Kevin Carroll

Can you believe we’re almost a quarter of the way through 2022 already? I think now might be a perfect time for a creative tune-up, and this week’s guest is a true instigator of inspiration — Kevin Carroll. As a founder, author, and public speaker, Kevin’s words and his work have influenced hundreds of thousands of people all over the world to tap into their creativity and accomplish epic tasks.

Our conversation touches on a number of topics, including success, longevity, curiosity, and perseverance. Kevin talked about growing up in Philly, being a linguistics expert in the Air Force, his time at Nike, and talks about how you can find your own “red rubber ball.” Kevin’s words were just what I needed to hear right now, and I hope they will encourage you as well. Trust me, you’ll want to listen to this episode multiple times!

Transcript

Full Transcript

Maurice Cherry:
All right, so tell us who you are and what you do.

Kevin Carroll:
Kevin Carroll, author, speaker, instigator of inspiration. I get an opportunity to spend time with co-conspirators and storytelling, creativity, innovation, human performance, and advancing the human condition in a good and positive way. So I get a chance to do that on a regular.

Maurice Cherry:
That sounds like a dream job.

Kevin Carroll:
I don’t know if it’s necessarily, you know, it’s so funny, one of the things that I tell folks is I don’t really have a job per se. I’m kind of like Tommy from Martin Lawrence’s show. So my friends always say, what do you do, what do you do? Because like you’re always here and there and there. And so, I think I just have discovered that folks see a talent or a gift or skill that I might have that would lend itself to a project or an idea or something that they’re trying to advance.

Kevin Carroll:
I don’t really see myself as having a job in a traditional sense, a J-O-B. I really do think that I have this career portfolio, I actually was reading an article about that, why you should build a career portfolio, not a career path. And so I think I have a series of experiences. So I have more of a portfolio than a career path.

Maurice Cherry:
How has 2022 been going for you so far?

Kevin Carroll:
Surprise and delight and expect the unexpected, that’s what’s been happening so far this year already. I’ve been really blessed and count my blessings. We’ve stayed healthy this entire time. I think that’s allowed me to double down on optimism and positivity and to put out in the world some good energy. And that good energy is being reciprocated and reflected back. It’s been really wonderful some of the different projects that I’ve been invited to be a part of, find opportunities, to do a little bit of travel already.

Kevin Carroll:
So, some really fun locations. I was at the University of Oklahoma recently where I did some work with students on campus, but also student athletes on the campus there, and also in the community of Norman, Oklahoma. So that was really exciting. And then I literally just got back from an event where I spoke to 5,000 people, a live event, and that’s the first time a large group like that has been together was in DC.

Kevin Carroll:
And I was telling a friend that I got a chance to see the African American Museum, the National African American Museum of Art. I had not seen it like sitting on the, as you drive by it. Most of the buildings, if you’ve ever been in DC, Maurice, I don’t know if you spent much time there, most of the buildings are white. And here’s this building that’s this beautiful bronze brown, and it just stands out, and it feels so warm and inviting. And so, I got to see that yesterday, actually, I got there on Sunday and we were driving through and it was a sunny and it just stood out, and I was so inspired to see that.

Kevin Carroll:
That event with 5,000 people was actually in DC. So, I think that was a great sign for me to realize that wonderful things are coming this year and that’s a great source of inspiration to see a building like that and to think about all the voices and actions and impact that black and brown folks have been making, and I want to join forces with that. So that’s my goal, is to keep advancing that kind of intention that you would find in a building like that.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. It’s definitely great to come across that sort of realization like that, especially during Black History Month.

Kevin Carroll:
Yeah. Right? It fell right on the last two days of Black History Month, so it was great timing to see that building. It wasn’t something that I was unaware of, I was paying attention to that. I also talked about the importance of being where your feet are and being present. I think that’s what a lot of folks don’t do a great job of is being present, so that’s something that’s really been helpful for me is being present.

Maurice Cherry:
I guess given that, what do you want to achieve this year? Did that kind of put like an idea in your head about what you want to do?

Kevin Carroll:
I don’t ever really have like a I want to grow my business X percent or I want to, I don’t have those kinds of metric measurable per se. My whole thing is just at the end of the year, can I reflect back and see that I advanced the human condition in a positive way, and I had in some way that really will reverberate. That’s a thing that I always look at is like, what were some of the moments, what were some of the things? And so, I just want to continue to do that.

Kevin Carroll:
A big thing for me is I’m chasing significance, not success. That’s what I’m chasing> success is attainable and you can have a measure of success at any age, quite frankly, but significance takes time, and that’s the long game, and that’s the collective measure of all the impact that you’ve had. And so, that’s what I’m pursuing. This year is just another part of that mosaic, of that journey and chase to significance.

Maurice Cherry:
You’re doing so many things, as you mentioned, at the top of the show. You’re an author, you’re a speaker, you’re an instigator of inspiration. And I’m curious, what does an average day look like for you?

Kevin Carroll:
Probably not an average day. It can vary. There’s always some structure to what I’m trying to accomplish each day, and I do like to make sure that I feel inspired at some point. I’m always looking for opportunities to connect with folks. I have a very curious spirit about me. I think a typical or average day can be captured in this quote by Albert Einstein, “I have no special talents, I’m only passionately curious.” So I like to be passionately curious each day.

Kevin Carroll:
And so, whatever that unfolds or brings my way, that’s what I’m about. So it could be doing three virtual keynotes because we can do that now. [inaudible 00:08:20] necessarily got to get on a plane, to working on a collaboration with a sports program or sports team or university, or doing some reverse mentoring with my godson, where he actually teaches me art or Legos or something, and I’m learning from him, and he’s nine years old and he’s brilliant. I enjoy doing that. I just think that every day that’s my end goal is, was I passionately curious today or not?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, I definitely think that the way that these past few years have been, in many ways, it’s opened up a lot of different avenues for people to try different things, to just pursue different types of work and stuff like that. I like that idea of just being curious and kind of seeing where things go. For me, at least I can’t say it for the listener maybe, but for myself, that feels super aspirational to be able to have that kind of freedom to do that. You’ve been doing it since 2004. What’s been the key to your longevity with this?

Kevin Carroll:
I think it’s relationship building. And my attitude is, if you shine, I shine, and I don’t want to be transactional with you, I want to be transformational with you. And so, that means we’re building something, we’re building something. And you’re in the business of seeing what you can get from me and you want to be transactional. We probably won’t build together. But if you’re about building a relationship and connecting on a deeper level that I can help you shine and in turn, it’s going to reflect back and maybe not right away, it could be five, 10 years from then. But that’s all good, and that’s all love, and that’s the way that I’ve looked at it.

Kevin Carroll:
So relationships have been really, really key and critical, because what I’ve discovered, and I think it’s one of those really wonderful, unexpected things, is I’ve been meeting people. When you think about all the public speaking that I’ve done, I’ve done public speaking since early 90s, I’ve been doing that. “Formally,” I’ve been doing it since 2002, but I’ve been meeting young people, meeting individuals where they are for decades.

Kevin Carroll:
Those individuals have grown up and guess who they remember put them on back in the day? Me. So now they’re in positions of influence and decision makers, and I get these notes on LinkedIn, Twitter, DMs on Instagram, hey, you might not remember me, KC, but you spoke at my school. My mom got you to sign this book. I happened to be at this conference. And now I’m with this company, this business, I’m doing this, I’ve started mine. And I thought of you when this idea came up, when this project came up, when this conference came up, and I immediately put your name for it. That’s what’s been happening for 18 years.

Kevin Carroll:
And it’s been gaining more momentum, which has been really magical when you think about it. But I didn’t plan it that way. It’s just been organic the way it’s all played out. My wife always points out, she said, “You put all those seeds out there not knowing that they would grow into oaks.”

Maurice Cherry:
Just to kind of, I guess, peel the curtain back a little bit, you asked me before we started recording, what’s your end game with this, this of course being Revision Path and this podcast. And the way that you just expressed that I think maybe ties into what I guess I could see the end goal of Revision Path being, in that there’s all these stories about black designers and developers and creatives and such that people can learn about. And to me, my hope is that this helps inform as many people as possible, we’re out here, we’re a creative force, we’re doing this work, in terms of planting those seeds as you mentioned.

Kevin Carroll:
You know what else, you’re creating a time capsule, you’re creating a time capsule that’s going to be a way finder for the next generation. So you need to realize that. I know we talked about you creating some kind of other creative effort off of this. You know exactly what I just said, I know you wrote it down.

Maurice Cherry:
I did.

Kevin Carroll:
I know you did, because look, we did our little prep call, convo before this, our warmup, and this just came to me. This is a time capsule. And imagine if you’re a young person trying to find your way and we can only envision ourselves in a position if we see ourselves there, well, they get to hear ourselves, they get to hear these voices. So you’re creating this audio time capsule. Come on, man. That’s fire. That’s fire. I’m telling you, first one’s free, Maurice, first one’s free right there. There you go. Receive that bro. Receive that.

Maurice Cherry:
Before striking out on your own and doing your own thing, I think people probably know you well from your work that you’ve done at Nike because it sounds like it was a very, very unique experience for you. Talk to me about that.

Kevin Carroll:
Yeah, you had a couple other guests on here that are Nike alums, Jeff Henderson and Kevin Bethune, those are two of my partners in crime and positivity. So they’re good brothers and we’ve done some fun projects together. My time at Nike, I always reference it in this way that Nike let me fly my freak flag. Nike let me really stretch my wings creatively and to discover things about myself that I didn’t know or that were lying dormant because of other experiences, and I didn’t get encouraged to express it. And Nike gave me permission.

Kevin Carroll:
And in doing so, unlocked a lot of my creative energy and my creative confidence. And so, I think that’s been something I’ll always be grateful for at Nike. I think I reciprocated with creating a more sense of belonging and connection there at Nike and Nike at large, at the other locations around world. And so yeah, I got an opportunity to do lots of different projects and work in lots of different areas from footwear design to special projects with Tinker Hatfield and his group to being a director of internal communications, working there.

Kevin Carroll:
So Nike really gave me an opportunity to tap into a lot of my gifts and talents, and they saw value in allowing someone to have all these experiences. And remember I said, I don’t think I have a career path, I have a career portfolio. Nike was a place that let me put more arrows in my quiver of that portfolio, if you will, of that career experiences. And so, yeah, I’ve always felt that Nike was this amazing living lab for me that I got a chance to do and try lots of different things and discover a lot of things about myself.

Maurice Cherry:
I remember listening to an interview where you were talking about how Phil Knight, who is the, I think he still is or maybe he was, the CEO of Nike, but he kind of referred to you as the mayor of Nike.

Kevin Carroll:
Yeah. Yeah. He’s retired now but he was the co-founder, CEO and chairman at the time when I was there, 97 to 2004. He caught wind of some of the creative capers I was doing on campus and the impact I was having. And so, he asked me to have a regular meeting with him monthly and to discuss with me the people and the culture and how things were going there. He kind of coined that term for me, said, I might be CEO and chairman here, but you’re the mayor here and you know this place.

Kevin Carroll:
So, I would give him information and share how people were feeling, what was going on, and being that bridge for him, being an executive, you’re not necessarily privy to that. So I was giving him that insight and visibility to how the people were feeling, what was going on, and opportunities for him to continue to further advance the culture in a positive way.

Maurice Cherry:
I want to switch gears here a little bit. As I mentioned to you before I listened to some interviews and things, you really talk a lot about how like your personal story can be a catalyst for someone else to kind of chase their dreams. So I want to dive a little bit into your personal story. Tell me about what it was like growing up in Philly.

Kevin Carroll:
Listen, Philly’s grimy. I love Philly that way. And we take a lot of pride in that with our city and everything. My childhood was challenging because of circumstances that we were navigating as kids, me and my two brothers. And so, addiction and abandonment, upheaval and uncertainty, dysfunction and disappointment were the norm because my parents were addicts and my grandparents rescued us.

Kevin Carroll:
The thing that I think my grandparents, maybe not necessarily realizing it but because of their age, we had a lot of freedom as kids to make a lot of decisions that probably shouldn’t be making when you’re a kid, but we out of necessity and just they couldn’t keep up with us that way. So, we had a lot of freedom. And so, I discovered a playground in my neighborhood first that was kind of the epicenter of our neighborhood, but it was this place where I felt I belonged first.

Kevin Carroll:
And so sports was a big thing in our neighborhood and I realized that very quickly. And so I dove head long into sports and played every sport you could imagine, whatever the season I was playing it. But it was never for trophies or first place or medals, it was always for belonging. I loved being part of a team and connecting and being a part of that.

Kevin Carroll:
That was I think an unlock for me was being part of a team and finding a place to belong. And it was a positive way for me to channel a lot of the questions I was having as a kid because of the decisions my parents made. And so, sports really was a great outlet and a great coping tool for me to manage that. And then public library was another great place, I loved learning and reading. So I went to the public library a lot.

Kevin Carroll:
And then my best friend’s mom became my mom in many ways, Ms. Lane. And so she poured into me as much wisdom as possible every day. I had a key to their house since I was nine, still have that key to their house. Ms. Lane was the cheat code, if you will, for me. She gave me all of the different ways to unlock possibilities and potential. I always say it was just two words that she would speak to me, why not. And she would always answer any of my, like Ms. Lane, Ms. Lane, I got this idea. She’d always say, well, why not? But then she’d always follow up with, don’t talk about it, be about it. Lots of talkers and very few doers, which one are you? So I learned about action And accountability from her.

Kevin Carroll:
But also someone who was unconditional in their love and just hoped for me to be successful. And Ms. Lane was the person who poured that significance idea into me, that you are going to be successful because you’ve got intellect and smarts, but I want you to chase something bigger and grander, I want you to chase significance. So that’s where that all stems from.

Kevin Carroll:
So that childhood started off difficult, but I found a way to rise above it and didn’t do it alone. I think that was one of the key things for me was when I talk about relationships earlier, that’s where I learned relationships and the importance of them. And it served me well all the way through me being on my own now for 18 years. Relationships stem all the way back to my childhood.

Maurice Cherry:
It takes a village. Like you said, you were staying with your grandparents and then you had Ms. Lane, you had your sports teams that you were a part of. So you had all of these different influences as you were growing up.

Kevin Carroll:
And these crazy people at the playground, because playgrounds, they got some colorful folks that are up there. I tell people, I’m a mosaic of many people, drug dealers, abusers, and war veterans, and ain’t quite right folks in the head folks. Just all kinds of people were there, other kids’ parents, food service workers, custodians, they all poured into me. And my brothers. I know that I’m a mosaic of many people.

Maurice Cherry:
So, after you graduated high school, you went on to college, and then after college you went into the military, you went into the air force. What was behind that decision?

Kevin Carroll:
I became a young dad. So, I didn’t even finish college, I was in my junior year, became a young father, I was 20 years old. And I came home and my grandfather said, “So what are you going to do about this?” He said, “You need to do the right thing.” And he said, “You need to not repeat history and be an absent father.” And so that was a loud message from my grandfather. And so these are his sensibilities.

Kevin Carroll:
So I made a decision to join the air force, not go back to college. I figured I could finish it while I’m in the air force, but I wanted to provide for my family. So I went in the military, my uncle was in the air force, so that’s why I chose the air force. I told people, they said, why’d you pick the air force? I said, my uncle always was smiling, so I figured he must be enjoying it. So, that’s why I picked the air force over any other branch. And joined the air force.

Kevin Carroll:
That was first time I ever been on an airplane was going to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. And landed in Texas and had no idea that I would end up really enjoying the air force and learning so much about myself and discovering I had other gifts and talents that had not been discovered yet. I had a language ability in the military discovered that and ended up becoming a language translator in the military and working with a top seeker clearance and doing all this clandestine work, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, kind of crazy stuff. So I speak a bunch of languages, and did that in the military.

Kevin Carroll:
And once again, more relationships, I’m still connected to a lot of people that I met when I was in the air force from 1980 to 1990. So 10 years I was in there, I’m still connected to a lot of those people too. So, we go back to that, what’s that through line for me is relationships and the importance of it and not being transactional with people being transformational.

Maurice Cherry:
I don’t want to gloss over the language part because I think that’s something which is super interesting because when you were in school, you had started to learn Spanish, but you dropped out, is that right?

Kevin Carroll:
Yeah, I dropped Spanish actually. It was five minutes. It was an amazing five minutes, Maurice. I thought it was a silly class, so I walked out of class, but the funny thing is I never forgot that five minutes. [Spanish 00:23:32], literally that stuck. I was a bit of a knucklehead and young, and I didn’t realize I had a gift then. And the military, they test you and it’s smart, they test you in everything just in case you have a talent that hasn’t been discovered. And lo and behold, I passed this language test in the military in basic training. And that’s how I got uncovered.

Kevin Carroll:
And so, I end up learning Serbian and Croatian Czech and German and become fluent in those and do that work in the military. But yeah, that’s how it ended up happening. But I can always reflect back to the fact that I actually always had it in me, I was just a bit of a hard head back in the day. So yeah, had I hung in there, I’d have Spanish in my repertoire. I’m sure if I put some time to it, I can learn that too.

Maurice Cherry:
I think if you know German, German’s a romantic language. I think Spanish might be not a total one to one, but I feel like you probably could pick up Spanish pretty well if you know German.

Kevin Carroll:
They’re in that family. Germanic is a little harsher than Spanish. Germans, you wouldn’t necessarily equate that like romance language, it’s a little harsh, a little strong. What I’ve discovered is once you learn a language, you are what I say language curious, if you will. So you’re just open to hearing what people are saying and how they’re using their words and what does that word mean. I use Google Translate all the time. I really am fascinated with what was that language and what was that I heard.

Kevin Carroll:
I think that’s the thing that really helps you. And a lot of folks that are American aren’t learning other languages. And I think that’s a big misstep here in the US, because you go to other countries and people are fluent in other languages because they’re just open to that, and they’re also raised that way. So I just think it’s so important. You’re not going to learn a language only taking the class twice a week for 50 minutes though. It’s not going to happen. That ain’t working.

Kevin Carroll:
Oh yeah, I took Spanish in high school. Yeah, how often did you yeah, oh, twice a week for 50 minutes, I said, how much do you remember nothing? Nothing. Yeah, because you got to be immersed in it. So I think that’s the other thing too is you have to be curious about it and want to keep learning.

Maurice Cherry:
French was my language. My mom had, French is her first language. But she also studied French and stuff in school and everything. And so I remember being a kid, she’s a retired biologist, but she had all her college level French books at home. So, I started learning French in second grade, and then basically learned it from second grade all the way up until I graduated college.

Kevin Carroll:
You were around it all the time.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. That’s true.

Kevin Carroll:
Practice it. See that’s the problem is that if you don’t have a way of actually exercising and using the muscle and using the words to gain confidence, that’s why people fall off from their language learning. So you had a built in tutor, you had something there, you were immersed in it, you probably had either magazines or periodicals or different things you could read in French, all that stuff that immerses you, that’s what happened in language school in the military, it’s like you are fully immersed. I can sing Roll out the Barrels in Czech and all these other things.

Kevin Carroll:
We’d get dressed in cultural clothing and different things, so you really understood what it was you were learning. So full immersion is the key. That definitely had the right kind of environment to get really fluent in that language.

Maurice Cherry:
It’s so interesting when you kind of say it that way, especially about the Spanish part, because when I got to middle school, seventh grade, I wanted to take Spanish so bad. It was the first language elective that had filled up super quickly, because I was like, I didn’t want to take French because I already knew French, and I felt it wouldn’t have been fair for me to take French when I already knew it. Everyone else was learning it and I would be like, yeah, yeah, yeah, [French 00:27:51], whatever. I would already know it. I was doing good in French, I ended up taking French, but I did want to take Spanish.

Maurice Cherry:
I can kind of understand a bit of Spanish now, but I mean, even with French, I can listen to French music, I can read French books. I can understand it. It does, like you say, knowing another language does kind of make you language curious and opens you up to just more culture I think.

Kevin Carroll:
More culture, which is never a bad thing. The world is flat now, we have access to everything from everywhere. You do yourself at a disservice if you’re not curious around these opportunities and things to broaden your viewpoint and outlook on everything. I’m so glad that you have languages in your life. Maybe that’ll be the takeaway from our conversation is get some language in your life. Foreign language, not just English language, foreign language.

Maurice Cherry:
You had 10 years in the air force. After you left there, what was your next step? What were you thinking about doing?

Kevin Carroll:
I got my degree while I was in the service. Got a certification as an athletic trainer, I was actually working some NFL summer training camps when I was in the military, did armed forces sports program. I was actually the only certified athletic trainer in any branch of the service, so I got a chance to travel in support of armed forces of sports program around the world while I was still in the service. So I decided I was going to do athletic training when I got out of the service.

Kevin Carroll:
So I left after 10 years, moved back to Philadelphia, actually was a single dad then, so raising my boys. And started working in high school as an athletic trainer and a health teacher. Then I got a job at college level as an athletic trainer. And then I ended up in the NBA as only the first black trainer in the history of the NBA for the Philadelphia 76ers, and the third in the history of the NBA. In 1995. And did that for two years.

Kevin Carroll:
That was the springboard. And my languages were the springboard to me actually getting noticed by Nike. So when I was with the 76ers, I actually got encouraged to use Serbian in the middle of a game to insult a player from the former Yugoslavia, [inaudible 00:30:19]. My coach told me to start saying something about his family when he’d run by because he wouldn’t expect it from our bench and distract him a little bit to save a time out. Literally that’s what my coach asked me to do.

Kevin Carroll:
So I start cussing at this dude every time he runs by and he’s seven feet tall. So I’m mumbling, whispering stuff every time he goes by our bench, and he can’t figure out where it’s coming from. So when he turns in the middle of the game and says, who’s insulting my family in Serbian over here, and the coach points at me goes that little guy right there. And Vlad is like, there’s no way. And I [Serbian 00:30:54], and he’s like what? And after the game, he came and approached me, and you’re going to love this because you’re based in Atlanta, he asked me to join the Yugoslavian National Basketball team for the 96 Olympic games in Atlanta.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

Kevin Carroll:
And so, I joined them as the sports medicine liaison and their translator.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

Kevin Carroll:
Black dude from Philly working with the Yugoslavian national basketball team. I got this crazy old school Polaroid picture of all of us. I’m the only raisin in the milk, I’m the only raisin in the milk. So it’s this really great candid picture of all us from a Polaroid from that moment when we were doing the pre-Olympic tour. That’s how folks at Nike actually found out about me.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow. Languages really did unlock something for you. I mean, of course you kind of had the interest in sports, so, being an athletic trainer I’m sure it kind of was almost like a fulfillment of a wish that you kind of had as a kid, I would imagine.

Kevin Carroll:
Well, it’s so funny, I thought I was going to be in the NBA as all kids play sports, I’m going to be in the league one day, as a player I’m thinking. I didn’t think that my intellect and my ability to learn and then the understanding of games and then learning the science behind injuries and all that would actually propel me to that position.

Kevin Carroll:
So when I actually got to the NBA, I paused and really thought about like, whoa, I never thought it would be like this, but I made it to the league. How about that? And then of course, them haters from back in the day that told me it wasn’t going to happen, as soon as I got that gig, guess who was calling for tickets, Maurice? Yo Kev, hook us up with some tickets. Nah, remember that thing you said back in the day. I remember. I kept the receipts. No tickets for you, no tickets for you, no tickets for you. So yes. But I ended up getting to the NBA, which was a roundabout crazy way, unexpected way, but yeah, made it to the league.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow, man. Then like you said, that sort of opened you up to end up doing work for Nike and you started your own business. You’ve lived like four lives. With all these different careers and the way that they’ve all intersected, that’s fascinating.

Kevin Carroll:
It doesn’t make sense now when I say that it’s not a path, it’s a portfolio.

Maurice Cherry:
When did you decide to start writing?

Kevin Carroll:
So, Ms. Lane, my best friend’s mom who’s like my mom, she was the one who kept bugging me. When I got to Nike, she kept saying, when are you going to write a book? When are you going to write a book? And I would always push back, Ms. Lane, [inaudible 00:33:37] for? And she was persistent. I want to say for at least five years, she kept bugging me, bugging me, bugging me about it.

Kevin Carroll:
And then finally I said, “Ms. Lane, who’s going to read it?” And she said, “Well, there’s another you out there that needs to know it’s possible. That’s who you should write it for.” Bet. That was the moment I went, okay, bet, I’ll do it. But then I went, I don’t want it to be like a regular book so I’m going to use all this creative energy I’ve learned at Nike and all these things, I’m going to create this proposal that’s going to be so amazing that they’re just going to clamor for this book.

Kevin Carroll:
And I put together this proposal that was unique and different, crickets. Nobody wanted do it. Rejection. In fact, one publisher said it was over-designed and too creative. And actually told me to dumb down my idea, and maybe they’ll consider doing my book. And then I made a decision I’m going to self-publish it.

Kevin Carroll:
So I started the process of self-publishing it in 2003. We got it done by 2004. And it took off, we sold 11,000 copies in nine months. I didn’t realize that was determined to be a successful book because in the industry, if you sell more than 8,000, which is basically getting beyond your friends and family, that’s a successful book. We had done that with just word of mouth, no back table sales. I wasn’t pitching it on stage or anything.

Kevin Carroll:
And someone at ESPN happened to get a copy of my book and they were starting a books division. And I got a call out of the blue from ESPN, they wanted to sign me to a book deal. And I was still at Nike when all that happened. And so, I signed a book deal with ESPN and Disney while I’m at Nike, and that really starts this great opportunity to write more books and everything.

Kevin Carroll:
But Ms. Lane was the person behind the decision to write a book, well, the indecision, but lovingly shoved me towards my destiny kind of moment and stuff. But I’d always loved books. The public library was always a really special place for me as a kid, so I’d always loved books. And I’m always surrounded by books. But I never envisioned myself being an author. That was never anything I imagined or thought of even in my quiet time. Now that I’ve done four books, I’m quite proud of them.

Maurice Cherry:
I love that you self-published first, and then the success from that is what sort of ended up having publishers kind of coming to you for are doing more books. I love that part.

Kevin Carroll:
Yeah. And I think that sometimes you have to know what you’re writing it for, what’s the end game, let’s go back to that, right? What’s the end game. And when she basically said, well, there’s another you out there that needs to know it’s possible, oh, okay, bet, I’m going to do it then.

Kevin Carroll:
So until you kind of have that in mind who you are doing it for, and then we just talked about this time capsule, I know for you you can see someone opening up this time capsule, if you will, figuratively and literally, with all of these gifts and they’re unearthing these voices and these stories. That’s the spark for you then, that’s catalytic. And so, she was that catalyst for me to share a story. Then I made kind of that like, well, I’m not going to do a regular book. Having that attitude.

Kevin Carroll:
That decision actually was so interesting with the book it won over 23 design awards, my book did. Working with a great design team and then working with a great print team that did the self-published piece, and ESPN didn’t change anything in the design when they signed me to the book deal, they just put their logo on it and that was it. And so, that book’s been in print with them since 2005 and still in print, and I think there’s over 400,000 in print now.

Maurice Cherry:
Katalytic with a K.

Kevin Carroll:
Yes. Yes.

Maurice Cherry:
Now the metaphor of the red rubber ball comes up a lot in your books. Of course people can sort of check out the books and know what that’s about because you literally have one book called what is your red rubber ball. How would you suggest that listeners out there find their own red rubber ball?

Kevin Carroll:
So, it’s a metaphor, the red rubber ball, it’s literal for me because of sports and play, and the playground being the first place that I felt a sense of belonging and connection. But for most people, it’s more about the metaphor. What are you chasing? What gets you out of bed in the morning? What inspires you to go after it? And so, I think that’s a fundamental question. You need to know what inspires you to get out of bed every single morning. You have to have something.

Kevin Carroll:
And that became even more evident during this pandemic, because this global traumatic event broke a lot of people who didn’t have that clarity of purpose and passion and intention, and they felt lost. It derailed a lot of people. It broke a lot of people. And then there were some people who had this discovery moment, and they doubled down on the thing that they cared about, and they learned more during this pause.

Kevin Carroll:
And so I just think that the red rubber ball is about what are you chasing. What inspires you to get out of bed in the morning and that you want to chase it every single day? And then if you can be blessed and fortunate enough to find a way to blur your passion and your play, that’s great. Maybe you don’t necessarily, your work isn’t your play, but you can always know that this is something I’m chasing, this is something that inspires me and I want to keep that close. That’s the red rubber ball.

Maurice Cherry:
When you look back at your career and all of your life experiences that you’ve had, is this how you imagined yourself as a kid?

Kevin Carroll:
Never, never. I never imagined myself like this, honestly. When I first went to college, after high school, when I went to college, here was my job career idea. I was going to be in public relations in a bank. How random is that, dude? How random is that? But Maurice, this is how this got in my head. So, when I would ride the trolley, the trains in Philly and out on the main line, I would always see these men just dress sharp with briefcase. And so, I envisioned in my head, oh, they must work in a bank because I always see people dressed nice going in the bank. So, maybe they’re in there doing, I don’t know, public relations. I don’t know where I got that idea of public relations. So I said, I want to do that.

Kevin Carroll:
So when I went to college and people would ask me, so, what do you hope to accomplish? Oh, I want to work in public relations in a bank. I would spit that so fast, public relations in a bank. And people would always look at me curiously like, well, that’s very clear what you want to do. I was about them fits. I loved how cool they looked and clean and [inaudible 00:41:04], briefcase. And I obviously was interested in stories, public relations. But I didn’t have the word storytelling. And so, that’s what I thought I was going to do.

Kevin Carroll:
There’s no way in my wildest, wildest, wildest dreams, could I have ever imagined doing what I’m doing right now. Zero chance. The NBA thing was probably the only thing I might have spoke out and got laughed, basically just laughed at. And that squashed when I was a kid and my attitude was I’ll show you, you watch, I’ll show you. And then I end up in the NBA. That might be the only thing that I had an inkling of an idea. But of course, no one believed that would happen. But other than that, there’s zero chance I imagined what I’m doing right now, zero chance.

Kevin Carroll:
I just knew that I needed to be around a ball, so sports and play. Books, around education and enlightenment and just raising your game and elevating your game to learn more of the curiosity piece. And betterment. So people bettered me, and so, how can I better others? And so, those are my three Bs that I look that, the ball, books and betterment. And that’s kind of how I’ve always been about. I recently got that clarity, but those are three things that have been consistently in my life and a constant for me.

Maurice Cherry:
What gives you the purpose now to keep doing the work that you do?

Kevin Carroll:
There’s another one out there that needs to know it’s possible. Ms. Lane. So I made a promise to her before she passed away, it’s been eight years now, and I told her, I’m going to be the next you, Ms. Lane. I’m going to be that encourager for the next generation. I’m going to use technology and all these things, I’m going to have greater reach and impact, but I’m going to be the next you, and I’m going to remember what you said, there’s another you out there that needs to know what’s possible.

Kevin Carroll:
So that’s what gives me the passion to do this each and every day, that there’s someone that needs to hear from me, see a project I’m working on, maybe collide with somebody that I’ve already impacted, something like that. But I know there’s another one out there. So that’s what I do the work for on behalf of them.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, you talked earlier about significance versus success. I’m curious, what does success look like for you now?

Kevin Carroll:
It’s happening. I’m doing it and I’m proof that you can find success. Your circumstances don’t have to dictate your destiny, you can rise above that. Got to have that passion, purpose, and intention, and that clarity around what it is that you want to chase. So, that’s success, I have that. Significance is what I’m chasing. So I can point to, like you said, I’ve had four or five different lives, they’ve all been successful. Easy to point to that.

Kevin Carroll:
But significance, I haven’t reached that yet. I haven’t gotten to that point where I’ve got this really amazing platform that I’m impacting lots of people on a regular basis. I’m doing it kind of in piecemeal now. I’m hoping, I mean, speak it into existence, I want to have a TV show. I want it to be a Saturday morning show, where I’m inspiring young people, and they’re seeing themselves in me. But not to be the host or anything, but seeing all these journeys and all these experiences that I’ve had, and know that it’s possible for them.

Kevin Carroll:
And so, how can I introduce them to all these different careers and show them this wonderful multicultural expertise that’s out there so that they can see themselves in these roles that maybe they quietly imagine themselves doing, but not speaking them into existing or letting anybody know that they really want to do that, because they’ve not seen themselves in that role. So how can I be that unlock? How can I be that way finder? How can I be the plug for folks? How can I be a cheat code? That’s what I want to do.

Kevin Carroll:
So, that would be the end game for me, is this programming of some sort, traditional, Saturday morning or on a digital platform, but have the reach an impact so that I can be that Ms. Lane for the next generation, that CEO, that chief encouragement officer.

Maurice Cherry:
I can see a Netflix series in your near future. I totally can see it.

Kevin Carroll:
That’s what’s up. See. That’s what’s up. Right? Your lips God’s ears. Let’s go. Let’s go. Let’s do this, Maurice. You’d be one of the people on the show, I’d be talking about you. We’re now interviewing Maurice Cherry and how he created a time capsule of black and brown voices to encourage people to go after it. See, there it is, it’s already happening. Episode five, limited series. Or it might be like season nine.

Maurice Cherry:
You dropped already so many pearls of wisdom in this conversation. It almost feels a bit selfish to ask this, but what advice would you give somebody that wants to sort of chart the same kind of I guess path, to call it that, how can someone follow in your footsteps? How can someone be like you?

Kevin Carroll:
Do you. Be the best you think is the advice that I’d love to give folks. I’ll go back to the original thing I brought up. I have no special talents, I’m only passionately curious. And I think curiosity for the win, FTW. Curiosity, that’s going to unlock, that’s going to help you stay in beta as a human being, always updating, always improving. I say this all the time, we’re so quick to update those apps on our devices and our computers, but what about ourselves?

Kevin Carroll:
We’re the greatest app ever created, Maurice. There is no app greater than us. We’re so quick to update those apps on the devices, update yourself. That starts with curiosity, that starts with wanting to raise your game. And that’s going to unlock all kinds of possibilities and potential because you stay in beta, you’re always in this mindset of improving, of getting better, of leveling up. And that’s the key. And so, that would be my advice, that would be the thing that I think would really make a difference for someone, to chart their own path to significance, and to have a career portfolio of lots of amazing experiences. And to go beyond just a path.

Kevin Carroll:
We go into a super highway, that’s what we want, super highway of experiences. I think it’s available for everyone and it doesn’t, I’m proof, circumstances don’t have to dictate your destiny. I’ve seen it all over the world, I’ve seen people do a lot with very little, we’re resourceful and resilient well beyond our circumstances, but we got to surround ourselves with the right other mindset and people who believe in the same things. Haters are your motivators, they’re going to be out there and they’re real.

Kevin Carroll:
But find people who are like-minded and about the same things and keep them close. Keep those people close because they’re going to be the ones that help you when you’re really struggling. It’s not a clean, straight path. It twists and turns and challenges you. I always say this too, Maurice, doubt is success testing you. When doubt appears, when doubt comes into your mind, that self-talk that you’re not good enough, this isn’t going to be available, this is never going to happen for you, are you ready to dance with doubt? Are you ready to fight the good fight on behalf of that hope, that dream, that aspiration that you have? Then you ready to battle, then you ready to dance.

Kevin Carroll:
And that’s the key. Are you willing to fight for this when it’s not going to be easy, when there are challenging times? That’s the key, because that’s going to unlock things that you never thought were going to be possible.

Kevin Carroll:
One of the things that’s clear, my journey, expect the unexpected, because there’s a lot of unexpected stuff that’s happened. It continues to happen in my life, and just expect that, and respect it.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, just to kind of wrap things up here, Kevin, I mean, again, you’ve given so much in this interview, my God, where can people find out more about you and about your work and everything online?

Kevin Carroll:
Just @ me, @ me, @KCkatalyst with a K, that’s easy. K-A-T-A-L-Y-S-T. Yep. So KCkatalyst. @ me. You’ll find you can find me on all my socials, is that, and it’s easy to find me linked in that way. You can find out more about me that way. And if I can be of service to the next gen especially or the young at heart, and folks that are just trying to advance something, I’m happy to do it.

Maurice Cherry:
Sounds good. Man, Kevin Carroll, thank you so, so much for coming on the show. I had an idea I think how the conversation went, because as I mentioned to you before, I’ve been listening to your interviews all day prepping for this, but I mean, the unexpected twists and turns that are just a part of your stor, I think what anyone will take away from this is that you are someone that embodies curiosity and really just a passion for learning that is definitely taking you to where you are now. The fact that you’re also still paying it forward to so many people is astonishing.

Maurice Cherry:
I see that Netflix series in your future. It may not be Netflix, maybe it’s Hulu. I mean, there’s like a dozen streaming services or something now. But I see it happening because this kind if message, it’s an important message, but I think especially right now, it’s so important because of what’s happened over the past few years. I think a lot of people have just kind of felt stuck, and this period of time has caused them to think about, well, what’s the next thing going to be. They need that catalyst, they need the KC Katalyst, that’s what they need.

Kevin Carroll:
My buddy would call me the hope peddler, he said, you out there peddling that hope. I’m like, that’s right, I got what you want, I got what you need. Come on. Let’s go. Hope will not be canceled, my man, hope will not be canceled as long as I’m out here.

Maurice Cherry:
Absolutely. Thank you so, so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Kevin Carroll:
My honor and pleasure, man. Time capsule, I’m just going to leave you with that, Maurice Cherry. Time capsule. This is what your program is going to become, there you go.

Rob Martin

Running your own design studio is no small feat, but design professionals like Rob Martin make it look easy. As the founder and creative principal of Majorminor, he and his team have done branding and digital work for a number of clients for over a decade, including ICA, Complex, and Sony. On top of that, Rob is a talented musician and producer who goes by the name RCA. That guitar you see in the photo ain’t just for show!

We started our conversation with a quick 2022 check-in, and from there Rob talked about the ins and outs of running Majorminor, working with clients, and the types of projects he wants to branch out and tackle. Rob also spoke about growing up in the Bay Area, attending Sacramento State University and working for a few companies before striking out on his own. We even chatted about his music and his upcoming gig at SXSW this year! Rob is proof that being true to yourself is the real key to success!

Transcript

Full Transcript

Maurice Cherry:
All right. So tell us who you are and what you do.

Rob Martin:
Hey, so my name is Rob Martin. I run a studio called Majorminor. We’re based out of San Francisco, California. I act as the principal owner and a creative director here. Yeah, we do branding agency work. We do brand strategy and graphic design identity systems for a different range of clients. B2B, small local bakery or some more enterprise-level international enterprise. But basically we work with clients and people that are really trying to do something good for people. So we try to do good work for these people at the organization to support them and their vision.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. How has 2022 been going for you so far?

Rob Martin:
It’s been doing okay. Definitely not a banner year for us or me in person or anything, but it’s one of those years where we’re looking back so we can see how we can move forward, right? It’s a lot of reflection on how we’ve been running the company, our past clients, what we can learn from those experiences and start to implement things into our workflow, our processes to make it better for us to work, whether it’s a work-life balance kind of thing, or even just how we’re serving our clients. How can we get, “Better clients?” We just work less to do more.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, because you just hit the 10-year mark not too long ago, right?

Rob Martin:
Yeah. I think 10 years was… I forget what year that was, but I think we’ll be turning 13 this year.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, wow.

Rob Martin:
Yeah, it was 2019. So yeah, it should be 13 years. 2009, we started.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Rob Martin:
And then yes, we should be 13 this year. July 20th is our birthday.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow. Congratulations.

Rob Martin:
Thank you. Yeah, it’s been a long ride.

Maurice Cherry:
Let’s talk about the design studio Majorminor, which first off just for those that are listening and might be wondering, where did the name come from?

Rob Martin:
Yeah. So the name actually goes back when I was in college in Sacramento State, our last class was a portfolio building class. We actually have a portfolio to use once we got out of school. I took it upon myself to actually treat it as if I was doing a studio for myself. Actually, since I started school at Sacramento State, one of my friends in school really put me on all the cool studios like Pentagram and Turner Duckworth out in San Francisco. That was my first real exposure to something like that. Even the idea of owning a business, something I’ve always wanted to do as a kid, but that was like I was a kid in the ’90s, so it was going to be a store, a 7-Eleven/import video game studio or a store/rollerblading store.

Rob Martin:
It was a very juvenile idea. That has always been inside of me. So once I had the idea like, “Hey, I can actually run a studio. I’m really passionate about graphic design. Here’s my chance to kind of get that idea realized.” So in this portfolio class, we start coming up with names and I’m really digging into myself about who I am, how that reflects my work. And it actually came from the parallels I see in design, in music and also even just myself. So I’ll kind of explain the names. I think it’s really interesting. This will help me make sure that it still makes sense years later. So basically when you have a visual, right? There’s a rhythm between light and that contrasting that creates the form, right? So you remember doing line studies in your first graphic design class. You’re doing these strips and then see how this black and white can make rhythm or how it can make a form.

Rob Martin:
And then even with sound wave, it’s a up and down wave. But the contrast between those ups and downs and the speed that they’re going at will make it sound. So those parallels are really interesting to me too. And then even thinking about myself. People thinking about different people like, “Oh, that person is X, that means they like Y.” I feel like I was in the middle of all these things like, “Oh, you’re a black dude, but you grew up around South Bay around a bunch of Asian folks. So you don’t fit that mold in that way.” So I always kind of saw myself in the middle.

Rob Martin:
And then bringing it back to the whole music thing, Majorminor the way I see it as being in the middle of these ups and downs and kind of existing there, even again with the whole balance between form and my shape and color, all kind of making these things. That’s kind of where I came up with the name Majorminor to then represent myself and the practice that we have at the studio.

Maurice Cherry:
So tell me about the Majorminor team.

Rob Martin:
Yeah. So the Majorminor team currently, our core team is there’s three people; myself, my producer, Vincent, and then my other project manager, account manager, Michelle. One of the cool things about Majorminor is that everyone at kind of the leadership-level, you want to call it, they’ve always been people that I considered my best friends in life. I’m very lucky to have people that I call my best friend or a best friend that I could then actually work with and work alongside with in a really healthy, non-toxic kind of a way.

Rob Martin:
And this current iteration they’ve been on the team for the last, two years now. During COVID I took a break. I had a really bad panic attack in 2020, I think it was right before COVID hit. So I took off pretty much that year from COVID or the year that we first had the shutdown. When we started to come back together or when I decided I was ready to get back to work, I brought them along to kind of reshape the team and move forward with a more healthier feel.

Rob Martin:
And it’s been great so far. They’re really, really sensitive to that kind of stuff. And just paying attention to that for even our clients. How are they feeling about this? How are we feeling about everything? Making sure we’re not working too much, but know that when we do need to pick up the pace or something, we’re doing that in a way that’s not toxic or berating of anyone. Really considering, “This is about the work and not the person, but the people here, they need to be in a certain place to able to do their best work.”

Maurice Cherry:
What are the best types of clients for you to work with?

Rob Martin:
I’d say our best type of client is and this is something that we’ve only recently started to identify maybe in the last year, maybe even two years, but really kind of taking a hypothesis and trying to see if that actually makes sense, which it has. But basically, it’s a company that has some kind of product they’ve been able to vet their business. They’re probably making at least a million dollars a year revenue, but they don’t have a real brand system or even a strategy. They’ve just been just doing their thing. And they want to become competitive on either a larger regional stage or a national stage.

Rob Martin:
And so usually that means most of our clients have never paid for a design or worked with a strategic design team before. So we already know there’s a lot of education that comes with that relationship and a lot of handholding, but not like… It’s just like, “Hey, this is the process. And it might feel unintuitive to you in certain ways, but let us walk you through it.” And we’ll explain why we’re doing all this stuff. So we kind of see ourselves as being the stepper for them to get up the mountain. Sometimes people climb mountains, but they never climbed ever. So they need someone that’s done it before, see how they move and then bring them up the mountain in a way that facilitates their best experience.

Maurice Cherry:
So when let’s say a company or an individual then contacts you about a new project, what does that process look like in terms of bringing them in, working with their idea? What does that look like?

Rob Martin:
Yeah. So first off, I guess we get some kind of initial email from them, “Hey we’ve got this project we’re thinking about, we got referred to you by whomever.” We’ll just hop on a really casual conversation and just talk to them. They can say, “We need a new brand system. We like this and like that.” But again, this is their first time actually working with a strategic team. So we want to uncover what that really means for them. And then help them understand what that really is for them. They might need an identity system, but how agile are you expecting it to be? What places will the main touch points, the core brand expressions actually be? And then once we have those conversations, it enlightens them onto what they’re actually about to get from us, what they actually need. And just the whole thing, just more are detailed and articulated for them.

Rob Martin:
Then from there, we’ve kind of uncover all those things. We call it a discovery session. Once everything is uncovered during that discovery session, then we’ll actually go and write a proposal with a number in there for them, go back and forth. Maybe they can’t afford it, or maybe they have to get more money, but then we can cut things out of it, put things in there that might have been revealed to them during some kind of board review of the proposal. And then from there, everything is sign the dot line. And this is actually something we’re about to do, to have a second session after the contracts are signed, going through all the terms of the engagement with them very clear. So everyone’s on the same page on how the process will move and why we only want you to have six stakeholders and no one else can chime in, why we’re doing that because we don’t want too many cooks in the kitchen.

Rob Martin:
People giving feedback out of context, or even giving personal feedback that isn’t irrelevant, but it then messed up the flavor in the pot. You know what I mean?

Maurice Cherry:
Right.

Rob Martin:
Really trying to get… And not to be strict, but just say, “Hey, if you want this to move efficiently, when you want to get done, then we have to move in this way.” It serves both of our parties, not just us, not wanting to deal with other people. But for us to get that product for them, we need to make sure we’re all in agreement with the way we all have to move. It’s like I sign a disclaimer for you to jump out of a plane or something like that, I guess.

Maurice Cherry:
So aside from clients and everything you mentioned that’s been going on now for 13 years almost, what’s been the secret to keep the things going?

Rob Martin:
I don’t know if there’s a secret, if there is, I’m still trying to figure it out. So if anyone hears anything from the stuff I’m saying, please feel free to pull my coat. Let me know what the secret could be. I think if anything, it is really just building. I think the biggest part of it is building and maintaining relationships because people the best way word-of-mouth or word-of-mouth is the best way I think, to get new projects. And even I feel like people see your work, that’s not what they’re buying necessarily. So if they come to you like, “Oh, that was really cool that you did that.” And their whole traction leads off of your work. It’s usually, you got to turn that back around because they’re not really paying for the work.

Rob Martin:
While the work is obviously important as the product that they’re getting at the end of the day, the relationship and the way that you both move, how the designer leads you through this, I think is what really, the biggest thing is. If they’re efficient, they’re working right, they’re being professional, they’re hitting their timelines. Those are the things that I think you’re really paying for because you get anyone to do any kind of design work. That’s why I don’t get hire people like, “Oh, I can just go on Fiverr and get someone to do this.” I’m fine like, “Fine, if that’s what you want to do go, but it’s going to be a way different experience and end product than what you’re going to get from us.” And that’s fine. If you want to go there, I’m not mad at you because that’s probably stuff I don’t want to work with if they’re going to have that kind of mentality.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Rob Martin:
Or maybe they don’t really know the difference. I have to educate them to show them the value of what they’re actually getting versus a different studio or even another designer or even a Fiverr guy.

Maurice Cherry:
And I mean that education part is important. One, that’s kind of in a way what they’re paying for, hopefully they’re paying for the education because they’re paying you to do something that they can’t do. So the hope is that you’ll be able to kind of show them like, “This is how it should be done.” But then also, they’re also paying for just your expertise. If you’ve been doing it for this long, clearly you have a track record for knowing what you’re doing. So it would take, hopefully I’m thinking on the client end, it would take me less time to hire a professional than for me to hire someone on say Fiverr or some marketplace that I may have to do a whole bunch of explaining towards, I don’t know the verbiage or the terminology to really talk to them the way they did in order to do the work. It ends up becoming just a lot more work that way.

Rob Martin:
Yeah. And that part, especially with the clients that we have, where it is their first time paying for this large of an effort strategic with design, they don’t know what they’re getting into. And there’s actually even a moment I want to say it was about a year ago where this woman approached us for some work. We already knew we didn’t want to work with her because of her tone of voice. But we still took the time to let her know, “You have no idea where you’re about to get into and this is what it should look like. And that’s why it costs X hundred thousand dollars.” Just because you don’t think it’s worth that much. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t worth that much. If anything, you really need to understand what you’re about to get into because you’re going to have a world of hurt as you try and do everything you’re trying to say for $15,000.

Rob Martin:
And we’re not trying to be mean, it’s just like, “Yo, this is actually how it is.” If anything, it should probably cost more because you’re going to be one of those people that don’t get it and don’t want to get it and it’s going to make more work for everyone. So yeah, I’m sharing information because I want people to understand what we actually do and take the veer off because it’s kind of… If you’ve never done it before, it’s kind of nebulous, what it really is and you learn along the way. And that’s the kind of the fun part about it for our clients too, is them seeing and having those aha moments and say, “Oh, that’s why you guys wanted to.”

Rob Martin:
One thing that we do that we’ve been doing for the last few years and we do identity systems. We don’t just do the logo and then the colors and then the tie, we do the whole thing at once. So they see a very good representation of where we want to take this direction for the system. So they’ll see the logo, some colors, it’s a very detailed mood board. And we even mock up like, “Here’s a poster or a campaign idea within this.” So it might only get two directions, but these two directions are thought out and vetted all the way to the point where they can just say, “We like that one or we like this one or maybe can we try this one with the other colors?”

Rob Martin:
And we cut down a lot of the really big reviews because we’re not doing everything one at a time. We’re showing everything in context. So if you can see this image that we’re trying to create for them, what the system looks like and how agile it is, how it can scale, what other pieces we think might need to be invented. Maybe they didn’t think about, “Oh, we never thought about doing this thing because we never saw the need for it. But we do see the need for it in this image mock up that you’ve done for us.”

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Like I said, that education is really important for them to kind of see what goes into it. Because oftentimes they don’t really know. Especially like you said, if they haven’t hired someone before, they don’t know what the creative process looks like. They just think you go in there and punch a few buttons and there you go. There’s the logo. But when you show them all the thought and the care and the psychology and everything that goes behind it, the hope is that they have that appreciation.

Maurice Cherry:
I had someone contact me recently that was like, “Oh, I need a logo for my organization.” And usually the first question I’ll always ask is, “What’s your budget?” Because for me that can be the indicator as to whether this is going to be a good project or a bad project. I hate to say it, but that’s true.

Maurice Cherry:
And so they had a pretty low budget and I said, “Well, you probably would be better off going to a marketplace just based on what you are willing to spend on this.” And it was pretty much a full brand identity for a nonprofit organization. They’re like, “We need a logo and this and that and the third.” Because I was like, “If you really try to hire the services of a designer, it’s going to be much more expensive than that. And I don’t know how much more expensive, it’s definitely going to be more expensive than your budget.” So you kind of have to ask those qualifying questions and stuff too. And especially when you’re starting out on your own, you may not know that. You may take those low gigs at first just to kind of have some skin in the game and you realize years and years later, you don’t do that.

Rob Martin:
Yeah. You know what’s even kind of crazy about that. They’re not crazy, but another piece of that is like, this is what I learned a few years ago too, was you might bid the pie and the sky project for them. But really they might not even be able to support that. It might be just be too much. And they spend all this money after you’ve educated them on it and they can’t even support it, and the identity just falls apart. Sometimes you’ll see this new brand comes out there, they wouldn’t be on brand new or something like that. But you’ll see the whole, “Oh, this is really cool. This is really great.” The way it’s represented on the designer side looks awesome. Then you go back a year later and it looks nothing like that because the internal team on the client side could not support something like that. Either their designer that they had in staff was whack or the brand guidelines you made them were trash.

Rob Martin:
But you also have to be able to make something that people can actually use and support over the length of however long they need it for. So that’s part of it to consider too. So they might be able to get the money for, but if you don’t think they have the support system to use that work and make it of even more value for them, then it’s kind like that’s another place you got to pause and be like, “Hey, you know what? Maybe we can just do a smaller scale of this or you should just to go somewhere else and just do something basic until you have the infrastructure to do something more. Just do something bigger to get you to that level, but I don’t think you’re there yet.” That’s something we’ve had to do a couple of times, but it’s a good thing to be able to identify as we’re kind of going through the bidding process.

Maurice Cherry:
No, that makes a lot of sense, actually. I didn’t even think about that. You can do this big identity and things for them, but if they can’t support it moving forward, then it’s like, “Do they really need that? Are they going to contract you to do that work for them?” There’s all these other questions that end up coming into play.

Rob Martin:
Yeah, yeah. And because just me personally, I to do the most and that always nips me in the bud a lot. So I’ve had to temper myself with trying to do everything I want to and would like to for them to what they actually need, what can they actually use? So that’s been, I guess, more of a learning for myself but that has been for other people. But we’ve had multiple times where we’ve had to encounter that and make a decision.

Maurice Cherry:
Now you’ve mentioned doing a lot of branding and identity projects. Are there other types of projects that you want to do in the future through the studio?

Rob Martin:
Retail stuff is always really interesting because even getting into the graphic design. I remember my mom, she worked at, I don’t know, some place. It was a big white building called Sintex or something and over by Stanford in California and she would go to work every day and then come back and tell me what she did, it was data research or something. But there’s never any physical thing to show for it. And I also thought it was weird, at least for me because even as a kid, I liked to make stuff. I was either drawing or arts and craft, lanyards kind of shit. Everything I did, I had something to show for. Even when I was playing video games if I beat the game, I then make a drawing of the game as a certificate for myself like, “Hey, I did this thing.”

Rob Martin:
So for me, having some kind of artifact of your accomplishments or things that you do has always been really important to me. So the retail kind of thing, having a product that we then get to design and then package and someone I can point to it on a shelf like, “Yeah, me and my team did that.” That’s always been a really important to me to do more stuff like that. But even with websites, “Yeah, we made that thing.” But the physical thing is actually really interesting too. So even with the music that I put out, I put that on vinyl. So I have a record, literally a record of it and-

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, nice.

Rob Martin:
… it’s like a piece I can look back on. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s pretty dope. I want to definitely talk more about your music. We’ll get to that I think later in the interview. But let’s switch gears and talk about your origin story. You mentioned, or you’ve alluded to that you’re from in and around the Bay Area, is that right?

Rob Martin:
Yeah. So I grew up in Sunnyvale, California, and that’s in the South Bay Area of the Bay Area and that was really cool being out there. Again, it was a cool mix, melting pot being around all these different people, even the tech and stuff out there. I really would say, I am a product of Sunnyvale, really into video games. Nerdy kind of guy, but cool enough where I could still get around and not get punked or anything. It definitely had an impact on the person I am in good ways, I think. I’m very proud to be from there.

Maurice Cherry:
It definitely sounds like you got into art and design and stuff pretty early on. You mentioned sketching the video games after you beat them and stuff like that.

Rob Martin:
Yeah, yeah. Video games was one of the gateways into art and design. Skateboarding was another really big one too. I was never, ever good at skateboarding, but I always like the art on them, the culture and the way people dress. That was a really big part of it for me. And then even with skateboarding, getting into punk rock music, I played in punk bands and stuff when I was in high school, sky bands, metal bands. But all those things, they all kind of… One thing I got into took me into something else, took me into something else. But they all stemmed around the art and the music part of it and the culture too, just the people that built it, seeing how they operate.

Rob Martin:
And especially even thinking about, I won’t say there was a counter culture necessary, but there’s just alternative lifestyles, the way people get down in there. Some of the crusty punk dudes, I used to kick it with. I would never want to live like that, but I respected the fact that they wanted to live that way. That’s what they did. And there was very authenticism or authentic part about it. They’re being themselves, doing what they want to do and whatever you’re “supposed to do,” they weren’t really worried about that because that’s what they wanted to do.

Maurice Cherry:
When did you know that design was something that you wanted to study?

Rob Martin:
Well, so I’ll say this, I always wanted to do graphic design, but I didn’t really know what graphic design was from a theoretical kind of practice until I got to Sacramento State.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Rob Martin:
Before that, I really just wanted a job where I didn’t have to do any math and I got to sit in front of a computer all day. I guess I wanted to be a production designer at that point. I didn’t know that’s what it was. I just wanted to make stuff on the computer and not have to stand all day.

Rob Martin:
So once I got Sacramento State, the first class was all about theory again, how we’re seeing light becoming sense of the form and color. I was like, “Oh, this is actually kind of dope. There’s a whole science to it.” Even the degree that we got from Sacramento State was a Bachelor’s of Science, not an art degree. I really like that they fought to get that kind of definition around the program because this is all theory. Yeah, you are making something. You’re making a “beautiful thing,” at the end of the day. But there’s a lot of science, psychology, anthropology, even that goes into the foundation of the algorithm that we used to make whatever we make, right?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. And now prior to Sacramento State though, you started out at a art school, right? At Academy of Art University.

Rob Martin:
Yeah, yeah. So I don’t know if you knew this, but in the Bay Area where Academy is based out of, back in 2000s, they would run commercials late at night when all the anime stuff was on.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, yeah.

Rob Martin:
Show, “Hey, if you want to draw anime, you can come over to art school over here and we’ll help get you a job and all this.” It was very romantic in that way. Trying to play up getting an art degree. That obviously looked very attractive to me. It was very expensive, but I like, “Mom, I really want to do this. Can you help me get there?” So we worked over the summer to get me signed up over there. It was a pain in the arse to get signed up there. And I was still living in my parents’ house in Sunnyvale. So getting up to San Francisco to be there for four days a week, a little bit of a stretch being… I don’t know how old I was, so I think I was maybe 20 or 19 then.

Maurice Cherry:
Were you driving or were you taking Caltrain?

Rob Martin:
So I’d stay at my friend’s house in Berkeley. He was going to UC Berkeley and I would stay up there for a day or two and then take BART across and then come back on the weekends.

Maurice Cherry:
Gotcha.

Rob Martin:
So I could work and just be home.

Maurice Cherry:
Because that’s a commute from South Bay to get up to San Francisco. I remember I interned out in San Francisco for a summer when I was in college and I was like, “It’s a trek.”

Rob Martin:
Yeah, yeah. If I had a good car, it wouldn’t have been that much of a problem, but just the logistics. So I’d be there till 7:00. I had to get there 9:00 AM, be there till 7:00 and then have to do homework. My friend was like I could just stay with him for a little bit.

Rob Martin:
Yeah, so I started school there, just the whole commute thing, the amount of stuff I needed to buy, the work I needed to do. I wasn’t ready for it. I think I dropped out halfway through the first semester. It wasn’t what I thought I was going to be. I wasn’t ready for that. It wasn’t what I expected it to be, which it ended up being more or the theory stuff. They start you out with all these foundational drawing classes, which are important.

Rob Martin:
But in hindsight, I don’t think that was absolutely necessary for the type of designer that I ended up being. So I’m glad I didn’t stick with that, especially for the amount they were charging. It was incredibly expensive.

Rob Martin:
Oh, yeah. I was going to continue with the little bit, the origin stuff, right? So I dropped out of there and I went back to community college and I decided, “You know what? I’m going to go to a state school. I would like to get out of the Bay Area slightly.” So I started working towards going to Sacramento State, doing some painting and drawing classes at the end of community college and then went to Sac State. I think I started in 2003 there and I was at Academy, I think 2002. Yes, maybe like a year. I had an in between just because we had to sign up for the whole school transfer and everything to go to a state school from any other school.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. It sounds like Sacramento State was just a much better environment for you overall.

Rob Martin:
Oh, across the board. I swear I’m so lucky that this worked out for me because it was like one of those things was like, I don’t know what I’m going to do if I don’t do this, I have to do something like this because I actually got diagnosed with ADHD a few years ago. And in hindsight that explained my whole entire life up to that point. And because usually if I’m not in it, I’ve been saying this thing recently. If I don’t fuck with you, I don’t fuck with you. And that’s kind of, if I’m not into it, then I literally can’t do it. My brain won’t let me. It won’t be stimulating enough for me to engage with it at all. I didn’t know that was an ADHD thing until recently.

Rob Martin:
But looking back, I told myself, I was like, “Yo Rob, you got to make this work.” Luckily the program at Sac State is top-notch. I highly recommend it to anyone trying to save money, but still get a very solid design education. I think their education there is better than Academy’s. It’s all theoretical. Although the professors are super Swiss old school trained, but they’ve been able to be agile and keep up with the times in a way. That really shows how much the theory and the practice of the foundations like becoming sensitive to the way you’re looking at things and having a critical eye and not personal preference or anything like that. They’re able to shape someone that’s maybe not naturally good at design and get them to a place where they can’t be competitive in the workplace.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Let’s talk about your early career. So you graduated from Sacramento State, you’re getting out there in the world, working as a designer. Tell me what your early career was like because you were kind of working at a few different places here and there, right?

Rob Martin:
Yeah. Actually, so maybe I should take a little step back. So before I graduated, I went to Dallas for a student design competition and I won my first award there, but I also met a lot of people. I met Armando Simmons out there. This guy, Matt George, I was working at VSA in Chicago. I almost actually ended up working at VCA a few months after that, but I wanted to graduate first and they were trying to get me to get over there before I graduated. I’m like, “I got to get the degree due. I’ve been working on this for three years. I can’t leave a month early and not get the degree.” So passed on that. And then I graduated and then I think immediately after that, I started sending out stuff for internships and I was able to land one at Chan Design in San Francisco, one of my favorite studios.

Rob Martin:
So back in the day, they were very influential on me. I was back again to commuting. So I’d be taking the train or driving to San Francisco from Sacramento at least three days a week for this internship. Super long commute.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Rob Martin:
And eventually it was a pain, but for me it was worth it because that was a place I always admired and I really looked up to. So for me that was worth the commute. Plus I got to listen to podcasts and music all day on the way up and down. So those two and a half hour drives weren’t too bad back then.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice.

Rob Martin:
And then from Chan, I was able to get a full-time designer spot at Volume. I was there for about a year, I think. For the first half of that, I was commuting every day now, but this time I take the train, which took longer, but at least I wasn’t driving so I could sleep on the way there and back. I did that get commute for a little bit then I moved back to my parents’ house in Sunnyvale. I just drove from San Francisco every day to back home. Then from there I got a spot at this place called Duarte Design. They’re the PowerPoint keynote specialists for Apple. They did Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth stuff. They’re a heavy player. They are the PowerPoint people. You there’s no one else that’s messing with them in any kind of way.

Rob Martin:
And I was there for a little bit and this is where my snobbery and the me thinking I was hot shit really came into play because I didn’t really… Cool. Working on PowerPoint stuff but I didn’t know I’d be working a Windows machine. I got really uppity about that. I think just culturally I wasn’t a good fit there and we all knew it, but they were trying their hardest to make it work just because they’re investing in the people and everything that they have. So I guess they kind of short, I am getting fired the day that Obama was elected.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, wow.

Rob Martin:
But yeah, I saw it coming, but I get a little more symbolic on that day of all days. So I left there and I worked at Punchcut for a little bit and then I got laid off there because I was right when Obama got elected was when the recession started to hit. And it hit pretty hard right after that. So I got laid off there and then I was like you know what? I was going to start my studio. I’m living at my parents’ house. I said, “I need to make a little bit of money,” so they let me pay for food and gas and hang on the weekends. So I’ll be able to do that while I’m kind of getting my whole process together and actually figure out how I’m going to do this.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I want to interject there for two things. One, when you were at Duarte, I’m curious. Do you know Jole Simmons? Does that name sound familiar?

Rob Martin:
It sounds familiar, but I don’t have a face.

Maurice Cherry:
He’s a presentation designer. I don’t know if you and he worked at Duarte at the same time, but you mentioned him. And that made me think of when I interviewed him a while back.

Rob Martin:
Oh, you mean Armando Simmons or Jole Simmons? I said Armando.

Maurice Cherry:
I know Armando Simmons, Jole Simmons, J-O-L-E Simmons, Hampton grad. I think Joel is still out there in the Bay now, but he does a lot of big presentations like Apple, Microsoft, et cetera. So you mentioned Duarte and I was thinking, “Oh, I think I know him. I don’t know if you all had crossed paths or not.” But it sounds one interesting parallel that kind of came up to me as you were mentioning that is you left right when Obama got elected, like you said, that was kind of symbolic. And I remember I was working at AT&T right at that time as a senior designer and I quit my job the day Obama got elected. I was going-

Rob Martin:
Because of that or just you got hyped up?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, I think I just got hyped up. It was all in the moment because I’m not going to get too much into it. Folks who have listened to the podcast have probably heard this story. But I was working at AT&T, I was a senior production designer. It was just a lot of work. And they were scaling things to the point where we were doing… All the work that we did had point values to it. And so they would lessen the point value of the work and increase the number of points you had to hit every week to make your goal or whatever.

Maurice Cherry:
And then on top of that, I was also getting paid less than other senior designers there, despite the fact that I had more experience and I had sort of lobbied to not my manager because I was a contractor working there, but my contractor manager telling her what happened and she managed to get all of my back pay. There were six months of back pay that was owed to me and the back hit that morning because I remember I went to go vote. I came back to the office and my contractor manager pulled me into her office, told me that the money had hit and everything like that. So we should be all squared away and things like that. And it was like as soon as she said that, and then a little bit later on we were watching the votes and everything in the office and stuff like that. And we had a big team meeting near the end of the day and I just quit. I quit in the team meeting.

Rob Martin:
Yo, props for that, though. Even during the team meeting too, that’s a hard mic drop thing.

Maurice Cherry:
But I’m curious for you, you had kind of these short stints at these different design agencies and studios and stuff, what was going on during that time. Did you just feel like you weren’t fitting in anywhere or what was going through your mind then?

Rob Martin:
Yeah, this is actually kind of a personal thing for me, right? Again, with the ADHD thing, I didn’t know I had that until later in life. So first two spots to Chan and Volume just being contract designers out here, you kind of come in and out, that’s just how those worked out. At the same time, I think the person I was, my social skills were not where they are now. I’m way more socially inept or I’m better as a social person. I fit in with people. I can talk to people now more comfortable with doing that. Before I was really shy. I’m very awkward on top of me just not being into certain things. At Duarte, I just looked like an asshole pretty much I think to people. Not intentionally, but I was though.

Rob Martin:
Again, in hindsight I could see how the way I was behaving would look to someone for me outside in. And then even just starting Majorminor and having to now get in of people and sell myself, that really helped with all this being comfortable and being able to approach people, being able to talk to people in a certain way. All that really helped and it started to happen once I started getting my feet on the ground, started campaigning to get work and stuff.

Maurice Cherry:
So that feeling was kind of what made you want to start the studio?

Rob Martin:
Well, I wouldn’t say that feeling necessarily, but I guess that was a part of it was just, I need to be able to do things in my own terms in order for me to do them at my highest level. Just like the personal investment. Do I really want to do this? Do I care about it versus kind of what you were saying with AT&T just throwing stuff in front of you and you’re just trying to churning it out. I can’t do that necessarily, at least for a sustained amount of time, after a while I just start to drift off and daydream in my head and think about other stuff I’d rather be doing. So I figured why did I just do that stuff in the first place so you never have to feel like that or make someone feel a certain kind of way about you because you’re treating their work in a certain way.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. What were those early years of Majorminor like?

Rob Martin:
Very interesting. I’ve ever encountered anyone else that had this kind of path, but I didn’t have any clients that I brought with me or anything like that when I left any of these places or even freelance clients. I literally just went on Craigslist every 20 minutes and refreshed a page and sent out my little cold email to all the people that were looking for stuff. Sometimes it’d be a little $150 logo. Sometimes it’d be like, “Hey, I need a magazine done or something like that.”

Rob Martin:
That experience was really critical because it helped me to build my process for any actual real work, getting my contracts together. Having that experience is where things go wrong, and I now learn not to do certain things. Understanding how to approach people and not just say yes to everything, but like, “Hey, I can do this, but I can do this. Well, you only have this amount of money. Well, I can’t do that then, but I can do this for you.” The negotiation thing, being able to meet people where they’re at with what they’re trying to do and really understanding and hearing them and what they’re trying to do and not just be a factory.

Rob Martin:
The beginning years of just chilling on Craigslist was pretty, pretty significant that way. I didn’t know that at the time, but looking back that was my master’s program was the first two years of Majorminor, just trolling on there. But the thing is once I was doing that because I started off solo, right? So I’m doing this just on Craigslist as often as I possibly can, looking for other avenues to get work without having any work to show or any other contacts that could put me in front of someone else. It really built me up in that way and got my process to a place where I can actually run a business.

Maurice Cherry:
I’m glad you said that because I think that way of starting out is a lot more common than people think. I know that-

Rob Martin:
Yeah, I hope so.

Maurice Cherry:
No, no, no, serious because that’s how I started out. My first year after I quit, I didn’t have… See, this was my thing. I thought I would have clients lined up. I had been telling friends of mine like, “I’m thinking about starting my own studio or something like that.” And they’re like, “Yeah, well you got such and such. I’ll have some work for you.” And I quit. And those first, I’d say probably those first three or four were lean. I mean they were rough. I wasn’t necessarily going on Craigslist, but I was definitely taking super low paying jobs, anything just to get something in the bank account.

Maurice Cherry:
I was going to a lot of meetups because meetups were big. I’m in Atlanta to kind of give a context. But here at Atlanta, meetups were pretty big in 2009 or so. So I would go to all these web design meetups, which I quickly found out is the worst place for a designer to try to get a job because there’s other designers that are trying to get jobs. So you all are all competing for the same scraps essentially. Everybody’s trying to get something. It was rough those first few months.

Maurice Cherry:
I had went to one meetup and some guy had contacted me. He was a business graduate from UGA, this white dude. And he was like, “Yeah, I’d love to meet up with you. I have some questions about design because there’s this project that I might be working on and I’d like your help on.” And I was just like, “Okay, fine. If you buy me breakfast.” Because at the time I was like, I got $5 off to my MATA card. I can take the bus up there and then walk back to the station and take the trains, so I don’t have to pay twice or whatever.

Maurice Cherry:
I went up there. It was a Panera Bread up in Buckhead for folks that know Atlanta. Went to Panera Bread, met this guy and he was telling me, “Me and this other friend were thinking of starting this business because we’re trying to… ” They were basically trying to cash in on the, it’s funny because Obama kind of ties into this, but trying to cash in on the trend of politicians now wanting to run their campaigns like Obama. So this is early 2009. Everything Obama did in his first run for presidency with social media and graphic design and stuff was really unprecedented.

Maurice Cherry:
And so this is one of the first slates of municipal races after that. It was like the mayor’s race essentially. And so everybody running wanted the Obama sheen to their campaign and it’s like, “Well you can’t hire the Obama folks because now they work for the administration or they’re going to be super expensive.” So he had knew this guy and they knew a candidate that was running and they were basically going to put a company together to pitch to that candidate. But they were like, “We need a designer.” And so he’s asking me to basically tell him how to design. He’s like, “Should I learn HTML or should I learn Dreamweaver? And I’m like [crosstalk 00:40:09]. I was like, “You know what? I’m sympathetic to your plight. I really need work. Let’s just kind of do this as a trio.”

Maurice Cherry:
And so the three of us had met up and we came up with a name for the business and we had ended up getting onto the campaign of this woman. She was the city council president and she had ran for mayor. She dropped out because her parents got sick and she was about to jump back into the race. So we’re talking to her campaign manager at this lavish mansion. And I was like, “This is the fanciest shit I have ever seen in my life.” I knew people in Atlanta were rich, but I was like, “I have never seen no shit like this.” Huge-

Rob Martin:
Yeah. Rich, rich.

Maurice Cherry:
… 10 foot round solid marble table that we’re meeting at like King Arthur. And we meet the candidate and she’s told us about we’re running for everything and she’s like, “I like the three of you all,” because two of us were black and one of us was white. And she’s like, “I like the three of you all. This is real diverse like Obama. You got you a white guy? This is real diverse.” Because she was black.

Rob Martin:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
And so she kind of was, ask us about where we went to school and all this kind of stuff. And so is like, “Yeah, I’ll take a chance. I’ll take a chance on you.” So we ended up becoming the new media team for her campaign essentially. She got back in the race and ran from, I think April of 2009 to November. She didn’t win. She came in third place. But that whole experience set me up basically to continue running my studio for almost 10 years after that. Because if I didn’t have that experience of that campaign, I wouldn’t have been able to meet other people.

Maurice Cherry:
And honestly, like you said, get your process together. The crucible of working inside a political campaign is rough. It reminded me a lot of working as a production designer. You got to crank out stuff really fast. You got to respond to things quickly. There’s no time to kind of sit and iterate. You got to really come up with something super quick. It was a lot, it was a lot. And actually that’s where I first met Stacey Abrams because that was who our campaign manager was.

Rob Martin:
Oh, okay. Cool.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, so that was pretty cool.

Rob Martin:
That’s what I said. They all comes around full circle.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Those early years, I mean kind of to the point I was saying earlier, you kind of have to get out there and scrap. The hope is that you’re going to have these clients and people that come over. But the reality is, it’s a jungle out there. I’d say probably even more so now than that because the learning curve to design, I’m using air quotes around design, is so much shorter now because people can learn stuff on YouTube and they can take these courses and stuff. And there’s people half a world away that are doing this for pennies on the dollar. And how can you compete with that?

Rob Martin:
Yeah. It’s just all the bureaucracy that goes into that, everyone’s looking at it, everyone’s got something to say, but you still got to make it in two minutes just really quick. And did you even have a system that you were working with or were you just making stuff on the fly and [crosstalk 00:43:09]?

Maurice Cherry:
No, I was just making up stuff as I went along. I had no problem process, I had nothing. And like you said, it takes a few times you get burned by… I was fortunate that with the political campaign, everything worked out as it did. But even the clients I had after that, I didn’t have a contract. I eventually learned about AIGA’s design contract and I sort of used that.

Maurice Cherry:
I had a client that was a lawyer who used to work with the campaign. And so I bartered my service with him. I’m like, “I’ll do design work for you. If you write my contracts.” And so that’s how I got good contracts, proposals, templates and stuff. I started thinking like, “Who do I need to do work for to try to upgrade how I do my business?” But that process had to come along through a lot of trial and error. Nobody was sitting me, I didn’t have a business mentor or anybody that sat me down that was like, “You have to do this.” I was out here fucking up and just trying to recover from it.

Rob Martin:
The contract thing’s actually kind of funny. So we’ve always had problems with people running late or not paying us. Actually, we had a really bad one about a year ago. They’re still paying us. It’s been a year since the job was over. I’ve actually found the contracts to be kind of ineffective because if you don’t enforce them, whether it’s like, “Hey, this happened according to our terms, this is what’s supposed to happen.” If you don’t enforce them, they’re not going to.” If you do enforce them, you might not get anything. It’s kind of like a damned if you do, damned if you don’t kind of thing.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Rob Martin:
So yeah, the whole contract thing, we’ve been trying to figure that out. Yeah, we have a good contract here. It is “legal” because they sign it. But, “Okay, cool. They’re not doing anything. Do we now want to spend the money that we don’t have to pursue the thing legally?” We can’t just flash the piece of paper in their face and like, “But you signed the contract.” “All right. I still don’t have any fucking money for you. What are you going to do?”

Maurice Cherry:
The one thing that I would do with clients is I would never let them sign the contract alone. So I would set up a contract meeting with them and we would go over each clause in the contract and make understood it and then we’d sign it together. And then they knew kind of moving forward, this is what you’re being held to.

Maurice Cherry:
And I was lucky that even with the lawyer that I had, he wrote the contract in pretty plain language. So it wasn’t a lot of PR24s and the party of the first part and all that kind of stuff. It was pretty straight forward. But I would always have a contract meeting. I would never let them sign it alone because one, the client’s never really going to read it. They’re just going to sign it so they can try to get the project started.

Maurice Cherry:
And the hope is that they read it. You hope that they read it. I’m like, “No, we’re going over this like you’re five years old. We are going over it clause by clause so you understand what this means. This is what scope creep means. This is what a termination fee means. This is what a kill fee means. I hope we never have to institute these things, but if it gets to that point you know because we’ve had this meeting.” I would sort of point back to that meeting if things started to go a little wonky during the process like, “Well, we had the meeting and you said this and we signed it together.” And they’re like, “Oh, okay.”

Rob Martin:
I think we are going to start doing something like that now. But I think even more so signing it in-person versus talking over the phone, which I think is what we’re about to do, but that was actually really good. I like hearing that. That was really smart.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, something that you had mentioned to me before we had started recording was the parallels in your design career and your music career. I’d love to hear more about that.

Rob Martin:
Oh, yeah. So I think more of that is just around the process of my approach. So I feel like all these things are kind of the same as far as the way that they’re made, right? You have layers in Photoshop and your music software, you have layers of instruments of tracks, right? The way you’re blending them, the way you’re using levels or curves or whatever. The same thing you do with mixing EQ, adding saturation to something, even the words, the semantics are similar in some cases.

Rob Martin:
So historically I’ve never done both of them at the same time up until maybe the last few years where I’ve really taken the design and my music career as seriously as I am. But even outside of the actual creative part, you got to start making relationships. The way you’re talking to people about your design work and trying to sell them is a similar kind of passion and trust is being built when you’re trying to get gigs or just talk to people about your music.

Rob Martin:
I’ve noticed as I do one more, I get better at the other one too. So they kind of lift each other up in separate ways. Well, separate ways, but they do the same thing. When do you do outreach or something like that, you’re campaigning yourself or your music stuff. When you start doing that in your design field, it’s a similar process. You’re running business, the concept of running a business is the same everywhere. You don’t need to know how to do that certain thing to operate the business so that you can scale it, right?

Rob Martin:
I never realized that until recently, but just all that stuff it’s very similar, even if you know how to use Final Cut, you probably know how to use Ableton or Logic or something like that. But the way they use softwares and the process, the workflow to use them are all very similar.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Rob Martin:
The buttons might be a little bit different, but if you get the concept behind how to use it, you’ll be able to apply it elsewhere.

Maurice Cherry:
All right. The thing is for those graphic tools, a lot of them borrow their UI from music tools. So the layers [crosstalk 00:48:26] and all that sort of stuff. Yeah, it’s all the same. So what is it that keeps you motivated and inspired these days? What keeps you going?

Rob Martin:
I guess there’s a couple things, I guess first off, just my personal interest. I love what I’m doing. I love the fact that I can make money from my first two passions, even starting Majorminor and becoming successful with that. I feel blessed I’m able to do that because I need to be able to do something like this to wake up in the morning, and not become bored or anything like that. So I’m glad I’m able to be self-sufficient as a man, as a person in society doing the thing that I love.

Rob Martin:
So I used to tell people, “Oh, I got my second dream running the studio and we’re good.” But now I want to get my first dream and that’s to have a successful music career, at least doing music to a certain point. I don’t want to become famous or anything like that. But just being able to release music and work on it and have people make memories to it. I always have this idea where someone sees me on the street, “Oh, you’re that dude RCA. Hey, you made that beat. I met my girl that almost playing at the club or whatever. And we listen to it all the time, it’s a memory of ours now. I just want to say, thank you for that.” I was like, “Oh, I didn’t know, man.” But that makes my day. It makes my whole life right there, hearing stuff like that. That’s from a personal kind of place. So my personal drive, that’s where that motivation comes from.

Rob Martin:
I think the other part of it too specifically to design, and this is funny because this has changed a lot over the last, since I’ve been a student, but just having see another black person run a studio. I think a lot of times people just like the diversity and design. There’s people out there’s doing everything. But in certain places, I only know maybe three or four other studio heads that are black. And I know there’s more than that, but just personally know or have actually seen on the wild. It’s just good to see that because I’m always surprised when I’m on a company’s page and I see career director, black dude. Oh, cool. If we’re getting out there, not just as a team designer, but doing strategy or being the leadership part of the team.

Rob Martin:
When I was a kid, I saw none of that. I was always the only black kid in my class historically. So it’s cool seeing all that change, even just giving back to the community in that way. Just being, not like they need to be the face of anything, but just having people see me in certain ways always feels really good. So that’s a big motivator too. And just doing kind of talks for kid’s school or portfolio reviews. I always try to show up to those whenever I can just to give back in the first place, but also represent that we’re out here like that.

Maurice Cherry:
Did you have any mentors or other peers that helped you along your design journey?

Rob Martin:
Not so much. I could call it mentors, but Armando Simmons, he was the first black student I had ever met. I was still in school and we talked a little bit after I met him when I was in school, but I wouldn’t call him mentor, but he definitely was a source of inspiration, just like, “Oh, shit. He’s doing and he’s been doing it for a minute too. And that stuff’s tight.” I don’t know, that was the first glimpse I got. And he was always really nice to just hang out and talk or whatever.

Rob Martin:
But as far as mentors, not really. Maybe my professor’s like Gwen Amos and John Forrest at Sacramento State, they were really positive to me in that way. I always tell them whenever I see them, “You guys changed my life. If I hadn’t met you, I don’t know what I’d be doing. I’d probably be working at Target or something like that.” They put the effort, they saw the effort I was trying to put it in, and they put the effort back into me and they knew there was something there. So I really appreciate them taking the chance on me like that and just pouring some of my extra effort into someone that they felt was deserving of it.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Is this how you imagined your life would look like when you were a kid?

Rob Martin:
Absolutely not. And I’m glad because when I was a kid, my later life, I was always very nervous to get older because I had no idea what I was going to do. And that’s even from being a small child. Like, “I don’t know what I want to do. I just want to make stuff, I don’t know what that means, making money, being a person in society and all that kind of stuff.” But then even as I got closer to becoming an adult, I’m like, “Oh, shit. I need to figure this out. I’m getting to a point where I’m going to be 20 years old. I don’t know what I’m doing.”

Rob Martin:
So I’d say maybe actually in the first time in my life, in the last 10 years, I’ve actually felt like, “Cool. Things didn’t work out the way I thought they were as a kid.” I’m super glad I’ve been able to do that for myself. And now it’s just sustaining that. What’s going to keep me going? What’s going to keep me excited in the same kind of rhythm that I have now, be able to do the things I would like to, and then still be able to make money from it, but then also add to other people’s lives? I can’t do this all on my own, so I hope whatever people that do get on the ride with me, they’re getting something out of it and are doing it not for just money, but there’s personal investment. That’s why I usually end up hiring a lot of my friends that are really close to me because they seem to be into what we’re doing. Yeah, it just feels good being able to contribute to their lives because they’re contributing back to me in that way by team and up.

Maurice Cherry:
Where do you see yourself in the next five years? What kind of work do you want to be doing?

Rob Martin:
That’s a good one. That’s what we’ve been talking about internally with the team and just even me thinking about it myself. One thing I’ve actually been doing, this is kind of like I guess one of the parallels with the music and the design stuff is doing more concert visuals. So I’ve been working on my own personal show, learning how to do visuals whether it’s a video synthesizer or software synthesizer or with after effects and premier and integrating that along with the music, whether it’s programmed and able to live or it’s just a movie that plays in the background or something with Resolume. And I guess that’s kind of the marriage of my two passions, as I’m saying it out loud is how can I bring these things together? And then also now start to offer that as a service and be able to do it for myself as well, too.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, just to kind of wrap things up here, where can our audience find out more about you and about your work and everything online?

Rob Martin:
Yeah. The best place to go. And we’re working on this now we’re on a new website, but you can find our stuff at majorminor.co. There’s a little bit of work on there, but if you’d like to see more, just feel free to email me, rob@majorminor.co. As far as the music stuff, you can go to rcawhatsgood.com. All the links are on there, IG, YouTube and just see what we’re all about and what I’m all about. The music stuff too. I think there’s a lot of parallels as far as the aesthetics and just how we approach design. You can see both those things on there. But yeah, if you have any other questions, feel free to hit me up on any of those platforms too. I’m always very responsive. I love talking to people.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. Rob Martin. I want to thank you so, so much for coming on the show. We kind of had talked a bit before we had started recording, but it’s amazing how much our journeys as entrepreneurs and even kind of as musicians in a way have kind of paralleled each other. I think it’s great that you’ve really been able to carve your own way and find your own way in the design industry really through hard work, luck and determination and just doing it.

Maurice Cherry:
As a musician, it’s always about practice makes perfect. We always hear that. But with business, oftentimes you don’t have the opportunity to do that because especially for your own business, everything that you do has to be contributing hopefully towards progressing the business. But it really sounds like with Majorminor going for 13 years now, you’re doing something good. You’re putting out good things out there in the world. You’re supporting the community as well. And I’m just so glad to have had you on the show to tell your story. So thank you for coming on. I appreciate it.

Rob Martin:
Right on. Thanks, Maurice. And just for you too, thank you for doing all of your past stuff. I remember we talked a lot back on the Slack channel. I don’t know if this still exists or not, but that was really great for you to support or just put out there for the community and everything you do. I’ve always seen it from afar, but I really got a lot of appreciation of what you do and just the fact you’ve been doing it for this long too, so right off for having me. I really appreciate it. I’ve been waiting to be on this for a minute too, so it finally happened.

Magnus Atom

With a name like Magnus Atom, I had a feeling I was going to be talking with someone extraordinary. This award-winning motion graphics designer and commercial artist has an impressive roster of clients, including Headspace, Viceland, Playboy, MTV, and Lil Uzi Vert. On top of that, he recently received a coveted Young Guns award! Very impressive!

I caught up with Magnus a few months after his win, and he talked about working as an animation director with Strange Beast and settling down in upstate New York after a recent stint in Miami. He also spoke about going to the “Fame” high school in NYC, how his father inspired him to be an artist, and what he’s got his sights set on for this year. With a name like Magnus Atom, I’ve got a feeling we’ll definitely hear more from him in the future!

Transcript

Full Transcript

Maurice Cherry:
All right. So tell us who you are and what you do.

Magnus Atom:
Hey, so yeah, my name is Magnus Atom. I’m an animation director and I work globally with brands and clients to bring their brands to life with motion graphics and design, illustration, and tying that all in with animation. So…

Maurice Cherry:
How has 2022 been going for you so far?

Magnus Atom:
It’s been interesting. I mean, it’s been as good as it could be, I guess, this year. I mean, it’s been another one. But yeah, I started off… My wife and I, we actually went down to Miami for New Year’s and I’d never been there. So that was an interesting start. I was 100% sure I was going to get COVID and then I didn’t. So I don’t know how I’ve… It seems like everyone has been getting it so far, but somehow my wife and I, we’ve dodged it. So it’s been good. I mean, I’ve been busy working. I just moved to a new place. So I’m actually living in upstate New York in this town called Saratoga Springs. And so it’s definitely a departure from what I’m used to because I grew up in New York City. So this is more country, a little bit suburby, kind of small town living.

Magnus Atom:
And so I’m sort of… We just moved into an actual house [inaudible 00:03:43] renting, but it’s definitely a departure from the New York City one bedroom, 600 square-foot apartment. So now it’s like, “Oh, we have a place with space and yard space.” So it’s been interesting adjusting to it. So yeah, it’s been really an interesting start. So living in a new place, I definitely… I don’t really know anybody, either. So it’s also acclimating to the fact that I’m far away from a lot of friends and family. So trying to start fresh, I guess, is… Yeah, 2022 has been year of starting fresh.

Maurice Cherry:
So being in upstate New York, is it still pretty easy to get back down into the city if you need to?

Magnus Atom:
We picked a place that was sort of close to the city. So actually, I’ve never lived in Saratoga Springs or even really been to it. I visited it like once before we moved here. But we visited it and it was like, “Oh, this is…” It has enough stuff going that we didn’t think it would be super boring. And also it was close enough to the city that I can still visit my parents and my parents can come visit us. But it’s about two hours on a train or like two and a half hours driving.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s not too bad.

Magnus Atom:
No, it’s not bad. But in the wintertime it’s… sometimes you’re just… And especially if it’s snowing or inclement weather, it can be a little… a trek, I guess.

Maurice Cherry:
Let’s talk about the work that you’re doing now. You’re the animation director at Strange Beast. Tell me a little bit about the studio and what a typical day is like for you.

Magnus Atom:
Sure. So I’m actually an animation director at Strange Beast. So the way Strange Beast works, it’s kind of unique. I don’t see a lot of this sort of setup in the States, but it’s a little bit more popular in Europe. So the way their setup works is, they have a bunch of animation directors that they’ve sort of signed and… kind of a year-by-year basis. And so if you visit their website, each animation director has a very specific sort of style and a distinct voice, I guess, that they… It’s very specific to them. And it’s a little different than what you might find in the States where some of the big animation houses like Buck or Giant Ant or some of these other names, the animation directors don’t get as much recognition.

Magnus Atom:
It’s more of like the studio takes the credit and people go to the studio to work with that studio name. Whereas with Strange Beast and some other studios like ours in Europe, people come to Strange Beast to work with a specific director. So whether that’s Caitlin McCarthy or Anna Ginsburg, they want to work with those specific animators and they have to go through Strange Beast to work with them. And so it’s a pretty cool setup because it gives you the flexibility where… I’m not full time, by any means. And I have a lot of flexibility whether I want to take on a project that they give me.

Magnus Atom:
So just to kind of give a mock scenario of how it would work, say a client wants to make a… I don’t know, a 30-second spot for TV. And they want an animation director from Strange Beast and they don’t really know which animation director they want to go with. So maybe they’ll pick out a few different animation directors. So maybe me and a couple other people on the Strange Beast roster. And then maybe they also want to look for some animation directors from other studios as well.

Magnus Atom:
They’ll probably… They’ll pick a bunch of people. And then we’ll all sort of pitch to… We’ll pitch for the project. And that usually involves creating style frames and written treatments and sort of a pitch deck and presenting it to the team. And all this is sort of… I don’t get paid for any of that stuff. So there is sort of a pros and cons of this kind of method where it’s… In this situation, I might have to do a bit of work to create some style frames and deck building. And if I don’t win the bid, then it’s like I didn’t get paid for it. But at the same time, it can be really an interesting process.

Magnus Atom:
And so another scenario would be, they would come to Strange Beast and they’re like, “Okay, I really want to work with Magnus Atom specifically.” And maybe I’m busy because I take on other freelance work outside of Strange Beast as well. So I can tell them, “Hey, sorry, I can’t work with you right now on this project.” And so they might go to another animation director or they’ll… Maybe the stars will align, which happens less often than I would hope… But sometimes the stars will align and I’ll be like, “Okay, I’m free and I’m ready.” And they’ll be like, “Awesome. We want to work with you.” There’s no pitching. “We just want to work with you.”

Magnus Atom:
And so from there, we’ll sort of… We have some producers that are full-time at Strange Beast and actually, lately, Strange Beast had a bit of a transition in terms of the heads. So actually, the woman who was running it, Kitty Turley, who’s amazing, she actually stepped aside for a little bit because she’s gone on maternity leave and there’s another producer who has come to sort of take her place. And so she sort of oversees everything at Strange Beast as like an executive producer. And then underneath her is a bunch of other producers who might be working on different projects. So they’ll be assigned to one project at a time. So yeah. So from that, we’ll sort of create a budget. They’ll tell us what the budget is and we’ll tell them, “Okay, this is what’s feasible. This is what can work.”

Magnus Atom:
And we’ll talk about timelines, the yada yada, all that… the more production-level stuff. I’m personally… I don’t really have to deal that much with it, which is really nice because the producers, they get to just handle that. They get to interface with the client in terms of all the numbers and stuff. And for me, I might start off a project by trying to create style frames. So I’m like, “Okay, what is the look of this project going to be?” So for example, I just did a piece… But one of the pieces I just did for them was for Headspace. And so they wanted to create a animation series where each animation episode was directed by a different animation director. So each animation had its own kind of unique style.

Magnus Atom:
And so obviously, there’s a constraint that you need to work within. So Headspace has brand colors. Headspace has sort of guidelines that they kind of need… You can’t do super-grotesque, raunchy, rated X stuff. This could be for children. This is going to be very calm, meditative animation. So from there, you sort of think about like, “Okay, what can we do within the parameters?” Maybe we’ll start designing some frames and start developing the look and feel. And alongside that, we might be developing the storyboards. How is that going to play out? Before we even touch anything animation, we’re just going all into the planning of getting all the style and concept down. And then once that’s approved, then we’ll move on to another layer where we’ll start working on the actual animation; the production.

Magnus Atom:
And from there… Strange Beast doesn’t have any permanent employees, really, except for the producers. But we work with a roster of freelancers, which they’re… We have freelancers that we love to work with because they’ve proven themselves. We get along. And so we’ll call up some animators and maybe we’ll need illustrators. And it’s kind of a cool process because it makes it so that each project, we’re not constrained by the resources that’s… we’re limited… Maybe a house that has in-house animators… We have to work with those animators or we have to work with those designers.

Magnus Atom:
I would have a project where maybe I need animation that’s a little bit more Disneyesque. I have animators who are very good at that sort of style and I can call on those. Or maybe I want someone who’s a little bit more free-flowing style and I have people that who would come to mind and I would want to reach out to to work on that kind of project. So it’s a very sort of organic process, each time we go into a project. But yeah, I guess that’s sort of the overall, I guess, methodology of Strange Beast.

Maurice Cherry:
Interesting. It sounds almost kind of like a collective setup where people come together for the work or people may have to sort of pitch themselves for the work. Just because something comes into the studio doesn’t necessarily mean the entire studio works on it.

Magnus Atom:
Yeah, definitely. And like I said, there’s many animation directors, so… I haven’t even met half of them. I’ve worked with a bunch of them and everyone’s been super awesome. And even when I was working at their studio in London, there wouldn’t always be overlap. So I would have a project and then it might… another animation director would have a project and we’d… might overlap for a couple days and we’d get to talking. But for the most part, it’s sort of a project-by-project basis and Strange Beast is good at giving you the resources when you need it.

Maurice Cherry:
Hmm. Okay. So I guess when new work does come in and, say, you put in for the project, you’ve made a little deck or you’ve made some slides or something for it and you do get the project, you win the project. What does that process look like once you’ve actually started on it?

Magnus Atom:
Yeah. So the process once we’ve actually won the bid, it’s kind of what I was saying where you need to create the look, the style frames and the storyboards, and really just fleshing out the entire project. So Headspace, that’s an example. For that, we needed to… Well, actually, so that was an interesting, unique project because it was actually me and one other animation director, just because it was like, we had to do 20 minutes of animation in like two months’ time period. And so that’s a lot of animation. And so they thought it would be better if we have two animation directors who can sort of tag team it and approach it. So yeah. So for a project like that, that was fun because I got to kind of bounce ideas back and forth.

Magnus Atom:
So I worked with this animation director, Yuval Haker, and it was an interesting project because we had to both come at it with kind of our own style. But we also had to develop a style that was very unique to the project. So I would sort of start by creating a style frame and then I would send it to him. He would take that and he would sort of make his own style frame sort of inspired by that and then he would send it to me. And it was a very back-and-forth process. We did this dozens and dozens of times before we finally came down with a style that we’re like, “Okay, this is going to work.” And then once we come up with the style, so in that example, we were just hand-drawing everything in Photoshop using just brush tools.

Magnus Atom:
So once we were sort of comfortable with the style, we sort of then send it off to the client and the client will then have a bunch of notes and be like, “Okay, well, we don’t like the way this character looks. Can you slim them down?” Or, “Can you give them…? Take off these brands,” or whatever. Stuff like that clients are supposed to say. Then we’ll have that sort of back-and-forth process with the client. Then that’ll happen several times. From there, we start to organically build a style that both we’re comfortable with and that I’m comfortable making and animating and that the client is comfortable with. And so once we sort of create those initial style frames, and then we’ll start creating the storyboards where we’ll start saying, “Okay, this is what’s going to happen here. When the voice actor says this, we’re going to have the sun rise over the sunset and the swans are going to fly out of the reeds.”

Magnus Atom:
You have to sort of build out that very minute detail of what you think is going to happen. Because as an animation director, a lot of the times, I’m not actually touching everything. So you’re sort of building out a roadmap. Yeah. You’re building out a roadmap for… Then you give it to other animators who don’t animate in that style. And they’re coming in with very little knowledge and they’re basically… You’re giving it to them and being like, “Okay, build this.” And so there has to be a lot of… very little lost in translation. So they need to be able to see the storyboards and be like, “Okay, this scene is going to have a sun and it’s going to be rising. And the rays are going to be turning like this and the reeds are going to be blowing.”

Magnus Atom:
And then they’ll have that style frame that I made of that exact scene. And so they’ll know, “Okay, this is what I need to animate and this is what the final style should look like.” We go through this process where we have the storyboards laid out for the entire… whether it’s 20-minute project or 30-second project. And we then create a style frame of what it should look like for each key moment, whether it’s a different landscape or a different character. And so that whole process is… It can be very time-consuming because obviously, there’s a lot of back-and-forth. You’re basically just creating the style and the playbook for the entire animation. So from there, once you’ve finally gotten that and you’ve got it approved, the client loves it, you like it, and then you can just go straight into the animation.

Magnus Atom:
And then that’s when you start reaching out to your animators; you’ll be like, “Come on board.” And designers, if you need background designers or illustrators. And then you just go on full-on production where you’re like, “Okay, these rough animators are…” And when I say “rough animators,” there’s several layers to the animation process if you’re doing this sort of illustrative style. So there would be the very rough, hand-drawn, loose animation where it’s not fully fleshed out, it’s not final line work, but it shows the movement. This is how the character is going to move. And this is the weight and this is how the waters are going to ripple. But just in terms of… Think of it like a rough sketch of a painting. Before you do the final painting, you probably want to do a bit of a rough sketch underneath. That’s what the rough animation is.

Magnus Atom:
So that’s a process. And then after you’ve gotten that down, then you’ll have another layer of animation and that’s what we’ll call cleanup animation. And then a lot of times, those two animators, the rough animator and the cleanup animator, won’t even be the same animator. So the rough animator has to create it in a certain… They have to create the rough animation in a certain way that any cleanup artist can come to it and be like, “Okay, all I have to do is trace over this rough animation in the final line work. Because now I’m trying to make it look final.” It’s basically… We’re just trying to get it from the rough animation to the final. And that’s actually even a longer process, surprisingly.

Magnus Atom:
But it’s kind of like building, I guess, a car. You don’t start by just building the car. You have to start by thinking it out. You have to think about the production, the budget… And then you have to think about the schematics and the layouts and the materials. And then it’s this iterative process that slowly over time, a bunch of different people with a bunch of different skills all are coming together to sort of build this final animation that has that sort of initial style frame and idea that you sort of created. Or, and when I say “you,” me as an animation director sort of created from the get-go. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
That is quite a process. I think it probably helps to have a client that really is tuned into working with creatives to be able to go through all of that with so many different steps and working with so many different people.

Magnus Atom:
For sure. I mean, it’s definitely not for the impatient. And yeah. Animation, it takes work. People think… There’s a running joke in the animation industry; it’s like, “Just press the animate button and bring your character to life.” And it’s like, no, it’s a process, for sure.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I want to get more into really how you learned about animation. So let’s take it back into the past a little bit. I want to learn more about sort of your origin story now. You’re from NYC originally. Is that right?

Magnus Atom:
Yeah. So I actually… Well, I was born in Hawaii, but I grew up in New York City.

Maurice Cherry:
What was it like growing up there for you?

Magnus Atom:
Well, so I grew up in Brooklyn. And so I lived in… When my family first moved here from Hawaii, they didn’t buy a place. We were renting. So when we first moved here, we were actually living in Park Slope. And if you know New York City, you know Park Slope is a super-expensive, super-nice, ritzy neighborhood. To hear tell, it was not like that when we moved here. I actually hear it was quite dangerous when we first moved here. So I spent my early years, like in elementary school, in that area. But as rent started increasing, my family ended up having to move from Park Slope and we ended up moving to an area called Ditmas Park around Flatbush. And I didn’t spend a lot of time actually in Flatbush, per se. I went to middle school there and I had a lot of friends there, but when I started going to high school, my high school was actually in the city.

Magnus Atom:
So I actually spent a lot of my youth just in the city, whether it’s… was Midtown where my high school was, or… I spent a lot of time in Chinatown. And it’s funny because New York City, it’s kind of a place where you kind of need money to do a lot of things. And also when you’re a kid, there’s a lot of things that New York City offers to you that you just can’t have access to because you’re under 18 or you’re under 21. So a lot of my youth was spent hanging out in parks in Chinatown, playing sports; like playing handball and… That’s where a lot of my friends hung out.

Magnus Atom:
So in terms of living in New York City, to compare it to… I guess I can’t really compare it to anything else because I only had one childhood. But I would say that it was nice having such a diversity of people. It was something you didn’t think about. I wasn’t thinking, “Oh, I’m the only person of color in this area.” I was surrounded by all different ethnicities, all different cultures. And so, I mean, it was funny, even at my lunch table in high school and middle school, it was like the UN. It was like… I literally… every ethnicity. It definitely gave me a lot of experiences in terms of the type of people I met. I had… I guess parents tried to take me to cultural events when they could afford it. But for the most part, it was good.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, I mean, New York City sort of has that reputation of being a really big melting pot. So it sounds like that definitely was what your experience was like growing up. And you mentioned high school. I don’t want to gloss over… You went to a pretty well-known high school for those who might be of a certain age, like myself; the Fame school, LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts. What was it like going there, knowing that it had such a reputation?

Magnus Atom:
I never took school seriously until I finally got to college. But high school… I guess, to backtrack just a little bit… My dad always wanted to train me to be an artist. So I never really pushed myself in terms of art, but my dad was always the one who was on my ass about like, “You need to do this painting, you need to…” I don’t remember if it was every night, but it was definitely several times a week it was like, “Okay, get onto your corner and do your painting.” It’s like I didn’t have a choice. It was kind of, I guess, like a typical parent would tell you, “Go and hit the books.” My dad was like, “Go and paint.”

Magnus Atom:
When I was applying to high school, I think I already had an edge over the other people who applied because a lot of the other applicants, a lot of their body of work was maybe school assignments. And you can tell when something’s a school assignment or something’s done outside of school. And so I think that really helped propel me into it because I already had this sort of formal training from my dad growing up. So when I finally got into high school… You had to apply to get into it. You had to take an actual test; an art test. You had to show a portfolio to teacher and they would ask you about it. So it’s definitely… It was a lengthy process to get in. But when I actually got in, I didn’t take it all too seriously.

Magnus Atom:
So funny, my grades were actually terrible. In the first year, freshman year, I think I failed three classes and I had to do summer school for the first time. That wouldn’t be the last time. And I kind of goofed off a lot. But in terms of the people I met, it wasn’t your typical high school experience. And I think that was sort of the thing I took away from it the most was, the people I was surrounded by were musicians and other artists.

Magnus Atom:
And although maybe not every single person was passionate about art and wants to be an artist… I’ve never seen Fame, so… But [inaudible 00:26:48] I think I’ve seen clips and people are dancing on tables and singing in the hallways. There was singing in the hallways, but it wasn’t… People weren’t dancing on the tables and… But people genuinely… Talking to other people I’ve met outside of LaGuardia, in their high school experience, I’ve heard it’s very much cliques. Like you got the jocks and you got the cheerleaders and… At least this is what I’m kind of imagining other high schools to be like. Like the kids who wore Abercrombie and Fitch. And then you had the skater boys.

Maurice Cherry:
It was high school.

Magnus Atom:
Yeah. It was high school. But for me, there was a little bit more emphasis on being unique, I guess. It wasn’t forced. No one was telling you, “Oh, you got to be unique.” It was more like people were proud to wear clothes that they just made themselves. Whether it was good-looking clothes or not, it wasn’t… It didn’t really matter. Cool, if you had started your own little fashion T-shirt brand in school and you wore your own jeans that you had messed up with paint. So that was sort of the vibe. I guess everyone had this unique sort of voice.

Magnus Atom:
And there was definitely a lot of talent. Looking back, the amount of talent at that school… You don’t realize it when you’re in the moment. As a kid, you don’t know what to compare it to. But looking back, I went to a performance… They do these concerts that the instrumental majors and the vocal majors and the drama majors will put on. And these are not like normal high school productions. I’ve been to many Broadway shows. These are on par with Broadway productions. These, they’re good. And it goes to show, because a lot of them end up working in that field afterwards. So yeah. I mean, that was my experience. I met a lot of really cool artists. Most of my friends, if not all of them, were just artists.

Magnus Atom:
So it was cool to bounce ideas off of. And I did a little bit of graffiti when I was of that age. And my first clothing company was with some of my best friends. We just decided to create a small clothing company. And so we’d create stickers and merchandise and we would sell it to our friends and other people. And we even dabbled in making music. It was a really creative, I guess, environment to grow up in.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. So we were talking before recording about like, “Oh, yeah,” I said, “the Fame high school.” You’re like, “Oh, yeah, it was a movie.” And I’m like, “Well, it was a TV show. It was a movie first, then a TV show. Then there was Fame LA and then another movie.”

Magnus Atom:
Wow. I didn’t know it was such a series. I literally just thought it was a movie and I feel kind of ashamed because so many people have been like, “Oh, you went to the Fame school?” And I’ve never even seen Fame.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, you should check it out. It’s a pretty good show. And a movie. I mean, I remember the first movie, but not the second one. The second one was in 2009 or something, I think.

Magnus Atom:
Oh. Oh, well, that’s funny, because I graduated in… Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. I did remember that coming out. Sure. But yeah, I graduated 2008.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Magnus Atom:
Yeah. I’m curious to see it. I don’t know if it’ll actually be like the real life experience.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, after graduating, you went to Parsons, which is a very well-known school in New York City for fashion and for design and everything. And we’ve had a few Parsons alum on the show as well. How was your time over there?

Magnus Atom:
Yeah. So definitely different than high school, because like I said, in high school, I completely slacked off. I barely graduated by the skin of my teeth. Yeah. Terrible grades. And I actually just got into Parsons by the skin of my teeth. But when I got into Parsons, I sort of… Well, my dad told me, he was like, “This is your last chance. If you fail, if you flunk, there’s no point in you doing this. You don’t need to be in school anymore.” And so I realized, I was like, “Oh, okay. This is like, it’s serious time.” And so I took it very seriously.

Magnus Atom:
So actually, funny enough, I guess it’s kind of serendipity, but when I was applying to Parsons, I hadn’t heard back from them for… Yeah. I sent in my application and I hadn’t heard back. And it was like, time was passing, months were passing. And I was like, “Ah, I wonder whatever happened.” And the girl I was dating at the time was like, “You really need to check on them and see what’s going on.” And I was like, “Okay.”

Magnus Atom:
So I went down to the office. I was like, “Hey, what’s going on?” And they were like, “Oh, so you actually got accepted, but they didn’t send out some sort of letter,” or maybe I didn’t get it. And so by the time I went down there, all the applications for the basic… I forget what the term is for most art majors that go into Parsons, but… That was all filled up. And they were like, “We feel really bad and you did get in and we have this experimentative… a new program that we’re creating called Design and Technology that we still have some spots open for. And if you want to go in through that, it’s a different curriculum.”

Magnus Atom:
And so rather than going in through the traditional route where you have to go through graphic design and you have to learn all these very fundamental principles and… It was more of a DIY sort of route, where you get to kind of… It’s kind of like a Choose Your Own Adventure. And the whole idea is, it kind of merged a whole bunch of different, I guess, topics. So you had coding, coding within art, and then you had web design and then you had more experimentative… It was anything that you could think of where it’s design, but also plus technology. So you even had some sound designers in that mix. And so I went into that not knowing what I wanted to do at all.

Magnus Atom:
I thought maybe I was going to do graphic design. I knew I had to pick something at some point and time was ticking. And so when I went in, I was like, “Okay, I’ll try graphic design.” And that was not for me. I was like, “This is not my thing.” And then I did like… I really loved illustration and that was something I always did passionately on the side. But it wasn’t a choice, in terms of what I can do. They didn’t offer… If I wanted to be illustration, I would’ve had to completely do a whole new curriculum. And I would’ve had to start over or something. So I was like, “That’s not an option.” And then there was web design. I was like, “Okay, maybe I want to be a web designer.”

Magnus Atom:
And I think I got into it because I had some illustration stuff and I wanted to put it on a website. And this was before Squarespace and all those kind of templated websites where you could just upload your images. Kind of still had to know some coding. There was a WordPress, but I never really liked the whole WordPress thing. So I thought maybe I would do some web design and… I even took an internship in web design and realized… I got pretty far. I learned… I knew HTML, CSS, a little bit of JavaScript. I realized it wasn’t for me, either. Staring at lines of code for like 12 hours a day was just like, “Okay, this is not my thing. I’m going to burn out doing this.” And then the second year of Parsons, I had a good friend who… He had a little bit of animation experience that he just did from high school.

Magnus Atom:
I think he was kind of a go-getter; he just tried interesting stuff, tried new stuff. And so he already came in knowing a bit of animation. And so he was a close friend of mine. And I saw what he was doing and I was like, “Oh, that’s… kind of looks fun. That looks interesting.” And so he convinced me to take the Motion Graphics 1 class. And so I was like, “Okay.” It was just learning After Effects; basic After Effects. How to make shapes move and text move on screen; simple learning how to use the program. I took the class and I immediately was like, “This is pretty cool.” Because I liked illustration already, but it was the first time where I can take my illustration and have it come to life.

Magnus Atom:
And I took it very seriously too. A lot of people I knew… So I was… I lived in New York City, so… And I couldn’t afford to live in the dorms, so I lived at home. And so a lot of people I knew, they were living at the dorm life and they were partying a lot and… I was very jealous of like, “Oh, man, you get to live with three roommates and 200 square feet? Oh, man, I’m so jealous.” I really was. But I didn’t have any of that. And so I spent a lot of my time just working on my school projects.

Magnus Atom:
And so I think putting a lot of that work in early, I already saw… The amount of work I put into it, people were noticing it. I think the first time I was doing artwork or something that was kind of unique to myself. And people were like, “Oh, this is really good.” Before, people would be like, “Oh, yeah, I like this illustration,” or “I like that painting.” I was doing those kind of because I had to, almost. This was the first time I was like, “I want to do this.” And then people were telling me that they think it’s really good. And then also I was in these animation classes and it was already better than a lot of the other animators who were in that class.

Magnus Atom:
So there I think it created sort of a feedback loop of: People are saying you’re good at this. And I’m enjoying it so I feel kind of proud. So I feel like I have to do it even more. It ended up just becoming a thing where I’m… I ended up taking a whole bunch of animation classes and I wanted to learn everything about animation. I started off just learning After Effects, but then I was like, “Oh, I want to learn how to do stop motion. I want to learn how to do CGI; 3D animation.” And then within 3D animation, I was like, “Okay, I want to learn how to do dynamics. I want to learn how to do lighting and modeling and character rigging.” And I was like, “Oh…” I discovered cel animation for the first time, where you can actually just draw on a screen, rather than having to draw it on paper and then scan it in, and move it around in After Effects like moving images; it was like, “Oh, you can bring things to life Disney-style.”

Magnus Atom:
I was just fascinated by every different aspect of animation. And not only that, how can you combine all of these different things? So how can I mix CG and cel animation? Or how can I mix stop motion and cel? Or… And I even went so far as to take sound design classes because I was like, “I want to make the sound and music to my own animation.” So I was sort of just gathering all these skills, just because it was really fun to do. And I was like, this is… Seems appropriate. I wasn’t thinking… I was thinking I want to make a career of this, but it was more of like, “I’m doing this because I’m just super-fascinated by all of these different aspects.”

Magnus Atom:
Yeah. I think learning all those different things really helped me. And so I think by sophomore year, I definitely knew what I wanted to do. And by junior year, I actually… I felt like I was just ready to hit the workforce. I actually had a lot of teachers who were really helpful in terms of my early getting off the ground. So one of the classes I had, it was an intermediate animation class, learning concepts. And so one of the projects was for creating a mock commercial for a product or for a brand. And at the time, I was super into the whole vinyl toy scene; Kidrobot and even like BAPE and all that stuff was super popular.

Magnus Atom:
And so I really loved Kidrobot so I was like, “Okay, I’m just going to make an animation about one of their toys,” which was that iconic money… If you don’t know it, it’s… kind of looks like a white monkey that you can draw on; customize. So I made this animation, it was like a 15- or 30-second animation. It actually ended up… The teacher brought in some professional, I guess, people she knew from her professional circle to actually critique us in the finals. And so a lot of them… Some of the critiquers came in and they saw it and they were like, “Oh, this is really… You made this by yourself? This is definitely top-level… At least almost studio-level stuff.”

Magnus Atom:
And went so far where I sent it to Kidrobot and I was like, “Oh, I don’t know. I might not hear anything.” I think it was a couple days later, one of the directors of operations, they reached out to me. They were like, “Hey, this is awesome. Can you do something like this just for us for this other product that was coming out?” And so that was sort of my first step into a client project that I had gotten just by myself; no one else. So Parsons, I think, set me up in a way where it’s like, I met a lot of really interesting people, a lot of other interesting animators who also wanted to do what I did. Yeah, it was kind of like LaGuardia where it was a very creative atmosphere that was fostering my creativity.

Maurice Cherry:
And of course, now, you’re well-known animation director with Strange Beast. So clearly, even just getting that spark from doing the work at Parsons and learning about it has propelled you to where you are right now. The way that actually I had heard about you was because you won an award back in 2019 from The One Club. You won the Young Guns award, which is usually given to young designers. I think they do it every year. They have a Young Guns 17, Young Guns 18, et cetera. Where were you when you got news about your win?

Magnus Atom:
Yeah. Well, just really quickly, I actually won it this last year. But it was called Young Guns 19. I was actually sitting in the same spot I am sitting in right now. I was just at home when I read the email that I won. Actually, when I read that I was the finalist, I didn’t even know that I was a finalist. My executive producer at Strange Beast just texted me and she was just like, “Hey, congratulations on being a Young Guns finalist.” And I had… I didn’t even know I was a finalist and I was like, “What? Awesome.” Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
And have things kind of changed for you since you won the award?

Magnus Atom:
Not really. I mean, yes and no. I’ve had a lot of people reaching out to me to try to pin me down for a full-time job. Actually, funny enough, this one company I’ve always wanted to work for… When I was starting off in my career, I always wanted to work for this animation studio. And I reached out to them early on and they never even got back to me. And it was always a dream to work for them. And then after I won, they reached out to me and they were like, “Hey, do you want a full-time job?” And actually, I turned them down because I’m enjoying freelancing and doing the whole thing with Strange Beast so much. So it’s funny how life works like that, I guess.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow. I’m curious about that because we’ve had other award-winning designers on the show and I’m always curious to know if things really change once you get the award. Does it open you up to bigger and better jobs? Does that mean you get more press? Do you get representation? I’m just always curious about that because I feel like it’s still kind of 50/50. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s not. Sometimes the award can be kind of the thing that… Not hold you back, but it can end up being a bit of a curse, in a way.

Magnus Atom:
Yeah. That’s interesting that you say that. After I won the award, I felt like all of a sudden, now there’s like a spotlight on me. I feel like I can’t really mess up, you know what I mean? Because it’s… A bunch of people now know my name in the industry. I’m not just, I guess, a nobody at this point. But at the same time, it was very liberating because it’s something I’ve always wanted, was the Young Guns. Ever since I was in college, I wanted to win this Young Guns award. And it was definitely like it was a dream come true for my twenties. So when I won, it was sort of liberating because all of a sudden, I didn’t have to think of, like, “Okay, I need to do this animation because I have to… It has to fit into my body of work so that I can win this award; the Young Guns award.” Now I’m kind of like, “Oh, I can do whatever I want.” If I want to do something different, I don’t feel like I’m constrained to doing just animation anymore.

Maurice Cherry:
That makes sense. The award kind of… It’s the validation. And so from there, you can springboard to other things because the work that you’ve won that award for, you don’t really have to prove yourself. You’ve gotten an award for it. People have judged your work and said that it’s good to this caliber; to this standard. So it kind of does give you freedom to do other things in that way.

Magnus Atom:
Yeah. Yeah. That’s it, definitely.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. And now, speaking of other things that you’re doing, aside from Strange Beast, you have a fashion and art brand that you created called Yugen Goon. Tell me about that.

Magnus Atom:
Yes. That was a fun side project I actually created with my wife. Actually, I started concepting it many years back because… I work as a commercial artist. So this work that I put on my site and the stuff that I do professionally is definitely of a certain, I guess, content. It’s commercially viable. I always had this outlet of stuff I like to do outside of that. I like to paint. I like to do… I love doing pastel still to this day. I grew up my dad making me do pastels and I still love to do it. And I have all these fascinations with all this other stuff, whether it’s spiritualistic or tribal or different content from religious or spiritual stuff from around the world that… It probably is not going to make it into my commercial for Nike.

Magnus Atom:
So it’s like, I kind of wanted to create this separate thing where I was like, “Okay, this is going to be just me.” That… I don’t really have to answer to anybody. Actually, funny enough, I created it because I wanted to sort of just create a side hustle. Because I was like, “I want to make a bit of money on the side, just as a revenue source.” And it ended up being… I couldn’t just do something for the money. It ended up being like, “Okay, if I’m going to make something, I got to make it cool.” So I ended up spending a long time on it, way longer than I should’ve; years creating just the idea for… I guess I’m such a perfectionist, but… Actually, my wife helped propel me to really finalize it because if it wasn’t for her, I would just have just been aimlessly just creating designs and not even putting it out.

Magnus Atom:
And she was like, “Okay, just… You got to put it out.” It was a nice departure from my usual animation stuff, because I got to take the artwork that I was creating on the side and then kind of play around with some graphic design and illustration that I get to experiment and kind of have fun and do stuff that I’m like, “Okay, this might not be right, but it’s like, this is… I think it’s cool. And if I think it’s cool, maybe other people will think it’s cool.” The whole idea with Yugen Goon was, I wanted to create this brand that was sort of a world in its own. So I wanted have these different characters and all these different storylines and hopefully one day I’ll create an animation that ties in and kind of tells the story a little bit better.

Magnus Atom:
But I made up all these different gods that are depicted on the clothing. And even within the clothing, if on the inside label, there’s… unique poem on each… So you know where the tag would be on the inside of the… that apparel tag? Instead of having a tag, I have a poem. And it’s just kind of there just for the people who buy it. It’s not there to show off. It’s not there for anybody else other than the people who know it; know it’s there. So I kind of like this idea of creating this world where it’s just… It’s sort of like storytelling and it’s sort of constantly evolving. It draws on a lot of, really, stuff that I’m fascinated by, whether it’s cultural… tribal masks, African masks, or Japanese masks or things like holy scripts from like the I Ching. Stuff like that just fascinates me. So that’s kind of Yugen Goon in a nutshell.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, I was going to ask about what the significance with the masks might be.

Magnus Atom:
I haven’t even figured it out myself, honestly. Maybe if I ever have a therapist, it’ll come out and I’ll figure out why I’m so fascinated by masks. But I don’t know. I love the mask designs, whether… Of all cultures. Yeah. Japanese, Tibetan, Chinese, African, different African tribes… I think it’s kind of what they represent. And when you look into why they exist, they all kind of have their own unique meaning, but there’s kind of this connection that you see between all these different cultures that were separated by oceans. I don’t know. There’s just something beautiful, I think, to masks.

Maurice Cherry:
Hmm. When you look back at your body of work, is there any one project that really stands out to you the most?

Magnus Atom:
When I was working at Vice, I created this one piece called Bone Dance. I think it’s 15-, 30-second long animation. It was for Vice’s… They did a weed week where for a week, they would just air weed-inspired content. And they tasked us… They were like, “You can create anything you want, if it’s for weed week, and we’ll put it on TV.” Which is a cool brief. I don’t have that anymore. And at the time, even I knew, I was like, “This is cool.” But looking back, I’m like, “Wow, that was… You can create anything you want and they’ll put it on TV.”

Magnus Atom:
For that project, I was like, I came up with this concept of having these… Without going too deep into it, I wanted to create this thing that was a little bit trippy, but sort of high thought, kind of would make people think, because it would be playing late at night, hopefully while people are smoking weed and they’ll see it and be like, “Oh, that was different.” I didn’t want to just create regular weed bong stuff. So that was probably my favorite project because it was sort of… I had the most carte blanche. Still to this day, I look back and I’m like, “Oh, this is…” People see it and they’re like, “Oh, this is still super cool.” So yeah, I think that’s probably my favorite piece I’ve done.

Maurice Cherry:
Have you had any mentors or anyone that have really kind of helped you out throughout your career? And before you answer that, I feel like your dad may be one of them, in case you’re not going to mention him. Because you’ve mentioned him just in passing about how he’s really pushed you, especially early on, to be more artistic in this way.

Magnus Atom:
Yeah. I mean, that was… Yeah. I mean, you got it. It’s definitely my dad. I’ve always had teachers who are… They’re really helpful, but they haven’t stuck with me for the long haul, you know what I mean? After… I might keep in contact with some of my teachers after school, but not as much. So my dad has always been there. So I’ve always been able to tell him about what I’m doing and… He’s an artist himself. So I can… He gets it. He is… I don’t have to explain… He doesn’t have to be like, “Oh, so what is this animation thing?” It’s like, he’s always been super-supportive and pushing me to do that. So yeah. It’s definitely my dad.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. What do you really appreciate most about your life right now?

Magnus Atom:
The thing I appreciate the most… Probably the fact that I’m safe and I’m healthy and everyone I know is healthy. I know… I have friends who have lost loved ones to COVID and it’s been really hard for the last several years for a lot of people. And so I’ve been super-fortunate that everyone I know is healthy and… Yeah. I guess that’s it, really. I mean…

Maurice Cherry:
Where do you see yourself in the next five years? I mean, it sounds like so far, your career has really progressed to a fantastic point. I mean, you’ve had this strong upbringing, this dad that really pushed you, now you’re doing this work at Strange Beast. What else do you see yourself doing in the future?

Magnus Atom:
It’s interesting thinking about it, because even if I look back at the last decade, I would never have imagined I would get to where I am here. Because my goals when I was younger is completely different now. Where I will be in ten years or five years, I have no idea. But the stuff that I’m super-passionate about now is not as… It’s not the same stuff that I was passionate about when I was in art school.

Magnus Atom:
So I think a lot of the stuff that’s really… still inspires me is working on my clothing company or if it’s… I’m really into this upstate living of repurposing… antiquing furniture and making it brand new, which is something I never thought I would be into. So yeah. It’s like, I still want to do… I still love animation; that’s still my path, I think. And in terms of where I see that going, I want to keep creating stuff that’s sort of in my style and keep it evolving. Keep doing work that I am passionate about that pays the bills. But on the side of that, I have other passions that is completely outside of animation now.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, just to kind of wrap things up here, where can our audience find out more information about you and about your work online?

Magnus Atom:
Sure. So you can visit my website. It’s just magnusatom.com. Or you can find me on Instagram, @magnus.atom. And if you want to see other Strange Beast artists as well as my stuff, you can just go to Strange Beast’s website, which is strangebeast.tv.

Maurice Cherry:
All right. Sounds good. Well, Magnus Atom, I want to thank you so much, really, for coming on the show. I think if there’s one thing that people really get from this, aside from just your incredible story, is that getting to where you’ve gotten has taken a lot of work. And that’s not to say that the road should always be easy as a creative, but what it sounds like to me is that you’ve really put in the work over the years and now you’re sort of at the point where you’re able to really kind of reap those rewards, which sounds, of course, really good to hear. I really am interested to see kind of what you do in the future. I mean, a lot of your work is already out there. I didn’t mention this, but there’s a Lil Uzi Vert video that you did also. So you’ve managed to amass a huge body of work, and I’m really excited to see what you do next. So thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Magnus Atom:
Well, thanks so much for having me, Maurice.

Manuel Godoy

It’s no secret that stories from comic books and graphic novels have dominated the pop culture landscape since the early 2000s. However, the heroes in those stories that you see often don’t represent the true diversity out there in the real world. That’s where Manuel Godoy comes in. As the CEO of Black Sands Entertainment, he is the engine behind one of the most exciting and barrier-braking publishing houses in the nation. And with over 5,000 investors and over 200,000 books sold, it’s easy to see why!

We started our conversation fresh off of Manuel’s recent Shark Tank appearance, and he talked about how his company stands apart from other indie publishers, and how he’s leveraged social media to build a massive base of supporters and investors. Manuel also spoke about his time in the military, how he’s scaled Black Sands Entertainment over the years, and where he wants to take the company in the future. Hollywood, watch out — Manuel has created a movement that has no signs of stopping!

Transcript

Full Transcript

Maurice Cherry:
All right, so tell us who you are and what you do.

Manuel Godoy:
My name is Manuel Godoy, the CEO of Black Sands Entertainment. I am a writer, I am a publisher, and I also run an animation studio, so I have a lot of things going on. But my goal is to make black history before slavery a relevant thing, and we’ve been doing that pretty well over the last five years. So I’m thankful for you having me today.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. How has this year been going for you so far?

Manuel Godoy:
It’s been going pretty good. I mean, we started the year off with a Shark Tank episode so momentum is definitely on our back right now.

Maurice Cherry:
I want to just go ahead and just jump right into Black Sands Entertainment. I spent a lot of time yesterday and actually over the past few days just checking out the app, checking out the titles and everything. For those of who are listening who may not be familiar, can you give an introduction to what Black Sands Entertainment is and what it’s about?

Manuel Godoy:
Yes. Black Sands Entertainment is a comic book publisher who also does different mediums. So we also have digital content on BSE comics. We have animations and stuff like that. But our bread and butter is comic books, and most of our comic books are about black history before slavery. We have plenty of titles about that. We expanded significantly last year from three or four different titles to about 16 now. And we’re just on the move, like constantly moving forward, trying to tell the story about our people that’s not always negative. I felt like there’s too much negative content out there for black Americans to consume and that we need to have something more on a positive side, some kind of legacy that we could live up to. So even if you have very humble beginnings, you can still see a great path forward in your life.

Maurice Cherry:
I love, love, love that whole message of doing that. And I mean, in a way that’s kind of what’s… I mean, I don’t want to say that what we’re doing is the same, but I think in terms of trying to make sure to uncover the history that people may not know about, I totally completely vibe with that idea. What does a typical day look like for you? I mean, it sounds like you’re juggling a lot of stuff.

Manuel Godoy:
Oh, it’s chaotic. There’s no typical day. That’s why I need to hire some staff, right? I’m currently looking for an editor-in-chief. Well, not an editor-in-chief, but a lead editor for our company so they could take that side of the publishing side of my life off my hands. But yeah, we’re definitely looking for ways to break up my days, because my days are purely chaotic. I think I spend maybe 10% of my time actually making content because I’m in charge of so many things. So I would love to get that to 40% if possible. But my typical days are purely chaotic. We have a lot of press, we have a lot of scouting and recruiting and negotiating. Of course, I have to be very relevant on social media, so that’s also a big factor in my life.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I mean, I see you are super active on TikTok. I watched probably most of the videos that you’ve got up. How has social media helped you as you build Black Sands Entertainment?

Manuel Godoy:
Well, it just gives me independence. One thing is it’s a new age nowadays, that’s why I don’t really knock companies like Milestone Media, right? It’s like I’m not a fan of their business model, how they originally started, but I don’t knock them for it because there was limited options in the 90s. It’s not like they had much of a choice, right? But to work with the industry. Social media nowadays allows us to completely circumvent the traditional gatekeepers of this space. And so we can make our own customer bases, we can get our own investors without having to basically go through the…

Manuel Godoy:
Also, big shout out to Barack Obama for allowing Regulation CF to even exist in the first place, because prior to that, you had to be basically rich and white to invest in any small company. You weren’t going to get investments from people unless you had significant connections already. And now with Regulation CF, companies like ours and even other businesses, black-owned, can actually go out to the community and raise capital through unaccredited investors, right? So that’s a huge thing that happened recently. So I think the technology, the ability to go directly to your consumers, gives people with the drive to really scale and grow and make a difference without having to basically change their fundamental beliefs in order to be successful. You know what I mean?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. And just for folks that are listening, Regulation CF is Regulation Crowdfunding. And one of the rules for that is that you can raise, I think it’s like a maximum of $5 million through crowdfunding over a 12-month period. I know that’s one of the rules of it, right?

Manuel Godoy:
Yeah. That’s for unaccredited investors. So after that you go into Regulation A and then you have to do only accredited investors, right? That’s a lot of money for most people. Companies that are raising $5 million rounds, they tend to be ready to go at that point. They’re not struggling anymore. Now they’re in market and they know what they’re doing and they’re trying to scale. You know what I mean?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I mean the advent of crowdfunding overall I think has really helped a lot of independent creators to get their ideas out there in the market. I remember… And I mean, this didn’t start with Kickstarter, but I know Kickstarter was probably one of the more prominent platforms that was really trying to build on this sort of… I guess, build on this idea that creatives can fund their own ideas through their fans and Patreons and stuff like that. But I remember when it came around 2009, 2010, it was hard to get people on board with even the idea of crowdfunding. And now it’s pretty common to use Kickstarter or use similar platforms to be able to raise money like that.

Manuel Godoy:
It’s definitely something that just gives us freedom. So I think that’s what was the downfall of Milestone Media. I think they had great IP. They probably had great numbers: sales, but it wasn’t to the liking of DC and Diamond, so they killed them, right? DC and Diamond said, “Die.” And they had no choice, they had to die because they had signed deals with them, right? And now they’re trying to revive them because of the Black Lives Matter movement, right? So they’re like, “Hey, this is a great time to have a black imprint,” right? But at the end of the day, they let them go away for 30 years. So why should you believe them now and their generosity, I mean and their genuineness for the revival of Milestone?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I just heard recently, Milestone was supposed to have like a black history comic that came out during Black History Month and now they pushed it back until June. And I’m like, “Well, that’s not Black History Month, but whatever.” But yeah, when you’re beholden to like these larger corporate interests, it does stifle innovation in that way.

Manuel Godoy:
Absolutely. Yeah. So we’re lucky that we never have to deal with that. And as a result we’re pretty much not only successful, but now we know our customers. So the big part about it is with social media is you know your customers, right? It’s not like it’s some, “Oh man, I wonder what kind of customer I have?” That’s something you have when you go to someone like Diamond Distribution or go to comic book shops, you still don’t know who the heck your customer really is. But with social, you know exactly who your customer is, so you can refine your acquisition over time. You know how to sell, you know who to sell it to, right? You know how to message. It’s all powerful just because you’re doing the right distribution.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I mean, this feeds into my next question which I feel like you may have just sort of answered, but how are you ensuring that Black Sands really distinguishes itself from other indie publishers out there?

Manuel Godoy:
Well, one thing is I don’t feel like we’re in the indie publishing space anymore to be considered another indie publisher at this point. Last year we did 1.2 million in sales, sold 120,000 books, right? And we’re just bringing online a whole bunch of new titles from our creators. So it’s going to be a huge year for us. Our main niche is history before slavery. We don’t do superheroes much at all.

Maurice Cherry:
Really.

Manuel Godoy:
That’s not our thing at all. I think we have like one superhero title and that’s it. Only because the creator has a sizable audience already, so we gave him a shot. We were like, “Hey, you a got a sizable audience. Let’s see if we can make your comic into a reality. And see if your audience will tap in.” And they really have been tapped in, so that’s a good one.

Manuel Godoy:
But for the most part, we wouldn’t try to do superheroes because that market is closed with Marvel and DC. It’s just closed. There’s no point even trying to compete with them. That’s them. They own that genre. I wanted to go for a genre that was 100% ours to own, and that is history before slavery. So mythology, fantasy, history, drama, all that stuff in an ancient setting or an ancient location or something like that is what we do. It’s not just Egypt, we have stories about Madagascar, the Mali empire, Moorish Spain, the Inca, right? The Malaysians, right? We just got a whole bunch of anticolonial rhetoric. That’s our power. That’s where we make our content, and that’s why everybody buys our stuff because it’s more of the good stuff, right? When they buy our books, they know it’s not going to be different or a different kind of vibe. It’s more of the stuff they want to have. More exposure to indigenous people, to people from diaspora and their actual culture, as opposed to the indoctrination of European powers.

Maurice Cherry:
No, I really like that. Years and years ago… God, I’m trying to remember when that was. Maybe 2015, 2016, we had an African comic creator from Cameroon who was making a… He had, I think it was a line of comic books, as well as a video game that was around African traditions and African mythology and stuff like that. And I remember him giving a similar reason as you just had in terms of like, it’s a lot more relevant to the audience that they’re trying to serve to talk about it in terms of history or to talk about history, than to create some superhero kind of aesthetic, which I think at the time he was saying was really more rooted in the west. Again, this is coming from an African perspective, but yeah.

Manuel Godoy:
Yeah. Well, that’s the one thing about it. It’s I know for a fact that it’s a good thing for us to have this stuff, right? Without nobody messing up our power. We got to have our power and people really underestimate how much it matters for us to own the narrative and stuff like that. I mean, there’s too much crap they add to our stories just to go and control the narrative. One of the biggest examples I have is the recent movie that’s probably going to be played all across America. In every single school in America there’s probably going to be Harriet coming on. They’re going to be like, “Hey kids, let’s watch Harriet. It’s so great.” Talk about Harriet Tubman, right? They’re not going to use any other content for Harriet Tubman. They’re going to use the movie Harriet as the example, and that one is 100% fictional.

Manuel Godoy:
They had a black man who was the main villain of the story, a bounty hunter armed to the teeth in the South, because I guess they didn’t just Lynch black people who had guns in the South, right? Who’s the mythical villain that’s the main threat to Harriet Tubman. That’s some wild… They get 1,000 pitches a year for Harriet Tubman films, and they’re like, “You know what? The one that we’re going to spend $10 million to produce is this one,” right? And you just got to be like, “Wow, this is probably the only one that had that situation in it.”

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, I remember there being a big criticism of that movie. For folks that are listening, it’s the Harriet movie with, I think Cynthia Erivo plays Harriet Tubman. I heard that was a big criticism of it, that the part you just mentioned about having a black antagonist as well.

Manuel Godoy:
Yeah, and it’s not even real. He’s not real.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, they manufactured him for the movie.

Manuel Godoy:
Yeah. It’s like what is that? That’s them sabotaging a very… Like to me, even my fans, right? And a lot of people, there’s a reason why Yasuke flopped on Netflix, right? It’s like, all you had to do is tell the story of Yasuke. You didn’t have to make it about mecha robots and supernatural aliens. You didn’t have to do all that. Just tell the story of Yasuke, it would’ve been great. You know what I’m saying? You know what I’m saying? It’s like they go so far over like we just can’t have history connected to black folks, right? In a positive light. We got to make it different. We got to make it more marketable.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, there were…. That’s funny because I remember when that came out and a lot of people were like, “Oh man, this is so good.” And I remember watching and being like, “Really? It’s not good.”

Manuel Godoy:
That was media hype, right? But once you actually got people who actually watched, they were like, “Why are we doing this?” They were like, “He’s not even the main character.”

Maurice Cherry:
He’s the main character there. There is like you said all these weird supernatural elements to it. And then I also think it was just too short. They tried to put too much into six episodes and it just… I don’t know. I didn’t think it was good at all.

Manuel Godoy:
And the littlest part was the actual historical parts.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Manuel Godoy:
Where there was flashbacks of his time with Nobunaga. It was like, “Oh, that’s amazing.” And then all of a sudden it’s back to, “Okay, trash story.”

Maurice Cherry:
Well, I would imagine probably one benefit of you using these historical stories and mythology and stuff like that is it takes out that comparison element. If you’re doing superheroes, for example, people might look at this and be like, “Oh, well this is just like, blah, blah, blah from Marvel.”

Manuel Godoy:
You can’t do that. And that’s a huge power to us. They can’t compare us, right? So the critics have to actually make a well-informed decision. They can’t just say, “Oh, this is just like this except you…” Or something like that.

Maurice Cherry:
I’ll tell you a story. I think I told this story on the show before maybe like, I don’t know, hundreds of episodes ago. But when I was younger, when I was a teenager, I really was into… I mean, I’m still into comic books now, and maybe not in the same fervor, but I was really into comic books and was like, “Yeah, I’m going to make my own comic books.” And I was in rural Alabama just drawing stuff up or whatever. And this is back when Yahoo had these user groups online, like Yahoo groups. And they had one that was dedicated to black comic books. I think it was called Black Comix with an X, like B-L-A-C-K C-O-M-I-X. And I remember going in there and I was showing off my stuff like that. And one of the people who had responded, one of the people who responded was the Dwayne McDuffie, had responded back to it and trashed it.

Maurice Cherry:
But he trashed it, I mean, not in a good way, but certainly trashed it in the way of like, “Oh, this is just like, blah, blah, blah from Marvel.” It was that sort of comparison, which honestly I was literally basing it off of that. I was looking at Marvel comic books and trying to make the Black Cyclops or whatever. You know what I’m saying? He trashed it. I was like, “Oh, shit. I can’t believe I was trying to do that.” And then I didn’t really know who Dwayne McDuffie was then. Of course people know who he is now in terms of his contributions. But yeah, I can see how not going that superhero route is a definite unique selling proposition and advantage for you in the market.

Manuel Godoy:
Yeah. You definitely don’t want to get caught in that bubble where you end up basically doomed from the start.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Manuel Godoy:
It’s like you can’t get market cap because it’s already taken up. And what we’re trying to do is the exact opposite. We’re trying to basically develop a market from the ground up and then dominate that to the point where if you make anything they’re going to be like, “Oh, like Black Sands or like this title from Black Sands Entertainment.” And it starts being like we’re the gatekeepers, right? So they’ve been avoiding this topic for 50 years, so nobody better complain at all when we dominate this space and then gate keep. “Oh, man, listen…” “Nah, bro. Y’all had 50 years to do this. Y’all ain’t never did it, so we got to gate keep.”

Maurice Cherry:
That’s true. That’s true. Let’s switch gears here a little bit. I know we’ve talked a good bit about Black Sands, and we’ll talk more about it later, but I want to know about your origin story since we’re in the vein of comics here. Tell me about where you grew up.

Manuel Godoy:
I was born and raised in New York, right? Queens specifically. And also some time in Alabama as well. Pretty cool. At the end of the day, New York is a different kind of place, man. You got to really embrace new ideas. Everything changes in freaking two years in New York, nothing stays the same, right? So that was always a huge thing for us was that times change a lot faster in New York than anywhere else. I was also in the military for a while. So I spent about six years in the military army. Just been a pretty crazy ride. Not really knowing what the heck you were trying to do in life, so I went to the military early, like right after high school.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Manuel Godoy:
And it was good for me. I probably would’ve stayed in the military if my knees didn’t blow out. But at the end of the day, destiny calls. Things changed. I did some high, big brain stuff outside the military. I was a freaking, oh yeah, a telecommunication engineer. So it was a really big brain job, very lucrative. And then it got all outsourced to India, right? This was the Great Outsourcing in 2010. Everything started getting outsourced. That field just disappeared off the face of the earth. I moved around to San Diego to get a degree. Finished it up in New York, Queens College as a economics major. And in about 2016, I finally got my first comic done: Kids 2 Kings and that’s when the actual business started happening.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. Let’s bring it back to, again, those early days, when you said growing up in New York and you spent some time in Alabama. Were you so rounded by a lot of comics and comic books growing up?

Manuel Godoy:
No, no, no. I was a big anime guy. So me and all my friends and stuff were anime dudes. So we were the old Toonami peeps watching Dragon Ball and Yu Yu Hakusho and all the other stuff. That was my vibe. Also, video game fanatics. We were huge video game fanatics back then. That was our thing though. I wasn’t really a comic guy at all. Still ain’t to this day.

Maurice Cherry:
So back then, were you thinking, did you want to start your own anime series or anything like that back then, because you were around it all the time?

Manuel Godoy:
I wanted to make a video game series, a video game franchise based off Black Sands.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Manuel Godoy:
That was always my goal over time. In fact, I tried to do that first, get a degree in video game design. Didn’t work out for me, but that’s what I wanted at first, right? And that’s what the original idea was made for. And then I realized it was so expensive to make a video game and pivoted toward comics.

Maurice Cherry:
And now when you say you wanted to go into that, was this when you were looking to go to San Diego State?

Manuel Godoy:
Yeah, because I was going to the Arts Institute in San Diego first.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Manuel Godoy:
That was the first place I went and that was for video game programming or something like that. I think it was video game programming or design or something. And it wasn’t for me. It wasn’t for me, so I switched up, went into creative writing at San Diego… Yeah, San Diego State. And then eventually ended up in economics. I did the smart thing. I didn’t do all the writing classes up front. I went to all my general studies so I could transfer over. So I didn’t waste too much time when it came to changing my degrees and stuff.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, it sounds like you were at least building that foundation, and then I think even that trial and error part with first studying games or going into game development and realizing this wasn’t what you wanted to do and then going into something else. I mean, college is the time where you can figure those things out, where you can decide what the path is that you want to take. Even if it may not suit the goal then, you’re still building that foundation, at least from what we can see now in hindsight is to where you are now.

Manuel Godoy:
Yeah, for sure. Definitely was. But probably the biggest important thing was the economics, right? It’s like I can’t build a freaking chart or graph to save my life nowadays, right? Because I haven’t used it in so long, right? But the fundamentals of economics is what led me to the success I am today, right? Because I always think of things from a supply and demand perspective. I was never trying to do things in oversaturated markets. I knew how to get my proper price points, right? To figure out… Because the thing about it is I mean, the logic doesn’t even make sense of how I do business. I avoid comic bookshops as a comic book publisher, right? I avoid them like the plague. Don’t market to them. Nothing I care about that.

Manuel Godoy:
That right there is a conundrum unless I have some kind of evidence behind it, right? It makes no sense if I’m doing that from an outside perspective, but that’s what I do. I have the most expensive books in the black community. My books are just straight up more expensive than everybody else’s by far, yet I sell 10 times more than the next person up. So I sell more units than everybody else while also having the most expensive books. And these are all decisions that I’ve come to based on the actual field. For me, from the economics perspective of this community is that black people have no problem supporting things that matter to them. So that part of it is people think that black people are all poor, and it’s not true at all. There’s a whole bunch of wealth in our community and they buy very expensive things for their families. When they do it, it’s to make sure that their kids have a great upbringing, right? That they have a legacy built for them and everything else.

Manuel Godoy:
So what we’re providing for them is really high luxury products that they can be proud of, both the parents and the kids, and we could price it out to match that and they have no problem with that. And it kind of reminds me of I don’t know if you’ve had time in New York, but there’s a restaurant in Jamaica, Queens called Margaritas Pizza. Their cheese slice is like $3.50 for a slice of cheese. Everyone around them in the entire area has dollar slices. They’re like, “Hey, these poor black people, they can’t buy anything. This is a poor community.” Whatever, right? The one place that always has a line out the door with all the black people is the one that sells for 3.50 and everybody else won’t listen to the evidence. They won’t see the evidence saying, “Just make a superior product, that people will support you.” They don’t see that. All they simply do is just focus on their preconceived notions of what is the proper thing for the market.

Maurice Cherry:
There’s an interesting word that you used as you were describing that, that I’d like you to maybe talk about a little bit more, just in terms of how you’re viewing your product in the market. You said luxury, which I don’t think when people hear about comics or really anything like of this sort of caliber in this realm, they don’t really think about luxury.

Manuel Godoy:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, I’m just curious. Talk about that a little bit more.

Manuel Godoy:
I’ll expand on that. I’m sorry. I just saw something from my wife.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh.

Manuel Godoy:
Basically, what I mean by luxury is at the end of the day, we do hard cover. We do hard cover anthologies of our books. They are library-bound. So in other words, you can’t break them apart if you wanted. It’s really tough to damage to them permanently, which is great, right? Especially if you give it to younger kids. They’re so easy to destroy things. The paper quality is very thick, so it’s very hard to crease. Even if you’re turning the pages like a crazy man, you won’t crease the pages. The art style is absolutely phenomenal, and that’s across the board in our entire company. You look at all the titles and you’ll be like, “Wow, these are all super high level professional stuff,” right? Basically we’re like Shōnen Jump. Shōnen Jump is basically the elites of Japanese Manga, right? If you’re in Shōnen Jump, you’re not going to be a bum. You’re not going to have basic stuff. You’re going to have the best content in the entire Japanese market. And that’s basically what we’re doing with our brand. And we price ourselves as such. We’re the best.

Manuel Godoy:
So people, they price what they think they should be at. I see people making comics for $5. $5 to sell a book for $5, because that’s what the comic bookshop does. But I’m like, “Our customers don’t shop at comic shops.” The overwhelming majority black consumers don’t shop at comic bookshops. They start at Target or whatever. $10 book is normal to them. $20 hard cover is normal to them.

Maurice Cherry:
I know you just said earlier, you were like, “I don’t go to comic shops.” You avoid comic shops. And I would imagine part of that reason is because of what you just said, that’s not where your target market is going to be. But then also I would imagine talking to those comic shops, that’s probably what some other publishers would do just in terms of just trying to get their books on the shelves.

Manuel Godoy:
Absolutely. That’s their only way of knowing how to sell, right? That’s the thing, they just don’t know how to sell any other way. So they use the traditional means to sell. And the thing about it is you got to deal with pricing and stuff, right? Why should they buy Black Sands for $10 when they could buy Black Panther for four? And I’m like, “Because Black Panther is not about history, how about that?” But they still… There’s that preconceived notion of what the market is. Why should you worry about a middle man when you could do it yourself? Just cut the middle man out because they’re already out of touch.

Maurice Cherry:
Did your time in the army help influence you when it came to just the idea of building Black Sands Entertainment?

Manuel Godoy:
Mostly the management side. So I’m a big believer in having subject matter experts, people who actually know what they’re doing and can handle operations without my guidance. So over time I’ve gotten employees or officers that really knew how to take things on without my help while I just do minimal amount of information to get the product done. And that has significantly helped us to scale compared to other people.

Manuel Godoy:
We’re very hands off in productions, and the people who are in charge, they know what they’re doing. They have a lot of skin in the game, and as a result, they really know what they’re doing. They learn the principles of management through me. And I might help in the initial recruitment of their team, but once that’s it, all I got to do is cut some checks and comics come out. I don’t want to have to think about what they’re doing. As long as our standards are up-to-date, right? But I’m not trying to figure out their story. If the fans like it, good. That’s all I care about, right? I’m not here like, “Well, I don’t think this story should go this way.” That is not my responsibility. You know what I mean?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I mean, I think also like you said with the number of titles that you have and that they focus even on different cultures and stuff, and forgive me for this reference, but you can’t Tyler Perry it where you’re like, your name is over the whole thing and you’re overseeing and micromanaging every part of the production.

Manuel Godoy:
Yeah, you can’t do that. You got to let people do what they want. Just as long as they’re in the ballpark, you’re good to go. Because at the end of the day, this field is completely open, so it’s not like you have to be super freaking precise, right? You just make good stories. For instance, I’ll give you some examples. Grenada’s Shadow, that’s our Moorish title that’s coming out very soon in the next month or so. It’s already done. And that one is about an assassin who’s a Moor, who’s basically trying to undermine the Crusaders. When Spain was basically… When basically European powers and the Pope specifically was trying to take back Spain from Moorish occupation, which has gone on for 400 years. So this guy who got killed by… His whole village and stuff got killed by Crusaders is now an assassin taking out really high level leaders of the Crusaders. It’s dope. It’s a dope story, and it’s very different from what you would normally expect when people make these titles, right? No superhero powers, nothing, just straight up Assassins Creed type joint.

Manuel Godoy:
We have Lion’s Game: Masters of Mali, where it’s a martial arts tournament in ancient Mali. We have all these fighters from all across Africa coming together to fight in the capital. And one of the fighters is somebody who was the great grandson of a previous Mansa who was basically assassinated and usurped. So he has a legacy he’s trying to reclaim in secret, so he joins this martial arts tournament. And it’s crazy, it’s like one of those… It’s just like Baki or something like that. It’s really freaking hardcore, hyper masculine, martial arts tournament type stuff. And it’s a different vibe, but it’s still the same thing. We’re showing culture. We’re putting stories that will be dope in modern day settings and just putting it in an ancient culture. So you can always have a good connection to great ancient civilizations prior to slavery. That idea that Rome wasn’t built in a day. Everybody in America says that Rome wasn’t built in a day. Whenever we have any type of adversity. “Well, Rome wasn’t built in a day.” Where’s our Rome?

Maurice Cherry:
Of the titles that you have now, is there one that really stands out to you as a favorite?

Manuel Godoy:
Out of the ones that are not made by me, right? I would say Lion’s Game is probably my favorite just because the story is crazy, first of all. You’re going to have a lot of martial artists from all across Africa, with their own cultures, their own martial art style that’s real. And a lot of characters that people may have never known before, but actually were real people in the old times. It’s just culturally fun. I mean, it’s just culturally amazing and while still being a hit for the parent, for the fathers specifically. This is not a title for the kids. They’ll probably watch it. The teens will probably watch it anyway, but the parents, specifically the dads, them 30 to 40 year old dads are going to be like, “This is the best comic I’ve ever read in my life.” It’s going to have that vibe.

Manuel Godoy:
Super hyper masculine, forget your feelings. This is raw. And we haven’t done any titles like that at Black Sands, but this is one that I felt like it would definitely work. And even though it’s written by Kevin Brown, it was originally my idea because what I do is I do competitions in my Patreon community and I have like a topic. I’m like, “This kind of topic would really sell well to my fans.” I automatically know what kind of topic it is. And I’m like, “Who’s going to give the best possible pitch for this story?” And then I judge them and I say, “The one that does the best, who has the best possible pitch, they’re given an opportunity to get published by us, and we do everything,” right? We mentor them. We get them the artists. We pay for their production. We give them royalties on the book sales.

Manuel Godoy:
They’re starting their career on the Black Sands all because they won a competition. But the competition has 100, 200 applicants. So it’s not like they’re just a random guy with an idea. They had to beat out a whole bunch of other people who had the same marching orders. You know what I’m saying?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Manuel Godoy:
So this story was heavily curated before it ever got a chance to start being written and this guy killed it. So I was like, “Yeah, this one right here has super longevity. This one is probably going to get to screen very fast in the future after comic books come out. I think this one’s going to be very quickly picked up as a, either a live action or a show of some sort, because it’s never been done. It’s perfect for the time we’re in now. The Bakis, the Syngins and all these other martial arts tournament type shows are very in right now. So this is going to fit perfectly.

Maurice Cherry:
Talk to me some more about this Patreon community. How did that come about?

Manuel Godoy:
Well, it’s always been something that we’ve always had. A large community. Our community wasn’t that big, maybe two years ago, but once we started raising capital, it ballooned out of control like really big. The way we give back to the community, besides the comic books that we make and stuff like that is we give them opportunities. Opportunities is what we do. So voice acting opportunities, publishing deals through competitions. They do a competition, they get in there. Early access to investment rounds, so when we do our investment rounds. Patreons and the previous investors always get two weeks or more of the exclusivity where they get to buy up as much stock as they want before we open it up to the public. And that can make a huge difference in the world when we have early bird specials.

Manuel Godoy:
Most of our Patreons are actually investors already, so they have stock. They get a 10% discount on their stock. So if you were investing $5,000, you got $500 worth of stock for free. So it makes a huge difference if you’re on the higher side of investors. If you’re investing $100, it ain’t going to matter much if you get early access or not. But when you’re investing thousands, it matters a lot.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Manuel Godoy:
And so that’s been the huge reason why people join us. The future opportunities that we give them is like the call. And usually what happens is when we’re raising capital, we have a downtick, so we lose a lot of Patreons over time when we’re at raising capital. And then when we’re no longer raising capital, and now we’re preparing for the next round, we drastically increase in Patreons. So it’s like a huge ebb and flow. Everybody’s basically flowing into the investment round, the one that wants that’s done. Everybody who didn’t make it into that investment round is like, “Dang, I can’t miss the next one.” So they start flowing back into the Patreon, right? It’s like it’s just the way the ebb and flow of the Patreon community is now.

Manuel Godoy:
So right now we’re about 1,500 members in and we have over 20,000 a month in donations. So it’s pretty big. It’s a pretty big community, much bigger than other people for the same amount of Patreons. If you go on the website, Grafion, you’ll see that in our category, most people’s average pledge is 2.50, something like that. $2.50. Our average pledge is about $14. While we might have much less subscribers than some people on the list, we still collect way more than them, even though they’re higher on the list, just because our community is in. They’re like super in.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Okay, so you built this on Patreon. Okay, I was trying to… As you were sort of mentioning that, I was like, “What platform are you using?” But you’re using Patreon. Okay. All right. Yeah, Patreon has been, I think really for a lot of artists and creators, Patreon has been a pretty good platform for them to be able to at least have those kinds of different tiers and things like that. But if you’re bringing in that much per pledge, that’s great. That’s great. I had Revision Path on Patreon for years and it was not that good. We ended up getting off of there, but –

Manuel Godoy:
The main thing about growth of Patreons is it’s not a monthly thing. I think the whole preconception of Patreon is bad because it messes up the way people should be strategizing growing Patreon communities, right? It’s all about opportunities. So in other words, let’s say you’re a video game… Video game companies do great on Patreon. One, here’s why. They get betas. Betas all the time, right? Beta access. “Hey, this is what we developed this week. Download it.” Boom. But two, “Oh, you want to be a side character. You want to write a line for certain characters who’s a side character in the story. You want to write a paragraph, right? Submit your stuff.”

Manuel Godoy:
People are getting opportunities to be a part of the production all the time, which is why those communities grow so fast, because they’re saying, “Hey, next week we’re going to be getting some designs. We’re going to put some Patreons in the community into the game. If you’re active at this date, you’ll be able to apply.” And then people flood in, right? Because they want their opportunity to shine. Or, “We’re about to have voice acting for our thing. We’re about to do some casting. It’s going to start on January 1st. So if you’re a Patreon on January 1st, you’ll be able to apply,” right? Don’t even do no open casting, just straight up only Patreon casting. Boom, hundreds of people sign up.

Manuel Godoy:
This is the way to get… Converting people to sign up on Patreon is super freaking hard. So you got to give them a very high incentive to do the first month. They’ll stick around. About 60% of all the people who sign up for some kind of special event even if they don’t make it. About 60% will stay long term. So 40% will die off pretty quickly when they don’t get the job or whatever the heck opportunity is happening. But about 60% will stay because they see that there’s always a new opportunity is coming eventually.

Manuel Godoy:
That’s the idea. Pump and… It’s not pump and dump. It’s pump and freaking like pump and hold. There you go. Pump and hold, right? It’s like you try to hold on to as many people as you can after you pump it. And then the next pump, you got to get another push. It’s never monthly. Some months I’ll just lose 50 Patreons and I won’t gain a single Patreon that month. It’ll be a net negative 50. So I’ll gain Patreons, but it’s not at the rate to replenish the people that left. So I’ll have negative 50 on that month. And then some months I’ll have 400 new Patreons.

Maurice Cherry:
So that’s a nice, I mean, for folks that are listening, hell, for me too, that’s a nice lesson on how to man manage doing some sort of like a Patreon type of a community like that, if you’re using Patreon. But no, that’s good information to know. I mean, I think certainly, you mentioned having this background in economics, that’s probably something a lot of independent creators don’t have when it comes to approaching the mechanics of how you build equity and build money for the company in order to do the kind of things you want to do.

Manuel Godoy:
Yeah. I just don’t think people understand that. I mean, they don’t even take the examples that are clearly in their face. Netflix doesn’t get subscribers by having a whole bunch of shows they can watch. Netflix gets subscribers because Squid Game is the number one talked about series in the country and it just came out. Because Bird Box is the number one story in the country right now and people want to see it and they can only see it through Netflix, so they sign up and that’s the first time they ever sign up and then they might stick around. You understand? But they got to have some big win to get people to sign up because people aren’t just signing up. They aren’t signing up because they have a service, right? They’re signing up because of a specific thing they absolutely have to see. And then they’re like, “Eh, might as well stick around.” You know what I’m saying?

Manuel Godoy:
So, but people don’t look at that and say, “That’s the business model for subscriptions.” It’s what’s going to get people to sign up? World of Warcraft spends $100 million on just expansions because they have to get those people who might have lapsed, those people who are not subscribing to resubscribe or become a new subscriber. They got to have some big, giant ridiculous event. They can’t just be, “Hey, we’re the number one freaking MMO in the world.” That’s not good enough to get new subscribers. It’s good enough to keep them, but it’s not good enough to get them. You know what I’m saying? So you got to have big, over the top things in order to get people to be motivated to subscribe, because subscription is the most difficult purchase in the world. They’re in a contract. So it’s not like, “Hey, I just bought some food, right? People have no problem giving you a $100, right? But if you said, “Hey, just give me $15 a month, they’re like, “Ooh, wait. Whoa.”

Maurice Cherry:
That is the truth. That is the truth. Absolutely.

Manuel Godoy:
They’re like, “Wait a minute, a month? Can’t I just give you a $100?” They’re like, “Yeah, but it’s going to take you seven months, eight months to…” “Yeah, but 15 a month though, I don’t know.”

Maurice Cherry:
Let’s talk about Shark Tank because you did mention at the top of the show, starting off the year with the Shark Tank appearance. Please, I want to know how did it come about? What was it like facing Kevin Hart? Tell me all about it.

Manuel Godoy:
He’s brutal, man. He’s brutal. He’s a lot taller in real life, and I don’t mean height. He’s a very dominant dude. And that fight went on a lot longer than what y’all saw. People were like, “Man, you should have countered for this.” I did. I did. I did. There was other offers on the table. But at the end of the day, Kevin Hart knew he had veto power. He just knew it, right? It’s one thing about you got to know who you are and what you’re worth. So he knew he had veto power, right? And even the other Sharks admitted it too during the debate.

Manuel Godoy:
Like for instance, Kevin O’Leary, he accepted my counter. He said 10% and a 25 cent royalty on books. He was like, “I’ll take that deal for 500,000.” He was like, “I’ll take that deal.” But he understood that the more we talk is like Kevin Hart is Kevin Hart. He’s saying he’s going to make this show. If he’s saying he’s going to give you this, that and the other, that’s not a normal resource that you’ll ever get. That’s like you’re saying this and he said… That’s a lot different from what… That 30% you’re paying, you’re not giving up 25% equity for $500,000. That’s not what you’re doing. You’re not giving up more, 25% more equity than you came in for, right? For the money. The money doesn’t matter at all. In fact, you didn’t even need the money. The reality was you were doing that for Kevin Hart’s specific direct involvement in all of your productions from now until the end of time, and that’s a very strong person. Plus mark Cuban, right?

Manuel Godoy:
Plus mark Cuban and his resources. But specifically Kevin Hart, who’s like a top five paid actor in the world, like independent productions and businesses that he’s just straight up done himself who understands the idea of owning as opposed to, “Hey, let’s give this to Hollywood and have them make a show.” He’s like he doesn’t believe that. He believes in owning. He’s already done all that. It’s time for him to own it himself. So this is huge when it comes to what it means on the deal side. So a lot of people look at it, they just think 25%, you got robbed. And you’re like, “Do you know how much it costs for Kevin Hart to endorse your company?”

Maurice Cherry:
Right?

Manuel Godoy:
“The real dollar implications of that endorsement.” He said, and then Chase’s like, “Hey, check out the new card,” right? When Kevin Hart does the commercial, that’s $3 million minimum. That’s $3 million minimum for, to use a commercial with Kevin Hart doing it. That super bowl commercial probably cost them $10 million minimum. It was like a 30 second commercial, right? It is like that is the reality of just the endorsement side. Not even his actual real like work. His real actual involvement in productions. So the implications is way more than 25% is what I bought.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. How have things changed since the Shark Tank appearance?

Manuel Godoy:
Well, one, we’re getting a lot more publicity. We’re getting our verifications and stuff like that. We’re starting to get that. Sales has jumped. We still haven’t gone public with the deal yet just because we’re still negotiating. But we’re about done. We’re very close to making announcements on our actual go-to-market strategy. But once that happens, that’s when the stuff will really hit the fan. We have a huge amount of major press things happening right now, so that’s going to be coming out for the next two weeks. We’re going to have stuff like that happening. So it’s going to be huge rolling success. The idea is don’t lose your 15 minutes of fame. He is like, “Get on it and keep getting the press. Keep getting the things. Keep staying in front of the camera as much as you can in order to stay relevant. Be the top story.”

Manuel Godoy:
So that’s what we’re doing. We’re lucky that we’re still capable of doing that even though a lot of other Shark Tank companies don’t have this kind of follow up, right? They don’t get on the big major shows or anything like that. So the fact that we are is freaking huge for us. We’re doing that before Kevin Hart says, “Man, Black Sands is like the best thing ever. We’re about to make billions,” right? Once he starts saying that publicly, that’s when it really will start becoming like an unstoppable force. You know what I mean?

Maurice Cherry:
Because you’ll have that endorsement and then coming from him like that, a lot of other people are just going to check it out from there.

Manuel Godoy:
Yeah. Not just an endorsement, but big money people will start gravitating towards you. Not everything has to be made by us. Black Sands is clearly going to be made by us. We want to control it and we want to own everything of it, right? But there’s some titles that we just don’t have the manpower for, but we don’t want to stop these creators who are under our brand from having their own shows. So we might have more traditional deals out there for some other IPs in our company, which makes like three, four, five, six different shows all being under direct development at the same time, all because of Kevin Hart’s HartBeat Productions and everything else. So that’s the crazy thing about it, right? Is this is about to be a black Renaissance when it comes to content and ownership because I have investors, regular small investors.

Manuel Godoy:
And this is the thing I always tell people too, if we get to a billion dollar valuation in say five years, which isn’t impossible, it’s not impossible at all. Two seasons of Black Sands would’ve already came out. Licensing and merchandising deals with Walmart and everything else would’ve already probably happened by then. And these are like really big licensing deals.

Manuel Godoy:
So if this is already happening within five years and we get to a billion dollar market cap, right? And go IPO. Somebody who invested $5,000 at my $5 million valuation back in 2020, they’ve maxed out, that was the max that the government said they could do, because they’re unaccredited. So they $5,000, the max you can give. And they gave 5,000 because they just were hardcore believing in Black Sands. They’ll be able to flip that 5,000 for a million dollars, 200 times return because that’s the valuation we’re at now. We’re at a million dollar market… I mean a billion dollar market cap, and they invested at five million, they basically are getting 200X roughly around there if they sell their shares. That’s huge, that’s real generational wealth. And there’s a lot of people who did it. There’s a lot of people who invested at the max in the first round.

Maurice Cherry:
What would you say has been the toughest thing that you’ve had to deal with since starting all of this?

Manuel Godoy:
Fighting my own personal frustrations not blowing up. I mean, online, they see my bravado, right? And my toughness, but I hold a lot back. I hold a lot of my hating back. I’m a huge hater, right? I just don’t let problem go. But I believe if you’re not a hater, you ain’t really… You don’t really care about life. You got to be mad when somebody else gets an achievement that you didn’t get, especially if you’ve done more than them. So I’m a huge freaking hater. Holding that energy back, not to disparaging other colleagues, even though I know that their claim is completely bogus or their achievements should have been my achievements, I should have been on certain list or whatever. That was the thing that I felt was the hardest thing to do over this entire time. Because you can really make yourself as this super negative force in this space if you wear your emotions on your chest. And I try to, even though people see me all the time bashing Hollywood. Hollywood’s not a person, right?

Maurice Cherry:
Right.

Manuel Godoy:
I used to always articulate things to not make it personal, not try to burn any specific bridge. So if you still were hurt by what I was saying, the main thing was you probably were somebody that I didn’t want to be in colleagues… I mean ever work with in the first place because you’re one of those people. So that was the hardest thing, controlling that, because like I said, we’ve probably been the best independent publisher for three years now, yet we were never on a top 10 indie black mangas or indie black comics you need to read, right? We never got any kind of accolades or something like that, regardless of what the numbers said. They just didn’t care. They didn’t like any research. You Google black comic books, you’d find us. So how the hell did you avoid us?

Maurice Cherry:
I’ll tell you because I’ve been doing this now with Revision Path for nine years, and I share that frustration that you’re talking about with you put in all this work and you don’t feel like sometimes everyone sort of recognizes that or gives you the credit that you feel you deserve for it. That’s just, I mean, unfortunately that’s just the media. The media’s always going to glam on to whatever the newest thing is, whether you’ve been in… Especially like if you’ve been doing this for a while and you have longevity, they really only care about the new stuff. They’re like, “What’s the new thing that’s coming out? What is it that is keeping you motivated to continue? I feel like I might know the answer to this question, but I’d love to hear you sort of. Where does this drive come from?

Manuel Godoy:
I just want to see Rome burn. Like that’s it. I just want to see Rome burn to the ground. I’m Hannibal at the gates. I always think of that whenever I think of what my mission is. I’m not here to be successful. I’m not here to tell my great story. People always trying to make it so indifferent. “Oh, I’m just trying to tell a great story. I just want to be a creative person. I love this and I’m so humble.” No, I want to see Rome burn to the ground and that means we have to have absolute veto power and control over our own stories. It’s the only way we’ll ever be able to stop Hollywood from dictating what is acceptable black history, because we don’t need 10 new black slave and civil rights stories a year. I don’t need to see the new ways of lynching people like, “Oh man, I just need to see that. I need to see a new way.”

Manuel Godoy:
“Oh, we’re about do a Emmett Till documentary.” “Yeah, I definitely want to see Emmett Till die again. That would be great.” “Oh, you know what? You know what? This black history we’re deciding we’re going to talk about the Black Wall Street Massacre. Yeah, we’re going to do a whole series on the Black Wall Street Massacre.” I said, “How about do a series on Black Wall Street before the massacre? How about that?” It was like but we don’t control the budget. We don’t control the means. We don’t control any of it. So if we don’t take that control and show that we can actually do numbers with that control, then they will always be able to dictate what is acceptable and what isn’t acceptable for black people to consume. And I’m tired of it. I want to see that entire infrastructure burn to the ground. And the only way that’s possible is if we dominate this space and be complete tyrants once we get there.

Maurice Cherry:
Who are some of the people that influence you?

Manuel Godoy:
There’s three, right? And I said this in a previous interview. There’s three that influenced me. You’d be surprised, one of them was Kevin Hart, which was kind of ironic. Tyler Perry and George Lucas. Those three people. What I respect is not success. I don’t care about success, because you can be successful and a complete tool at the same time. Your whole career can be canceled out. Everything could happen overnight because you are still a product of the system. So boldness is the stuff that I respect more than anything. People who’ve risked a lot in order to be successful.

Manuel Godoy:
For George Lucas, it was holding onto his IP rights, making moves to make sure that he never lost them. Over decades of freaking negotiating with Hollywood elites and stuff like that, he was like, “No, I’m not giving up these rights no matter how much y’all pay me.” And that made him the only billionaire who wrote a story. There is no other billionaire who wrote a story in the world. Period. Everybody who’s written a story don’t even have $100 million to their name. The creator of Naruto, Kishimoto, he’s worth $40 million today. If you believe the highest estimates of his net worth. But the man’s IP: Naruto, has brought in $15 billion, so he is not even worth 1% of his brand. Stan Lee died with less than 1% of Marvel’s brand.

Manuel Godoy:
This is the reality of all these people. They simply they’re considered successes by the world’s standards, but at the end of the day, they got robbed. They made everything. They worked nonstop for their entire lives and they didn’t even have 1% of the thing that they created. And only George Lucas was the one that ran the table. He basically kept 50% of everything Star Wars ever made. And that’s power.

Manuel Godoy:
Tyler Perry, everybody hates him in the industry because he’s going to make his stories whether you like it or not. You can say, “Am I a fan of Tyler Perry’s movies?” Eh, sometimes. For the most part it doesn’t really matter what I think. All I know is if Tyler Perry feels like making a movie, he’s going to do it. You can invest. If you don’t, he’s going to make it anyway and release it right on your freaking network whether you like it or not. He’s going to do whatever the heck he feels like. He’s going to cast whoever he feels like. He’s going to buy whatever he feels like, and you can’t stop him. And the reason why you can’t stop him is because he did all this. He was rich before you ever met him. Before Hollywood ever gave him a chance, his shows were already generating millions of dollars locally through the fans.

Manuel Godoy:
Build the infrastructure, and then these people in Hollywood can’t dictate nothing to you. When they were like, “We want to buy Madea.” They were like, “No. You can fund some of it, but you ain’t owning Madea whether you like it… I’m just not giving it to you. I don’t care what you offer me. I already make millions of dollars.” That’s the grind. And Kevin Hart, he said, “Why the hell am I going to get less than 5% of a tour or 3% of a tour or 3% of a tour’s proceeds if I’m the fucking main attraction. If the tickets are being sold because of me, why do I get only 3% of the total amount of money? Everybody else is making money off of me. So how about I pay for everything? I hire everyone. I get the venues. I do the marketing. And then if I sell out, I keep freaking 80% of everything made.”

Manuel Godoy:
He went into massive millions and millions of dollars up front. You can’t do that stuff after the show is already done. You got to book tours half a year in advance. So he had to go real deep into the red before his first show. So that’s power to me to make plays like that and just trust it. Say, I trust myself to make this happen. I believe my fans truly believe in what I’m doing. And I’m going to finally flip this industry. I’m not going to be an actor for the rest of my life. I’m not going to let people dictate my career and if they feel slightly offended by what I did, they can cancel out my entire career. You can’t cancel them now. You can’t cancel Tyler Perry. You damn sure can’t cancel George Lucas. You can’t cancel them no matter how much you care, you can’t do nothing to stop them. And that’s the people that I really respect, people who have done enough, built enough of their own fan base that they cannot be stopped by conventional means. You can’t stop them.

Maurice Cherry:
Where do you see yourself in the next five years? Where do you want Black Sands Entertainment to be? Where do you want to be personally as a business owner? Talk to me about that.

Manuel Godoy:
Well, I just want to be in the top 10 animes in the world, period. So top 10 animes in the world for Black Sands, maybe some video games down under our belt as well. But the idea is if that happens, we’re basically going to dominate the entire space, right? Because we’re independent and that’s never happened before. It’s never happened before. An independent production get into the top 10 in the world and do massive licensing and merchandising. It’s never happened. And when I prove that model, it proves that black consumers are no longer something that can be measured by Hollywood, because they’ve never seen it before. They’ve never seen somebody just do it without any of the metrics they normally would use. And that is where I would like to be. I would like to just be a king maker in this space, I decide what’s hot, what’s not.

Manuel Godoy:
And because of that, they all have to work with us. Not just me, but all the other creators under my umbrella and give us the best possible deals or they don’t work with us, period. Because we’re just automatically the king makers in this space. If you want to do anything in this space, you have to come through us, right? So that’s the idea of what I want the company’s position to be in, right? That’s the idea of where I want Black Sands, the anime to be in, right? And for me, I’d like to relax a little bit in five years. Probably can’t but it’s very intense right now.

Maurice Cherry:
It sounds intense. Yeah.

Manuel Godoy:
Yeah. But for me, I’m in my Thanos mode right now, right? I’m trying to get the stones. I’m trying to get the stones and I don’t care who I got to crush to do it, right? I just can’t wait for the day when I finally rest. “He’s done what he was supposed to do. It’s now broken. The system is broken.”

Maurice Cherry:
Well, just to wrap things up here, where can our audience find out more information about you and about Black Sands Entertainment and everything online?

Manuel Godoy:
Yeah. So follow us on all platforms: black Sands Entertainment. Manuel Godoy on LinkedIn if you want to work with me. Blacksands.com is my store, right? So you want to buy some books, go ahead and get them from there. BSP Comics is my app. So you can download a whole bunch of freaking black comic books there. You don’t actually have to download it. It’s server side. So it’s about 70 megabytes for the app. So you don’t have to worry about that. It’s 45 different titles from all types of creators. Really cool stuff. And lastly, if you want to be an investor. Investor round is over. We just raised a million dollars for BSP Comics. Our next investment round is for the Black Sands Anime. In order to participate, it’s probably best that you just sign up for Patreon at patreon.com/blacksands, because they’re going to be the first investors. And that investment round should happen in the summer. So there you go.

Maurice Cherry:
Manuel Godoy, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show. I mean your passion and your drive behind what you’re doing with Black Sands Entertainment is super infectious. I’m hyped up just listening to you talk about this. This just felt like a masterclass in how to build an empire. So I hope for people that are listening, they definitely will check it out and will get behind you. I mean, it sounds like you already have a very strong community behind what you’re doing, and I hope that with what we’re doing here with Revision Path by having you tell your story, we can get this out to even more people. So thank you for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Manuel Godoy:
Thank you. Appreciate it, man.

Joe Blau

It’s our anniversary! For this special episode, I dug way back in the archives and talked to one of our early guests, Joe Blau. He was a software engineer then, but seven years have passed, and now he’s an angel investor and the founder and CEO of his own company — Atomize.

We started chatting about the past seven years, and Joe talked about his time working for Uber and how that experience got him involved in crypto. We also talked about smart contracts, Web3, the metaverse, and a lot more. Stay tuned for the story I give near the end!

Thank you all so much for allowing me to bring these amazing interviews to you since 2013!

Transcript

Full Transcript

Maurice Cherry:
All right. So tell us who you are and what you do.

Joe Blau:
Hi, everybody. Also, thank you for having me back on, Maurice. My name is Joe Blau, and I am the founder of a no-code smart contract platform called Atomize, and I’m also an angel investor based in San Francisco, California.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. How has this year been going for you so far?

Joe Blau:
This year has actually been pretty amazing for us. I know last time we spoke, I was mentioning that I would go to Amazon and back and chat with my girlfriend. She’s now my wife. We have two young boys, and I would say that this year is probably shaping up to be one of the most amazingly in a good way years of my career. So I’m super excited about what’s been going on and what’s been kind of opened up in terms of opportunity for myself, and then also for a couple of friends and the company that we’re founding and we’re building.

Maurice Cherry:
How has it been just kind of working over these past few years with the pandemic and everything?

Joe Blau:
I would say that the pandemic has really introduced a lot of new dynamics into the workplace. I have a lot of friends that have gone from remote work to back in the office and back and forth. There are lots of conversations about what’s the right way. What’s the wrong way? Can we even go back in? Do we need to go back in? I’ve noticed that a lot of my friends are really unhappy with this disconnect between being out of the office and still trying to have this tight-knit relationship with your colleagues.

Joe Blau:
It’s been interesting to see that transpire in certain companies. And then other spaces, I’ve seen actually increased productivity where the teams already have this bond. They kind of already know what they’re doing, and it makes it so that people can really live their lives and have more of a work/life balance. For me personally, I’ve been trying to figure out a way to live in this new world where I can actually have that balance.

Joe Blau:
I can work from my desk in my house, have this balance of being able to be creative and be productive and not have to go into an office. So I’ve actually been trying to take advantage of it. My co-founder and I were trying to become more proponents of that lifestyle, but it has been tough because you do have people that really thrive and live off of this in-person engagement. I would say I’m one of those, too. I love meeting people in-person.

Joe Blau:
I love going to events. I love going to parties. I love meeting people. But I think that there’s this really interesting push and pull in the community right now and in all office spaces between should we be in the office or should we not be in the office and then the trade-offs of doing that hybrid.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Balance, I think, is something that so many folks now, especially so many working folks, are really trying to figure out. Companies are trying to figure it out because they’ve sunk hundreds of thousands of dollars into real estate that is largely sitting empty because people are working from home. So some companies are like, “Well, maybe we’ll do hybrid. Maybe we’ll try to figure out some way to still keep our brick-and-mortar location, but then also be able to work remotely.”

Maurice Cherry:
I know just for the show, we have folks that are in the advertising industry. I found it’s been really rough for the them because they’re really used to that in-office collaboration that you just really can’t replicate over Zoom. You can try. I think we’re starting to get better at it and such, but it’s still something we’re all trying to balance.

Joe Blau:
Yeah. I’m a big fan of Star Trek. So I liken this to the whole world was basically traveling at warp speed and, all of a sudden, the pandemic hit and just dropped us out of warp. Now, we’re all looking around saying, “What are we doing? Was what we were doing before actually productive or is it counterproductive?” We’re asking a lot of questions that we just were never asking before because we were all just going with the flow because everybody else was doing it.

Joe Blau:
So I think these questions that are coming up are really important questions to ask about the future of work, and every company has their own take on how they’re trying to address it.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I think also with this balance of trying to figure it out, I feel like that’s where a lot of these talks about the metaverse, and work metaverse spaces have started to come up. We’ll get into metaverse stuff later. But I think one thing is how technology has sort of risen to fill the gaps in some way. I mean Zoom had always been around, but it really blew up in 2020 because of all of this.

Maurice Cherry:
And then you’ve got other platforms that have just started to come up because of that, because now more people are video conferencing. So there’s browser-based video conferencing solutions. There’s ways that people are trying to still replicate that experience. So technology, interestingly, has started to fill the void, but it’s still a process.

Joe Blau:
Yeah. I would say right when the pandemic started, I attended a lot of Zoom weddings. I attended a lot of Zoom everything. Nothing really, up until this point, has really been a substitute for just physically being there with people in meet space, in atom space. So Zoom does kind of fill that gap, and it definitely makes it a lot easier.

Joe Blau:
If you’re fundraising and you don’t have to go walk downtown and go to a bunch of different coffee shops, if you can just have four meetings in a row on Zoom in two hours, that’s a lot easier than having to go spend half of your day walking around talking to investors, but there’s trade-offs to that as well.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean I can tell the story now because I don’t work there anymore. But one of the companies I used to work for, they were trying to raise funds right during the start of the pandemic, like March, April, May, and it was just impossible. They would try to have these Zoom meetings, and people were either Zoomed out already, they just didn’t want to do anymore meetings, or they found it difficult to replicate at that same kind of in-person shaking hands, talking over drinks kind of thing.

Maurice Cherry:
It’s just not the same over Zoom, especially when we were really trying to get a hold on what all of this was and how we were going to possibly come out of it. I mean the company is still around. It’s a shell of its former self, but it has impacted business in a big way.

Joe Blau:
One of the things that we are trying to do as, my co-founder and I, we’ve been thinking about this is we really want to see if there’s a way that we can embrace this new lifestyle because there are clearly people that really believe I should be able to work remote. I should be able to work anywhere. I want to be able to have a flexible lifestyle. So I’m looking at it more from the perspective of how do we embrace this, and what are the tools that are available for us to really take advantage of this new lifestyle and see if we can actually push this forward?

Joe Blau:
Because while there are trade-offs, I love going into the office. After I left Amazon, I pivoted to working at Uber. It was an in-office relationship, and I loved the time that I spent there. It was probably one of the best experiences in my career But right now, I feel like I’m at a point where I can step away and look back and healthily say I would rather be in a position where I can have a little bit more flexibility and have a little bit more of that balance and have a little bit more control over my time.

Maurice Cherry:
Actually, let’s dive into that a bit. When you first came on the show, which was back in 2015, you were working at Amazon as a software engineer and you had a startup that you had created called Canopsis that was working in the Internet of Things space. Now, I know you’re not at Amazon anymore, of course. You just mentioned you’re CEO of your own company now. Are you still building Canopsis? Is it still kind of in the wings?

Joe Blau:
We’re working on that for a little while, but I actually ended up sun-setting the company when I moved out work in Pittsburgh at Uber. So I’ll go through and I’ll kind of do a little bit of a historical what happened between our last interview and now, catching you up to speed since the last episode. I was at Amazon for a little bit over a year and a half working on the mobile point-of-sale application. I had a blast doing it, met a bunch of amazing colleagues and a bunch of amazing friends.

Joe Blau:
I ended up being tapped by a product manager at Uber who was actually the one that led scouting for the Uber ATG team, which is the self-driving car team at Uber. He reached out to me in mid-2015, said, “Hey, we’re building up a new iOS team out here. We need somebody to help us build the user interface for the self-driving cars. You’re going to be the second person on the team, and you’re going to help scale this team up.”

Joe Blau:
So I ended up saying, “Why would I pass this opportunity up?” I’m very big into sensors. I’m very big into sensor fusion. The self-driving car, to me, is the culmination of almost every sensor you can put into something. So in January of 2016, I ended up moving out to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and I lived there for about three and a half years, and I was working on Uber self-driving car. So we were able to launch V-1 of the self-driving car and then V-2 of the self-driving car.

Joe Blau:
The software that I built and helped contribute to, we were able to conduct about 50,000 trips with actual passengers in our car in Pittsburgh, also down in Arizona, and a few trips in San Francisco. So it was a really great experience because I got a chance to work with some of the brightest minds in the software industry and in the automotive industry, amazing industrial designers, amazing software engineers, amazing infrastructure engineers, amazing LIDAR designers.

Joe Blau:
The people that invented Google Maps were working there. I mean we had the best of the best talent on the team. So I really enjoyed my time and my stint there. And then about three and a half years in, I started to want to work on a few other projects. I started to see kind of the light at the end of the tunnel. I had a feeling that Uber was eventually going to sell the self-driving car division due to the change in leadership. So I moved back to San Francisco, joined Uber AI, where I worked on a bunch of also really cool stuff.

Joe Blau:
The team was amazing, another group of extremely bright individuals. And then right after the pandemic started actually, we were fortunate enough to be able to capture some equity from being employees of Uber, and we were fortunate enough to be able to invest that into some cryptocurrencies. That basically gave us enough runway to kind of set ourselves free.

Joe Blau:
So I was able to leave Uber in early 2020, soon after the pandemic started, and took a year to kind of explore what I wanted to do, and then eventually linked up with one of my friends that I actually met at Uber ATG, who was an industrial designer. We were able to start building our company.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow. That is quite a story. There’s a lot of points in there I want to touch on. I want to go back just briefly to Uber. I mean during that time that you were there with the whole self-driving car thing, there was a lot of stuff that went down just with the company, in general. Just a few of the things were around Travis Kalanick stepping down as CEO. There was a huge data breach. There was talk about employees tracking customers with this God mode.

Maurice Cherry:
Did you ever feel any of the fallout from those events, just working there? Was it a palpable thing that you were working for a company where this sort of stuff was going on?

Joe Blau:
Yeah. I mean I still have friends and I still have family members that are in the real world. They’re watching the news, and they see all of the stuff that’s happening. There were definitely lots of questions that I got about it. I had lots of friends that, when I would go visit them, they would say, “We’re going to take a Lyft. We’re not taking Uber,” even though I worked at Uber. As an Uber employee, you get free credits to ride in the cars. So for the most part, I never even paid for Ubers while I was there because you get $400 of free credits every month, or you used to.

Joe Blau:
So it was really tough, from that perspective. I think that whole season, I remember when that first started. It was in January of 2017. It was the Susan Fowler incident. Then there was the gray ball thing that you were talking about, where they were tracking people, reporters. There was Travis Kalanick yelling at the Uber driver. Then there was the guy in the-

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, I forgot about that. Yeah.

Joe Blau:
Yeah. Then there was the guy in India who was doing something nefarious over there. There was all these. Then there was the Anthony Levandowski taking data from Google. Then there was Travis Kalanick’s parents or his mom died in the boating accident. So there was this really compact six-month window where it was just drama every single month. We had a lot of colleagues leave. A lot of people left.

Joe Blau:
There’s a pretty fluid transfer of engineering between a lot of the Silicon Valley companies, so a lot of people that I knew that I was friends with all left and went to Facebook or Twitter or Amazon or whatever. So it was pretty tough. There was one saving grace for us, which is that because ATG was a bit insulated from the rest of the company, we were effectively our own company. We were our own separate LLC.

Joe Blau:
Because we were insulated from the rest of the company, we didn’t really feel a lot of those effects, I would say, as strongly as people that were in the rest of the world, the rest of the offices did. But it definitely had a negative impact on sentiment at the company and sentiment as a team because, in our mind, we’re building this service that’s supposed to basically make it so that you can always get a ride. The original saying with Uber was. “Push a button, get a ride.”

Joe Blau:
When you looked at the thing that drew me to Uber was actually a bunch of negative experiences that I had with taxis in a bunch of different cities where I would try to flag a taxi and the taxi would drive by. I remember being in LA and actually my co-founder at Canopsis, we were in LA and he’d lived in LA. There were a bunch of taxis on Hollywood Boulevard. We had just come out of a club. We went to go flag a taxi, and they were like, “No, no, no.” And then this other Caucasian couple comes up and they get right in and they go.

Joe Blau:
I’ve had a bunch of experiences like that in the United States. So for me, when I pick an Uber, the Uber always shows up. So for me, I wasn’t just like, “Oh, I like Uber because,” for whatever reason, because it’s cheaper or whatever. I like Uber because it actually allows me to get a cab and get from point A to point B and not need a car. I had a deeper rationale for why I would choose Uber over a cab. Now, Uber over Lyft, that’s a toss-up at that point.

Joe Blau:
But yeah, it was really tough during those years to be an employee of the company because we lost a lot of talent. People were not looking to work at Uber. Our leader had kind of lost a lot of his power to be able to be actionable and, at that point, he was replaced with Dara.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I remember those times when people were really actively boycotting Uber from the user side because all these things were happening. It’s interesting because I don’t know. Do you think Uber’s turned their reputation around because of the pandemic?

Joe Blau:
It’s a tough company right now. I think the reason that their reputation has kind of turned around is just because a lot of the things that they were doing that were interesting and kind of counterculture have just fallen by the wayside. All of their assets that they’ve owned in other countries have been sold off. So Uber in Russia got sold to Yandex. Uber in China got sold to Didi. Uber in the Middle East got sold to Careem. They’ve really offloaded a lot. Uber in Southeast Asia got sold to Grab.

Joe Blau:
So they’ve offloaded a lot of the risk of a lot of these controversial pieces that they were operating, and really it’s just become … Right now, Uber is effectively a food delivery service. It competes with DoorDash. It does have ride-sharing, but that’s not a big part of the business right now because nobody’s really traveling. So it’s a tough business to be in. And then also, you’re in extreme regulatory environment.

Joe Blau:
Either you’re driving people around, which has a lot of regulation around it, or you’re driving food around, and food has a lot more regulation around it. So it’s a very tough business to be in, and the margins are super low. They’re razor thin. It’s just a lot of optimization. When Uber was not really following the regulations, that was kind of what brought it to prominence. Now that Uber’s just behaving, nobody really cares anymore.

Maurice Cherry:
I was thinking about that as I was researching for this interview. I’ve been an Uber customer for over a decade. It’s amazing. The thing that drew me to Uber was similar to what you were talking about with cabs. I would fly out places, and then I couldn’t even get a cab to come home when I came to the airport in Atlanta. The cabs were like, “No, I’m not going to that neighborhood.” They’ll take me to downtown, which is past where I have to go.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, I could hop on the train, and most of the time I would do that. But it’s like sometimes you’re just tired and you’re like, “I just want to go home.” Uber could actually take me to my apartment, where a cab wouldn’t do that. So I think it was that initial convenience, like you mentioned, that really brought people in. But yeah. Now I was wondering that just because of the pandemic.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean yeah, Uber delivers food, which their competitors really don’t do, at least in the ride-share space. Lyft hasn’t went out and done that yet. But no, I was wondering if it sort of turned things around because now so many people are using it almost as a utility because of that.

Joe Blau:
Yeah. I mean I think it’s just gotten to the point where you’re either taking an Uber or a cab. What it also did was elevate the service of cabs. So cabs have to be more nimble. They need an app. They need to basically increase their service. So that increased competition helped make cabs a little bit better. But for me, I think I’m still in the same boat where it’s easier for me to just call an Uber or call a Lyft.

Joe Blau:
Right now I don’t work there. So I just basically do what everybody else does. I open the app, figure out which one is cheapest. And then I just pick that one, right?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Joe Blau:
So that’s where I am right now. But they’re in a position where they are trying to do a lot of partnerships and work with a lot of teams. That’s kind of the new direction is, instead of trying to just dominate the whole scene, they just want to partner and work with other people. That’s a great position to be in because you make a lot of friends that way. So it’s a good strategy.

Maurice Cherry:
So let’s talk about your current venture, Atomize. I’m looking at the Atomize website right now. It says, “Atomize let’s you deploy and interact with crypto smart contracts on chain without having to write code.” Now, before-

Joe Blau:
That’s a mouthful.

Maurice Cherry:
It’s a mouthful. Before we get into more about Atomize, tell me how you got into crypto. I mean I think you kind of alluded to it a little bit earlier with flipping that equity from Uber.

Joe Blau:
Yeah. So the journey actually started with me back in 2013. At the time, I was doing a bunch of contract work. There was a tech crunch reporter named John Biggs, and he wrote this article. It’s actually from April 8, 2013, and it’s called How to Mine Bitcoins. So I read the article. I followed all the instructions. I installed this miner basically on my computer, and I let it run all night. My fan went crazy. I ended up mining half of a bitcoin or something in this mining pool called Slush Pool, which is actually still around today.

Joe Blau:
And then after that, I just didn’t think about it because electricity in San Francisco is super expensive. I was just like, “I’m not going to waste my money on this thing,” that I think at the time it was maybe $20 or $18. I’m like, “I’m not mining this thing and I’m paying 40, $50 in electricity to get $20 of coin.” So I just left it alone. And then fast forward, in 2014, I met this individual in my building, and he was super excited about crypto.

Joe Blau:
He was like, “Oh, you got to check out this new thing. It’s called Ethereum. You got to check this out. It’s Ethereum. You’re going to love this thing. It’s like bitcoin, but it’s a decentralized computer. You can run anything on it. You can run any type of program you want. It’s like bitcoin, but with programming on top.” I remember telling him. I was like, “I’m not interested in that. All I’m focused on right now is mobile application development and sensors.” This is probably maybe six months before we first spoke.

Joe Blau:
This guy told me about Ethereum. I just totally blew him off. I was like, “I’m not interested in that. I’m only interested in mobile sensors and machine learning and stuff like that.” He was like, “All right, fine.” I nicknamed this guy, Oracle Zero now. But he introduced me to Ethereum, and I just totally passed it over. And then in mid-2016, I started hearing a little bit of rumblings, and I went and created a Coinbase account.

Joe Blau:
I was like, “Let me go see what this Ethereum thing is doing.” It had gone from the 50 cents that he had invested in at the ICO or the 25 cents that he had invested in at the ICO per Ethereum to $12 or something. I was like, “Man, that seems like a pretty good investment.” 40, 50, and whatnot. It was 50 extra money, something like that. So I was like, “Okay.” Maybe a little bit higher, 60, 70 extra money. So I was like, “Okay, this seems like a pretty interesting concept.”

Joe Blau:
So I ended up borrowing money from two of my really good friends and then taking some of my money and buying a whole tranche of Ethereum in mid-2016. I basically gave them this crazy term sheet. I was like, “I will pay you back 150% of your money in 2017 with this investment.” I told them. I was like, “Where else are you going to get a guaranteed investment of 50% return on investment in six months? Nobody’s going to give you that.”

Joe Blau:
You go to Allied Bank and they’re giving you 0.5% interest on your money. So I basically offered them this crazy deal, and they gave me money. They both wrote me checks. I deposited the money. I put it into the Coinbase. I bought crypto with it. And then I ended up paying them back in early 2017, which was actually, looking back, probably a bit of a financial mistake, but it did help introduce them to crypto because they saw the gains happen as I saw the gains happen.

Joe Blau:
And then 2017 was just that whirlwind. Ethereum went from $12 a coin to $1,500 a coin by the next year. So you have this thousands of percent run-up of this token. That was my first taste of like, “Oh, wow. This crypto investment thing is actually pretty interesting.” I was trading that whole time, but it wasn’t really fruitful because if you were trading in crypto and it was going up, everybody was making money. So everybody looked like a genius.

Joe Blau:
And then in December of 2017, that was when bitcoin hit its top. 28 days later, Ethereum hit its top. And then everything kind of came crashing down. I don’t know if this is just something innate in me, but I was already scared. So I had actually sold everything near January of 2018. So I was fully out. I had no more crypto. But what I was doing was I started paying attention to a lot of the technology that was being built. I was like, “Oh, what’s going on with these smart contracts?”

Joe Blau:
I actually wrote one of my first decentralized applications or it’s called a dApp, which it was a dog-renting website where you would go in and you could rent a dog and then put it back and stuff like that. It would all happen on the blockchain. So I built one of those, and I started playing around with it, started listening to a lot of other podcasts that are in the crypto ecosystem and really just started to pay attention to it casually.

Joe Blau:
Because really, to me, all I saw was people are making these coins. These coins are going up in value, but they don’t really have any intrinsic utility outside of the original utility of bitcoin, which is a way to send something from one person to another without counterparty risk and without being censored. So I kept playing around. We’re talking 2018. I was still working at Uber. I’m still working on self-driving cars. We’re shipping, I’m going to Arizona. I’m going to San Francisco. We’re deploying our cars in production. So I didn’t really have a lot of time to really actively manage it.

Joe Blau:
So what I would do is I would just take part of my paycheck and just start to buy slowly back in. After the price came way down, I was like, “Well, I don’t think this is going away.” So I started to slowly buy back in. And then in 2019, Uber had its IPO. So the deal that I had received from joining Uber was pretty lucrative. Actually, it was a seven-figure return from the IPO. But after taxes, you pay 50% in taxes. So it ended up being a six-figure return, which was still very good.

Joe Blau:
We decided to take that and invest it into crypto. So we just YOLO’ed all in, I would say. That ended up working out very well in terms of timing just because this last bull run kind of exceeded the intensity of the original bull run, if you were looking at the right types of products. So because I had been paying attention, I had been in the community, I’d been watching and listening to a lot of creators and influencers, people that are developers, people that are commentators, podcasters, I kind of knew where to look for this next bull run.

Joe Blau:
So I was able to just kind of get lucky and then also, paying attention, get into this crypto wave. And then what ended up happening is what I realized is that myself and a lot of my friends from this original wave all got to a certain level of wealth where we started to realize we’ve got a lot of time on our hands. That led us to start to think really more about life and about life decisions. I think it really kind of broke my brain in a good way to have me open up my thought process and think about what do I really want to accomplish?

Joe Blau:
What are some big goals, kind of Elon Musk level? He wants to basically have a colony on Mars that can be fully self-sustaining without Earth. That’s probably not going to happen in his lifetime, but that’s one of those big long-term goals. So I started to think about that a lot. But that’s where my crypto journey kind of came from back in 2013. And then it led me to where I am today. And then what ended up happening is my co-founder, I actually met him at Uber. He was an industrial designer on the same team that I was a software engineer on, and so we decided to pair up.

Joe Blau:
We’ve always been friends. We used to hang out in Pittsburgh and grab drinks together or go to each other’s homes. So him and I got together. We floated a bunch of ideas back and forth. We tinkered around with a bunch of stuff. And then we decided that since we’re both doing financially well and we’re in crypto and we’re both excited about this field, we want to make it very accessible for somebody who doesn’t know anything about crypto, somebody who doesn’t know anything about smart contracts, to be able to build one of these things and put it on the blockchain and retain ownership. That’s kind of what we’re focused on right now.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean it sounds like you really learned about this in a really smart way, which is you had been in the game really kind of learning and studying for a long time, since 2013. You didn’t just jump right into it after, I don’t know, buying stocks after Reddit recommendations or something, but you’ve been in there for a while and was able to kind of see the ebb and flow and see how things go and then find the right time to really get in. With that, you’ve started this business to help other folks get in.

Joe Blau:
Yeah. I think for us, what we’re really focused on is I think there’s a key thing about crypto, which it’s a lot of things to a lot of people. There’s NFTs. There’s tokens. There’s metaverse. There’s DAOs. There’s all these words that can get floated around. But I think fundamentally what crypto provides is a contrast to the existing system that we’ve kind of been grown up and raised in if you’ve been around the internet from basically after the 2000 dot-com crash until now, which is there will be a website, fill in the name of big website dot com.

Joe Blau:
They will create a database, and they will entice you to get on that database somehow, some way. What happens is you have these network effects, which the more people that are on that website in their database, the more people want to go to that website and get in their database. So you’ve got Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Google, Apple. They all have the same kind of network effects. So what happens is these services get to a certain level of scale where you start to realize that if you’re a consumer, the one individual consumer doesn’t really matter as much because you don’t own the data.

Joe Blau:
I actually saw this in 2011. The first company that I worked for when I went to Silicon Valley, we were a startup and we used to collect Twitter data as well as other social media network data. And then we would filter the data. Then we would sell insights to companies that were our partners. We had Bentley was one of our partners and a bunch of high-level … Apple was one of our partners. So we would sell them information about what’s happening on Twitter.

Joe Blau:
Well, once Twitter realizes, hey, there’s a business here, twitter wants to roll that into their business. So they just cut off the pipeline. Twitter had this service called a Firehose. They just stopped the Firehose. And then they just run the Firehose internally. They build this business internally. They sell ads internally. And then they use that as a revenue generator internally.

Joe Blau:
So there’s this kind of push and pull between this open source ecosystem of people that are developers and that are creative and that are actually contributing to the platform and the internal team that is trying to make money any way, shape, or form to return the fund for the investors. You started to see this more and more often on the developer side from 2010 until it’s still actually going on now, where with Facebook, there was the whole App.net controversy where somebody wanted to build an app store for Facebook using Facebook’s API.

Joe Blau:
Facebook said, “No, we’re building that ourselves, and that violates our terms of service.” So they had to make something else. They made a different social network. There are tons of examples of this where somebody builds a platform. They build these APIs to allow you to integrate. But as soon as they find that somebody else is building something that has value, they cut that integration off, and then they just build it internally. The reason they’re allowed to do that is because of the network effects. They own all the data.

Joe Blau:
The contrast to what crypto does is crypto tries to take that same database, but instead of the database being inside Facebook or Google or Twitter or Amazon, the database is on everybody’s computer. So everybody has access to the data. And then it becomes a game of, or not a game, it becomes a challenge of how do you build the experience that solves the person’s problem? It’s kind of the Y Combinator’s slogan of make something people want. How do you make the thing that people want?

Joe Blau:
If you make this product or service that performs the job better than the competitor’s product or service, where you both have access to the same data, that makes it a more equitable playing field. So the thing that I like about crypto, and this is just all in theory. This could all be invalidated tomorrow for all I know. But right now, there’s an equal playing field where everybody has access to the same view into the data. Really, you as a creator or you as an engineer or you as a developer, you are just kind of like a deejay where you get to curate the songs.

Joe Blau:
You’re like, “Today, we’re playing house music,” or, “Today, our site plays house music, or our site plays hip hop, or our site plays jazz, or our site plays classical.” You get to curate that data and build your community around that curated experience. So we want to help people build products that can be put online. And then we think that as we start helping people get their things online, their software, their products, their smart contracts, it will allow them to then have other services that other people build that we don’t control, make their experience even more customized and even better just for their community or whatever they want to build.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, where does the smart contract come into play? Why is it important to have that?

Joe Blau:
If we go back to the beginning of bitcoin, bitcoin is a way for me to send you some value, basically like a token, the bitcoin, a way for me to send it from myself to you without having somebody else be able to stop the transaction. The challenge is it’s just a value. Think of it like a dollar. I’m just sending you a dollar or sending a dollar back. What people learned early on is that a lot of times value is attached to some sort of condition.

Joe Blau:
I want you to have this money after you rake my yard, or I want to give you this money after the stock price goes to $50, or I want to release this money after these six things are accomplished at this speed or whatever. So the smart contract piece is just adding logic to the value transfer. So this is what’s created this crazy ecosystem in crypto because people are trying to add all types of crazy logic to value.

Joe Blau:
Economics is the study of value of how goods and services are transported and how they generate value. When you look at crypto, crypto kind of gives you a playground to actually test out these theories. So I could write something that says, “Okay, Maurice, I’m going to give you 100 JOE tokens today. And then tomorrow, I’m going to give you another 100. And then the day after that, I’m going to give you another 100. And then the day after that, I’m going to give you another 100.”

Joe Blau:
I’m just going to keep doing that forever. As long as you have access to your wallet, my program will keep giving you 100 JOE tokens. You can deploy that onto a blockchain and see what happens. Will that eventually reach some value? Would you eventually say, “Oh, I have a billion of these, let me give these to somebody else?” Now two people have these tokens, but you’re still the only one getting paid those tokens. Does that eventually form a market or a marketplace?

Joe Blau:
Do people eventually start to say, “Oh, there’s actually value, I can actually use these things as a way to barter back and forth for some other asset or for some other thing that’s in the real world?” So you basically end up with the social consensus, which looks a lot like money, but it’s written in a way that the rules are written in code and they effectively can’t be changed.

Maurice Cherry:
Like you said, it’s all on the blockchain. So it’s decentralized, but it’s a way where … Well, I don’t know. I guess I’m still trying to wrap my head around smart contracts and NFTs and everything like that. I want to get more people on the show this year that can really explain it because I see it now, all of this being really the next generation of where the web is going to go. I’m saying last month because we’re recording in January.

Maurice Cherry:
But back in December, I attended a conference about the metaverse in the metaverse. They had people talking about all the different considerations, like interoperability and scalability and commerce. There were so many considerations and things to think about with this upcoming metaverse, which I think had already started to be a part of people’s minds once Facebook Connect happened back in I think it was October of last year, 2021, when they said, “We’re changing our name to Meta. We’re investing in the metaverse.”

Maurice Cherry:
And then all of a sudden, everyone was like, “What is the metaverse?” I think anybody that probably watched anime in the ’90s had probably already heard of metaverse. I don’t know. I think it was probably on VR Troopers or Sailor Moon or something probably. But they’ve heard of that concept, but not necessarily what it meant in the real world. So it was something that I think was part of people’s general mindset saying, “Well, I don’t want to be part of the metaverse.”

Maurice Cherry:
But after I attended that conference, what stuck out to me was that this is the next step. I could see this being potentially the next digital divide because people are putting a ton of money and resources and time into really building whatever this next massive infrastructure is. There’s so many people that are just like, “I don’t want any part of it.” But it feels like the velocity at which we are approaching this is rapidly increasing. So I want to try to learn more about it to try to see where I can fit in with all this stuff.

Joe Blau:
Yeah. I guess for me, I kind of separate metaverse and crypto into two separate buckets. For me, the metaverse is the next evolution of AR/VR. AR/VR is a technology that was invented in I think the late ’80s, and they’ve slowly been incrementally trying to push it and make it a reality. This is very similar to self-driving. One of the reasons why I worked at Uber and I went to Pittsburgh is because Carnegie Mellon, they had a self-driving car in 1989 called ALVINN that was able to kind of do some basic navigation. They were one of the pioneers of helping make self-driving a reality.

Joe Blau:
So I got to learn from some of the best of the best that invented a lot of the processes for self-driving. So you’ve got this technology vertical, self-driving cars. We don’t have the human-level self-driving car yet, but we’re on our way towards that progress, and that’s something that started in the ’80s. VR/AR is the same thing. It started in the ’80s. We’re trying to get to that point where we have compute and screens and comfort and battery power that can make this experience good or good enough that you will feel comfortable immersed in this environment, so that your neck doesn’t hurt, so that you don’t get dizzy, so that it feels as realistic as possible.

Joe Blau:
That’s another vertical that’s kind of being developed in what I would say is the newest incarnation, which is the metaverse. And then you’ve got crypto. Crypto is really about censorship resistance and reducing counterparty risk. Earlier, you were asking about what is a smart contract. If you just think about a regular contract in real life, you go rent a car at Avis. They give you a piece of paper, and you sign your name on it. When you sign your name on it, you’re agreeing to all of the words that are in that paper.

Joe Blau:
If I crash it, I’m going to have my insurance pay for it or whatever. It doesn’t have any of these dents or these dings. That’s what you’re agreeing to. Now, that contract is adjudicated by some legal entity, probably a judge. So if you violate that contract, there’s going to be somebody that’s going to say, “Oh, Maurice, he borrowed this car. It didn’t have any scratches. I don’t know what happened. But all of a sudden, there’s a big scratch on the driver’s side door.” You have to pay whatever the contract stipulates in the contract.

Joe Blau:
So if you just take all that logic that we just said, if car gets scratched, you have to pay X amount of dollars, if this thing doesn’t do this, then you have to do this. You write that in code, just like I would say, “If this happens, then do this.” You would write that in code. And then you can deploy that code into a database that everybody in the world has access to read and see. That’s pretty much what the smart contract is.

Joe Blau:
So the NFT, or a non-fungible token, is a contract that specifies that there is effectively only one of these. Fungibility is this concept in economics that means that if I have something, the one thing that I have is no different than the one thing you have. So the best way to explain it is if I have 10 $1 bills and you have 10 $1 bills and somebody picks up all of them and then they redistribute them and they give you 10 new ones and they give me 10 new ones, you’re not going to say, “I want the one with serial number that ends in 05 because that was mine,” because dollar are fungible, which means I can exchange my dollar for your dollar or your dollar for my dollar and it doesn’t matter. They’re exchangeable equally.

Joe Blau:
Non-fungible means if I have a dollar, my dollar is special and your dollar is not. So that’s when you get into things like trading cards or Beanie Babies or pet rocks, things that have a unique value. If I have a special anime card or special Magic: The Gathering card and you don’t have that Magic: The Gathering card, that’s non-fungible. I can’t just give you mine and you’ll give me any other one back. So these non-fungible tokens are representations of unique items.

Joe Blau:
The way that they’re defined is in what’s called a smart contract. This item only exists and is only owned by this one person, for example.

Maurice Cherry:
Gotcha. Gotcha. Okay, I get it. I understand. Okay. Thank you so much for that explanation.

Joe Blau:
There’s a lot of economic theory. There are a lot of disciplines that all merge in together to form crypto. You really have to be multidisciplinary, which I was not before I started learning about all this stuff. You really have to learn a lot to try to fit your into what is actually going on in crypto.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, where do you see, I guess, Web3 with all of this? I keep hearing Web3 being called the technological evolution of the internet.

Joe Blau:
Yeah. So Web3, it’s funny because, as a software engineer, I’m always thinking like, “Okay, what is the most basic thing?” Web3 is a library that was created that literally all it does is let you interact with this blockchain. So this database that is this ever-growing database that everybody has access to, Web3 is just a library that lets you read and write from that database. Now, what’s happened is that term has been co-opted to be everything involving crypto.

Joe Blau:
So Web3 means smart contracts. It means dApps. It means Solana. It means means everything. It means bitcoin. Everything kind of falls into this Web3 umbrella. The mantra behind Web 3.0 is that we’re going to create a new internet that is not owned by Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, but it’s owned by the people. That is the charge. The way that the people can own the internet is because of what I mentioned earlier. When you create the smart contract and you deploy the smart contract on the blockchain, you own the contract.

Joe Blau:
There’s nobody else that can go in and take custody of the contract. That design is the genius invention that bitcoin created, but it just created it for money basically, for value. When you own your bitcoin, nobody can just come take it from you. You have to basically give it to somebody else. There’s no way for somebody to take your bitcoin. You have to voluntarily give it to somebody. Now, a judge can say, “Hey, you violated this law and you owe us XYZ dollars in bitcoins. If you don’t pay this fine, then you’ll go to jail or whatever.” And then you can hand it over.

Joe Blau:
But there’s no way that they can just go into your account and pull the bitcoin out. You have to hand it over. This Web3 concept just takes that version of you have to give over your bitcoin to you have to give over anything you create in Web3. So I mean you can obviously get tricked out of it. There’s a lot of people that are getting scammed and hacked because a lot of the tooling is not amazing. But effectively, you have to give something away. Nobody can take anything from you.

Joe Blau:
That’s the whole concept behind this Web3 movement. We’re building a version of the internet where Facebook doesn’t get to block your account or Twitter doesn’t get to revoke your developer access or YouTube doesn’t get to take down your video because they thought that this looks very similar to another video even though you did all the work and recreated and remastered and built everything yourself. We’re building a version of the internet where you own your stuff.

Joe Blau:
And then you have to go through the regular legal process. If in the real world, something happens that violates a law, there’s a legal process that you go through. It’s the same thing in crypto. Mt. Gox lost a bunch of people’s money. They did a bunch of shady stuff. They went through a legal process. They got their bitcoin confiscated, and they went through the regular process that anybody who did anything shady would go through.

Joe Blau:
So it kind of just slows down this network effect process of aggregating data, aggregating user information, and then being able to use that to rent, seek, and kind of take over and start to build this vertically-integrated, monopoly-style business.

Maurice Cherry:
So for people that are listening to this now and, hopefully, folks are listening to this and they’ve been able to wrap their head around these concepts. How can folks start getting involved with smart contracts and Web3? Because it sounds like these are, as you’ve described them, they’re kind of different entry points, but still somewhat related.

Joe Blau:
Yeah. I mean there are a lot of resources. It’s very difficult for me to point to good resources because lots of people have lots of takes on it. I would liken this to the internet in 1997, ’98, where everything looks like a great idea. Pets.com looks like a great idea. Webvan looks like a great idea. All these things look like great Ideas. Maybe when you fast forward 20 years, while Pets.com failed, Amazon now has a pet store as a sub domain of their website, and it’s effectively what pets.com’s vision was. It’s just 20 years later.

Joe Blau:
So these ideas may be working, but it’s very hard to really find great information. Maybe I should build some sort of resource. I mean there’s a gentleman by the name of Jameson Lopp who really organizes a lot of great information around bitcoin. He has a great website, if you just search for Jameson L-O-P-P. I think it’s lopp.net or something like that. He has a great resource that kind of encapsulates a lot of information about bitcoin.

Joe Blau:
I think bitcoin is a good place to start learning because it’s a very confined space in terms of what bitcoin can actually do. Because once you start getting out of this bitcoin space, everything gets very crazy and very wild very quickly. It’s just the stuff that people are doing, no financial economics book would have ever predicted this, ever. It’s like the wild, wild west of finance right now.

Maurice Cherry:
I’m glad you made that analogy to the early days of the web because that’s really how I see a lot of the activity right now going on with the metaverse. Calling back to this conference that I had went to, there was one session. I’ve told this story on the podcast before, but there was this one session I went in where this guy was showing off digital land in a metaverse that he was a part of. He had on this NFT suit.

Maurice Cherry:
He’s like, “I can walk into this NFT, and look at how it changes.” He’s saying like, “You all should really see this.” We’re like, “Okay, fine, whatever.” It was just like walking around in VR space or whatever. He’s like, “All these plots of digital land are available. If it anybody’s interested, we can go ahead and start the bidding.” Someone bought a plot of land inside of this virtual world. It was a 300 square meter plot for $10,000, just bought it right on the spot.

Maurice Cherry:
In my mind, I’m like, “What are you going to use that for?” I guess you could build something on it, I guess, in this particular metaverse world that you can have people come to. But it had me thinking about The Million Dollar Homepage and how people were buying up little pixels just to be on this one page to stake their claim and say, “Ha, I was a part of the internet at this time when it happened.” It is very much like the wild, wild west, all of this, because it’s not regulated.

Maurice Cherry:
People are doing all kinds of just wild … I mean we’re using these adjectives wild, and crazy, but it’s really kind of mind-boggling just how much is going on with a lot of this stuff. It feels like history is being written every day when it comes to these things. It’s unprecedented. Yeah. Like you said with the analogy about the economics book, no one could have seen any of this stuff really actually, possibly happening, and now it is happening.

Joe Blau:
Yeah. I think about the whole NFT space because a lot of people have a bunch of different takes on it. Some people are like, “Why would anybody buy a JPEG online that you could just copy and download?” I’m not very big into art collecting or lots of mechanical stuff. I used to really be into mechanical watches, but right now I just wear an Apple Watch. It tells the time perfectly. Mechanical watches have drift. They’re effectively, to me, just jewelry right now.

Joe Blau:
But there are people that they buy things because of the story. Human beings are creatures of story. I’m sure, as you’ve been going through the podcast and having these conversations, really what people get captivated by are the story. If you just see a CryptoPunk and you’re like, “Oh, this is just an eight-bit image that’s not really that nice,” that’s one story you can tell yourself.

Joe Blau:
But there’s another story, which is this CryptoPunk was one of the first ones that got minted. I got it gifted to me. And then it was sold to this other person who was a prolific artist who then sold it to Gary Vee, and now this is Gary Vee’s CryptoPunk. Now there’s a story. There’s this narrative that flows from what this thing represents. People love to buy stories. When you watch football or you watch anything, it’s all about the story.

Joe Blau:
Formula 1 was boring to a ton of people until Netflix made that Formula 1 show with all the story about what’s actually going on behind the scenes, who’s got problems with whom, who’s getting fired, who’s getting hired. It’s just a story. I think a lot of what NFTs are about right now and what’s really captivating is a lot of these stories. Somebody just stole $20 million worth of NFTs. That’s a classic heist story that people love to read.

Joe Blau:
This kid who was 12 years old is now a multi-millionaire because he created this little NFT collection, and he became a multi-millionaire off of it. That’s the rags to richest story. People love to hear those stories. So a lot of what I see in NFTs is really just a reflection of what happens in the real world. It’s just that it’s being accelerated because we’ve got the internet. We’ve got this technology that really allows us to push this narrative a lot faster.

Joe Blau:
A bunch of bloggers and a bunch of YouTubers can come up and tell the story super quickly instead of having to syndicate it through a newspaper network that takes a day to turn over and whatever. So I think that the story is really what is driving a lot of what’s going on in the crypto space and especially in the NFT space. From that perspective, I get it because I love stories. I love watching movies. I got into the Formula 1 thing just like a lot of my friends did after watching the story behind all the people.

Joe Blau:
Now I know everybody’s name. I know who’s got problems with whom, who started off at what racing firm and went over here and got downgraded to here or got demoted to this team and whatever. So what people are building with these NFTs are really just stories, and people will pay unlimited amounts of money for a great story.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow. That’s a great way to put it. Now that I think about it, especially a lot of the talk I’ve seen around NFTs, people just starting to sort of get into them and are making astronomical amounts of money. But then even ones, like people that are buying these NFT art pieces and such, which I watched the video, I think it was the other day, that was like, “Why is most of the NFT art so ugly?” That had me thinking about, well, is this an opportunity for some designers to try to find a way to make their way into the NFT space?

Maurice Cherry:
I know a few Black NFT artists that I’m really trying to get to come on here to really talk about how this is working for them. But yeah, I totally, totally understand what you mean about people buying the story. That makes a ton of sense to me.

Joe Blau:
Yeah. I have a few friends. This is also to this whole story thing. Back in mid-2017, the CryptoPunks people reached out to them and they said, “Hey, we’re going to give you 26 CryptoPunks.” Because of the influx of growth in crypto in 2017 where everything looked like a scam, and there was 100 coins coming out a day, these guys were like, “Nah.” They just ignored it. And then a few months ago, they went back to look through their emails just to see if anything had come from Larva Labs.

Joe Blau:
They saw that they had an opportunity to have 26 CryptoPunks. What’s the floor on CryptoPunks right now, $250,000 or something like that, some crazy number? So they would have been done. But this is also part of the story, right, the opportunity that I missed. All of these little things are all parts of you can watch any movie or any Disney show or whatever. They’re all parts of these stories where people love to just kind of tell these stories. That’s really what I think a lot of what’s going on is about.

Joe Blau:
It’s really about these stories, the legality. Do you really own this or not? The rags to riches, the heist, the clones, the fakes, there’s all these like, “Oh, I took this NFT and I turned everybody that was facing to the right, I made them face to the left,” and then the controversy around that. So there’s all these things that are really just that narrative. I think that’s really what’s selling with a lot of NFTs. We’ve had this since the dawn of time. We’ve been making stories about stuff and selling stories forever.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, yeah. Good point. Really good point. What does success look like for you at this point in your career?

Joe Blau:
I feel like I’m in an interesting and very privileged space right now just because last time we spoke you asked me, “Are you at the top of your game?” I was like, “No, not even close.” I didn’t even hesitate to say, “Not even close.” I think by working at Amazon with the amazing people that I was able to work with, by working at Uber with the amazing people that I was able to work with, by getting access to a lot of really high-quality individuals in Silicon Valley through angel investor networks and through just socializing, I feel like I’ve gotten to a point where I would still not say I’m at the top of my game, but I feel like I know what I’m shooting for right now. I know where my stride is.

Joe Blau:
One of the things that happened actually right before the pandemic, so late 2019, really soon after I sold all my Uber stock and bought all this crypto, my brother and I actually went back to West Africa, which is where my mom’s from, in Sierra Leone. We get to West Africa. We land. And then my mom wanted to take us to the village and the house that she grew up in. So we ended up getting a car. It takes forever. It’s not that far if you were in the United States and you were driving on a highway. But in Africa, it’s a five-hour trip that should be an hour.

Joe Blau:
So we finally get to this village. On our way there, we saw a bunch of these signs. It’s hilarious because they have all these cities there called … They have a New York there. They have a New London. Yeah, it’s funny. There’s all these little town names. You would never even think about this. A joke that my brother and I, as we were leaving the town where my mom was born and raised and grew up, my brother and I were like, “We should start our own city called New Atlanta, and start it in Africa and build the city.”

Joe Blau:
If we were going to design a city that we wanted to be successful and build it somewhere in West Africa, what would we build? Where would we build it? It was just a joke at the time. But I’ve been thinking about it a lot recently in terms of the type of … I know there are lots of other famous people. I think Akon is building a city, and I think Kanye West is building a city. A couple of really famous people are building cities.

Joe Blau:
But one of the things that I’m really excited about is science, engineering, the STEM fields or STEAM fields, science, technology, engineering, art, and math. One of the things that I’ve noticed about crypto is in, some of the communities that I’m in, I’m seeing what happens when you unshackle a person from needing to have money. It really opens up a lot of opportunity and a lot of thought and a lot of creativity to people that have skills, but they can’t necessarily create in the way that they want to create because they’re kind of restricted by being an employee at a company and whatever the OKRs or whatever the goals are, or the profitability of the company, or you have some sort of fixed time that you have to be in and be out of work or whatever the constraints are.

Joe Blau:
So I’ve really been thinking about this idea. I don’t really have anything formalized yet, but just thinking about what would it look like to build a modern city. I guess the goal for me would be … Elon Musk has this program where he wants to have rockets fly from city to city within 30 minutes. What would it be like to have a city where you could host that in West Africa? What does that look like? What does that city look like? What does that design look like? I don’t have anything working towards it. I have no plans. I have no drafts. I have nothing.

Joe Blau:
It’s just an idea in my head, but that’s something that I would love to see come to fruition. I think that through the companies that I’m investing in, the projects that I’m building, I think that I can start to kind of chip away at that goal and that vision. It’s going to take, obviously, a lot more trips back to West Africa. It’s going to take a lot more conversations.

Joe Blau:
But I think that’s something that, for me, if I can get towards the goal, just any way, shape, or form towards the goal of building that city and New Atlanta’s just a name because my brother and I were like, “Atlanta is awesome. The Black population and culture there is amazing. So we’ll just build a new one.” If I could get to anything towards that, I think that’s going to be something that I would be really excited about leaving as part of a legacy on planet Earth.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, aside from all of this tech that we just talked about, we didn’t even really touch on you being an angel investor. How did you wander into that?

Joe Blau:
That’s a funny story. So when I was at Uber, I met … My manager, actually the person who hired me, he told me. I asked him the same question. I was like, “Hey, how do you become an angel investor?” He’s like, “Just start writing checks and start losing a lot of money.” So that’s effectively what I did. I just started finding companies. I think the first key thing about being an angel is you have to come up with some sort of thesis. Why are you investing? Are you investing to make money? Are you investing to have a social impact? Are you investing for whatever your thesis is?

Joe Blau:
And then you need to know what your constraints on your investments are. I’m a developer, so I called my investment firm Deploy Capital because it’s just like deploy code or deploy whatever. I said Deploy Capital. And then the idea is that I want to invest in people that are working at a company. They’ve got some great idea, but they can’t execute on their idea or their vision because management is saying like, “This is not a priority right now.”

Joe Blau:
I’ve seen this time and time and time again in companies where there’s an idea, there’s a team, there’s a group of people that have some idea. They can’t build their idea. They go out, become successful. They build their idea. But then they get reacquired back into some other company who’s like, “Oh, this is actually working.” So I really want to help the people that are dreamers, that have ideas, that want to build something, but they’re constrained from a financial aspect. I want to help them grow, and I want to help them build whatever their vision is.

Joe Blau:
Building a company is not easy. There’s lots of little steps, but there are lots of tools out right now that make it a lot easier to build a company than it’s ever been. So if I can just help in any way, shape, or form, give you some help on tooling, give you some intros to investors, help you find talent, those are the types of things that I want to be able to provide and just be a sounding board. What do you think about this?

Joe Blau:
So I got into it because I had some extra money, and I thought lots of people that I know are writing money into these companies. One of the things I realized is that investing is how a lot of the wealth in America is created. You put your money into some company, and then the people that are at the company are doing all of the work. You’re just sitting there, and the value of your thing is going up because other people think that thing is going to go up.

Joe Blau:
So I kind of got into it because I wanted to make more money. But now I have more of a thesis around it when it comes to the types of investments that I’ll do.

Maurice Cherry:
What do you want to accomplish this year? I mean it sounds like you’ve got your hands on a lot of different things. I mean you’ve got your business. You’re investing. You’re doing all these other things. What do you want to come out of 2022 having done?

Joe Blau:
I would say that, from my company perspective, I would want to come out of this year with a team that is the size of about 25 people. We have an exciting, growing business. I think we’re on trajectory to do that. We obviously want more partners that we’re working with, the best and the brightest in the software engineering space, whether they’re smart contract developers or React Web3 developers. We’re looking for those people. So I would want to have that be successful.

Joe Blau:
From a family perspective, I want to make sure that as my children are getting ready for life … They’re still young and they’re going into kindergarten. I want to make sure that they’re getting the best experience they can. When I went to school, I’m pretty sure most people went to school like this where it’s you just go wherever is closest to your house. You’re just in the room with whomever is there, and the teachers are who the teachers are. You don’t really have any optionality.

Joe Blau:
We’re fortunate enough to be in a position where we have optionality, and I want to make sure that the experiences that they get are better than the experiences that I got as a child. Just overall in life, I want to make sure that I go through 2022 enjoying it because this year has started off so awesome. I’m really having a great time. I’ve met a lot of new people. I’ve met a lot of great friends. I’m in this perpetual learning loop. I just want to meet more people, spend more time with people. I want COVID to be over so I can go back and hang out with people in the real world.

Joe Blau:
I just want to be able to really enjoy life the way I was enjoying it before, but with a little bit more freedom and a little bit more optionality to celebrate and do things that I want to engage in. And then just meet more people, make more friends, build a business with my friends. People that are looking for help, I want to help them build their businesses and build their dreams as well.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, just to kind of wrap things up here, where can our audience find out more information about you and your work and everything that you’re doing online?

Joe Blau:
Yeah, for sure. The company that I’m founding is called Atomize, and we are atomize.xyz. If you have any questions for me specifically, you can send me a message at joe@atomize.xyz, and that’ll come to me. Last time I spoke, I had @joeblau everywhere except for Twitter. I have a funny story. I was actually able to get @joeblau on Twitter, no underscore.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice.

Joe Blau:
I traded it with another person named Joseph Blau as well. The trade was that I had to buy him a HomePod and some AirPods, I think AirPods Pro. He sold me the Twitter handle for that. So it’s pretty funny because if you look at the shipping, it’s from Joe Blau in wherever, I think I was in Pittsburgh at the time, to Joe Blau where he lives. So it looks like somebody buying themselves something. And then we just got on a call, and we did the trade.

Joe Blau:
So if you’re looking for me online, at J-O-E-B-L-A-U is pretty much the same address everywhere, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, GitHub, Dribbble, everywhere. And then for my angel investing, that is at deploy.capital. So if you have any great ideas and you have some insight that your leadership is overlooking and you think there’s going to be a great opportunity to build a business, I would love to chat with you about it.

Maurice Cherry:
All right. Sounds good. Well, Joe Blau, I cannot thank you enough for coming back on the show. This show is our ninth anniversary episode. It’s really special to me, I told you this a little bit before recording, because when I first had you on the show back in 2015, your interview came out. I think it was in February 2015, and I was ready to throw in the towel on Revision Path. I was getting so much flack from the design community and from just random folks out there.

Maurice Cherry:
I was like, “I don’t want to do this anymore.” Your dad wrote me a letter after the interview. I’m going to read the letter to you because I don’t know if he ever shared it with you, but he wrote me this letter. I have it printed out above my desk to look at on those days where I’m like, “I’m tired of Revision Path. I want to give this up.” So I’m going to read the letter to you.

Maurice Cherry:
It says, “Maurice, please accept this email as kudos for your really excellent interview of Joseph Blau. I am not an impartial listener, but rather Joseph’s dad, Robert Blau. You may even remember his having mentioned me a few times for exposing him to computers at a young age and taking him around the world as a child of a career foreign service officer. In any case, I was so very proud of Joseph’s performance, both for the content and for his poise and eloquence.

Maurice Cherry:
“This is also a tribute to you for asking him the kinds of questions that would get him to make the many intelligent comments that he made over the course of the interview. I was especially pleased with the discussion that success is not usually an accident or God given, but rather the product of hard, painstaking work. His time at Virginia Tech brought out those qualities in him, and life has continued to teach him this lesson over and over.

Maurice Cherry:
“As you noticed and pointed out, he is already successful, but has his sights set on even greater levels of success. So thanks for doing a great job as interviewer and maybe, in the process, giving Joseph the kind of exposure that will help build his corporate brand.”

Joe Blau:
That’s amazing. I love my dad because he has a lot of heart. I always notice that when I hang around with him. He has been a pioneer and really a great inspiration to me just in all the things that he’s done, whether it’s work ethic or just integrity, character. I really appreciate him sharing that with you and I also appreciate hearing it because him and I, we’re very close. So I think that it’s an amazing letter. I’m glad that it’s an inspiration that kind of keeps you going.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. It came at a time, I mean I was really set to give this up. And then that very next month, I was at South by Southwest and I presented this talk I did called Where are the Black Designers? And then that just completely skyrocketed my career. It skyrocketed this podcast. I don’t know if I would have done that if I hadn’t have gotten that push from your dad writing to say, “You’re doing a great job. Keep it up.”

Maurice Cherry:
So thanks to you. Thanks to your dad. You’re killing it, man. I can’t wait to see what you got coming up in the future. But thank you for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Joe Blau:
Awesome, yeah. I appreciate you having me. Thanks. I would love to come back and follow up maybe later next year or something. We don’t have to wait seven years between shows next time.

Sponsored by Brevity & Wit

Brevity & Wit

Brevity & Wit is a strategy and design firm committed to designing a more inclusive and equitable world.

We accomplish this through graphic design, presentations and workshops around I-D-E-A: inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility.

If you’re curious to learn how to combine a passion for I-D-E-A with design, check us out at brevityandwit.com.

Brevity & Wit — creative excellence without the grind.

Sponsored by The State of Black Design Conference

The State of Black Design

Texas State University’s Communication Design Program is excited to announce The State of Black Design Conference, a three day virtual event March 4-6, 2022.

This year’s theme is “family reunion”, and there will be over 50 amazing speakers, including author and educator Jelani Cobb, and world-renowned poet, activist, and educator Nikki Giovanni.

This year debuts the State of Black Design’s Resume Book initiative, so if you’re a Black design student, or you’re a Black designer looking for your next role, then listen up!

You will be able to submit your resume and your portfolio to the Resume Book, along with your institution of study and major if you’re a student, and recruiters and employers will have access to it before the event. If you’re interested and you want to be included in the Resume Book, send your info to blackdesign@txstate.edu with the subject line “Resume Book”. You have until March 3, 2022 to submit.

The State of Black Design Conference is brought to you with the support of the University of Texas at Austin, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment, Microsoft, General Motors, Design for America, Civilla, IDSA, AIGA, and Revision Path.

Visit The State of Black Design Conference website for tickets. Hope to see you there!