What It’s Like To Be An African American Founder Building For The Post-Smartphone World
When tech founder Russell Ladson needed investors, there was no shortage of interest at Silicon Valley VC firms for VR/AR products. The formidable challenge, he said, was fundraising as an African American building a software company.
“We found ourselves defending our legitimacy,” said Ladson, who is co-founder of Drop, an internet searching and browsing experience for virtual reality and augmented reality users.
Ladson describes his product as “Google Chrome for VR/AR” — that’s a compact and efficient way of pitching it to potential investors.
He talked to Black Enterprise about what it’s like as an African American man trying to raise funding for technology. The answer, he found, lay outside of Silicon Valley.
From Black Enterprise. Interview by Sequoia Blodgett.
Tell me about your background.
Russell Ladson: I grew up in Philadelphia and then went off to Morehouse College—which was a defining moment in my development as an African American male. Subsequently, I moved to New York City to work as an investment banking analyst. I am now based in San Francisco where I spend my time working with an exceptional team at Drop, hanging out in art spaces, and hiking while hopping on and off planes to Asia and Los Angeles.
Can you explain Drop and its use case?
Russell Ladson: Drop is the “Google Chrome for VR/AR.” It’s an immersive internet searching and browsing experience for virtual reality and augmented reality users.
The first thing many of us do when we open our MacBooks or iPhones is access a web browser because the browser has traditionally been our gateway to information discovery. Well, what does this foundational computing experience look like in about 3 – 5 years when our iPhones or MacBooks are no longer our primary computing devices but instead each of us owns a virtual reality or augmented reality headset? Our team has been looking to answer that fundamental question.
Today, Drop is one of the most popular VR titles among HTC Vive users—the leading VR headset in the space.
How has it been for you and your team to fundraise for technology that is still trying to find its place in the market?
Russell Ladson: The formidable challenge wasn’t finding interested investors in VR/AR because funding for VR/AR startups remains popular among Silicon Valley venture firms. Our challenge was fundraising as African Americans building a software company. Even with a world-class team and an impressive product with significant traction, we found ourselves defending our legitimacy to create an enduring technology company. To circumnavigate that issue, we looked for strategic investors outside of traditional Silicon Valley firms. We secured a majority of our capital from institutional investors in Asia and Los Angeles.
Where do you see AR/VR going in the future?
Russell Ladson: At Drop, we build products that help people connect with the world in a more meaningful and authentic way. We often say we are building for the post-smartphone world. We believe the future adoption of these technologies in our everyday lives will create new social interaction paradigms, information-gathering systems, and new approaches to human productivity.
Read more at Black Enterprise.
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