Why Fixt Founder Luke Cooper Turned Down $500K From An Investor Who Disrespected Baltimore: On Mogul Watch

Ebony Grimsley-Vaz
Written by Ebony Grimsley-Vaz

Despite Baltimore’s struggle with its public image and continuing public relations crises, the city is growing when it comes to Black tech developments, investments and startups.

When Baltimore is mentioned in mainstream media, it’s often about the city’s homicide rate (300 killings in 2018), issues with law enforcement (Freddie Gray and the search for another police chief) or discrimination against HBCUs.

“Baltimore city’s a complete shit-show right now,” said Eugene Craig III, former vice chairman of the Maryland Republican Party, during a 2018 GHOGH Podcast with Jamarlin Martin.


Listen to GHOGH with Jamarlin Martin | Episode 30: Eugene Craig III
Jamarlin talks to Eugene Craig III, former vice chairman of the Maryland Republican Party, about why he says f*ck MAGA and how the GOP has become the party of power at all costs. They discuss “What about Baltimore,” holding local elected officials accountable and starting a Kanye West PAC.

Here are some Baltimore headlines you may not have seen:

  • In 2018, Forbes named Baltimore one of the top rising cities for startups.
  • Blacktech Week named Baltimore as one of the Best metro areas for Black-owned companies in 2017.
  • Ben Jealous, a partner for Kapor Capital and board member of Pigeonly, is located in Baltimore.
  • Groups like the Baltimore Black Techies are growing strong with 1,000-plus members since launching in July 2017.

While the debate continues on how great the city is and how it can foster Black businesses, founder Luke Cooper of Fixt is putting in the work to grow a million-dollar business in the Baltimore area.

Fixt is an online company that sends technicians out to help people fix devices such as phones and tablets. The company counts the New York Police Department among its customers and recently raised $6.5 million in new Series A funding for a total of $9.9 million in funding.

Cooper, an attorney-turned-tech-founder, shares with Moguldom how Fixt is intentional about its mission, how it’s growing a diverse culture, and insights into fundraising.

I had an investor we turned down. He offered us half a million in Series A, but I had to turn him down because he made some comments. He said something along the lines of “Baltimore sucks. How do you even hire people there? Leadership is terrible, the infrastructure’s falling apart, it’s a crappy city, the people are not super talented.” — Luke Cooper, founder of Fixt

Luke Cooper
Photo credit: Willis Aybar

Ebony Vaz:  Why did you start Fixt?

Luke Cooper:  I started it because I wanted to improve a really bad experience I had and increase productivity for human beings. I feel like a way for us to develop the best technologies that are going to sustain the planet, and sustain life, far beyond our lifetime, will come from the untapped potential that exists in every human being. And you can’t really do your most productive work if most of your productive work is happening on mission-critical devices that fail and go through an analog process.

That was the case in 2014 when we started the business. Devices had to be taken to a repair store. Individuals and companies were collectively spending millions of hours running a bad process trying to have their items repaired. We wanted to improve that, and we’ve done that dramatically every day for dozens and dozens of enterprise customers with millions of end users. From the NYPD, the 36,000 end users and policemen that are obviously in mission-critical roles, to Home Depot. Stanford University, where intense research that focuses on new and novel things in medical science and technology to help society. We are happy to know we’re a small part of that.

The other side of that is a very moral cause behind what we’re doing. I think for us as a civilization, to get to a place where we move beyond just short tolerance, right (“I tolerate you because you’re Black. I tolerate you because you’re white. I tolerate you because you’re gay”) into a place of true equality, we have to need each other. But to really need each other. When we need each other, all the other things that are impediments to how I perceive you, go away. And so, for that to work, we have to need each other. And we need the 2,400 technicians that come from tremendously diverse backgrounds to help us. Sixty percent of them are African-American/Latino. Forty percent of them are new Americans. And so, we’ve got this army of people that need us, and we need them to deliver our service every day. We believe that in some small way, we are creating a more fair, equal society that is glued together by need, and not these other impermanent things.

We try to do our best to celebrate big wins and small wins because, in a startup, it’s so much about keeping the team together and motivated, and not letting them burn out, so we celebrate everything.” — — Luke Cooper, founder of Fixt

Ebony Vaz: You started Fixt because of a bad experience. What was that bad experience?

Luke Cooper:  I dropped my phone on a bus in Boulder. I was in a program called TechStars and when I dropped my phone, I observed all these people around me. They had the same exact reaction. And I was like, “Well, what happens in the world where you do something to a device and everyone has the same exact reaction?” And so, I felt there was something important going on there, and that prompted me to be aware of it and observe. I had some creative ideas initially, but I wanted to sort of follow through the process. So, I took my broken phone to the store. They couldn’t do anything for me. I couldn’t even get an appointment until the following week. So, that was the first impediment. Then the second block was at the time I had insurance through a carrier and I submitted my insurance claim and phone to them. Three days later, they sent me back a different phone. I had an iPhone and they sent me back a Samsung Galaxy Note or something like that. And I think, “Wow!” First of all, it’s a whole different operating system I’m not familiar with, and I haven’t used all that much. And you’re sending me a completely different phone, and your justification for that was that tucked away in the fine print of my insurance document, it says “we are only required to send you a phone that is similar in quality and cost, to your last phone.” I was like, “Wow, that is completely unfair!” Completely unfair and designed by lawyers. And as a former lawyer, I thought that was just completely wrong. And so, we sought to fix that, and we think we’re doing our small part there.

People talk about diversity and they think it’s this abstract idea and it just happens. It doesn’t happen organically. If you are not intentional about that at the very beginning, then it won’t finish that way. It’s very hard to do as a company matures and the culture gets set.” — Luke Cooper, founder of Fixt

Ebony Vaz: How have you made workforce diversity something that’s intentional for you?

Luke Cooper: Everything we do is intentional. And so, I think people talk about diversity and they think it’s this abstract idea and, you know, it just happens. It doesn’t happen organically. And if you are not intentional about that at the very beginning, then it won’t finish that way. Plus, it’s very hard to sort of do those things as a company matures and the culture gets set. Everybody around here embraces the culture of diversity and not just in terms of ethnicity. We have every field of thought as well. We have rocket scientists, data analysts, engineers. We have people who don’t have college degrees but are very, very smart and have lots of valuable things to offer and people who come from all different kinds of backgrounds, across the socioeconomic stratum. And so, we’ve been very intentional about that. It’s written right into our values system that we work best when we are a diverse team working on the same problems.

Ebony Vaz:  What are some of Fixt’s notable wins?

Luke Cooper: We try to do our best to celebrate big wins and small wins because, in a startup, it’s so much about keeping the team together and motivated, and not letting them burn out, so we celebrate everything. Some small wins for us: the moment we had automated dispatch. When things come in, more of our process became automated. Today, roughly 80 percent of our platform is completely automated. That was a huge win for us internally. Some of the biggest wins have been new customers and partnerships, like NYPD as a customer (with) 36,000 police officers that we now support on those devices. It was a huge win for us. Home Depot was a huge win for us. US Cellular not only becoming a customer and us supporting their 5 million subs with 5G installation, but them also becoming an investor in Fixt. Putting a million dollars into our company! That’s a huge win for us! And so, we’ve had a number of huge wins. The challenge and the trick sometimes are being able to see the tree for the forest. Often times those big wins get forgotten about because you’re onto the next thing, and I appreciate you guys asking that question.

We want to see 80-to-90-percent of the enterprise market serviced by Fixt and our products. I think that is something that we absolutely will achieve over the next five years. I believe we will enable a way for every device to let us know it’s faulty five minutes before the call.” — Luke Cooper, founder of Fixt

Ebony Vaz: How much have you raised in capital and what was it like going through that process?

Luke Cooper: I’ll answer that in reverse. Raising money was eye-opening in a lot of ways. It was also exhilarating, and the worst part of my job. I hate fundraising. You have lots of expectations from different parties that have their own methodology and philosophy on startups investing. So, you’re trying to always sort of fit within their expectations, and it’s tough. It’s really, really tough. Orthogonal to those expectations are the expectations they might have personally and who they might invest in because they see themselves in it.

I had an investor we turned down. He offered us half a million in Series A, but I had to turn him down because he made some comments toward the end. He said something along the lines of “Baltimore sucks. How do you even hire people there? Leadership is terrible, the infrastructure’s falling apart, it’s a crappy city, the people are not super talented.”

Of course, I don’t take a comment like that and say this person is racist or prejudiced, but when a city is 70-percent Black and you make a comment like that? It’s kind of hard not to, in some ways, associate your comment with some negative sentiment you have about the people there.

And so, we try to find investors that reflect our values as much as we can, and I think we have done that over the course of fundraising for the company. We raised around $6.5 million for our series A.

Ebony Vaz: How did you meet the venture capitalists who invested in Fixt?

Luke Cooper: A lot of the connections we have come through other VCs or referrals. You know, people that had heard about us or they reached out to us cold. Typically, reaching out to a VC directly is not going to get you anywhere, so many of our relationships come from other people helping us. It was great for us early on, when Jim Cash, former board chair of Wal-Mart, Microsoft and GE, came along. I mean, just a great, brilliant guy. When he came in, he gave us yet another source of referrals for investment ll– all of the companies we can sell our services and more. So, we try to look for people that not only share our values but they’re bringing value that exceeds the limited amount of cash they might be putting in at any given time.

Ebony Vaz: What do the next five years look like for you, for Fixt?

Luke Cooper: We want to dominate the Fortune 500. I believe there is a well-defined path for us to essentially own a significant portion of the enterprise market. We want to see 80-to-90-percent of the enterprise market is being serviced by Fixt and our products and our services. I think that is something that we absolutely will achieve over the next five years. I believe we will enable a way for every device, regardless of the type of device it is — whether it’s a phone, tablet, conference room equipment — to let us know it’s faulty five minutes before the call. Whatever those things are, we’ll enable every device to sort of get a resolution super-quickly on demand.

 


About Ebony Grimsley-Vaz

Ebony T. Grimsley-Vaz is an author and digital marketing and PR expert for consumer brands, retailers, causes and events. Based in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area, she owns Above Promotions, a digital marketing, publicity and promotions company. She wrote the book, "Because You're Small: Effective Marketing Strategies for Immediate Implementation."