Jamarlin talks to Ryan Wilson, founder of Atlanta's Gathering Spot. They discuss Wilson's plans to scale his profitable subscription and events business, and whether Kamala Harris' candidacy will result in a civil war in Black America. They also discuss the term “people of color” and why Atlanta is one of the hottest cities for tech.
This is a full transcript of the conversation which has been lightly edited for clarity.
Jamarlin Martin: 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 Ryan Wilson, the cofounder of the Gathering Spot in ATL. Welcome to the show.
Ryan Wilson: Thank you. Glad to be here.
Jamarlin Martin: We're going to dive right in to something that's been really active in the community on Twitter in terms of Kamala Harris announcing her run for president of the United States, and one engineer at Google that I know, she mentioned that she thought that this could ignite a civil war in the Black community in terms of tensions and emotions are so high over the candidacy of Kamala Harris. Does that sound extreme in terms of some of the divisions in the community because it touches on race and gender. It's just a very emotional, at least from my perspective, I agree that this is a very emotional topic right now.
Ryan Wilson: Yeah. I don't see it as a civil war that's about to come. I mean, I think that what Senator Harris best represents is that, or the challenge maybe that her candidacy is going to pose is that she was a prosecutor, right? And has been a prosecutor at the highest level of her state. Right? And so there are a number of cases that she's participated in over time that I think people are going to draw issue with. And I think that's part of what you see right now, is that the immediate reaction is about people being concerned about her opinion about several death penalty cases and drug related cases and where she's had to advocate on behalf of the state. Do I think that that goes to a civil war? I don't. I think that we're going to have an informed discussion about if she's the right person to represent the community and then ultimately the nation.
Jamarlin Martin: See, I don't think it's just about her record on criminal justice reform. Actually, she made some mistakes. She's being forced into taking certain positions. Some people get hurt. I could come closer to buying into the candidacy of Kamala Harris, if that was the only issue. To me, there's a promiscuous amount of issues, that lead up to, hey, when the lobbyists and big relationships, when they're in those rooms, when no one is looking, what type of decision is that political leader, is that president, is that Senator gonna make when no one's looking? That pressure is on the line. And of course in the Iraq war you had Obama, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders voting against the Iraq war, meaning that the pressure was on, everyone's rushing, go to war, go to war. And you had Biden voting for the war. You had Hillary Clinton voting for the war. From my perspective, if you observe Kamala Harris's trajectory, I got to think that she's definitely, likely, in that situation, in the future to be on the Hillary Clinton and the Biden side of the establishment. Do you think that's fair?
Ryan Wilson: I think it's somewhat fair. I mean, she has in many ways a longer record than a lot of the people that we're talking about. Right. She's just had more time to have more opinions about more issues. She has a ton of things that I think people are going to be upset about that are outside of criminal justice reform, but really going to get to the heart of other issues. Ultimately I think people are gonna be mad about it. I don't dismiss it though. I think that the time that we're living in, what's going for her is that she's a woman of color. That's going to be shattering a couple of different barriers. One, in seeking the highest office in our land as a woman. And the second person in history, that would be a person of color. So those two things, I think, are compelling, especially in the era of Donald Trump. That contrast to him, I think, is powerful.
Jamarlin Martin: I get we shatter barriers, but would you vote for a candidate if you thought that, hey, this is the type of candidate that's going to go and take over Venezuela or vote to go into Iraq for war, or go to war with Iran. Would you trade, hey, I get a Black president, I get a Black woman president. Would you trade that in terms of the symbolism and the kids can see the Black people at the top with killing a million Iraqis? I mean, is that, as a human being, is that a fair trade where I can see this person at the top, but they may be doing dirty stuff. They may be doing questionable stuff, they may be murdering people, but if they're Black or if they're a Black woman, hey, that's going to give the people this extra kick. Who cares if all this other crazy stuff is done by this leader?
Ryan Wilson: Yeah. I'm with you. But I think that the problem with our country in general, right, is that you can really look at any leader and have those same sort of issues. Republican or Democrat, doesn't really matter. At the end of the day, the United States for its history has participated in actions that I don't agree with. Right. And so I can't say that it's so much as a trade, but...
Jamarlin Martin: That's what it sounds like because it sounds like people are saying that Kamala Harris, there is an emotional attachment, she's going to break down barriers for sure, and we want that. I want America to have a Black woman president. We want that to happen. But if you look at her proximity to lobbyists and Silicon Valley, Google, Facebook, giggling was Sheryl Sandberg. After the financial crisis, while she was district attorney, she allowed the current treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin to get off the hook in terms of they were doing something shady with the mortgage. And so, it's widely known that hey, you're letting this guy in this bank off the hook, that is some part of some suspect dealing. And so we call into question, are you going to bang for the lobbyists, special interest groups, Wall Street, Silicon Valley. When you get in the office, are you going to be banging for them, or are you going to be banging for us?
Ryan Wilson: Yeah, I mean I think that that's a fair question and I think it's a question that has to be asked of all the candidates, right? Call me a pessimist, but if you look at most of the candidates that are in the race, all of the things that you just raised are certainly in play with them too. The unfortunate part about our political system right now is that to get elected, it takes a lot of money and it takes, in many ways, having relationships or interactions with businesses that, many of us in some way shape or form, say that we don't lake. But I try not to be, when I'm looking at any particular candidate, to be a person that solely focuses on some of their negative attributes, when those negative attributes a lot of times are the same negative attributes that most of the candidates in the field have.
Jamarlin Martin: So essentially what we're saying is, look, the Black candidate who's very close to lobbyists and special interest groups, they needed the money. They have all these negatives, but because they're Black or a woman, that we need to cut them some slack and allow them to be a little dirty.
Ryan Wilson: It's not cutting them any slack. It's using the same rubric. So the same rubric that we use with Senator Harris, we have to use with Senator Biden and all the other folks that you've listed who are allegedly getting into this race. We've got to hold all of them to the same standard. And a lot of times what we don't do, we circle in on, I actually think it's a problem, we circle in on one candidate in particular and try to point out all of the different ways that we don't find them authentic. Their peers in many ways, if using the same rubric, are not engaging in politics any differently.
Jamarlin Martin: Okay. So Kamala Harris says the issue of Palestine, our Palestinian brothers and sisters, she, like Hillary Clinton's, similarly...
Ryan Wilson: Very similar platforms. If you look at Senator Harris and Hillary Clinton, the platforms are not that different.
Jamarlin Martin: Oh, it goes deeper than that. Kamala Harris had a secret meeting that she wanted off the record with the lobby group for American Jews. So she wanted it off the record. And so the people, when these candidates go in front of these lobbyists and the politician says, "No, what I'm going to tell you, this cannot get out. This is special stuff." Right? Okay. Hillary Clinton, of course, it came out, she didn't want to release the transcripts when she was talking to Wall Street bankers at Goldman Sachs. Okay. So, you don't want to release the transcripts. The media is pressing you, we want to know what you're telling these Wall Street bankers because you've got a high position. We want to know. She said "No, I'm not going to release them." So they hacked and they ended up getting information about that speech. There's questionable statements from Kamala Harris where she says that the Palestinian issue is not a political issue. She's riding on one side no matter what. Essentially she has pretty much positioned herself for this. And of course the Democratic Party, they're not necessarily, I believe, going towards a pro-Palestinian position, the left is going more to a neutral stance that we're not always automatically for one side. If you go kill 50 Palestinian kids, we're coming to the position where yes, we are going to criticize that. It's not like we're always going to defend one side no matter what. And so, I think, the Palestinian issue is a proxy for other things. Meaning that, is that politician going to step out the box in and do what's right?
Ryan Wilson: Yeah. I mean, I think the thing about politics is that it's about what the alternative is. Right. And so I don't think that there's any candidate that we're going to find in any race that is the perfect candidate by any stretch. Right? I haven't found one to date in any election that I voted in all the way through local elections, and so this is the problem with progressive politics in general. We have a terrible time. We fight with one another so badly, that a lot of times we lose focus on the actual issue. The thing that we should be paying the most attention to is our current president and his administration. Right?
Jamarlin Martin: I disagree with that.
Ryan Wilson: We're in terrible times right now.
Jamarlin Martin: Yeah. I think it's a privileged position, particularly people with pockets, people with the wallet to say that Black America, we need to be focused on Mueller. We need to be focused on Trump and how that's going to be resolved. And we just need to play it safe and go to the center. Meaning that our brothers and sisters in Watts, in Harlem, in Chicago, these political decisions, they impact a lot of lives and most likely, I believe, the Corporate Democrats get their way, based on the trends and the history, they're probably going to put a lot of troops back in war. So these decisions are really big. Now I get the Mueller and Russia investigation, but there's still an opportunity to, hey, you got to get this stuff right. You got to really dive down and go beyond the optics.
Ryan Wilson: I agree. I think the main problem with progressive politics, again though, is that folks on the right are a lot better at framing arguments. They're a lot better at social movements. So what they do, if you read books, like "Rules for Radicals", the right does a very good job of framing. They run as far right as they can and they shift where center is. And that's the thing that we don't do as people on the left. We play center politics the entire time, never run left. And so our middle was really kind of right of center all the time. And so I agree with you, on that level. I think that, I don't look at any of this as an either or. It's not either you pay attention to people of color or we pay attention to the Mueller investigation. I think we have to pay attention to both. And we have to challenge candidates by running farther to the left, exposing them to the issues in our communities that matter. But at the same time, it isn't a bad frame to also point out, look what's going on on the right right now is extremely problematic. I think that it actually helps frame why movement to the left matters.
Jamarlin Martin: This leads into Bernie Sanders.
Ryan Wilson: Are you a Bernie Sanders fan?
Jamarlin Martin: Not a fan, but I would look at each candidate's position and kind of see who's the closest that reflects my values and what I believe him. So Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, she recently said in her campaign platform that, look, I've seen it. This political game is rigged. It's rigged on both sides. Wall Street lobbyists, they have rigged the system. We need to remix the system where money, corporations and lobbyists, special interests groups. They don't rig how the game works in a way where, what you vote for and what you want, once that person gets into office, these elements, if you get into office, because the money is of course competing with the voters. But if we change the way money impacts our politics and influences our politics, a lot of these issues go so much faster. So I get it that, hey, we're working with all micro issues and we need to fix this. We need to fix that. But if you re-engineer the power and influence of money in politics, that Black vote, the equity of the Black vote go significantly up. Because we don't have the Sheldon Adelsons and the big billionaires who pour money into politics to represent our interests. So the Black voter needs the money to go down. That should be a big issue. And so if you rank the candidates, if you say that hey, money in politics hurts Black people. When we examine the political system in the United States, the big wallets, all these other groups who have big wallets and the influence politics, it hurts our people because we don't have the big wallets. Why isn't that a top five issue? And so what I'm saying is, if that's a top three issue for me, and I think it should be for many others, then Kamala Harris, Joe Biden, Beto, Cory Booker, they will score, they would score low.
Ryan Wilson: And so would Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. Right? I think it is very difficult, right, to be the beneficiary of a system and advocating truly for its collapse. I'm skeptical of people...
Jamarlin Martin: Who's advocating for the collapse? I'm not familiar with that argument.
Ryan Wilson: Maybe collapse is not the best word, but what you're describing Senator Warren is interested in doing. It's very hard to be a beneficiary and, frankly, elected by a system that you are saying you're going to dismantle some way afterwards. I don't have any more trust in the ability to be able to do that. That's as concerning to me. And maybe I should say, as our previous conversation about Senator Harris.
Jamarlin Martin: I mean, you look at Ocasio-Cortez. Today, it was reported, she sent a letter to Facebook. Her colleagues, Chuck Schumer, of course, his daughter is what I would call a lobby daughter. Chuck Schumer's daughter works at Facebook. A Senator wanted to investigate, and look into Facebook. He told that Senator Warner to back off. Nancy Pelosi, her family owns millions of stock in Facebook. The Facebook elites of course, really were embedded with Obama and helped him get elected. And we didn't have any regulation or no consumer privacy. The Democrats just let Facebook run wild. I think this stuff is so blatant.
Ryan Wilson: If the Democrats let it run wild, what did the Republicans do?
Jamarlin Martin: The Democrats. Sheryl Sandberg. Google, their candidate this election is Cory Booker. Eric Schmidt, and I give the Silicon Valley establishment a lot of credit. They've been grooming particularly Black candidates and they have been playing long ball. They've been investing in Cory Booker's company, doing whatever it takes to hook the Black politician who's desperate for money, desperate to kind of be competitive. And they kind of make the deal with the devil. I just think that it's pervasive, and Silicon Valley is more aligned with Democrats. Republicans are more aligned with Wall Street. That's in my view. Essentially the greed that Obama banged against in 2008, the financial crisis in Wall Street, it just went to his side. It just went to Silicon Valley, the tech, the big wallets over in California.
Ryan Wilson: I think what we're describing, if you see something on both sides though, that's kind of the overall fault in our political system, right? It's less about Republicans and Democrats and it's more about cases like Citizens United where we're saying that many of these corporations are people. What our fundamental focus should be on is that our political system right now. Yeah, it does. I agree with you. It has too much money in it. I think there's way too many big organizations that have the ability to influence the outcomes of elections. But that to me is again, less of a red or blue thing and more of a fact that our political system overall really needs some examination. And I think that's from money in politics to how we elect people all the way down to the electoral college.
Jamarlin Martin: Is that a top five issue for you?
Ryan Wilson: Yeah I would say so. I think Citizens United...
Jamarlin Martin: Can you explain to our audience, what's that about?
Ryan Wilson: The easiest way to understand citizens United. And to me it actually connects to a broader, if you want to talk about top five issues. One branch of government that we don't pay attention to enough as people of color and as citizens, is the influence that the Supreme Court has on policy, right? We take for granted the influence that that body has. And what we don't acknowledge about it is that historically it has been a very conservative institution. Even the most quote-unquote progressive cases that we point to day in and day out, a lot of those, if you really step back and look at them are very conservative opinions too by so called liberal justices, right? And so Citizens United, to get back to that, essentially, what it allows for, is it facilitates all of this big money in politics, where the court essentially said that organizations are people and therefore, because they are people, their ability to be able to participate in campaigns knowing that they have the financial wherewithal that goes way beyond the average person, should be considered as people under our law. But again, it's a part of a long string of Supreme Court cases that are extremely conservative in nature and harmful to us. We as Black folks, people of color, need to be spending more time trying to institutionalize laws by way of legislators and stop appealing to the Supreme Court as a body because it has never proven to be an effective institution for us. That goes all the way back to even cases like Brown v Board. Not a good decision at all.
Jamarlin Martin: Where are you from?
Ryan Wilson: I'm from Atlanta. I grew up mostly in Atlanta. I was born in L.A. but grew up here.
Jamarlin Martin: Okay. What age did you move to ATL?
Ryan Wilson: First time I moved when I was six. Moved here right around the time of the Olympics and then moved away again to North Carolina. Then I came back.
Jamarlin Martin: What part of L.A.?
Ryan Wilson: Inglewood.
Jamarlin Martin: Okay, cool. Very familiar. I'm from L.A. as well. You're building some amazing things in ATL. How did you get to starting The Gathering Spot?
Ryan Wilson: Yeah. So it's really interesting where life takes you. I graduated from high school here in Atlanta. Went immediately to Georgetown for Undergrad, spent a lot of time in the diversity inclusion space first on campus. And then we kind of moved off campus to working on different community issues. Was involved in a whole bunch while I was an Undergrad. But I went there with the intention of becoming an attorney. I wanted to go to law school immediately after Undergrad. Graduated, went straight to Georgetown Law School and I quickly found out while I was there that I didn't want to be an attorney. I promised my mom that I would finish and so I did that. But for the last two years of law school, I started working on what's now The Gathering Spot.
Jamarlin Martin: So you graduated from Georgetown?
Ryan Wilson: I did graduate.
Jamarlin Martin: I dropped off Syracuse law first year.
Ryan Wilson: Georgetown and Syracuse. That's no good. But the inspiration for the business really came about, I was in need of a couple of things. On the community side, college is interesting if you look at it. There's people from all over the world, a lot of universities, there are speakers coming all the time. Your friends are probably studying different things than what you are. And what I found when I went to law school, that network went away pretty quickly. I was all of a sudden around basically just a bunch of lawyers, right? There weren't opportunities for me to engage with different types of people and that community that I felt as an Undergrad just was gone. And so the core of what we're doing here, I tell folks all the time, we're not in the space business, we're in the community business. You'll find a little bit of everybody. We host a ton of experiences and connect people through work, dining and then through events.
Jamarlin Martin: What was your pitch in terms of what The Gathering Spot does?
Ryan Wilson: Yeah. So at our core, The Gathering Spot is an invitation-only private club. What does that mean? So by way of space, we operate a full restaurant and bar. You have to be a member to dine here at the restaurant. It's open for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. We are pretty co-working space. That's workstations, private offices, really any work environment that you need. We keep that open 24 hours a day and again as a member of the club, you can use it.
Jamarlin Martin: For our audience. If I'm an entrepreneur in Nashville and I'm stopping over in Atlanta for a couple days, can that person be a transient guest?
Ryan Wilson: So you can apply for membership and not live here in Atlanta, but we don't offer day passes. So to become a member of the club you have to go through a process, right? That involves an interview and ultimately our team really is looking to maintain balance inside of the club. There's certain really important sub-communities that we formed here. And so like for example, a number that I'm really proud of is that 60 percent of the membership base are women. And to make sure that that stays that way, we pay a lot of attention to making sure.
Jamarlin Martin: Would you say that you're more Soho House than WeWork?
Ryan Wilson: I wouldn't say we're either one of them.
Jamarlin Martin: Are you in the middle or just a totally new category?
Ryan Wilson: We're a whole different category. Right. So the approach here combines elements of what you'll see and then there's members, there's a membership component, there is co-working as a part of it. But how we come together here and what we do is, with all due respect to those businesses, just very different. Different demo, different way that we go about connecting with each other.
Jamarlin Martin: You're a subscription business essentially?
Ryan Wilson: Yeah, in some way. We host a lot of events.
Jamarlin Martin: Yeah. If you could share this on a percentage basis, how much of your revenue is subscription versus the other stuff?
Ryan Wilson: So I can't say to an exact percentage, but I would say a good bulk of our model is connected to the membership dues and fees. But I mean, we hosted 1400 events last year and we specialize in corporate functions, a lot of times with the biggest brands in the world. And so that's a pretty significant part of the business as well. And then we operate the restaurant, so there's food and beverage that is part of what we do too.
Jamarlin Martin: How did you connect with your co-founder?
Ryan Wilson: So we were on the same freshman floor as undergrads at Georgetown. No expectation of opening a business. He's from Saint Croix. And when I graduated or when I was going into law school, he was still working in D.C. As a portfolio manager and I started talking to him about the business, needed someone that could help me with the model. He had a finance and accounting background. And so that's why we teamed up. But we spent most of our undergraduate time as roommates.
Jamarlin Martin: And what type of margins are possible with your business? Let's say you execute your business plan over the next couple of years.
Ryan Wilson: So I would say this, business has been profitable since its first year. And so good ones.
Jamarlin Martin: So you're cashflow positive now out of the gate.
Ryan Wilson: Yeah. Ever since we've opened.
Jamarlin Martin: Yeah. Okay. Very nice. WeWork is not. And that kind of speaks to what I believe is a lot of froth in the market where as you saw in 2008, 2009 I guess in the real estate case, credit scores, who needs those and who needs that? In 2000 who needs profits. We can go off clicks, but a lot in the tech space in general, not just Black tech but just in the tech space. In this part of this cycle, which I think is the end. No one cares if you can generate cashflow. No one cares if you could generate profits. No one cares if that business has enough cash to go another six months. I'm just going to raise more money and flip it to another company until this shit stops. What do you think about that? Cause it seems like the consensus mentality where I'm just going to sell the business and just raise money, raise money, sell business.
Ryan Wilson: Yeah. I'm not into it. The thing for me is, yeah, there are a lot of companies that are raising a round to just raise another round. Right? And I think that what TK, who was my business partner, what we set out to do from the beginning was to build a sustainable business model. We paid a lot of attention to how do we make sure that this thing works. Right? Actually works, not working because we have a bag of cash in the other room but works because we're able to actually see that people use the service that we provide and invested in the community that we're building. At the end of the day, my parents are entrepreneurs and...
Jamarlin Martin: You got a lot of game from your parents?
Ryan Wilson: Oh, 100 percent. But there's a real fundamental lesson that I had kind of baked in from the beginning was that at a very, very basic level, a business is able to care for its expenses. If you can't do that, I question the success of that business. There are businesses that we all use, and if you read the prospectus that comes out, you'll find the entrepreneurs in many cases saying, we don't ever know how it will be profitable. And for me, that's not a business.
Jamarlin Martin: What would you say to the the bubble crowd? They will hear you and ATL and you've been profitable from the jump. You got your thing going, you've got a lot of things popping. But that bubble crowd in Silicon Valley that's kind of programmed by the economics of venture capitalists, in terms of they try to make it fit where, "Hey, you're not big enough. You're not doing monster rounds. This thing can't become a billion dollar business." And so that mentality, of course, I would call it a unicorn or bust. You see a lot of, unfortunately, I see a lot of our people, a lot of Black entrepreneurs trying to make their opportunity fit with these boom and bust investors where they don't care, obviously, if nine out of 10 blow up. They don't care if your business blows up, they got 50 other bets out there. It's just a number.
Ryan Wilson: So I'm glad we're recording this because I do think that we can become a big business. And, I mean, the approach that we're taking is actually not a radical approach. There are businesses that have been profitable and figured out how to scale without having to take on the type of capital or that mindset that you imagine. And no, the thing about venture is true, in many cases they artificially inflate the value of the company and then have you chase it. Many of those companies failed and the ones that don't fail, whenever there's some sort of liquidity event, the investors take their cash off top. Right? So the model in lots of ways doesn't work. Businesses of color, but a bunch of businesses, right? Venture is not right for every type of business, but it doesn't mean that you can't scale your business if you don't take in that sort of capital or have that mindset about the business. And so again, I'm glad we're recording this because if we do what I think we're capable of doing here, we can scale this business successfully and we'll have done it without doing any of the venture stuff.
Jamarlin Martin: How much capital have you raised, if any?
Ryan Wilson: No. So the first round was $3 million. Okay. All family offices, high net worth individual money and it's patient capital.
Jamarlin Martin: Okay. Got It. So it's not coming out of big institutionalized VC, which is good. That's what I'm saying. This bubble crowd is like, I got this fancy name on my cap table. I got all this money. And of course, the way the economics works in terms of in a bubble environment at least, a lot of folks, our people specifically, will see headlines saying this entrepreneur raised $30 million, this entrepreneur raised $20 million. They don't understand when that business is sold and all those investors are in that cap table, if you're trying to create wealth, the number's not the headline on the the PR strategy or the magazine. Really you want to be looking at, hey, if this business IPOs or is sold, I'm taking home x and these people are not going to be making 95 percent of the value creation.
Ryan Wilson: A lot of entrepreneurs need to spend more time really understanding that business because it is a business, right? So you're betting heavily on, let's call it 10 companies for the sake of this conversation, knowing that one of them is going to be successful. Right. And the way that that VCs hedge the risk is that once there is some sort of liquidity event, their cash is coming out first, right? And so if you don't prove your thesis, it doesn't mean that they don't get paid. So say that they valued the company at $100 million and it sells for $80 million. Well that $80 million is theirs. And so folks don't understand that it's very difficult as the entrepreneur, as the founder, to make a ton of money in that system, unless the company is valued at more than what you raised money at.
Jamarlin Martin: You mentioned patient capital. Can you first explain to our audience what patient capital is and can you also explain, when you tapped patient capital, was it intentional in terms of, hey, I'm not even trying to go get that bubble of Silicon Valley money. I know what flavor of capital I need at this stage.
Ryan Wilson: Yeah. I'm raising another round right now and have the same perspective. So patient capital really is, you're going to investors, you have a model and you have a thesis about when there will be a liquidity event, but what you're asking them to understand about the business is that it might not follow the same three to five-year horizon. Right? And so there are a lot of investors that want their investment to do more than market, but aren't necessarily looking for unicorn status in three years. That doesn't mean that the business won't grow to be as big as any company that you'll see out there. But patient capital, a lot of times, is not looking for that return in really, really short timelines.
Jamarlin Martin: And what was your process in finding the right investors and tell us about any rejections you got.
Ryan Wilson: I was rejected 97 times, I counted them. We were rejected regularly. That's part of the game when you start to try to raise money, you're not a fit for most people. But, this is the other thing. If you're building something that's disruptive and people shouldn't be able to understand it immediately. If they can, you should be worried about that idea. Right? So we took that as a sign that we were actually onto something rather than being frustrated by the process. Because, again, you kind of have to be the crazy one in the room. If what you're building is actually something that's different. If it isn't and people get it instantly, it's probably been done before.
Jamarlin Martin: I want to repeat what you said, I think it's powerful. This brother said he was rejected 97 times. And so we have to understand, if you're going to play this game, this game, do not start the game. If you're going to start going into investor meetings and you get three or four rejections and you start saying white folks this, white folks that, the systems is rigged, this is not the game for you, don't even start this game.
Ryan Wilson: No. I mean you've got to think about how hard it is for someone to get a dollar out of you, right? There's two things that I think that every entrepreneur has to do. The first thing is you've got to put all your chips on the table first. I put everything that I had. My business partner put everything that we had. So by the time I started talking to you...
Jamarlin Martin: When you say everything, what are you talking about?
Ryan Wilson: I mean every single penny that I could possibly find plus credit cards plus anything. It is very difficult to ask people to pay you, to give you any sort of amount of their money when you haven't done the same. Right. So we put all of our chips to the center and then had a really, really informed conversation with them about why we thought that they would be a good partner for what we were doing. Understanding that the majority of people, even if they thought the concept was okay, we're still going to say no, because getting someone to give you their money is one of the hardest things that you can possibly do in any context. Go ask people in the nonprofit space, right? It's really difficult to get people to, it's in part strategy plus an emotional connection a lot of times. And what folks don't get is that they're most of the time investing in you as a person and not even really the concept.
Jamarlin Martin: When you're going through your process in getting 97 rejections, you're not thinking about, hey, if I was white, I would have gotten an acceptance by now. What's your psychology going through those rejections as a Black man?
Ryan Wilson: So look, I think that there are certain realities about being Black and raising capital, right? The numbers don't lie. It is harder to raise capital in our community than what you see in others. Right? I want to acknowledge that. But no, I believed that I was the person that was onto something different. Right? And so if you don't have confidence as an entrepreneur, you don't have anything, especially early, right? You have to believe in yourself more than anybody else.
Jamarlin Martin: Even if, as you say, I believe that the institutionalized white supremacy and discrimination is there. It's there. Not only is it there but you have the extra thing where, hey, they don't see us a lot. People want to invest with people they can joke with and geek out with on their terms. So even if the white supremacy, the discrimination, the boys club, the I'm comfortable, I don't see you. Even if all that stuff is true, you are better off not dwelling on it. And let me just add another point. This, I believe, speaks to the difference of a lot of our brothers and sisters who come from Jamaica and Nigeria, where we've been oppressed in a way where there is a lot of baggage in terms of, the system is on us in the system is against us. And it's true. It's there.
Ryan Wilson: Yeah, the system is.
Jamarlin Martin: But if that Nigerian, that sister from Cameroon or that brother from Jamaica, if they come over here without that thinking, usually or what I have seen in my life, is that they kick our ass. I'm African American of course. But if that Black woman or man comes from Jamaica, comes from Nigeria and does not see the stuff that we have been institutionalized with, in terms of the stuff that we've seen, they're going to kick it. Sometimes it's better for you not to even see it, for you to go after and build the institutions that you need to build.
Ryan Wilson: Well, it's hard to be scared of something that you haven't seen before. Right. Institutionalized racism, it's impact is real, right? You spend, depending on who we're talking about, decades trying to get a person to believe something about themselves. And it's very difficult when that person has an idea that they suddenly forget, several decades worth of training that suggests to them otherwise. Right. So I do think that what you see is a confidence. A lot of entrepreneurship in its early stages is about your mindset, right? It's about how you're approaching the problem and the overall mentality that you have while going into battle every day. And that's how I look at when you're trying to start a business. It's a battle every single day. And so yeah, if you're coming into that battle with a ton of confidence or really with a lack of full understanding about how the world perceives you and your perceived limitations, that's a powerful thing not to have when you walk into the room each day. And so, a lot of this though is about confidence and so that's what I would tell myself through those 97 rejections. Keep rolling.
Jamarlin Martin: What was the most memorable rejection?
Ryan Wilson: A four-hour long meeting that I had where at the end of the meeting, the guy said, "So what is this?" After talking for four hours. So we had a four-hour long meeting, at the end of the four hours, he said, "So what is it?" He had not been paying attention through four hours of conversation.
Jamarlin Martin: What do you think that was? I had experienced similar to that.
Ryan Wilson: The mistake that a lot of entrepreneurs make is that, and the thing that we just accepted, is that nobody cares and nobody has the time. So even when they have agreed to have a meeting with you, they still don't care.
Jamarlin Martin: You didn't take it kind of personal.
Ryan Wilson: It was. It was, but look at your own day, right? Imagine that there's this foreign person sitting there talking to you about this concept. Right. And you've got other stuff going on, you've got a business and kids and a job and you've got other stuff happening, right? And so it's very difficult to push a person past one, just connecting to what you're talking about, let alone getting them to actually cut a check for it. Right. That's a hard road.
Jamarlin Martin: Yeah. This brings up an experience I had, where we were talking to investors and the CEO of Demand Media, they've changed their name now. I think their ticker symbol was DMD. So we're talking in New York in the office and this guy comes an hour and a half late. And I start running my presentation and I'm going off of notes on my presentation. He's like, are you really going to go through the presentation? But this guy was the biggest dick that you've ever seen, in terms of the arrogance...
Ryan Wilson: A lot of times it's intentional. A lot of potential investors, which you'll see if you're out in that game, their thesis is that they're investing in you, not in the business. And so I was in conversations where they were intentionally trying to rattle me. They we're doing things specifically to see how I would react to them. And a lot of those times, like those things were rude and they were trying to figure out.
Jamarlin Martin: They're trying to figure out like, "Hey are you going to go Black man on me?"
Ryan Wilson: The question is, so being an entrepreneur there's pressure and there's people that are rude, there's customers who are going to be rude, so what do you do in this situation?
Jamarlin Martin: So this testing, where they're trying to put pressure on you, you didn't take that as racial? It was just something like, Hey, I'm taking it as other entrepreneurs get the same experience.
Ryan Wilson: No. I took some of it as racial. I think that the degree to which I got it. I think even the degree to which they were willing to ask me questions I thought were strange. Race was a part of it? But there's no doubting that when trying to start a business as a person of color, it is really difficult to gain the attention and then specifically to get people to actually cut you a check. The main reason why that is that that same way that institutional racism harms confidence when you get into the process, it also builds preconceived notions about who it is that you're speaking to.
Jamarlin Martin: Let me play devil's advocate. Okay. So your people say you guys get rejected because of a race, and in the Black woman's case, race and gender. If you had to estimate, and I'm talking from the devil's perspective, if you had to estimate how many of those Black who say that, this process, this investment picture, whatever, I was a victim of racism. I pitched three times and I felt racism. What percentage of those cases do you feel the Black entrepreneur has done the research and the homework in terms of how the game is played? Because obviously uncle Ray Ray, our parents, obviously you're a unique case, but a lot of us come from homes where this process is not intuitive. Right? It's not cultural. Where in other communities, it is cultural and they're getting family members and people in their network to help them and guide them through the process. But what percentage do you think, if you had to estimate, that when the Black entrepreneurs up to like five rejections, they're adequately prepared in terms of the market rate, in terms of what's average, what's average in terms of entrepreneurs pitching, that these people do have the right homework? They do understand the game, that it may take a hundred pitches. They do have the understanding in how to do a really tight presentation, that they are at market.
Ryan Wilson: So the reason why I can't buy that argument, or I can't even really go that far with that argument is that it almost assumes that of those companies where there are white founders, that there's a level of preparation and understanding of the game too, right? I've been in those rooms. Right. And there's not any more preparation or understanding.
Jamarlin Martin: Yeah, of course we're talking about estimates.
Ryan Wilson: I would say in total, I think that there's some legitimacy to that because, this is the one thing that I will never say when we were talking about issues that have to do with race. I have not seen, right, where people of color are overwhelmingly are unprepared, not understanding. I mean, in fact, the companies that we see out of The Gathering Spot every day, I think are some of the hottest companies in the country. Right. And they're still not able to get to the same level of funding. And part of that, yes, I think very much has to do with the race and gender of the founders.
Jamarlin Martin: You believe all the homework and the game is there for them to get the same treatment of what other folks are doing.
Ryan Wilson: I don't believe that companies that we see getting invested in right now, all of them know all of the game either. Right. And because of that...
Jamarlin Martin: But is there a discrepancy?
Ryan Wilson: Not really. No. Not In my mind. I mean I think there are entrepreneurs of all shades and colors that don't know anything about the process. Some are getting funded and some aren't.
Jamarlin Martin: So If I played the devil's advocate here, I would say, hey, the data shows that when you factor in affirmative action...
Ryan Wilson: White women benefit.
Jamarlin Martin: When you factor in affirmative action when a lot of the Black students, and not just black, but I'm just going to say Black here. But when you give the Black student affirmative action and they go to a Stanford or Penn or Harvard, what the academic establishment and data argues is that they don't do as well as the other students, they're not prepared.
Ryan Wilson: Two problems. So the first problem is that the largest group that benefits the most from affirmative action, this is a numerical thing, are white women, right? White women are actually benefiting most from affirmative action, anybody can fact check me. White women are the biggest beneficiaries from affirmative action programs in the country, right? That's the first problem. The second problem is, people of color at predominantly white institutions, this is the question that we don't ask enough. There are certain rules, certain standards that are put in place that we treat as neutral. There's no such thing as neutrality, somebody wrote the test. There's a point of view and a perspective behind every single curriculum that's out there, right? And so for you to suggest that people of color are not performing as well, right? There's only really two ways to go. They're going to say maybe three options. They're not prepared. They're not as intelligent as the rest of the group. But a third, through a very real variable that we don't pay attention to, is the fact that there's a set of standards that again, we treat it like a bandaid that it's neutral for people, but bandaids in and of themselves are not neutral. There's a target customer just by the way that the bandaid is colored, a contrast that is not for people of color. And so what is the difference in that context than what you see in universities, right? I don't believe that attending a Catholic institution in Washington D.C. That's been around since 1789 that didn't allow people that look like me to go for the majority of its history, even at this point, the majority of the time, Georgetown has been there as an institution. People that look like me still could not, could not attend that. That rubric is all of a sudden neutral just because I show up on campus.
Jamarlin Martin: Okay. So you're using a term that I want to talk about. You're saying people of color, and I know this is a popular term and I may use it selectively or sometimes, but why should Black people, where we came over here on slave ships, we've fought on the front lines of the civil rights moment. These laws that were broken down in the United States, that's us. We have led the charge for everybody, even the white woman. And we have not commensurately benefited from all our struggle and banging against America and the forces that are against freedom and justice quality. So we've been on the front lines and so the problem I have, and it's not you, but I see a lot of folks when we use terms like "people of color", it's like we've got a big rainbow where we're bringing everybody in terms of talking about some of these issues. Do you feel like you see a risk that, when we're talking about our community issues and that's on most cases, our priority, a lot of us, that's our priority. Hey, I can't save everybody and this is the community that I belong to and that I'm passionate about and that needs probably the most help. Right? So you want to prioritize Black folks, at least for a lot of folks. But do you see a political issue where we may be hurting ourselves if too many of us are out there not being specific, meaning that I'm going out to rescue the Black woman and the Black man, or this is who I'm talking to.
Ryan Wilson: Yeah. So for me, it's an interesting perspective. It's really an interchangeable term for me. People go and say Black, African American, whatever.
Jamarlin Martin: How is it interchangeable though?
Ryan Wilson: When I'm using it, I'm normally talking about Black folks, which I have no hesitancy in saying at all. But I do think to a certain extent, in this context that for many of the issues that we're talking about, a rising tide raises all ships in this context. And I don't have a problem with external inclusion. I think the fallacy of some of those arguments is that, yeah, longer history here. But from a general social condition. Now, I mean, when I'm talking about folks of color and if you want to add some other folks or other groups into that bucket.
Jamarlin Martin: Well this is the situation, and this is where in some cases I know this is tough for some people probably stopped listening to the podcast, that we deserve to be on the bottom. And let me explain that. This is more of our educated folks who have access to information. They have experiences where let's say Black people, hey we're trying to elevate our community, elevate our people. But these political terms come in and you start seeing our leaders start using words like diversity. And so I have witnessed a lot of folks coming out of mainly the Silicon Valley establishment, but across the United States where Black folks are using the term diversity. Diversity, diversity, diversity. You can't bang, I believe, for diversity, undefined, unambiguous diversity, when 53 or so percent of white women are voting MAGA. That you have the data and the statistics in Silicon Valley is when you're pushing diversity, you're really helping that white woman. In a lot of cases you're at helping that MAGA woman. So if our situation and experience is unique, why can't we be specific and why when you're using diversity, everybody's coming along. So now when the big wallets in the establishment in Silicon Valley, when they talk, they'll say diversity, diversity. I don't know what that means. And it's starting to mean Black folks are just a little piece of it. This is really about white in terms of the data, in terms of what actually happened because if the white woman can go through diversity and she's wealthy and she has connections and her community didn't face an onslaught of mass incarceration. If you give her that benefit of diversity, she's going to kill your community in terms of elevating hers.
Ryan Wilson: I think diversity as a word is, yeah, I agree with you. There's not a definition that we often use or allowed to be using political context is wrong. Right? And so to me, at a basic level, diversity gets down to two really simple ideas. For one, for the community to be diverse, there needs to be an equal exchange of information and an interest in that equal exchange. Again, I don't believe that most of the things that we call neutral are actually neutral and so I think that's one way that I think in diversity talks is wrong. Second thing that I'd say...
Jamarlin Martin: If you think it's problematic. This doesn't reflect your values. I can't bang for every other group. I don't know your situation. I don't know what you come from, but I know I'm connected to people who come from the projects. I know my people were enslaved. I know that we were on the front lines in the civil rights movement after the civil rights movement. I know this government came after my leaders and in some cases killed our leaders. I can't bang for everybody else because I don't have confidence you guys are going to bang for me. Is that wrong? Would that be a moral point of view?
Ryan Wilson: I think coalition-building is important, right? I think a mistake of any group is to not look at where there can be alliances built. Right? And so yeah, to a certain extent, I think that we have to be continually looking for new ways to, to uh, to build stronger and larger coalitions and that a lot of times the issues that we're talking about, different history a lot of times manifest themselves very similarly, or the way that they're treated often kind of mimics the way that we're treated a lot of times. This last point about diversity, what I was going to say was that what we should be fighting for, I think a really easy and objective standard to look at is, does your company or organization represent the world or at least this nation's population.
Ryan Wilson: So if you're at a tech company and you say, we know we're really diverse, but 1 percent of your employee base is Black. Well, I think Black folks make up 13 percent of the United States population generally. And so for your community to be diverse at minimum, right, what you should be looking for is fighting for a standard where 13 percent of of your employee base represents the country that's there. That's a really easy and objective way to look at the issue that that takes out all the fluff around let's look at how those groups, how much of the population that they represent.
Jamarlin Martin: I believe you can do a lot of coalition building, but when you're speaking about us and kind of the priority in dealing where this problem is kind of magnified, I think you could build alliances, you can be respectful of other movements. You can even speak up for other movements. But I still think that in most cases we need to be more specific if we're thinking strategically about uplifting Black folks.
Ryan Wilson: I don't disagree with you about the specificity, but this is another one of those like either-or situations for me. I think that you can be very specific about the needs and issues of your community while also building a coalition with other groups that may be experiencing similar, although in some ways other forms of discrimination that don't manifest themselves the way that it happens in your community. So I agree. I mean saying that Black folks are affected by this issue specifically is never a bad way to frame an argument. But I think it's shortsighted to not compare that statistic to other minorities that may be facing, again you're building a stronger coalition and I think in many ways a stronger argument for why whatever it is that we're talking about, should be changed.
Jamarlin Martin: You're expanding to D.C. and you already mentioned that you're profitable, you're doing the damn thing. You have a business that's profitable, that'ss popping. You're expanding to D.C.. What do you have to say about entrepreneurs who have kind of trigger fingers of launching multiple product lines, new stuff, they've got too much stuff going on and one thing has not popped? Have you seen that in terms of just observing the ecosystem, and how did you think about the right time to take your platform to another city?
Ryan Wilson: The whole right time thing. I don't know. There's never really a good time to expand. Risk is risk, right? And that risk is going to be here today or tomorrow, whatever. Whenever you decide to go do it. I do think it's important to try to make sure that you fundamentally understand your business before you start to expand. I can say that with confidence. I understand what we're doing here and I understand how what we're doing can translate to other markets.
Jamarlin Martin: But you don't think there should be a process where, a lot of entrepreneurs like yourself, they're very creative, and so you have these different ideas. You have not seen entrepreneurs saying, "I'm going to do A, B, C, D, E," but the first business idea or product, it doesn't have the traction it needs to have? So you're spreading your risk out when you really want your risk to be concentrated to give the first idea a fair shot. You haven't really seen that?
Ryan Wilson: No. That last part that you said there I actually agree with. I think that most successful entrepreneurs, if you look at how they started their business, it is about very concentrated risk in a specific area. At the end of the day, this is all about execution. Ideas are super cheap. We could come up with an idea right now at this table. So having an idea, there's nothing to that. It's about your ability to execute upon that idea. And I think we mistake those two, there's a distinction there that a lot of times I think that we conflate. "Oh, I've got an idea, therefore I have a business." No, you have to be able to execute upon that idea in a way that makes people understand that it has moved from pure ideation into a stage where people can buy or whatever it is that you do, they're able to actually interact with the business. That's the larger problem. Right? I think that we have way too many ideas out there and not enough people who are actually starting companies.
Jamarlin Martin: What's the pitch to the entrepreneurs and professionals who want to come work at tech companies, startups? What's your pitch? "Hey, don't go to Silicon Valley, in most cases, everybody's different, but in most cases, come to ATL. That stuff is old. The opportunities are now being distributed across other cities like Atlanta. What's the pitch to, I'm going to ATL to set up my company?
Ryan Wilson: There's no hotter city in the country right now than Atlanta.
Jamarlin Martin: Quantify that.
Ryan Wilson: I'll look at it from an industry perspective. Right? So you have legacy companies like Coca Cola and Chick-fil-A and Home Depot, right, that have started here and expanded across the globe. All right. Some of the larger businesses that you're going to find. You have a creative community. I mean Atlanta doesn't get enough credit for how long it's been creating music that the world listens to. But you're in a cultural capital and a capital where people were producing the music, the world listens to. Behind that now, most of the films that are being shot that we all watch are being filmed down here. So you have a thriving creative community. And then as I said before, I think that we have some of the hottest startups that are in the country, here. There's no better ecosystem to be in where the corporate community can meet the entrepreneurial community that can meet the creative community and the synergy, what happens at the intersection of those industries is unlike what you're going to see in any other city. Plus, if you buy the argument that Atlanta's largest expert is its culture, there's no better place right now to be able to start an idea and have that idea scale and be taken across the country.
Jamarlin Martin: And what about talent in terms of, hey, I've got to hire a lot of engineers? What about talent?
Ryan Wilson: It also is a city that has more universities and top tier universities that are spitting out that type of talent than most places that you're going to find. From where we're sitting right now, we are across the street from Georgia Tech, down the street from Morehouse, Spelman, and Clark. Emory's around the corner. Right. And there's a host of universities just north of the city. Georgia State's around the corner. So from an education standpoint and people who are here, I flip this question around a lot to people. What city can you go to where all those things are happening at the same time and there's money in that city? There's actually an ability in this city now to raise money here.
Jamarlin Martin: What are you going to say to that geek brother who says, ATL is a joke, because all the VCs are in Silicon Valley. If you're you want to be an actor, you want to get in Hollywood, you need to go to Hollywood. So if I'm going to do this thing, I'm going where all the money is. What do you got to say to that?
Ryan Wilson: There's an article that dropped in Inc. today that was profiling a number of companies that are based here. Right. And so I would just say to that person, without really much of a long argument, they're just wrong, there are companies that have been, I mean, one of the members of the club here...
Jamarlin Martin: But it's not wrong that there's more investment capital in Silicon Valley than here, come on.
Ryan Wilson: Yeah, there's definitely, but it's just like what you see happening in the music industry and I think what we saw on film. If you want to get in early in a community that's changing, you come to Atlanta for that same problem. Historically, you would say, if you want to be an actor or you want to become a producer, go to Hollywood. But now people are saying, move to Atlanta. Right. Because we're shooting more in many cases than what they are.
Jamarlin Martin: Yeah. That point of view is out there in terms of my hypothetical geek question. The right way to look at it is that, hey, if Silicon Valley, everybody else, nine out of 10 people think that they have to go to Silicon Valley, they may have more capital, but it's so crowded, it negates the opportunity out there. So ATL may have less capital, but it's less crowded in terms of so many companies vying for the capital.
Ryan Wilson: Yeah. It's less crowded. But if you're Black or a person of color, whatever term you want to use, and you're trying to raise capital, the reality is that, there's a ton of articles written about this, but there's a pattern to the companies with who is getting invested in. And a lot of times what people are doing is investing in people that look like the last group of people that were successful out there. So the narrative down here, if you are Black, a member of our club started a company here in Atlanta and sold that company to Amazon. I would go to a city where that type of story is being told.
Jamarlin Martin: Paul Judge.
Ryan Wilson: Yeah. Paul Judge.
Jamarlin Martin: Is Paul Judge, from your point of view, is he considered the don of Black tech in ATL or is there a figure where this person has done the damn thing and they've been in the game and they're looked up to. Are there any kind of personalities or no?
Ryan Wilson: There's several personalities down here. So I think Paul's one of them. I work with Paul regularly. We are actually in business together for a music conference and festival that's down here. But I think the person that I just mentioned, Jewel Burks, founder of Partpic, that sold to Amazon, that's another entrepreneur figure down here, those are the folks that I point to for sure.
Jamarlin Martin: Thanks for coming on the show. Where can people check out you and your company?
Ryan Wilson: So you can find us online at https://thegatheringspot.club/, on social media @TheGatheringSpot on all platforms. If you're looking for me, sometimes I'm a little something different, I'm @spotonrw on all platforms.
Jamarlin Martin: Alright. I'd like to thank Ryan Wilson for coming on the show. Let's GHOGH! 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!