Opinion: Tech Needs A Jackie Robinson Moment

John McCullough
Written by John McCullough

Does Silicon Valley need a minority founder to build a unicorn company before fostering diversity?

When it comes to changing the status quo, history is full of seminal moments that altered the established mindset and ushered in new opportunities for previously exclusive groups. Imagine baseball without the “Jackie Robinson” moment? Imagine the state of our world without the women’s suffrage moment?

These are not just two moments that made it possible for blacks to play baseball or women to vote. These moments positively changed the course of history by widening everyone’s perspective on the capabilities of underutilized segments of our society.

These are moments that led to an overall improvement in the quality of life for the general public.

Technology has reached the point where it needs a moment. It will happen, but in what form? That’s the billion-dollar question.

My last year in college I took an “Understanding Business” class which drastically altered how I viewed the world. This basic class illustrated the importance of money or capital and how it is used to drive decisions in all aspect of business.

Being an advocate for diversity in tech and understanding the role of money in business, I recently asked a group of concerned friends: Does Silicon Valley need a minority founder to build an unicorn company before fostering diversity?

I see three potential benefits. To solve the diversity in tech issue, maybe an old solution proposed from a different angle is going be required to hash out new ways to resolve this situation.

A unicorn company built by a minority founder will prove to the current establishment that minority founders are capable of building financially attractive investment opportunities.

I have to admit. I love tech but I did stray for about six months when I worked as an account executive for an investment bank in 1990. I realized it wasn’t for me, thanked them for the opportunity and made a beeline back to tech.

However, during those six months I learned that investors hate missing out on an investment with huge upside potential almost as much as they hate taking a loss in an investment.

A minority founder getting a company to the magical billion-dollar-evaluation mark will spark tremendous interest.

Investors will be incentivized to take a closer look at startups run by a minority founder for fear of missing out on the next big thing.

A unicorn company built by a minority founder will encourage other minority founders by providing tangible proof of the accomplishment and combat any subconscious uncertainties.

Regardless of how strong your faith is in your talents and what you think you can accomplish, until you actually do it, self-doubt is always lurking. It is only a matter of time before a minority founder builds a company that crosses the magical unicorn threshold. We all know that minority founders are capable, but when it happens it will allow others to dream.

Case in point, when I meet a young person, one of the first things I ask them is, “What do you what to be when you grow up?”

So recently I met two black young men during a high school graduation celebration with aspirations to be the POTUS. Ten years ago, black men graduating from high school could not fathom the idea. As my mom use to say “walking in faith gives you motivation, walking in possibility gives you confidence.”

A unicorn company built by a minority founder will have a trickle-down effect on hiring managers’ attitudes when considering minority talent.

Most conversations about diversity in tech eventually lead to someone mentioning the “pipeline problem.” There is work to do on deepening the minority pool of talent, but there is evidence that hiring managers are using it as more of an excuse because the status quo is working.

A minority founder playing in the big league will cause hiring managers to reevaluate their hiring practices. At the very least it will get them to pause and think, “if a minority founder can build a billion-dollar company then minorities can help us.”

Minority success at the top will result in more minority opportunities in other parts of the hierarchy.

Silicon Valley has a problem, and those in a position to address it seem unable to comprehend it or lack the motivation to care. It would appear that they are operating under the “if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it” principle.

The diversity-in-tech crowd fully understands that more diversity yields more and different ideas, and that more and different ideas lead to more innovation.

Innovation is the fuel that drives Silicon Valley. Is it possible that Silicon Valley will not change until there is a financial incentive to change?

A billion-dollar company built by a minority founder will provide that incentive. It will alter the mindset of angels and venture capitalists because the pool for profit will be larger. Current minority founders and those considering starting a company would have a blueprint to reference along their journey, improving their chances for success.

Hiring managers will be forced to change the way they recruit and evaluate minority talent.

At the end of the day, minorities really just want opportunities and a chance to flex our talents and ideas. Luckily there are efforts to establish avenues to support minority founders and cultivate talent.

I have committed myself to work tirelessly to assist with building this foundation.

Whether or not that can’t see or won’t see, history has proven #WeAllBenefitWhenWeAllContribute.

Tech needs a Jackie Robinson moment.

Based in Atlanta, John McCullough is a founding principal at WisePoint LLC, an information management company that focuses on data or document capture, storage, search, and data analysis. John taught himself to code when he was a child. He is committed to helping establish avenues to support minority founders and cultivate talent. You can reach John at jmccullough@wisepoint.net.

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About John McCullough
Based in Atlanta, John McCullough is a founding principal at WisePoint LLC, an information management company that focuses on data or document capture, storage, search, and data analysis. John taught himself to code when he was a child. He is committed to helping establish avenues to support minority founders and cultivate talent. You can reach John at jmccullough@wisepoint.net.

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