Full Transcript: Culture Genesis Co-Founder Cedric Rogers On GHOGH Podcast Part 1

Full Transcript: Culture Genesis Co-Founder Cedric Rogers On GHOGH Podcast Part 1

cedric rogers
Co-founder of Culture Genesis, Cedric Rogers talks to Jamarlin Martin about his work for Apple and interactions with Steve Jobs. Image: Anita Sanikop

In episode 61 of the GHOGH podcast, Jamarlin Martin talks to Cedric Rogers and Shaun Newsum, co-founders of Culture Genesis, a digital studio focused on remixing technology for underserved audiences.

We discuss Cedric’s work as an engineer for Apple, where he offered product ideas directly to Steve Jobs.

We also discuss whether all HBCUs should be saved considering rapid changes in debt economics and a tech-oriented environment.

Or do we need to reimagine education with new money going toward more fruitful, imaginative and low-debt concepts?

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 PodcastsSpotifyYouTube, and SoundCloud.

Listen to GHOGH with Jamarlin Martin | Episode 61: Cedric Rogers
Part 1: Jamarlin talks to Cedric Rogers and Shaun Newsum, co-founders of Culture Genesis, a digital studio focused on remixing technology for underserved audiences. We discuss Cedric’s work as an engineer for Apple, where he offered product ideas directly to Steve Jobs. We also discuss whether all HBCUs should be saved considering rapid changes in debt economics and a tech-oriented environment. Or do we need to reimagine education with new money going toward more fruitful, imaginative and low-debt concepts?

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This is a full transcript of the conversation which has been lightly edited for clarity.

Jamarlin Martin: I wrote a book about my life named “Moguldom”. You can get more information about this book at Moguldombook.com. I talk about acquiring the knowledge of self, self-determination and building a business over 10 years. There are some gems in this book that you don’t want to miss. One way to support the GHOGH movement and this podcast is to go to Moguldombook.com. Buy the book on presale to support the GHOGH movement. Let’s GHOGH! You’re listening to GHOGH with 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 great Cedric Rogers and Shaun Newsum, co-founders of Culture Genesis. Welcome to the show.

Cedric Rogers: Hey, thanks for having us.

Jamarlin Martin: Alright, let me start with Cedric. You worked 10 years at Apple and you’ve been involved with tech for a long time. Can you share with the audience your story and what was your path to working at Apple?

Cedric Rogers: So yeah, I’m originally from Houston, Texas, born and raised. And I actually always was into technology like a lot of guys, you know what I mean?

Jamarlin Martin: What age are we talking?

Cedric Rogers: Five years old, I was one of those guys who started taking stuff apart. And the older I got, the more things I would try to take apart, sometimes put them back together nicely, sometimes not. But that was kind of my curiosity always. Also my parents, being from Texas, they were big into putting up a lot of lights for Christmas and I would be the one subject to doing that responsibility. So I learned a lot about current doing that. And so that’s really got my curiosity around electricity and then went from there to RF. So I really started being more into hardware, remote control cars, all this kind of stuff and computers of course, really got me on my way into like, I knew very, very early that I wanted to be an electrical engineer completely.

Jamarlin Martin: At what age?

Cedric Rogers: I probably knew around 12, 13 years old, yeah, I’m definitely going to be an engineer. So it was very, very clear. That was what I wanted to study in school. And so, I had an opportunity, I went to a prep school in Houston, but then I had an opportunity to really see what was out there. And I was probably leaning University of Texas, Texas A&M kind of thing. But then Jessie Jackson actually came to my high school and spoke, and kind of really started talking to all of the guys. So a few of us that were Black and went to school, he pulled us aside and really told us about North Carolina A&T, where he went to school, and he was like, “It’s a great engineering school, you should consider it.” Funny enough I did. And my brother-in-law went to the school as well, so it was like, let me go check it out. And, ‘ve always been fond of young women and I went to the school and there was a nice strip full of coeds and I was like, “Oh yeah, this is the school for me”. So, between that and then also got a scholarship to run track too. So it just kind of all fell into place for me and I definitely enjoyed that institution. So went from A&T and really was a great program for me to be around so many likeminded people. Then I went from there to, my first gig was actually Motorola as an RF engineer, and then went from Motorola to Hewlett Packard for a short stint and then Hewlett Packard to Apple. So my first two jobs, I didn’t stay in too long, like a lot of people bounced around.

Jamarlin Martin: Did you get your first job using like career services at North Carolina AT&T where that was lined up as soon as you graduated?

03:39 —Cedric Rogers: Yeah. Now you’ve got to make sure it’s North Carolina A&T, if you say AT&T man, they’ll kill you at our school for that. But yeah, that’s exactly right. Office of career services. I’m gonna be very transparent, I was in NSBE, the National Society of Black Engineers, those organizations really put me in the network and it was actually fairly easy to get a job coming out of E&T because so many companies come there looking for Black engineers. So it was an easy path. And then I wound up really settling into Apple. I actually met Apple at NSBE conference and I was there on behalf of HP actually, started conversations with them and it was a time when Steve (Jobs) had just come back to the company for a few years and it was really interesting to see what was happening with the iPod at the time. And I said, hey, this might be something worth checking out. So I went into Apple really exploratory and I wound up getting an opportunity to do so many different wonderful things. And they treated me well, including paying from my Mba. So I really have fond memories and still great relationships at Apple now.

Jamarlin Martin: Did you ever meet or see Steve Jobs?

Cedric Rogers: Yeah. Fortunately I was able to work with Tim Cook and Steve when I was there, I think it was like three or four years into the company. I was one of those kind of people that always had an entrepreneurial mindset no matter what I did. And I was looking at where we were going with the iPad and said, Steve was actually talking about the fact that he wanted to take the iPad into different verticals. So I blindly sent Steve an email and said, “Hey, I’ve got an idea. How about we do things with athletics with the iPad?” And he always would reply back to employees if you had a good idea. And he liked it and he said, “Hey, yeah, you should work on that.” And inside it kind of snowballed from there and be working with Tim Cook and a lot of executives in Apple are big sports people. So this was kind of an easy sell.

Jamarlin Martin: Tim Cook, Clemson?

Cedric Rogers: No, he went to Auburn. And funny enough I did something really cool at Auburn back when Cam Newton was the quarterback, we did this really cool thing with them where they had the whole team with iPads and we had the play book for Cam and the whole thing. So it became really the standard that started happening in athletics.

Jamarlin Martin: So 10-year run at Apple. I gotta imagine stock options were part of your package and you made out well with your Apple options.

Cedric Rogers: Complete transparency, Apple, the RSUs they afforded me, a lot of reasons why I was able to take some of the risks that I took to go into entrepreneurship. I had a little bit of a cushion there to take some risk because I had that. So, yeah, they treated me well.

Jamarlin Martin: Yeah. That sounds like a hell of a run if you’re starting around the time of the iPod. Yeah. That sounds like a good run. So, you spent 10 years at Apple and there’s a lot of talk about so called diversity where people who look like us are not represented according to our population. And it’s hard to find people who look like us in Silicon Valley. What was your experience there in terms of your interaction with the environment out there?

Cedric Rogers: Yeah, I mean, honestly when I went to Apple early, there were very few people of color there. A lot of Asian Americans, White Americans, working in a company where me walking in, the whole time I was there I could probably count on my hand how many people of color I would see.

Jamarlin Martin: Wow, you talking about 10 years. I mean, I don’t see us showing up at all.

07:37 —Cedric Rogers: But what wound up happening is Apple made more investment into Apple Retail. And you started seeing them actually go deeper that way. They realized that they needed to have a workforce that represented the people they wanted to serve. And so you started seeing in the Apple Retail division more and more people of color and gender too. And Denise Young Smith, who’s no longer there, she was one of my mentors. She was head of HR for Apple Retail under Ron Johnson. And she did a wonderful job but really even working with me to do some things to really recruit people into the organization. And she then became head of HR for all of Apple for a period of time as well. So she recently left, so she was to me, a catalyst, someone that a lot of people may not know of, but Denise Young Smith, she went to Grambling University, Aka from Grambling University. So she really got it and did a lot to cultivate culture that I felt was not there when I first started.

Jamarlin Martin: My first job out of Morehouse with a political science degree was at Mckinsey & Company. And I worked in a low level job and I remember I didn’t see people who look like us with the exception of the mail room. Okay. So the Mckinsey mail room was pretty deep. They got a lot of mail in the Atlanta office coming through. So when we talk about the numbers, the so called diversity numbers that these tech companies print, in Apple’s case, they may print a number where they include the lower wage retail, and that may make up 90 percent of us, just like Mckinsey, they may report in terms of employees, but they’re not disclosing that, hey, 70 percent of those employees are retail. They work in our mail room. So how important is it for more detail to come out when these tech companies are being forced in some cases or voluntarily sharing their employment numbers by race?

Cedric Rogers: I look at it two or three fold. One, starting with Apple. I will say before Steve passed, I was doing a lot out of Atlanta actually. And we even were able to bring Morehouse and Spelman out to Apple for executive briefings and do a lot to try to expose the company to the folks at Apple. Cause a lot of it is a lack of education and knowledge about what the potential is. And, I think what was interesting was that we wound up having a professor out of Spelman who actually made such an impression upon Steve that he actually brought him out to do a sabbatical for six months at Apple. So, Steve really did understand culture and wanted to leverage it and he always saw it through music. That’s one reason why iPod, he was so passionate about it, and the potential there. I, however, would say that he, as well as many people knew that it wasn’t enough. Right? There’s still way more that can be done. And from my perspective, what I was trying to do personally was actually do more recruiting, helping in that area. And I wanted to plant the seeds inside of youth. So, my nephew, I talk about him all the time. He was in the seventh grade and I taught him how to code and it was based upon his desire to learn about the iPhone and iPad, and now he’s finishing up at MIT in computer science. Right? So I feel like the community has a responsibility to help of course get pipeline. But at the same right though, organizations need to actively go find and promote this to young people in a community. And I’ll say that one thing that’s interesting about Apple now is that they are trying to do more of that seed, these programs into K through 12 schools. That’s where it has to start. It has to start with the youth.

Jamarlin Martin: You touched on an important point in terms of community responsibility. You, me kind of doing our part. If you break up this complex problem around so-called tech diversity, so-called diversity in Silicon Valley, if you break it up as a hundred percent pie, if the needle’s going to be moved and the numbers are going to change, what percentage is going to come from us taking initiative and looking to optimize the culture and promoting STEM and doing a lot on our side versus begging Google, begging Apple, go begging Facebook, “save the community’s deficiency in technology and engineering and STEM”. Right. What percentage would you say is on us?

12:25 —Cedric Rogers: If you want my opinion, I’m biased. I feel like I would probably argue, well over 80, 90 percent it’s on us.

Jamarlin Martin: 80 or 90 percent.

Cedric Rogers: Here’s the reason why. First and foremost, we are some of the largest consumers of technology in America, right? We actually, Shaun and myself, he created Culture Genesis on this whole foundation of the fact that we see that people of color, especially African American and Latino, are over indexing in the use of technology. When it comes to, whether it’s messaging, video consumption, music consumption, gaming, which is one of our first products, all of that is really being dictated and driven by people of color. But what has to change is that we have to get out of the mindset of being consumers and being more in a mindset of being the producers. And then what Shaun and I want to see even more of are investors, right? People who are going to look at people of color who are actually out there making technology and supporting that and bringing capital to those individuals so they can scale the business. Right? So we can hire our own, and really do I think what’s really, really needed and what we do in music, right? Computer Science and writing music, not too far off. I mean it’s really taken something right off the top of your dome and being able to put it down on some paper and in the case of coding into the computer. Right? But it’s taking your creativity, your understanding of what people want and making something real, building something from nothing. We have the capacity to do that. It’s just that we’re not being completely taught, cultivated and that takes time. But I will say this, you look around, there’s way more of us in this now than ever before.

Jamarlin Martin: You mentioned Jessie Jackson and I love your point of view in terms of, look, we should focus on what we can control and we should really focus on building up the community. We have to be a big part of the solution. So I love that point of view. It makes me think about though, because it seems like the consensus that’s out there or what’s popular is, Silicon Valley, Google, Facebook, they got to come and save the community and fix all this stuff and make people like coding like they like Cardi B. But you’re saying, look, this is an in-house thing that possibly companies could do more, but you’re going to move the needle more by focusing on lifting ourselves up. And I feel like what some folks in the consensus would say is similar to what Jesse Jackson or Barack Obama was saying, hey, we need to take more responsibility as fathers, as husbands and the Black community needs to optimize internally. That it is not all about white folks. And Barack Obama said this, and Jesse Jackson said he was talking down to Black people and I want to cut off his nuts. Jesse Jackson’s words, not mine. And you always have this kind of division where there’s a segment where because of the legacy of white supremacy and discrimination, people don’t like to talk about what we need to do ourselves. We can elevate. We can’t wait for these institutions to change that we’re going to have to get moving in terms of building up the community.

16:01 —Cedric Rogers: Well, you know what’s funny about this conversation is like, we don’t talk about needing people to go make more basketball courts. We find our way to the basketball courts easily, right? Yeah. I mean there’s nothing that seems to keep us from that. Or you look at even playing sports like football. There’s nothing stopping us there. I see learning how to code very similar. There’s a learning curve, so I’m not sitting here trying to say it’s super easy because it’s not, it takes some level of dedication and commitment. But if you think about it now for someone like Shawn and myself to create the company we created, you don’t need any lumber, steel, coal, the things that have been needed in the past to build a company, those things are not needed. You can take your time and really come from the top of your dome literally to create things. And I think that’s the power that we have today. And so when you argue, you know, we just recently celebrated Martin Luther King’s birthday, the dream is more real today than ever before where you can literally take someone and say, hey man, you can go create something and build something for nothing without needing a lot of help and support. Same way we’re doing this podcast. I mean literally if you got a Mac and a microphone and you get access to the internet, you go to go to Starbucks and you’re off and on your way. I think that’s the kind of opportunity we have. But we have to almost look and see them though. I think that’s the thing. How do we help our youth see those opportunities in the same way that they see the opportunity of playing basketball or making music or anything that we do in entertainment because we do that so well.

Jamarlin Martin: So you leave Apple. Talk about your path to starting Culture Genesis and what you guys do.

Cedric Rogers: Wow. So yeah, leaving Apple, I created two ventures prior to the one that I’ve been able to co-found with Shaun. I did a first one. It was really based on my passion. I wanted to help youth really around some of this scenario of inspiring youth to find their passions…

Jamarlin Martin: You’re not waiting for Facebook or Google to come save you. You’re going in, you want to be the superman.

Cedric Rogers: No. I’m hands on, I’m hands on. I’m a solutions-minded person. So, literally the first venture I created, it was a platform, did it with a couple of former Apple employees as well. It was a lot of lessons I had to learn about scaling a startup there. But it did get some traction and it had a lot of support from youth organizations like Boys and Girls Club, starting out of Atlanta. Then I had the fortunate opportunity to work with Paul Judge who you may have run across, Dr. Paul judge. So we co-founded another venture called Look Live and we went to Y Combinator as part of the summer 16 batch. So that was a wonderful opportunity for me to learn a lot from Paul and also to learn a lot through YCs process of how to build and scale startups. And, so then I went on to wanting to really come to L.A. and get kind of really into this ecosystem. And I came here and a good friend of, a mutual friend of Shaun and myself, his name is Rashawn Williams, another one of your Morehouse brothers, who was also my fraternity brother. And he’s like, “Hey man, you know, you and Shaun are two bright brothers that might actually come up with something.” So that was a few years ago. He introduced us, and Shawn and I do, we really get along and he’s super creative and technical and I feel like I’m fairly the same. And so we’ve always been kind of like thinking about what we wanted to do next. And one of the core focuses for both of us was to really start to build something that we could then go hire other people like us to build. And we wanted to build technology focusing on the culture. And so, that’s what we did. We went and we got our initial funding here in L.A. from Mucker Capital up the street down here in Santa Monica.

Jamarlin Martin: How much capital?

20:00 —Cedric Rogers: So total, we don’t always release our numbers, but we’ve raised roughly a million already and things are going well for us to continue down that road. So that was just pre-seed. So, with that being the case that we attracted capital from them. And then on subsequently to Betaworks over in New York, and we were able to work with them and part of their operation is they have these camps around different technologies that are emerging and we, ours is around the live streaming interactive space. So that’s what we are focusing on. So, we’ve had a fairly good run so far and we’ve been blessed because of our experience to be able to have great conversations with investors and for them to make investment in us. And I can’t omit one of our recent investments, from T.I. And Jason Geter, they have a group that they put together, a syndicate called a Tech Cypha and they recently have made an investment in us as well. So we’ve been able to attract investors with many more that are very interested in continuing to work with us. So, and I think a large part of that is to do to Shaun’s resume and myself and the team that we’ve been able to build.

Jamarlin Martin: How do you get a guy like T.I. interested? How does that develop where you get him in the cap table?

Cedric Rogers: Yeah, that’s a great question. I lived in Atlanta for a minute, so I was able to. I believe you want any authentic relationship that takes time, right, for people to see how you work and what you do, how you move. And so I ran across Jason Geter who is T.I.’s co-founder for Grand Hustle Records and Jason and I have known each other for probably about four or five years now, out of Atlanta. And he just was able to see like how I moved and what we were working on. And they actually came to us early to want us to help them on a project I won’t talk about because we may wind up doing it one day. We didn’t do it right away, but they were able to see kind of Shaun and myself what we were working on. And he was like, “Yeah, I like what you all are doing.” So as we kind of moved on and started scaling the business and getting capital, we stayed in contact with them and they were like, “Yeah, we’re interested in investing.” Because I think when some of the folks like T.I. and other celebrities who have made investments. Some of them early on had made bad investments, frankly, and I think they were looking to make good investments and make an investment based on the founders. And I think that’s what really helped us.

Jamarlin Martin: Let’s get Shaun involved. Can you explain the business model?

Shaun Newsum: The business model of Culture Genesis is rooted in the vision of being able to create a platform for multicultural content creators to be able to, number one, monetize, reach an audience in a very authentic way. So that’s the core business model. When you take a step back and then you look at the audience, the Instagrams, the Facebooks, multicultural content creators are way undervalued compared to their counterparts. So that was the core reason. And that’s the business model. The business is that we want to be able to have a platform that we own that’s authentic to the demographic we’re going after, the multicultural audience, Black and Brown. And so from a business perspective, we see a real opportunity to leverage that and build digital apps that develop around that audience, engage that audience in very authentic ways. And then obviously, from a cultural perspective, you know, hip hop, fashion is all being led by this exact same demographic. So, naturally those advertising dollars, brands, big businesses, they want to spend to attract those eyeballs. So that’s our business model in a nutshell is one, being able to create a platform for our content creators, and two, being able to attract the eyeballs of advertisers that want to reach that audience.

Jamarlin Martin: Let’s say you hook up with a content creator. What happens?

24:02 —Shaun Newsum: In the case of Trivia Mob, Trivia Mob was a show that me and Cedric conceptualized, and we took a fresh spin off of one of the more popular mobile apps that have launched in the last year, which is the concept of interactive game shows that you can play a game show live on your phone with your friends, your co-workers, all at the same time. And we decided to say, listen, let’s take a fresh take on that and almost, do you remember 106 & Park, kind of looking at that same dynamic of male, female but the male and female hosts would be influencers that people might follow already on social media, Instagram, Facebook, etc. Right? And so we work with them as hosts to host the show and the reason why the show is called Trivia Mob is because we activate their following. Their following is almost like a mob. So they bring their following on the platform as another way of engaging them, other than just posting pics and going on Instagram live or Facebook live. So they come to us because they want to be able to activate their following in a unique way to keep them more engaged. So it’s usually, number one, they either come to us directly or through our existing hosts that refer them to us. And then we kind of number one, trained them how to actually the host the show, and then at that point we in a lot of ways, mostly like theme shows around their brand, so it feels really authentic when they come on.

Jamarlin Martin: Do you hire a full time developer to create the Trivia game? Are you contracting with another agency? How are you guys building that particular

Shaun Newsum: No, for sure. Yeah, so tech-wise, we’ve built everything in-house. So we have myself as a CTO, Cedric being the CEO, but we’ve all worked together from a product perspective to conceptualize the product. We have an IOS developer and Android developer on staff, so we’ve developed everything in-house and we have a full production team that handles the technical production of the show.

Jamarlin Martin: For the audience. What’s the range of costs all in to develop a mobile app like this? Can you share that or?

Shaun Newsum: Yeah. I don’t think, we’re in the mobile app space, especially on mobile app like this, it’s not so much just the mobile app, it is also the process behind the mobile app, the way you deliver the content to the end user. So it’s rolling costs. Put it like that. And tens of thousands of dollars…

Jamarlin Martin: To get it out?

Shaun Newsum: To get it out. Yes. Yeah. Hundreds thousands of dollars. It’s not a simple use case in technical terms. You can imagine if you’re in Miami and Cedric’s in Atlanta, and I’m in New York City, like we all have to be seeing the same thing, seeing the same data at the same exact time. And so there’s technical challenges with the way just the internet works today, the way your phones work. So there’s a lot of things you have to do to be able to deliver that experience at a high quality level so that you can reach the most number of users because you don’t want to be getting the answer when Cedric’s getting the question and then it’s not fair if you’re trying to win some money here.

Jamarlin Martin: And are you guys marketing on Facebook and YouTube in terms of cost per download?

Shaun Newsum: No. So this goes back to the whole content creator influencer model that we’ve taken. We’ve been completely organic. We’ve worked with some notable influencers to kick off the show such as, I don’t know if you’re familiar with Melvin Gregg. He was a popular vine star that went to Instagram, now he is also doing some Netflix shows. So we actually partnered with him because we saw the importance of social media, especially for the audience that we’re going after, demographic. And so, yeah, so we started there first. And that’s the primary way that we drive eyeballs and downloads to the show. It’s through our hosts promoting naturally, to their followings announcing that they’re going to host the show.

Jamarlin Martin: And how do you pay your influencer marketing partners?

Shaun Newsum: We have a simple structure in place that helps incentivize them, but they kind of do it because it’s fun in a lot of ways. The thing is that the show is a fun show and also their following, their mob can win money, so they almost bring something new to the table for the people that already follow them. And then obviously we have incentives involved as well.

Jamarlin Martin: Yeah. Are there incentives based on how many downloads you get, or it’s not traced to that?

Shaun Newsum: No, it’s not traced to that. I don’t want to go deep into that, but there’s incentives if they win versus another host wins.

Jamarlin Martin: Got It. And so from where you guys are now, of course you raised funding, how do you guys scale? What are the next steps?

29:07 —Shaun Newsum: Yeah, no, I mean we scale with simply, in a traditional sense mobile apps, especially games scaled via word of mouth. I think this is a very social app. You can refer a friend to get an extra shot at winning the cash prize every week. Those types of things are natural ways for us to scale. But even bigger than that as a business, we see us scaling in a way of also empowering other content providers, content studios, production studios, platforms that want to also have interactive game shows. We’re also going to scale from a tech perspective as well and offer our technology as a service to power other game shows.

Jamarlin Martin: Let’s go back to Cedric. As you know, HBCUs have been under a massive amount of financial pressure including Morehouse. There’s a sentiment in the community that we need to save the HBCUs. Most recently, there was a push to save Bennett. And so the consensus, let’s call it the Black establishment, they’re like, “Hey, we got to save all the HBCUs.” Right? And then on the other hand, you got companies out of Silicon Valley who are thinking about, how do we design the next generation education systems that are technology-oriented and more updated and have a low amount of debt where we’re preparing for the next generation that’s going to knock out the old system that’s loaded up with debt. So this is what some of the companies of course, edutech companies, they’re working on this in Silicon Valley. And then you have the Black pro-HBCU establishment saying, “Send millions of dollars and save all the use HBCUs. Why is it problematic for the community to believe that we need to save all HBCUs or do you think that’s problematic?

Cedric Rogers: Yeah, first and foremost, when you take a step back and think about education. So when I started with Apple, I started with the education division, so I got a chance to really look at a lot of this. Education is a very intimate thing. People learn differently. You know, there’s people who are definitely going to be more auditory learners and visual learners and people coming from different backgrounds that are going to need maybe a little bit more than others. And so for me it’s kind of a very, you need different types of education offerings quite frankly. And I see HBCUs as a very interesting thing, specifically because I have a niece who is at North Carolina A&T behind me, my nephew is at MIT, and my sister went to Texas and I went to North Carolina A&T. So I’m going to give you what I see. Sometimes depending on who you are and what you need at the time that you’re going into higher education, you might need that environment that is a little bit more nurturing than I have found at say an HBCU. Some people really need that.

Jamarlin Martin: The environment is high value.

Cedric Rogers: It’s high value. Yeah. You’re learning African American Studies. Yeah. You’re learning, you know, differential equations or whatever it is, physics. But then there’s also, you’re growing up, right? There’s a whole other thing going on, as you’re crossing this threshold into adulthood and at HBCU, I had professors who genuinely cared about me and, you care about my academics, but they cared about me personally and they would call my parents if I didn’t show up to class, that kind of scenario. I got professors now from my engineering that still check on me to this day, and they’re proud of me like a parent would be. And it’s not to say you can’t find that at a majority white school too, cause you can, there’s all kinds of great educators everywhere. But I just feel like when it comes to HBCUs I feel like there’s some youth that need that experience. And I felt like you come out sometimes with more confidence because the next thing is that is there is this impostor syndrome that you will feel, especially going into technology because there’s just not many of us in the space.

Jamarlin Martin: For the audience who may not be familiar with that term, can you explain impostor syndrome?

Cedric Rogers: Yeah. Imposter syndrome is, from the way I internalize it, is like you’re this person whose gone through engineering and you feel like you’ve been prepared, but then you walk into this predominantly white environment and you see all these people moving around. And you ask yourself questions like, should I even be here? Am I prepared? Am I as good as they are? And you’re doubting yourself because you don’t know. And you may not have a mentor either to tell you that really at the end of the day, when you take these hard technical backgrounds, really no one knows, right? You’re all still kind of figuring out. When Apple hires a brand new employee, they still trying to give them a chance to figure out, it’s just that sometimes the environment is more conducive for some people than others. And I think that’s a big part of this. But when you sometimes go to HBCU though and you in NESBE, you’ve got the people you can call up and like, “Yo man, I’m at this. How is it for you?” And you can have this exchange that grounds you in a way that helps you literally get your career started. I think that’s a very important thing for a lot of people. Not everyone needs it. But there’s still a strong group that does.

Jamarlin Martin: Yeah, those are very important points. Do you have any skepticism about the thought that all the HBCUs need to be saved? So for example, let me just throw stuff out. So as you know, there’s a massive amount of student debt that has accumulated because of the lack of wealth in the Black community. This student debt crisis of course disproportionately impacts us. So, so we may go to HBCUs and get degrees, but because there’s so much debt and you’ve got to go in the workforce and be Black too, that hey, I learned so much from building with other brothers and sisters in HBCUs in that healthy, supportive environment, that stuff is high value, that helped make me into the person that we are today. However, because of the economics and the way the system is working now, can we rethink that experience and re-imagine possibly getting some of that environmental, cultural support stimulus without the debt, and so, are we going to stick and go another 50 years by saying all HBCUs need to be supported, send all the money to HBCUs, or like in the free market where things are optimized and you have winners and losers, Hey, the HBC use that are graduating people at 70 percent and that they’re able to almost guarantee a high-paying job where you can pay off your debt. Let’s keep those. And you guys over here where the economics are so bad, the graduation rates are so bad, the debt is so bad, the professional salary outlook is so bad, you guys are going to have to consolidate or shutdown. Do you think that this stuff needs to be rationalized in terms of all these forces playing out or just, hey, we got to keep it going?

37:00 —Cedric Rogers: I’ll say this. There’s a lot of factors to what you’ve said. First of all, higher education in and of itself is broken. I mean, everyone will tell you that. And people in tech, like you mentioned a lot of edtech companies have been trying to innovate and bring technology, the massively open online courses, the MOOCs they called them at one time, was a big thing for so long, trying to see if that could help to your point, bring education to folks in ways in which they can learn and of course lower costs. But I think it the end of the day, there’s a lot of parts the government plays in this too to really figure out a way to really think about how to make education less expensive as a whole. I think when you go drilling down onto HBCUs, I’m very proud of my alma mater, North Carolina A&T, they really have done a wonderful job of really building an institution up. They really, really have, but it’s a state institution and it’s one of the few engineering institutions in the state of North Carolina. So they’re able to attract state dollars as well as private dollars from NASA and …

Jamarlin Martin: That’s like a Morgan State. They’re getting…

Cedric Rogers: They’re getting a lot of funding there. So that is how any organization, whether it’s a startup we’re building or whatever, you have to have capital to really go invest into what you’re doing. Otherwise you can’t attract the best professors. You can’t have the facilities that students want to live, study and dwell in. And so it’s a very layered thing. So it’s hard for me to blanketly say I agree or disagree with what you’re saying honestly because I feel like there’s so many levels to it. But I do feel like institutions do have to be held accountable. Right. And the best people to hold them accountable are the people that go there, the students, the families to say this is what we are looking for our dollars are going towards. And I think that requires us, once again, the community be engaged in like, hey, why can’t you all be more like in my case, I’m gonna say like North Carolina A&T, what are they doing that we’re not doing at x institution? I think that’s some other conversation, but like I said, when it comes to HBCUs, that there may be a few out there that could use the opportunity to find new leadership. I think that’s one of the things I noticed that the HBCUs, oftentimes if you notice, they have a very transient leadership. They don’t keep sometimes leaders long enough. I think at one point Morehouse was really good at that. Keeping leaders in place for a long time, but even Morehouse had a spell where they started having the transition. Right. And so, when that happens, it’s hard to get momentum, it’s hard for the private sector to trust the institution when they don’t have a relationship with the leadership. And I think that’s a big part of what it takes to be successful. So, private institutions I think have a harder time than some of the publics. Like, thinking about FAMU, North Carolina A&T, some of those, they get a lot of funding from state, because they are doing some of the things that the state is needing. So to answer your question, I don’t have a blanket answer to that one. I think that’s a very tough one. And I do think there’s opportunity for improvement, but it would be hard for me, I love my HBCU quite frankly.

Jamarlin Martin: For the audience. One of the edutech companies I was referring to is called Lambda. Here’s an overview of what Lambda does. Lambda School trains people online to be software engineers at no upfront cost. Instead of paying tuition, students can agree to pay a percentage of their income after their employ and only if they’re making more than 50k per year. If you don’t find a job and don’t reach that level of income, you don’t have to pay Lambda anything. So the innovation that’s coming out around education, it’s rationalizing of course, college debt. Hey, you know, it’s giving incentives where we’re not just going to give you a $50,000 or $100,000 degree. Don’t even pay us if we don’t help you be successful and make money and make this thing work. I just think that the HBCU establishment, we need a response to all these different forces and these new models with Lambda where we’re not just trying to patch up the Titanic, some of these schools, things are changing fast. The problem is getting bigger and bigger in terms of economics and wages, particularly for us that we’ve got to reimagine this stuff.

41:46 —Cedric Rogers: I agree with you. I think in America as a whole, a lot of people are afraid of what’s happening in technology, worried about robots, worried about this. But at the end of the day we need to own our education, right, and retool our workforce. I mean, that has to happen in America as a whole. But then when you sometimes would say, of course when America catches a cold, Black America catches pneumonia. Right? And so that, to your point, means that this acceleration of education, understanding technology as one focus is, is paramount. I look at something like Lambda, I’m not as familiar with, Shaun nodded at me that he’s familiar, I think it’s one of those things though, I bet you, that’s more like a startup company than anything else, well funded by those who are coming from Silicon Valley, there’s people including Steve Jobs’ wife, she’s throwing a lot of capital and trying to find ways to innovate in education. And I think like a lot of other things in life, that’s not being made available to our community. Right? So our community has to think about, is there first of all a format that makes sense and who’s going to invest in it? You’re going to go get some, ideally want to think you can find the right investors, but it’s usually more challenging. But even with that, I like Lambda, it’s a great idea conceptually, but it’s always like, how does it really, really work? But it sounds pretty innovative.

Shaun Newsum: To piggyback on that. So Lambda, I’ve heard of it and it’s interesting, but I think it’s kind of one of the effects or I would say some of the symptoms of Silicon Valley. When you look at the model, that model is essentially helping Silicon Valley be able to get more talent home-bred there. Right? So, could you bring that exact same model and bring it to Cleveland or other cities.

Jamarlin Martin: It’s optimized for that geo area.

43:42 —Shaun Newsum: Correct. That model doesn’t work if there’s not a rich need for computer science engineers in that specific region, otherwise it doesn’t help out. Right. So, it makes sense and Lambda is a for-profit institution, and it was started out in Silicon Valley, which has a huge need for software engineers, right, and computer scientists. So yeah, there’s a need in that specific region for investors to put money into that because they’ve also invested in tons of other startup companies that need to scale. And you can’t scale without smart engineers. Right. Or at least engineers in-house. So I think it’s one of those types of things. So, I don’t know how that scales nationally or even globally realistically.

Jamarlin Martin: This is part one. Tune into the next episode for part two. Thanks everybody for listening to GHOGH. You can check me out @JamarlinMartin 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!