entrepreneur, raising capital is not a real metric. Hey, someone got some money, 5,000,000, $10,000,000. There was successful raising capital, but that’s, that’s not really a KPI, right? There’s the good entrepreneurs, they’re good salesmen. Got lucky, politics, they’e in the right crowd, they’re safe. But it just seems like, you know, I believe we’re in an economic cycle at the top of a economic cycle, as we saw in the financial crisis where too many people are focused on the wrong things. It’s not about raising capital. It’s more about profitability, margins, cash. Those things are going to be important when the next crash happens and, I believe we’re almost there.
Derick Pearson: Yeah. There are two different games. When you start talking about like the venture capital. Venture capital invests in ideas, large ideas that can scale, and traditional private equity, they are focused on investing in actual businesses. How much revenue are you making? What are your profits? What are their key financial indicators that say that this is a healthy and viable business?
Felecia Hatcher: A lot of that is just like, those are well networked people, right? Like, let’s be honest about the situation and some of them are good ideas, but a lot of it is well networked and you are a fundraising guru. Does that convert? A lot of times we see it, right? And sometimes we just, we don’t, you, we hear more and more stories about people are just like, they raised a ton of money and it all goes to shit and nothing. And then they raised more money again for that next idea.
Jamarlin Martin: Or pattern matching. Hey, you sound like some of these other motherfuckers coming in here but you’re black and safe.
Felecia Hatcher: I think to answer the other part of your question, what happened to just good old fashioned customer funding, right? Sales and receipts. What happened to that? And it’s funny because I had a conversation with a startup founder here who is struggling. And not struggling in the sense of his idea isn’t working. He’s generating revenue. Like his company generates six figure revenue a year, but his profits are another story. But he’s generating revenue, but he is obsessed with trying to raise investor funding and I’m like, dude, why? You have something that works, like why are you spending and exhausting all this time on the other end? And I get like you’re wowed by the big money and stuff like that. But you’ll eventually find the right investor that makes sense. But you’re really more of a small business then you are a startup, and it’s perfectly fine. Like if you spend nearly half the time that you’re spending running around to investors in getting discouraged for x and, x, y, and z, for whatever reason, and really kind of refocus that attention back into your business, you will have what you want. Like what he’s missing is a few really good contracts. Right? And that’s where we hope our economic development arm plays a bigger role in procurement opportunities. So there’s a disconnect there, but that’s where he and a lot of people I think should be more focused. And I think that’s really the area of opportunity for black entrepreneurs, right? I think not saying that we can’t play this startup game, but we cannot play this game the way the rest of the people are playing it, the rule books are just not written for us. Right? And so like one of the first parts of ‘Lean Startup’ and all these books is a friends and family round. And if you don’t have that, the absence of that and, not to talk in general terms, but a lot of us just don’t have that. A lot of times our families,most of them are depending on us to be that for them. And so you can’t really reach back in that way. So if you’re already starting at a point where you can’t play that first level of the game the way that they’re playing, how can we do that differently? And I think, you know, when you look at our economic buying power, when you look at procurement opportunities and contracts as opposed to chasing around startup funding, I think we can do a lot of things a lot more differently and see more success coming out on the other side.
Jamarlin Martin: What about the black entrepreneur? He has a great idea, but like you said, hey, that’s a small to medium size idea. It would’ve worked, but the VC you start optimizing and I had some experience with this where you start engineering your original good idea to make it bigger, to make it big enough for investors. So you go out there and you had originally had a really good idea that could work. That could have been a $5,000,000 business, a $2,000,000 business, a $10,000,000 business, a $50,000,000 business. But when you start messing around with Sand Hill Road in the Silicon Valley VC establishment, they will turn the idea or influence you to turn the idea, ‘hey, it has to be a billion dollar idea’. And so I see folks who may have an inclination to release more products than they should, go faster than they should, have more money than they should. Can you talk a little bit about how good business ideas are being re-engineered to fit a box that they probably shouldn’t be in? Where from the venture capitalist perspective, hey, I got 200, 100 portfolio companies. I don’t care if a company goes bust, this shit is either going to be a billion or nothing and you guys essentially need to be big enough for me to invest.
Derick Pearson: Yeah, I think that’s a lot of cases, that happens in a lot of cases, even like … walking into a VC and asking… We’re already thinking based on the books like Felecia alluded to, ‘Lean Startup’ and ‘Pitch Anything’. All of these books talk about how big can you make the idea, because venture capitalists only invest in huge opportunities. So we have to understand and take it back to the original concept where it’s fine for you to have $100,000,000 business, it’s fine for you to have a $200,000,000 business. You can eventually scale up to a billion dollar business if you want to. But that has traditionally been done through mergers and acquisitions. So instead of you trying to become a whale, you should be a piranha and then you should be eating up other fish until you get a swarm, a holding company or institution that has multiple streams of revenue that is now a billion dollar institution. Now you’re a force to be reckoned with. So maximize the idea that you have, but always look towards being bigger from different areas of revenue. That’s how I look at it, because you can always be a great holding company. You can be a tech holding company, nothing is stopping you from doing so. Every idea that you have doesn’t have to be a billion dollar idea. $100,000,000 is fine with me, you know what I mean? And I get nine more. I have a billion dollar institution and that’s where we have to understand. And I think that’s the mentality and mindset that we have to have. Because again, we’re not going to, we can’t play that game. We don’t have the friends and family round and they’re not writing us the large checks as they’re doing our counterparts.
Jamarlin Martin: So we’re seeing black celebrities step into startup investing more over the last few years. Jay-Z I believe is affiliated or owns two venture capital firms. Kevin Durant, some of the Golden State Warriors, Chris Bosh here in Miami…
Felecia Hatcher: Snoop Dogg.
Jamarlin Martin: Who? Snoop Dogg. How do you feel about black entertainers and celebrities investing in startups? Talk to our audience about how you see things develop in there.
Derick Pearson: I see it as a great opportunity. I see it as a great opportunity for founders to get access to what they haven’t had access to before. Whether that helps out black people. I don’t know. I don’t know if they’re invested in black companies to the level that they’re doing companies founded by other individuals. And also the fact that a lot of times they’re not the ones managing these funds. They still have the same investment banks, and accountings, and lawyers who traditionally work for other funds who look out for their own, that are bringing them the deals and those are the people in their network. They’re still not the people outside of their network.
Jamarlin Martin: Do you think it’s fair for an observer to say that, hey, all these black celebrities investing in tech startups, you know, we’re out here, some people out here begging Silicon Valley, criticizing Silicon Valley in terms of what the white venture capitalists do, what the establishment does, but the black celebrity, you need to be allocating at a minimum 20, 30 percent of your fund to black founders. Do you believe that’s fair to put that weight or mandate on that black entertainer, black celebrity? Would you be mad if, for example, Jay-Z’s funds, you found out that dollar for dollar only five percent went to black founders.
Felecia Hatcher: I’d definitely be giving the side eye to it, but I mean at the end of the day it is their money, you know? I think, especially within the black community, you have a responsibility back to the community, right? Whether you honor that or not, it’s always there. So in an ideal world, I would love to see majority of their investments go to us, but kind of leaning on what Derick said, like the deals that are coming to them, the circles that they’re in there, they’re not always us, right? I remember getting excited, I think like a week or two ago I saw a NFL player invested in a tech company here in South Florida. And I went and I looked at it and the founding team and I was like, ‘oh man’, I was a little disappointed. But, I guess you know, yes and no, yes and no for me.
Derick Pearson: It’s their money. You can’t tell them what to do with it and you know. The only thing you can do is the work that we’re doing and that work includes identifying the top talent, pushing it out through social media, through our media partners, our PR partners and just bringing awareness around those institutions and those founders because that’s the only way that we’re actually going to be able to get on somebody’s radar. And again it’s a word of mouth type of environment. So we try to cut through all of that with the programming that we do and how we support the entrepreneurs and the founders.
Jamarlin Martin: The endowments of Howard, Spelman and Morehouse in aggregate is about $800,000,000. They’re investing it in stocks, bonds, real estate. Do you feel like they should be investing, or at least have a presence in black tech? Meaning that between them, obviously they have obligations, but if they’re going to be investing in conventional investments, you know, why aren’t they establishing connectivity or more connectivity with the black tech space? Do you guys ever see HBCUs, in terms of anybody affiliated with the endowments or anything, in the startup investing space, specifically talking about black founders?
Derick Pearson: Nope. I haven’t seen any announcements or any agreements published that talks about HBCUs investing their endowment in a fund. That’s something that they can do. It can be one percent…
Jamarlin Martin: Yeah. Start nibbling on some of the entrepreneurs out there and you guys may be able to get out of the mess that I believe is coming with a lot of HBCUs. I feel like they need to be out there developing networks with folks like you, black tech entrepreneurs who are out there hustling. If they can develop a proprietary network where they get very interesting investment opportunities, possibly that could help them get out the mess that they’re in, in terms of if you’re not going to mess our connect with the innovation economy, particularly with your graduates, you’re not going to be winning in the future. Meaning that you’re going to have to have a competitive advantage in terms of the endowment investing model to be competitive.
Derick Pearson: Yeah. And you also have to create that culture within the students as well to create a culture of inventing and being a startup founder and entrepreneurship, that goes hand in hand. So if you’re not doing that from a curriculum and a programming standpoint it’s not even going to benefit you, from the venture capital standpoint, because a lot of the ways that these institutions like MIT is making money is because they have these brilliant students come up with amazing ideas, creating patents, getting a piece of that patent. and then come back and donate to the university. You know what I mean? After you make millions of dollars. So that increases your endowment and that gives you a return on your investment into that person. So we have to do a better job of that. Because again, if you look at pretty much every major Ivy League school, they have some kind of revenue generating for profit entity where they’re buying up all the real estate in the black neighborhoods that they have their institutions at, from Ivy League perspective, or they have that medical hospital that’s bringing in billions of dollars a year. They have something that’s generating some money and they have provided resources and support for entrepreneurs who have become successful to reinvest into the institution itself.
Jamarlin Martin: Hey, the HBCU leadership, the establishment, they’re probably not going to step up and really get it anytime soon. But what about black entrepreneurs donating their equity to the endowments? What do you think about that idea?
Derick Pearson: I love that idea. That’s something that I eventually want to do.I’m all for it. So donate that money to Morehouse.
Jamarlin Martin: Let’s thank Felecia and Derick from Code Fever and Black Tech Week. Make sure you check them out at Black Tech Week. Make sure you attend the next Black Tech Week. It was a really transformational experience for me. I got a chance to connect with some really great people, great programming. They put on a great event. Make sure you come to Miami. Can you tell our audience your next events that are coming up?
Felecia Hatcher: Black Tech Week in LA, April 4th through to 6th. And then our next few cities after that are New York and Charlotte and DC, and Philly, for Philly tech week.
Jamarlin Martin: And where can the audience go to get more information on that?
Felecia Hatcher: Black Tech Week.com, or Black Tech Weekend.com.
Jamarlin Martin: Ok, check out Black Tech Week. Let’s GHOGH. Thanks everybody for listening to GHOGH. You can check me Jamarlin Martin on Twitter, and also come check us out at Moguldom.com. That’s m o g u l d o m.com. Be sure to subscribe to our daily newsletter. You can get the latest information on crypto, tech, economic empowerment and politics. Let’s GHOGH!
This interview has been edited for clarity.