Let’s start from the beginning. Tell me about your early years and where you come from.
I was born in Richmond, Virginia, nowhere near Silicon Valley or any really tech hub. DC is rising but it’s nowhere near like SF, New York, and LA. I grew up with that cliche story of growing up in a lower income area, growing up in the projects, not growing up with a lot, having a single mother. I try not to harp on that too much because I know there’s so many others that have dealt with that same background and those same problems. But growing up was actually pretty normal to me because when you grow up and struggle that’s all you know. When you don’t see other people who have a lot, you just think living the way you do is normal. You think gunshots are normal. You think drug dealing is normal. You think not having enough to eat is normal. So I never grew up thinking that I had it rough or I had it hard. I knew it sucked at times but I never really felt like we were poor. It wasn’t until I got my first job at 14 and I realized that, “Man, there’s people out here that are doing a lot better than I am.”
Growing up it just felt really normal. And like I said, when I first got that first job it was at this museum and I started to see white people for the first time. Just imagine like seeing white people on TV and seeing these people but never really integrating with them or interacting with them. Because I came from a side of town that was mostly black and Latino. So I started to see those things, and I saw nice cars; I saw families seeming so carefree and just frivolous about their spending, and I started to realize that there was a whole ‘nother world out there. And then that’s when I really started to get into the internet and really started to research, and I saw that the was a whole ‘nother world outside of what I grew up in.
“Growing up was actually pretty normal to me because when you grow up and struggle that’s all you know. When you don’t see other people who have a lot, you just think living the way you do is normal. You think gunshots are normal. You think drug dealing is normal. You think not having enough to eat is normal. So I never grew up thinking that I had it rough or I had it hard. I knew it sucked at times but I never really felt like we were poor. It wasn’t until I got my first job at 14 and I realized that, ‘Man, there’s people out here that are doing a lot better than I am.'”
And that’s really what made me start to love technology—the ability to connect with people outside of me few block radius and from what I knew. From there it was just working and supporting my mom. You know, my mom didn’t go to college. No one in my family went to college. She worked as a custodian for the Federal Reserve Bank and she didn’t make a lot of money. I was paying a lot of the bills. Like I said, I started working at 14 years old and, yeah, it was definitely a struggle.
Throughout my highschool years, we maintained but there was certain that happened within my family with financial struggles that led to me being homeless. I don’t like to talk too much about my family because I just feel like that’s their business and this is family business and so I kind of like put the focus on me being homeless. I don’t like talking about their situation because I just don’t feel like its right to put out their situation. There was a series of events that led to me being homeless for a year.
“My mom didn’t go to college. No one in my family went to college. She worked as a custodian for the Federal Reserve Bank and she didn’t make a lot of money. I was paying a lot of the bills. I started working at 14 years old and, yeah, it was definitely a struggle.”
It was my senior year of high school and it was really, really a tough time for me. I lived out of my car that didn’t work so I couldn’t even turn the heat on or anything like that it was just parked, and yeah, it was tough. I tried to make it to school—my goal was three days a week. Some days I would have to go to school without showering for a few days.
It was just tough for me because I was always such a social guy and I felt afraid to interact with people because I felt like I smelled or I was wearing the same clothes or things like that. I would do a bunch of different odd jobs like cleaning people’s windshields at gas stations and just hanging around until the owner of the gas station would chase me out or shoveling people’s snow, or raking their lawns, or doing whatever I could to make money and afford a motel for myself and things like that. It was a really, really difficult time in my life, probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
“There was a series of events that led to me being homeless for a year. It was my senior year of high school and it was really, really a tough time for me. I lived out of my car that didn’t work so I couldn’t even turn the heat on or anything like that it was just parked, and yeah, it was tough. I tried to make it to school—my goal was three days a week. Some days I would have to go to school without showering for a few days.”
I know breaking through tech is tough, especially for people that look like myself, but finishing school and still making something of myself after that year was probably the hardest thing that I’ve ever had to do. I still was able to graduate high school and make my mom proud. That’s probably my biggest accomplishment.
I was fortunate that my girlfriend at the time, her dad didn’t know I was homeless, but he knew I was in a bad situation. He paid for one college application for me. That college application was to Virginia Tech. Virginia Tech really appealed to me because I was so enamored with tech, technology, computers. I really thought I wanted to be a computer engineer. I ended up going to Virginia Tech, but I didn’t know anything about financial aid or anything like that. So I applied to financial aid late, and I didn’t get enough money to cover my first semester, so I needed to get a job. My first job happened to be a marketing role at United Way. I was able to blend my love for technology with marketing. I was like, “Why does our website look the way that it does? We need to optimize this. Why are we using Facebook to promote our events? Why are we using social media? Why are we collecting e-mails and have a newsletter? Why aren’t we working on our search rankings and things like that. It was just my introduction to technology, and I didn’t know at the time what I was doing. I didn’t know about digital marketing and growth marketing and things like that. It just was like an uncanny ability for me to understand both sides and the tactics to help grow a company. That kind of led to where I am now. A year after that I started my first company at 19 years old, which I actually sold years later. That’s the beginning.
“I used to go to the public library, I didn’t have internet, and things like that, or reliable internet at home. I used to collect the free monthly trial AOL discs just to access the internet.”
How did you first get exposed to tech?
At the local library! At my job we had a computer. I would sneak on a computer and look, and research things, and I saw all the cool things happening. I remember just watching Facebook, and I was so mad because I wasn’t in college and I didn’t have a college e-mail address, and I couldn’t access Facebook.
There’s this cool thing just happening in front of my eyes. Reading all these articles on the web and what was going on, and none of my friends were talking about this, it seemed like a completely different world. I was like a kid in his own imaginary world, it was just great to do that. I didn’t really have any friends or anybody else that was really interested in it because you’ve got to understand when we started becoming teenagers, my friends started becoming drug dealers. My friends were caught up in other things that were street related. They weren’t really worried about tech or anything like that, so it was two different worlds. I used to go to the public library, I didn’t have internet, and things like that, or reliable internet at home. I used to collect the free monthly trial AOL discs just to access the internet.
I just found different ways to play with tech even though I didn’t have the money for it. Though marketing was never anything that I thought I wanted to do. It’s interesting because when I was a kid, I used to sell, which is part of marketing smart drugs by the way. I used to buy like candy and bubble gum and indifferent things, and then I would resell it at a premium price at school. That’s when I really started understanding supply and demand before I even took any business classes. Because I could buy a pack of bubble gum at 50 cents and then sell each piece for 50 cents. I had a love for that entrepreneurial spirit and marketing and selling. And, when I came over to United Way, there were a lot of things that really made sense to just blend the things I learned about technology and the web.
Tell me about starting a company at 19. How did 19-year-old you have zero risk aversion and just feel like, “I can do this?”
You know what’s so funny? When I started this company, I didn’t tell a lot of my friends. It was one of those things I wanted to try and do on my own. It was all bootstrapped. I was using a little bit of money that I was making from United Way. They started me off at $7 dollars an hour or something like that. I ended up at $9 when I became full-time. Putting a little money away there and was doing a little consulting on the side.
I imagined working as a marketing consultant, doing things that I probably would do now and charge so much money for, for like $12 bucks an hour or $15. I thought I was making bank at the time and I didn’t realize how much they were getting over on me. Back then, you could probably get a whole marketing strategy from me for like $75 bucks. And I thought I got over on you!
Anyway, at 19 I liked to party. In a lot of places there’s a very strong bar culture of 21+ people. I was like, well what about us 18 to 20 year olds? There’s tons of us and we don’t really have anywhere to go. So I created a platform. I created a strategy where I would take these events and I would go to different warehouses, or clubhouses, or restaurants, or wherever, and throw parties and live events there where you didn’t have to be 21. You didn’t have to drink there and people 21+ joined too. They thought “Oh, these parties are happening, these live events are cool.”
Then I match that with my love for technology and digital where I really implemented Facebook as a strong growth driver for my events. I was lucky back then. Facebook events started coming out, it was like a strong driver for growth of getting people involved in the events, and then also setting up my own digital platform for the company where people knew that you could keep updated with all our different events and things like that.
One of the biggest drivers of growth was photography. You have to remember, this is back in 2007, 2008, when people didn’t have these fancy iPhones, with these great cameras. When people came out to our parties, you could get a really nice picture done, and you knew that one or two days later, you’d be able to see those pictures on our platform. Also on Facebook as well and different Facebook groups. We were able to blend tech, the digital space with photography, with live events that kind of make a really, really cool company.
It was really successful for a while and it died down a little bit when I started getting more into my academics. Then I started up again and it was doing moderately well, but then I actually had someone who was in the live events business that wanted to kind of adopt my model. By this time, Instagram had came out and all that stuff, so our photography hook wasn’t as strong. So they bought my company. It wasn’t like a huge amount or anything, but it was the most money I’ve ever seen in my life, and it was a huge, a huge, huge accomplishment for me. Life changing.
So then you ended up being a marketing executive in your early 20s.
I did. So I sold my company and also I was working for Neil Strauss, famous author and entrepreneur, radio host. He had really popular books like The Game and Emergency and things like that. The Game is probably his most famous book. He used to write for Rolling Stone. He has his own masterminding group. He also has his own radio show on Sirius XM, so I was doing digital initiatives and digital marketing for him.
Sean Ellis reached out to me, which most people in the tech industry know as the most famous marketer. He’s known for coining the term growth hacking, by growing companies like Dropbox, Eventbrite, LogMeIn, Uproar – numerous IPOs, numerous billion dollar companies, and he gave the keys to marketing for his company to a 23-year-old kid, and it was really, really exciting.
We worked on Qualaroo together and got to the point of being profitable. We all know working in start ups, especially SaaS businesses, reaching profitability is hard. To help with marketing and lead a company into the green was really exciting. Along with that, starting GrowthHackers.com with him and that turning into its own entity in this own company itself. It was a very exciting time for me as a marketer. It really strengthened my skills and my technological skills, and my marketing skills during that time was awesome. At the time I was running marketing and I end up becoming the head of growth over at GrowthHackers.
“I would literally work maybe like 6:00 AM and work until 7:00 pm. On the way home, I would stop at Subway every single day. I would grab a tuna sandwich. I’m a man of habit. I would grab a tuna sandwich, scarf that down, get home, and literally start working on projects and different things that I was doing until 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning.”
At the same time, I started MilliSense, which is my marketing firm that I am CEO of today. I was having a conversation with my mom, and I was like, “Hey, I have all these people coming to me about consulting or whatever. It’s killing me tax-wise. Look, I need to start something, start a company.” I’m sitting there with my mom, and I’m just like, “I really want to dedicate something to her.” I was like, “Hey mom, I want to name my company after you.” And she was like, “No, no you’re not. Whatever.” And I remember sending her pictures when I got the LLC and things for MilliSense. The name comes from my mom’s name, which is Millicent. And because my mom always made sense of things.
That’s what we kind of do when we work with a lot of tech companies, a lot of startups, a lot of companies that are boot strapped. I try not to take that mentality of those agencies or marketing firms that try to overcharge people and things like that. I really want to help entrepreneurs and people be able to accomplish their dreams. So there’s really no set price for us to do things. We’re all about negotiating.
I would literally work maybe like 6:00 AM and work until 7:00 pm. On the way home, I would stop at Subway every single day. I would grab a tuna sandwich. I’m a man of habit. I would grab a tuna sandwich, scarf that down, get home, and literally start working on projects and different things that I was doing until 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning. It was pretty crazy.
I was running growth and doing stuff for growth hackers while running various other projects. I was reached out to by Sticker Mule. I was 25 years old at the time, and they offered me the opportunity to be their chief marketing officer at 25 years old. It was a huge opportunity, because a lot of people aren’t aware of Sticker Mule. Sticker Mule isn’t your average start up. It’s really a mid-size business, but the revenue they’re generating, the number of employees that they have, made it a major operation. To manage a marketing team of that size and be a C-level exec at a company like that was amazing. I was able to have a lot of success there and it really built my profile even more. We grew revenue almost 50% during my time there. We almost tripled website traffic. I was so nervous going into that role, and I did my thing. It was great.
I was balancing that with MilliSense, so I was CEO of MilliSense still, while serving as CMO of a multi-million dollar company. Call me crazy.
That is crazy. I’m so curious. Your hustle comes from your background for sure. But I’m also curious, you were able to confidently go in as a consultant as a teenager, and you were charging just $12 an hour, but you were still selling it. I’m curious to know, where did you get that belief that you could do it? You know what I mean? It’s like you didn’t get that crippling gene of self-doubt.
Actually, I would disagree with that. I’m my biggest critic. I doubt myself a lot. I just don’t allow self-doubt to prevent me from accomplishing the things I want to do and making my dreams happen.
One of the people that worked at United Way with me, her friend had a small restaurant in Blacksburg and just needed help with creating a Facebook page and doing some social media stuff and marketing, and she was like, “Hey, you know, I’ll pay you $10 an hour to help me out.” And I was like, “$10 an hour. Yeah, I’ll absolutely do this.” So once that happened, there was a chain of events where just word of mouth, and then it just made me more confident that I could do the things that I could do and be able to say, “No, I actually want $25 an hour or $30 an hour or $50 an hour.” It kind of just spiraled from there, but yeah, I go back and forth in my head about a lot of things all the time. Sticker Mule was one of them, and that was one of the latest things that I did.
“I’m my biggest critic. I doubt myself a lot. I just don’t allow self-doubt to prevent me from accomplishing the things I want to do and making my dreams happen.”
By the way, to update, I’m back and full-time as CEO of my company, MilliSense. I’m also working on some software to go along with the consulting service as well, which I’m excited about. I’m also full-time with Microsoft as a consultant. We’ll try to do the numbers, try to figure out the numbers, but I’m working on new projects with Microsoft that I’m really really excited about. I’m leading growth and marketing strategy. It’s cool to get enterprise experience on a tech level too.
I’m pretty sure we’re going to talk about struggles later. One of the biggest things was, it is an absolute bias in Silicon Valley about working at a Google, Facebook, or Twitter, or Yahoo beforehand and you will just not have doors open up to you if you hadn’t worked at one of those companies.
Yeah, why don’t we just dive in, tell me more about your experiences with big company bias.
That’s been really tough for me because I understand my skill set and my abilities and I know I can do that at a larger scale, but I’ve literally been turned down by some really successful companies for roles because they told me I didn’t have the enterprise experience. That’s really disheartening to me because I feel like the things that you have to do at a small or mid-sized company pales in comparison to some of the things that you have to do at an enterprise.
“There’s also a bias for people who speak out on diversity, that speak out on social issues, that are voicing their opinions and not being quiet.”
My friends that have worked in enterprise companies don’t realize what it feels like to know that hey, if I don’t work today that literally might affect the bottom line of my company, my livelihood and so there’s a lot of bias there if you haven’t come from one of those companies.
That leads to a whole slew of problems because people that look like me aren’t at those companies or aren’t getting those opportunities especially if you didn’t come from a Stanford or some Ivy League school or whatever. It’s really, really disheartening and the you see the new Unicorn companies the Snapchats, the Ubers the IBMs, what are they doing? The exact same thing! They’re trying to get the Google people, the Facebook people, and they want people with the same pedigrees that look like them.
It’s a wheel that keeps turning. It feels like you’re not going anywhere. No matter all the success I’ve had, the credentials I’ve built, a lot of people will say, “Oh, you’ve made it,” and they don’t realize there are still a lot of doors closed to me just off the strength of big company experience.
There’s also a bias for people who speak out on diversity, that speak out on social issues, that are voicing their opinions and not being quiet. The one thing I’ve noticed about many people that I’ve met, black employees at the Googles, and the Microsofts, and the Apples, they stay in their lane. They stay and keep that cookie cutter image no matter how they may feel internally where they won’t speak out on things, where they won’t step out and be who they really are because they know they have to fit this certain image for this company.
It’s really disheartening that some of the more successful people had to do that. I’ve actually ran into this at companies I’ve been at where they say, “Hey, you can’t really speak out on these things,” or “You can’t say the things you do because our customers see that and things like that.” I can’t be a part of a company where I can’t speak my mind, and stand up for the things that I believe in, or the things that I feel that are unjust.
It definitely closes doors to you because they’ll see you not as a person, but as a problem. They’ll see you also as someone who has their own personal brand. You look at a company like Snapchat– can you name one person at Snapchat that has a personal brand outside of Evan Spiegel? Everyone just falls in line. I think you should be able to try to be the best person that you can be. Unfortunately that doesn’t happen a lot of times in tech.
“I can’t be a part of a company where I can’t speak my mind, and stand up for the things that I believe in, or the things that I feel that are unjust.”
You mention you touch on your experiences with age bias and retro bias and your pre-interview I’m curious to hear more about your experiences.
On age and racial bias – Before I took a job with Sean, I was applying to a lot of tech jobs, and I wasn’t getting responses back. I had a LinkedIn profile, I had a really good resume, I had run marketing at a few different companies, I had successfully sold a company, and I still wasn’t getting responses back, and I couldn’t figure it out.
My spidey senses were tingling when it came to racism, and so I created a fake LinkedIn page with a white person stock photo, changed up the name to be very, very let’s say proper, and pretty much had the same resume. I sent this out to 10 people, because I’m all about testing. I sent the A/B testing racism here in the 7 out of 10 people that didn’t respond to me actually responded to that fake profile.
You probably tried to find me on Linkedin and you realized I don’t have one. I never felt the need to use Linkedin because I just was so turned off from that experience. I know a lot of people that are judged by their Linkedin profile. The color of their skin. The way that they look. I deleted my profile and I was just like, “Man that’s sucks.”
“I created a fake LinkedIn page with a white person stock photo, changed up the name to be very, very let’s say proper, and pretty much had the same resume. I sent this out to 10 people, because I’m all about testing. I sent the A/B testing racism here in the 7 out of 10 people that didn’t respond to me actually responded to that fake profile.”
It is similar with young people. I even talked to–I’m not going to name his name, but he is a white young male CEO of a successful startup right now. They’ve raised millions of dollars in capital, and he said that to get a job he actually had to photoshop his face to make him look older in his linkedin. That’s coming from a white male, so there’s definitely ageism and racism when it comes to this stuff.
I’ve literally been told, “Hey, you need to wait your time and put in more time.” And things like that. That is completely related to age, because as far as the steps I’ve needed to take to get to where I am, I’ve been successful. Everywhere I’ve went I’ve got the experience. I have proven results. I’m not a person who doesn’t have results. I’m all about data, and so the fact that people still judge me off my age is crazy. I used to wear that as a badge of honor because I was like, “I’m 25, I’m 24, I’m 23, and I did this? I thought that was awesome.” And then I started to realize that a lot of people resent that unfortunately. Because a lot of people look at you like, “Hey, when I was 25 I was still a product manager making $50,000 at wherever, and you want to be a VP.” So it’s tough.
“I’ve literally been told, ‘Hey, you need to wait your time and put in more time.’ And things like that. That is completely related to age, because as far as the steps I’ve needed to take to get to where I am, I’ve been successful. Everywhere I’ve went I’ve got the experience. I have proven results. I’m not a person who doesn’t have results. I’m all about data, and so the fact that people still judge me off my age is crazy.”
On the racial side, there is just blatant ignorance when it comes to the skills and abilities and people of color. Like, people just literally look past us and think that we’re not equipped, or because we look different or may dress different or not come from the same background as you that we can’t do this job. I’ve actually been turned down from jobs which should have been like my expectations and things like that because I feel like people judge me for things outside of my work and my resume. So it’s definitely been tough.
I remember when I was head of comms, and like 22 years old, and I act so much younger now than I did then, because if anyone found out how young I was, their demeanor to me immediately changed, and they literally started treating me like a tiny girl-child, but I just pretended I was in my 30s my whole early 20s. It was the only I could be taken half-seriously.
I’m also interested in talking about kind of anti-marketing bias, like I worked in comms for instance, which is non-technical. Even though growth hacking is very quantitative and data driven, it’s still kind of lumped into that soft-skill or not-necessary-skill category. I’m curious to just hear your thoughts on that bias.
Yes, it’s so bad. It’s really, really bad because a lot of people are from that engineering background, and they think marketing is so trivial. A lot of engineers I’ve met, surprisingly enough, think they’re good marketers. They think that they understand, and I’m like, “You’re not, you’re not a good marketer.” And it’s almost like– I’ve come across a lot of engineering founders that is not more so, not that they’re looking for marketing help because they feel like they need someone else’s expertise, but because they don’t have time for it.
They still, in their heads, think that they are the best marketer for the company and things like that. And that’s really, really, really tough to deal with. And whenever I come into a new company, it’s almost like a stare down with the engineers. You got to prove that you’re not going to back down, and that you understand the things they’re doing, you understand the lingo. I would say this to a lot of marketers with in tech. Even if you don’t learn, learn how to speak, learn the lingo. Learn, and maybe to do basic things so that you can at least have conversations with these people.
Make sure that everything you’re doing can be proved with data because that’s what they’re going to respect. A lot of engineers think we’re just people that just come up with ideas and thought at a wall, but if you come in and you have an actual organized disciplined data that you’re having processed, they’ll respect you a lot more. I feel like marketers have the shortest leash when it comes to start-ups and tact.
“Make sure that everything you’re doing can be proved with data because that’s what they’re going to respect.”
I know engineers that are chilling, they just do the minimum and especially if you have a founder that’s not technical. Engineers get away with murder especially if they don’t understand what the engineers are doing. Marketers they give brain for everything and a lot of times it’s stuff that has to do with market fit and the product still needing to be developed, but if the product isn’t selling and the marketer’s getting blamed for it.
I was actually just having a conversation with somebody growth hacking. It is like that cool thing in tech right now but it’s tough because people look at us, is like these unicorn marketers that are supposed to just come into your company, and then, boom hockey stick growth and that’s not the case. And so, a lot of the guys that I know that work in growth and marketing are at places maybe, 8 to 12 months and that’s it. These are the people that get blamed for when the product isn’t selling, when they’re not getting traffic and things like that, and is not looked at engineering product.
So, that’s probably been the toughest thing for me. I was mentoring at a tradecraft in San Francisco, and one of the things that I told him was that to be a growth marketer is a nomadic lifestyle within start-ups and Tech, because when things go wrong, you’re going to be looked at first. And you’re going to be the one that is let go, or you’re going to be the one that gets to blame. And so, just realize that if you want to be a marketer at Tech unless you’re at a big company where you more relaxed like in Facebook or things like that, you’re going to be jumping from company to company, because you’re going to get into a lot of bad situations.
What are the things that you love about being your own boss and approaching work that way?
The biggest thing that I love is – and you don’t hear me talk about it a lot – is being able to give back to the community and do volunteer work. I don’t have to worry about meetings and calendars. I’m able to volunteer every week and do the things that I love to give back.
I remember being cooped up in offices at startups, working from dusk till dawn on projects and not having time to myself. To have that flexibility to do the things I love and to be able to give back, and to travel. A lot of my travel is related to business. I’m headed to Boston, then St. Martin, then Beijing and Nevada and all these places but even though is work related, I still get to enjoy traveling and doing things.
I could say that, because I’ve built something for myself and that feels really good. I don’t feel like I’m a slave to someone else’s company or beliefs, or whatever. I’m able to speak freely and do the things that I want to do, because I know that I’ve built a skill for myself and I’ve worked hard, and I say this with the most humility, that I know that I have talent. I know that I can bring something to the table, and so, because I continuously work every single day to get better as a marketer and as a leader. I have that value proposition that you have to let me be who I am if you want to work with me. That’s what’s been great so far and has led to a lot of great opportunities, and I’m loving it.
How do your friends and family from home feel about how far you’ve come?
They think I’m a celebrity. No one from where I’m from really makes it out, or does these things, or is printed in magazines, and have articles written about them, or get to be interviewed by people like you. This doesn’t happen. It’s all pretty crazy to them. They still look at me like the same person though. They’re still going to make jokes about me. They’re going to still be hard on me, but at the same time they are definitely enamored with the idea that so many people are appreciative of my story. People want to hear from me and want to work with me and they’re definitely really, really proud. That’s something that means the world to me. Got to keep pushing!
How do you feel about the state of tech in 2016? What’s really exciting to you? What frustrates you?
I’m very excited about the overall interest within the tech industry and how everyone’s kind of throwing their name in the ring. I know some people don’t want other people invading Silicon Valley. They don’t want so many people gaining interest. What they don’t realize is that these mainstream people or people from different places gaining interest will only affect the youth.
When I get to talk to kids from back home, and I tell them about how basketball players and celebrities are involved in tech. It’s just really inspiring to people. I really like the work that CODE2040 is doing. Black Girls Code and all these different organizations raise interest within the black, Latino, and minority communities and movement into tech. Those are the things that I’m most excited about, personally.
“I don’t really see any change when it comes to diversity. I hear a lot of people talking and then you see the actions of people and it doesn’t really change. That’s really disheartening for me to see within tech, that I really feel like things are not going to change. When you look at these companies that are talking about diversity and how much they want to change, you’re like, ‘Yeah, they’re going to change.’ Then you look back in 2012, and they were saying the same thing and still have the same numbers.”
The thing that I dislike is this whole unicorn bullshit and these crazy wild valuations, talk about how the bubble is bursting, how that’s affecting actual, real quality startups that’s coming out now, that are struggling to get funding because you’ve had so many of these flops or these companies that got way too much money without any type of validation.
I think it’s just going to be really, really tough for people. All the startups I’ve started, it’s all bootstrapped. It’s all stuff that I did myself, so I’ve never had to raise money for any of my companies. It’s now a really, really tough time for that.
I don’t really see any change when it comes to diversity. I hear a lot of people talking and then you see the actions of people and it doesn’t really change. That’s really disheartening for me to see within tech, that I really feel like things are not going to change. When you look at these companies that are talking about diversity and how much they want to change, you’re like, “Yeah, they’re going to change.” Then you look back in 2012, and they were saying the same thing and still have the same numbers. So that’s something that I don’t really like as well. There’s a lot of things I don’t like, but I won’t harp on them. Hopefully, they’ll be changed.
People have to understand that having white women at your events and conferences does not mean diversity. Yes, a white woman is diversity, but a lot of people, it was like, “Oh, we have have a black man and we have a woman, so we have black representation and woman representation.” No, you can have a black woman and you can have a Spanish woman, you can have a Native American woman, you can have different women of color at these events. Just because you have a woman there, does not mean that you have diversity, and I absolutely hate that. It annoys me so much. Or just try convincing conferences that just don’t have any color at all, and I’ll call them out. I’ll call them up. People think sometimes that I’m calling them up because I’m jealous because I’m not speaking there or whatever. That is absolutely not the case. It’s just like, I just want to see people who look like me. I want to see people from diverse and different backgrounds speak at these events. And I feel like there’s so many people to choose from and you just don’t see it at all. I could probably go on and on about things that I hate about tech in 2016, but, yes, that’s some of it.
“People have to understand that having white women at your events and conferences does not mean diversity.”
What advice would you give folks who come from tough backgrounds, backgrounds similar to yours, who maybe want to get into tech, but don’t feel like it’s even possible?
Well, first of all, I would say build your skills. There’s so much free information online. You can learn how to code online. You can learn different marketing skills online. There’s so so many different things that you can do right online to build your skills. There’s going to be a lot of people that don’t give you an opportunity or chance.
Create things for yourself, it’s so easy to set up. Like the Shopify store where you’re selling some T-shirts or whatever. It is to prove that I can do marketing. Look I’m 18, 19 years old and I sold $20,000 dollars in T-shirts in a year. That might not be a lot, but that’s a lot. That’s crazy to do that at 18 or 19 years old.
“Just because you have a woman there, does not mean that you have diversity, and I absolutely hate that. It annoys me so much. Or just try convincing conferences that just don’t have any color at all, and I’ll call them out. I’ll call them up. People think sometimes that I’m calling them up because I’m jealous because I’m not speaking there or whatever. That is absolutely not the case. It’s just like, I just want to see people who look like me. I want to see people from diverse and different backgrounds speak at these events. And I feel like there’s so many people to choose from and you just don’t see it at all.”
You start putting a portfolio together of the work you’ve done. Whether you’ve built apps, or built websites, or you started a blog and you’re able to push this much content. It’s never too early to start working on your personal brand as long as you have built skills to go along with that and expertise to go along with that. Just start building that brand for yourself and have value that you can bring.
Don’t get discouraged because the Googles of the world and the Microsofts and Apples or whatever don’t want to hire you. There’s a lot of small, bootstrapped companies that need your help. Do whatever you got to do. If they’re barely paying you, then work nights and weekends and do whatever you have to do but just gain that experience as quickly as possible.
“Don’t get discouraged because the Googles of the world and the Microsofts and Apples or whatever don’t want to hire you. There’s a lot of small, bootstrapped companies that need your help. Do whatever you got to do.”