Black And Successful In Silicon Valley Against The Odds: Clarence Wooten, GHOGH Podcast Episode 15

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Written by Dana Sanchez
Clarence Wooten, founder and CEO of STEAM Role. Photo: Anita Sanikop/Moguldom

In 1999, shortly before the 2000 dot-com bubble burst and so many tech firms went away, Silicon Valley original Clarence Wooten beat the odds on so many levels.

Wooten sold ImageCafe.com, the tech company he co-founded, for $23 million. He describes it as “the world’s first superstore of prefabricated websites.”

Against the odds, Wooten has succeeded in an environment where African Americans have been unsuccessful at raising enough capital to scale — “to really sustain a business and allow a business model to take hold and begin to explode,” he said.

The ICO game has the potential to change that, Wooten said. Two of his latest enterprises — STEAM Role and RoleCoin — employ the blockchain and crypto.

“If you can tap into crowdfunding and incentivize an entire community to get them rallied around your business and investing in your token, and that gets you to scale capital you need, I think you’ll begin to see more Black-led unicorn companies,” Wooten said during a GHOGH podcast with Jamarlin Martin.

ImageCafe.com was kind of like what Wix and Squarespace is today, Wooten said. He sold it in November 1999 to Network Solutions, which, back then had a monopoly on domain names — pretty much what GoDaddy has now.

That exit solidified Wooten’s path as a serial entrepreneur and changed his life.

“For an African American kid from Baltimore who didn’t grow up with money, whose parents didn’t really have a lot of money, it was game-changing, you know, particularly from my neighborhood. No one expected me to really do anything, but to turn around and do that really put me on the map.” — Clarence Wooten, CEO and founder of STEAM Role and RoleCoin.

Wooten’s latest endeavors include STEAM Role, a mobile app startup focused on helping aspiring young professionals — a “Tinder meets Snapchat for discovering your dream career”. The app lets successful professionals with backgrounds in science, technology, engineering, art/design, and math (STEAM fields) showcase who they are and how they got there.

Wooten has also started RoleCoin, his own cryptocurrency.

STEAM Role users, called Steamers, are typically college students but also aspiring young pros age 13 to 30. “They can receive inspiration and guidance from a huge network of people who look like them, who are killing it,” Wooten said.  “And STEAM professions can actually learn their skills and earn while they learn, so we introduced RoleCoin as a cryptocurrency to kind of gamify the experience.”

Role models sharing their stories via STEAM Role app’s story-clip videos are minting RoleCoin. Students following the roadmaps or role models earn RoleCoin while they learn.

“We realized we could build an economy around the company to tie all the actors in the ecosystem together and to increase the probability of success of STEAM Role,” Wooten said.

People of color often leave Silicon Valley because it lacks diversity and they don’t feel welcome there. Wooten said he credits changing schools a lot as a child with helping him find a level of comfort in Silicon Valley:

“I went to eight different public schools growing up in and around Baltimore. Every couple of years my parents got separated and we moved to the suburbs and so I would go from an inner-city community that was all Black to a primarily Jewish suburb or one that was predominantly Russian. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was developing social skills and becoming comfortable around all people.”

Digital media pioneer Jamarlin Martin launched the GHOGH Podcast Franchise — Go Hard Or Go Home — at SXSW 2018, aimed at multicultural millennials.

Jamarlin spoke to Wooten about Bitcoin’s long-term prospects and how blockchain has opened up new capital-raising opportunities for entrepreneurs. Wooten also talked about his new venture, STEAM Role, meritocracy, and common mistakes founders make.

Hear more of Clarence Wooten on Episode 15 of the GHOGH Podcast.

Other GHOGH episodes:

Episode 26: Bria Sullivan, a trailblazing mobile-app developer, talks about her work at Google and how she is helping others get in the game. She discusses internal cultural optimization, and whether African American culture is “underweight” in tech and science and “overweight” in athletics and entertainment. She also discusses Jamarlin’s experience at McKinsey & Co, where an applicant with a 4.0 GPA and near-perfect SAT score was rejected because he was from the “wrong school.”

Episode 25: Liz Burr, a digital media guru and MIT graduate, talks about business prospects for podcasting, censoring Black artists and activists online, and how using the N-word got a top exec fired at Netflix. She also discusses a hypothetical Democratic presidential race with Kamala Harris and Cory Booker running against Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Episode 24: Delane Parnell is the founder and CEO of high-school esports company PlayVS, which just raised a $15M series A round. He discusses growing up in the streets of Detroit, developing a passion for business and tech, and closing an exclusive deal with the NFHS, which writes the rules for most high school sports. Delane also talks about how he put together the raise, and how entrepreneurs can keep a positive attitude after being rejected by investors.

Episode 23: Everette Taylor, a serial entrepreneur and marketing whiz, talks about building GrowthHackers, PopSocial and other companies in his potfolio. He shares what he learned from selling his first tech business at age 21 and working with Snapchat on a new startup accelerator. He also discusses founders investing too much in public relations, and whether negro tech elites need to step up, reach back and help more Black people.

Episode 22: Angelica Nwandu, founder & CEO Of The Shade Room, discusses how she built a multimillion-dollar media platform and her recent moves into films. She and Jamarlin also discuss the academic and business success of Nigerians in America, and why Facebook shut down The Shade Room multiple times while allowing Russians and Cambridge Analytica to market anti-Black ads.

Episode 21: Devin Johnson, president of digital sports programming network Uninterrupted, discusses his career path, changes in the media industry, and what it’s like to work with Lebron James. He and Jamarlin debate whether Spotify targeted Black artists with policy changes and they revisit “white flight” from MySpace to Facebook, and whether this could happen to Instagram.

Episode 20: Andrew Gillum, Mayor of Tallahassee and Democratic candidate for Florida governor, discusses the DNC taking the Black vote for granted, its silence on the killing of 60 Palestinian protestors, and whether big tech and Silicon Valley elites can be regulated at the state level.

Episode 19: Anthony D. Mays talks about Black cultural optimization, getting bullied in Compton for being a computer geek, and how he landed a job at Google.

Episode 18: Dr. Boyce Watkins, Part 3, founder and CEO of Watkins Media Group, talks about potential 2020 presidential candidates, and the lopsided relationship between Black America and the Democratic Party.

Episode 17: Dr. Boyce Watkins, Part 2, talks about building The Black Business School, and how he deals with his negro critics and their victimology teachings. He and Jamarlin also discuss the #MeToo movement and racial bias in Facebook’s content policing.

Episode 16: Dr. Boyce Watkins, Part 1, founder and CEO of Watkins Media Group, talks about Black self-determination and Kanye West bangin’ for MAGA. He and Jamarlin also revisit Bill Cosby’s “Pound Cake” speech, and whether he received a fair trial.

Episode 15: Clarence Wooten, a Silicon Valley-based entrepreneur, sold his first tech business for $23 million. He discusses his new venture — STEAM Role — meritocracy, and common mistakes founders make. He also talks about Bitcoin’s long-term prospects and how blockchain has opened up new capital-raising opportunities for entrepreneurs.

Episode 14: Barron Channer, founder of Miami -based Woodwater Investments, talks about turning down Harvard Business School, and whether Black-on-Black murders need to be prioritized over police-on-Black murders. He also debates what is to blame for the Black murder rate in Chicago and whether most U.S. police departments are racist in the second of a 2-part podcast.

Episode 13Barron Channer, founder of Miami-based Woodwater Investments, shares how he got to work for billion-dollar real estate developer Don Peebles. This Wharton MBA’s business focuses on real estate development and tech. He revisits how Barack Obama handled Rev. Wright in the first of a 2-part podcast.

Episode 12Keenan Beasley, co-founder and managing partner of New York digital analytics company BLKBOX, talks about his early mistakes, how NY and Silicon Valley investors differ, and the advantages of getting experience in an industry before trying to disrupt it. The Westpoint grad and former P&G brand manager also discusses M&A activity involving Richelieu Dennis, Byron Allen and Robert Smith.

Episode 11Travis Holoway, founder and CEO of peer-to-peer lending startup SoLo Funds, discusses Mark Zuckerberg as a liberal tech version of Donald Trump, Jake Tapper’s double standards on CNN towards Black leaders, and whether Silicon Valley has “negro helpers” who set the community back.

Episode 10: Karen Fleshman, the founder of Racy Conversations, talks about women of privilege exploiting civil rights and diversity movements, and whether Kamala Harris can be trusted on criminal justice reform. She also discusses Facebook’s problems, and whether these can be primarily sourced to Mark Zuckerberg’s and Sheryl Sandberg’s values and ethics.

Episode 9: Felecia Hatcher and Derick Pearson talk about Black Tech Week, economic empowerment, and the potential impact of Atlanta landing Amazon HQ2. They also discuss the politics of diversity favoring women of privilege, and whether or not Silicon Valley is the global capital of white supremacy.

Episode 8: Marlin Nichols, co-founder of Cross Culture Ventures, talks about the culturally-themed fund he started with Troy Carter. He discusses the burger-flippin’ robot, Flippy, and socially responsible investing. Marlon offers advice to founders seeking investment, and answers questions about whether there is too much “shut-up-and-dribble” in Silicon Valley.

Episode 7: Tayo Oviosu, founder and CEO of leading Nigerian mobile payments company Paga, discusses bitcoin prospects, superior Nigerian academic performance in the U.S., and why Nigeria is the African economic opportunity. The podcast also touches on Elon Musk, Aliko Dangote, and whether Oviosu would ever run for president.

Episode 6: Rodney Sampson, founder of HBCU@SXSW and the Atlanta-based Opportunity Hub, discusses investing in Atlanta blockchain startups and the importance of connecting HBCU endowments to Black tech. He covers the intersectionality of oppression, discrimination, and holding SV leaders accountable for inequality.

Episode 5Angela Benton talks about starting NewMe Accelerator, building her personal brand as a single mother while battling cancer, and whether or not most of the “diversity” gains in Silicon Valley will go to privileged white women.

Episode 4Detavio Samuels, president of Interactive One, leads a $30M digital media business that in 2017 acquired Bossip, Madamenoire, and HiphopWired. He discusses Richelieu Dennis’ acquisition of Essence, Facebook’s recent fumbles, and whether Complex Media is a culture vulture.

Episode 3Arlan Hamilton talks about Backstage Capital, the VC fund she dreamed up while she was homeless. She talks about the Silicon Valley establishment and about Tamika Mallory, who attended Saviours’ Day with Louis Farrakhan.

Episode 2Rodney Williams, founder and CEO of Lisnr, talks about raising $10 million in venture capital, HBCU endowments that invest in black tech, and how to fire loyal employees you like.

Episode 1Brian Brackeen talks about his path to starting his facial recognition firm, Kairos, how blockchain can be applied to the NFL, and whether Disney’s’ “Black Panther” is revolutionary.