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!

Azeez Alli-Balogun

Azeez Alli-Balogun came highly recommended by several former guests, so I knew that a great conversation was going to happen. Azeez currently works as a lead product designer on the globalization team at Netflix, and he’s also a co-founder of Design to Divest. But if you think that’s all there is to Azeez’s story, then think again!

We started off with a quick 2022 check-in, and then he talked about his plan to work on more Black-focused design projects, and also gave a glimpse at what it’s like working at Netflix. From there, Azeez spoke about growing up in Louisiana, becoming a jewelry designer, and how he transitioned into product design. We also spent some time talking about Design to Divest and Azeez shared what he wants the organization to accomplish in the future. Everyone has the power to make change with design, and Azeez is a prime example of this!

Transcript

Full Transcript

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

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
My name is Azeez Alli-Balogun. I am a product designer at Netflix, a product design lead at Netflix on the globalization team. What that really entails is that we’re looking at how do we enable Netflix products and the content that we create to live in local markets, but also experience global audiences.

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
So I work a lot on the enterprise tools or the tools that help us create the subtitling assets, the dubbing assets, and all of those things that actually help our content become very, very locally resonant in local markets and local geographies, but also accessible to global audiences.

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

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
It’s been going really great. It’s interesting. We’re in the end of January, and it’s been incredibly productive, quite a lot of work that I’ve been doing in the beginning of the year. I’ve been invited to do a couple of different types of projects that I feel were very, very impactful. I think it’s just there’s so many seeds and so many things that have been planted in 2020 and 2021 that are starting to kind of blossom a little bit, which is both good and, also, I’m getting to a point where I need to make sure I’m prioritizing myself and my rest. I want to make sure that 2020 doesn’t lead to burnout for me with opportunities coming my way.

Maurice Cherry:
Is there anything special in particular that you want to achieve this year?

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
I mean the biggest thing that I think is really focusing on some of the work that I’m doing with Design to Divest, but really starting to produce more content or areas in where people from marginalized backgrounds, particularly the Black communities and African communities and indigenous communities, to be able to access design differently, access learning differently, and be able to participate in the creation of the world that we live in through their own cultural knowledge base.

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
So that type of work is something that I’m looking to start to really tangibilize in more meaningful ways. So I’m pretty hopeful that with all of the work that I’m doing and the projects and the communities that I’m a part of, that I’ll be able to create these platforms that allow or bring in more Black, African, and indigenous creatives to the forefront of creating some of the institutions that are going to shape the future.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, let’s talk about the work that you’re doing at Netflix. You’re the product design lead for the globalization team there. Now, you mentioned what you’re doing has to do with subtitles and dubbing. I can only imagine probably after the success of titles like Squid Game and Lupin and stuff that you probably have had a lot on your plate. But tell me more about the work that you do.

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
Yeah. It’s a lot of stakeholder management. So it’s interesting in the sense that the team that I’m working on really crosses so much of what Netflix does. It’s an integral part to growth. As Netflix grows our global subscriber base and grows into global markets, it’s incredibly important that we’re effective in the way that we localize our content as we start to even increase the volume of content that we produce, the volume of film and the volume of movies, and really trying to create platforms for different geographical spaces outside of Hollywood to be able to share their stories.

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
So a lot of the work is when you go into Netflix and you’re able to see the option to choose 20 different subtitles or watch things in dubbing, all of that stuff is work that I’m directly impacting and the team that I work on directly impacts. We’re working with linguists. We’re working with project managers. We’re working across the board with so many different types of stakeholders to ensure that there is quality attached to the subtitles and the dubbing and that if a director in Nigeria creates a television show or a movie, that same movie can be enjoyed by somebody in Swedish and it doesn’t lose a lot of the cultural nuances that represent how that content or how that TV show or film was created.

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
So it’s a heavy task because it’s very difficult to even measure things, like what is a good subtitle? What is a good dubbing or voiceover? Can we make sure that we are staying true to the content? Because when you think about different languages, it’s very, very … If you’re lucky enough to be able to speak multiple languages, then you know that there are certain nuances and certain kind of things that just don’t translate.

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
You want to be able to translate those cultural nuances so people start to really understand what it actually means to experience the culture that that film or that television show or those characters are actually situated in. So there’s a lot of really trying to figure out how do we communicate, also creating a lot of the workflows that allow our stakeholders, the project managers internally at Netflix with the linguists and the other vendors that we use in order to create all of these assets, how do we allow them to do this work very, very effectively and at the volume and scale of the amount of content that we produce on a yearly basis?

Maurice Cherry:
So talk to me more about the team. What does the makeup look like?

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
It’s a typical product team. I mean you have your designers. I lead a particular area of the globalization design side. I have two other design partners who are also design leads in other areas. I work with a product manager, and I’m in constant contact with the globalization project managers and program managers as well as vendors and linguists in order to really understand what is necessary and how to create the best conditions for their workflows to be successful in delivering on the subtitling and dubbing and other localization assets.

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
So the core team is I’ll have my UI front end team and backend team designer and me, as a designer, project manager. We’re the core product team building out all of the tools. And then we’re in constant communication with the project managers, the vendor managers, the linguists who are actually authoring and creating a lot of the subtitling and localization assets in order to ensure that we’re providing the tools that are really supporting their workflows in a positive way.

Maurice Cherry:
So Netflix has linguists that are doing the translating, I mean as they’re listening through to the content and making sure that those subtitles, like you said, are kind of accurate to the plot, culturally accurate, et cetera.

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
Yeah. I mean there’s a whole process there of subtitle authoring. I can’t get too deep into lots of that stuff because I think it’s one of the things that does set Netflix apart from some of the other services that you might encounter, the level of detail that we go into trying to create good subtitles. There’s a lot of experimentation and things that we’re doing right now in order to enable that process to be better for our members.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I remember when Squid Game had come out and there had been some kind of talk about like, “Oh, well, if you’re watching Squid Game, don’t watch it with subtitles because the subtitles aren’t right,” or something like that. Or no, it wasn’t the subtitles. It was the dubbing, I think, one of those two things. But I mean I can imagine even with a show like that, there’s still going to be some sort of cultural differences or things like that that get lost in translation.

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
Yeah. I mean that’s exactly right. I mean there’s always going to be some dissonance. We’re always testing things out to try to get it right. I think the one thing that’s really great about the culture at Netflix and how we go about designing and building product is we experiment in order to figure out how we can learn and improve and constantly improve. So if we don’t get something right the first time, it’s a learning experience for us. We take all of that feedback and use it to ensure that we’re doing better as we move forward.

Maurice Cherry:
What does an average day look like for you?

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
Average day? I try to segment a little bit of my days or my week. Some days I load up with meetings, so I’m meeting with engineers and my product manager partner and other stakeholders. And then other days, I create that space for me to kind of just work and I’m designing and creating different concepts that are related to the conversations that I’ve been having, so kind of going through the whole design process, but in very, very short cycles.

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
It’s not spending three months or two weeks or just doing nothing but research, but do longer cycles of discovery research on a particular area that we’re trying to improve operational efficiency on and then take that, summarize that research into some opportunities, create some concepts behind that, and then start to socialize that with engineering and product in order to start to tweak and do more of … I try to do much more co-creation, co-designing with the stakeholders, the engineers, and product all together.

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
That way the decisions that are being made are made with the right amount of input from the different internal stakeholders that influence how the product actually tangibilizes itself. So my typical days typically would be I have some times where I’m dedicated. I need time to intake all the information that I’ve gotten and then start to visualize that into some sort of concept.

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
And then a lot of the times, I am taking those concepts in meetings and doing a lot of co-design in order to fulfill requirements and understand what the needs are directly with both the users and then my product stakeholders as well.

Maurice Cherry:
What would you say is the most challenging part about what you do?

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
Stakeholder management maybe. The reason that I would say that is when I think about the idea of complexity, what really makes anything complex is that you have a bunch of different competing priorities that happen at scale. So being able to really clearly align all the different priorities that are happening from different parts of the process and different stakeholders into something that works, I think, is the most difficult part because I’m also constantly listening and observing what people are saying, what people are doing, and then trying to translate that down into a language that can be understood by everyone who is involved.

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
As you know, it’s interesting as we talk about language and linguistics, not only in different languages. There are different languages within different industries. There are different languages within different professions. So everyone might have a different way of communicating the same thing. Oftentimes, you can be in meetings where people are trying to communicate an idea or a concept with the language of their own profession.

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
So engineers might be communicating things in a certain way that’s different from product. That’s also slightly different from the way that the type of language that design would use to communicate something. And then our end users are using a different type of language and trying to wrangle all of those different concepts and in the way that people are trying to express what it is that they’re trying to think of in a way that everyone’s aligned on and everyone kind of understands.

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
That’s where I feel like a lot of the true power of design comes because once you start to take the language and start to visualize things, then people can have something to have an opinion about. They can have something to kind of analyze and say, “That’s not it,” or, “That is it,” or, “It’s this and this. Add this or that or the other.” But bringing life to the words that are being said by all of the people in the room and then allowing people to kind of mold what’s been created to make sure that everyone’s voices is really being heard.

Maurice Cherry:
I would imagine language and linguistics probably influence a lot of the design work in general, right?

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
Yeah. I mean just really trying to understand the nuances of it and how those nuances can be misinterpreted because, as you know, a misinterpretation of even body language or a language or just a word or a concept can have dire consequences. So it’s important operationally as well as it is tangibly when we’re trying to create the product and making sure that the things that we create are very, very clear and transparent.

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
Netflix, it’s been an interesting place working. It’s been the most different place that I’ve worked at in my career because of the culture. The culture at Netflix is very unique. As I mentioned a little bit before about the experimentation culture of just trying to do things to learn, to get feedback, and then course correct. That also kind of goes into how we’re managed as employees. There’s a lot of the idea of freedom and responsibility and then the culture of feedback. All of those feed into the way that we’re able to work and the way that we’re able to kind of explore different areas of our profession in ways that we may have been restricted in other organizations.

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
So I think that that’s a huge part that I typically really enjoy at Netflix and enjoy working with a bunch of other people who have similar mindset of growth and discovery and learning. It really shows through whenever we’re able to create, learn from the products and the things that we create, and prove it for our members.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, nice. That’s pretty cool. It sounds like Netflix does give you that freedom. I know there’s some companies of people whom I would love to interview, but they have a strict embargo on their employees cannot do podcasts or anything like that. So it’s good that at least they let you all be able to talk about your work and do other things freely.

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
Yeah. I mean it’s definitely encouraged, but I mean there’s definitely tons of stuff that we can’t say.

Maurice Cherry:
Right.

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
I walk a line a lot of times trying to make sure that … Because there’s so much transparency at Netflix and I think that that’s one of the really great parts of the culture at Netflix is that, as an employee there, the leadership from the top down is always going to be as transparent as possible. But with that comes responsibility of we’re letting you know all of this information. We don’t expect you to go out and tell the world all of the secrets and things. This is internal information that we are providing you context so you’re able to really do your job to the best of your ability. We don’t want to hide things from you.

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
But it comes with a lot of responsibility, that level of transparency and that level of trust that our leaders kind of put in us as contributors to the mission that the company is trying to achieve.

Maurice Cherry:
Gotcha. I’m curious to learn more about you, your particular origin story. Tell me about where you grew up.

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
Both of my parents are from Nigeria, and I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. So I grew up in Louisiana. I spent most of my childhood in Louisiana and went there to high school. I went to Southern University when I graduated high school for a couple of semesters before switching over to design and going to University of Louisiana at Lafayette. But growing up, I wouldn’t have thought of myself as being a designer. I wasn’t exposed to it in that way. I mean my dad was in school for architecture, so I was exposed to that.

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
But the ideas of industrial design or other aspects of design weren’t really things that came across. I played basketball, growing up. I was more interested in trying to go to the NBA than I was with anything else. But I was also an avid reader. I read quite a lot, and I did a lot of writing, drawing. So there was always that creative aspect, but I imagined myself going into medical school rather than design.

Maurice Cherry:
So when you went to University of Louisiana at Lafayette though, you ended up majoring in industrial design. Talk to me about that.

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
Yeah. I mean that was really the reason that I left Southern University because they didn’t have an industrial design program. So initially, whenever I was in school, my intention was to be a pediatric surgeon. Actually, I was like, “I’m going to study biomedical engineering and then go to medical school to be a pediatric surgeon.” That was my intention. At the time, too, biomedical engineering was a fairly new field of study within the higher education to where if you really wanted to do that, you had to get a master’s degree.

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
So while I was at Southern University, I needed to kind of create a curriculum for myself, working with my engineering faculty. I was doing mechanical engineering and double majoring in cellular molecular biology. But after a while, I was just like, “Something about this is not really what I want to do. I would love to create the medical tools and the medical devices. I’d love to design those things.” But it was just something that just didn’t feel right in terms of the education for me while I was in engineering.

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
I started doing some research. Maybe I might like automotive design. Through that, I found what industrial design was, and I was like, “Whoa. With this field, I can actually design medical devices. I can actually go and design prosthetic legs and all of these different things that I was interested in kind of creating.” That’s how I found University of Louisiana at Lafayette because that was the only school in Louisiana, at the time, that had an industrial design program. So I ended up going there and studying industrial design.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. So you kind of, I guess, looked at another way to get into the medical field then by looking at industrial design.

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. So in your early post-grad career after you left school, you ended up going into jewelry design. I’m curious. What drew you to that?

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
It wasn’t anything that really drew me. It was literally I graduated shortly after a recession in Louisiana. There were no jobs, really. It was really difficult to get a design job, especially in the South, in Louisiana. So really, what happened was that my portfolio was a bunch of … It was pediatric medical tools and prosthetics and stuff like that. The jewelry company, which had a connection to some of our professors at University of Louisiana, looked at my work and they’re like, “We really like your aesthetic visually. You have a really good sense of style and taste,” even looking at the medical tools, the medical stuff that I designed.

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
That’s literally how I jumped into jewelry design. I was interested in fashion. I was interested in design in general, but I wasn’t intending to go be a jewelry designer. If anything, I would have wanted to go to do something in footwear design at Nike because that would have merged a lot of the biomechanics and technical medical things that I was thinking about in terms of design with human performance. So yeah. Jewelry design just kind of came about. It was an opportunity that kind of came about, but it really allowed me to start to understand what it meant to design for things that were going to be worn on people’s bodies.

Maurice Cherry:
That makes sense. How long were you a jewelry designer?

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
I was there for about two to two and a half years.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
It was quite an interesting experience, but even though while I was there … This is also the field of user experience design or a lot of the digital product design, all of that stuff. That was still fairly in its infancy. So even while I was there, I participated in some things, some interface things that were very interesting. From there, after I left that company, I wanted to discover what is it that I really wanted to do, but I also needed to look at where the market was going.

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
Industrial design jobs weren’t en masse. A lot of these jobs that when you’re designing physical things, they don’t have incredibly large teams. Just seeing the digital world kind of pick up, I started to make some pivots over into really learning that particular skillset, branched off to try to do a little bit of my own freelance work, both as an industrial designer. But then what I found was that I was getting more clients, more people looking for branding and web development and more digital kind of stuff.

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
That’s kind of how I ended up pivoting or going to grad school to learn really more of a service design kind of method to incorporate both to be more agnostic about what my skillsets delivered and more focused on what the outcome needed to be of whatever it is that a client or somebody wanted to create.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s a good way to put it in terms of trying to be more agnostic because what I’m hearing, and you can please correct me if I’m wrong here, it sounds like you were just trying to find where you were going to fit in. You’ve graduated. You have these design skills. While there certainly were things that you wanted to do in terms of design, those opportunities just weren’t available. So you were trying to see what could maybe your skills transfer into.

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
Yeah. I mean I think that that’s a good characterization. I’m a person who is always ready to adapt to a situation. I have my core values and principles that I’m going to stay in those, and I’m not going to allow my value set and my principles to be swayed. But those principles aren’t rigid outcomes. They just help guide me in terms of the decisions that I need to make in life. But at the same time, I don’t create a level of rigidity to what it is that I can be and what it is that I can do.

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
Because it in the same way of when you’re designing a product or a service for someone or for people or a community, you need to allow it to be what it needs to be rather than always trying to force it into being something that you envisioned from the beginning.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, when did you decide to go to grad school? Was that during this time as well?

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
Yeah. That was during this time. I was looking at a handful of schools. I was looking at Pratt, RISD. I almost went to SCAD for the service design program because I had a friend who I was in undergrad with who was there, and he told me it was a great program. Service design’s still kind of a fairly newer field in design in the United States. It’s still catching on. You’re starting to see it more so now than it was years ago. I mean it’s definitely been something that’s far more developed in Europe than it has been in the United States. That’s just a reflection of the market and how we view the utility of design here at organizations.

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
Hearing the service design methods and methodologies, that was very interesting to me, and I was ready to go to SCAD. But also, another friend of mine who I was in undergrad with had mentioned ArtCenter to me before, and I really liked the rigor that ArtCenter placed on developing your technical skills and the level of polish that a lot of the portfolios and a lot of the students had the capacity for after graduating from ArtCenter. And then also, ArtCenter had this program with the Drucker School of Management where the graduate industrial design program also could be a dual MBA degree.

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
Once I got there, I didn’t see the usefulness not necessarily in an MBA because I did take MBA classes at UCLA. I do see a benefit in that, but I didn’t see the benefit for that particular school that ArtCenter was partnering with. So I didn’t actually go forward with that, though it was a decision that I made to go to ArtCenter in the first place because that option was available.

Maurice Cherry:
While you were there, you also managed to work on an internship which let you transition into product design, right?

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
Yeah. I did a couple of internships there. The education, too, in grad ID, the name can be misleading because it’s industrial design. But really a lot of the training was for us to be innovation leaders, to be able to come in and really understand what the business needs are for a company and help them pivot into creating products and services that now are able to accommodate the changing landscape. So we would routinely have different companies come in. This is part of the ArtCenter education where different companies come in and do these studio projects.

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
We did one with Uber whenever I was in maybe my fourth semester or something like that, where Uber was creating their Uber Air platform. We worked in groups with other students from other departments. So we had transportation designers, automotive designers, as well as interaction designers, in addition to us in graduate industrial design and worked with some of the key executives for that particular unit doing the Uber Air. Our task was really to design what that whole experience would be if we were to create air taxis.

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
If Uber were to go into this business, how do we start to visualize what that whole experience would be, all the way from understanding what the airport security type situation would be to what is the interior of the electric vertical landing takeoff vehicle going to be, all the way to really understanding the market. So if you create this type of service, well, who are going to be the people to use this service and who are going to be the early adopters all the way down to the late adopters in order to get this service off of the ground?

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
So it was a pretty involved project that took a whole semester where we built life-sized mock-ups to test out what the interior of the vehicle could be and could look like. We did a lot of architectural design and sketches to understand where would we create and put some of these what we call sky ports, which would be the airports for people to access these vehicles, designing also how would we implement or integrate this into the existing application, so if somebody wanted to catch an Uber Air vehicle. So it was a pretty involved project that spanned the scope of a bunch of different design skills from automotive design to interaction design to industrial design and whatnot.

Maurice Cherry:
Kind of sounds like a air taxi, in a way.

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
Exactly. It was an air taxi. There’s so many different nuances in terms of what that whole experience could or would be. And also, there are limitations to the technology that existed at the time, still even to right now. A lot of that technology is still being developed in a way that could make it really feasible and economical to launch a service like that.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I would imagine also even just getting FAA certification because, unlike something like UberX where anyone that has a driver’s license can drive, that doesn’t necessarily mean anyone with a pilot’s license, I would imagine, would do Uber Air or something like that.

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
Yeah. There’s definitely some technical and some licensing, piloting things there, especially, also, I mean you’re thinking about just air traffic control as well.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh yeah, that’s right.

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
I mean that’s been there for a while. There’d be some adjustments and things that would need to be made in order to allow for another set of vehicles to be in the air.

Maurice Cherry:
So after you graduated from ArtCenter College of Design for grad school, you ended up working at a couple of other places before Netflix. You worked at a biotech company called Script Health. So you, I guess, in a way managed to get around to doing some work in the medical field, even in this sort of roundabout way. But then you also worked at IBM working on products on their data, AI, and cloud integration teams. When you look back at those two experiences specifically, what do you remember the most?

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
It was interesting because with Script Health, one of my friends who’s a pharmacist, that was his startup that he was creating. I was actually working on that while I was in grad school and helping him really design and bring to life the vision of that product and that service that he was trying to create. So I won’t go too deep into it, but the gist of that really was building out a service to deal with the opioid epidemic and providing the right type of medication for overdoses, things like naloxone, to places in rural communities.

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
There’s a huge lack of access to the right types of drugs and services in the most marginalized communities or the most affected communities. And then that learning, kind of taking a product from zero to one, the amount of work and effort that it takes to do the research and then finding a market fit, pivots and things that need to happen, partnerships that need to be made and created, and then visualizing the concept and telling the story and the narrative in a way that is going to inspire and communicate what it is about.

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
That was also a crash course for me, really working with engineers as well as working with outside agencies that were taking my design work and starting to code it into something and really understanding what are the specific things that I need to communicate in order to make sure that what I do design ends up being the thing that gets created and it not being some kind of mangled version of that because there are details that I left out or things that I didn’t communicate that they just had to make a decision on, and it may not be the right decision.

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
When it comes to IBM, the thing that I learned at IBM really was a lot of stakeholder management and also a lot of leadership skills, what it means to manage up, as well as how to align people and influence people around a shared objective and a shared goal and then trying to get things done within a short period of time. I feel like those were some of the key things. I mean I can dive really deep into aspects of that, but I think those were the main things that I’ve learned.

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
Working with people, I think, is an incredibly important part of being a designer, and understanding how to do that effectively, I think, is something that it takes a lot of designers a lot of time to really understand what it actually means to do that beyond just your hard technical skills.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, another thing that you sort of created that came about while you were at ArtCenter was Critical Discourse in Design. Talk to me about that.

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
Yeah. That happened while I was at IBM. So this was after my graduate program. I still have a lot of really great connections with a lot of the faculty at ArtCenter. After the murder of George Floyd, there was just a lot of energy around something needs to be done. I’m in the design community. Think about racism. When we think about prejudice, when we think about all of the things, these institutions that are perpetuating these things, they are designed institutions. They’re created.

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
For me, in addition to, okay, well, protesting is one thing. But based off of my own skillsets and my own proximity to the type of work and things that I do, how can I start to impact or influence the change that I want to see in the world? So I started these conversations with some of my friends who are still faculty at ArtCenter to try to uncover what is something that we can do. We didn’t really have an idea of what it was going to be.

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
But through the conversations and through a lot of the things that I was talking about in terms of how … A quote that I constantly say is that, “Design is the invisible hand that shapes all lived experience.” So Critical Discourse in Design came about when we started really thinking about when you think about oppression, oppression needs physical tools and objects. It needs a physical space. It needs to be designed.

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
So when you think about you can go throughout history and you can look at what are the tools or the innovations of oppression? A noose, a prison cell, all of these different things. So if you can design for oppression, then you can design for liberation. Critical Discourse in Design came about like, “Well, what does that conversation of designing for liberation, what does that actually mean? How do we start to translate theory into action? And then who are the voices that we need to bring to the table in order to be able to have these conversations?”

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
Because when you think about the design industry, also where the Black designers is calling out is the 3% or 4%, depending on who you ask, of the people who are designers are Black. So the voices that are the most impacted by the things that are being created in the world are not at the table to voice how they feel things should be. They’re not able to provide their cultural intelligence to the institutions and the systems and the tools and the things that get created in the world.

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
So Critical Discourse in Design really was a response to that. It was really a response to how do we start to now bring in these voices and also to leave people not with just new words and new theories, but a theory that can turn into practice and really starting to understand what the connection between pedagogy, what people are learning, is with practice, how people create, how people experience and actually deliver things into the world.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, let’s talk about Design to Divest, which it sounds like came out of Critical Discourse in Design. Tell me about that. I know you’re one of the founding members of this collective. We’ve also had another member of the collective on the show before, Michael Collett. But yeah. Talk to me about Design to Divest.

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
Yeah. While I was actually creating Critical Discourse in Design, one of my really close friends who was working with part of Design to Divest messaged me and said, “Hey, do you have some capacity to join the steering committee here? This is what we’re doing.” So I joined Design to Divest. At the time, it was really meant to mobilize design skills and different designers, to mobilize those design skills around social impact projects. It was very like graphic design-based.

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
So I think part of what I was doing whenever I joined the team was really thinking about what Design to Divest actually meant as a concept, and what are the most impactful ways that we can create positive change or the change that we want to see in the world? That started over the past two years that we’ve been just having these discussions and doing projects and working on things to manifest into a version of what it is today, where we have a lot of things that we’re going to be releasing this year, hopefully, and that really talks about what it means to divest the inequitable systems that have been designed and created in the world. How do we start to celebrate and design for the communities on the margins?

Maurice Cherry:
I mean I think that came about at such a monumental time, during the summer that you mentioned where, of course, there were people out in the streets that were protesting against police brutality. You talked about the murder of George Floyd. Again, it seems like this was a time when a lot of people were really looking for this kind of thing. They were looking to hear from Black voices, but also just looking for ways that they can, I guess, channel whatever frustrations they had into something more positive.

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
Yeah. Not to say that that time still isn’t happening now, but [crosstalk 00:45:33]-

Maurice Cherry:
Oh yeah. We’re still in it very much. Yeah.

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
We’re very much in it, but it was reaching fever pitches. It wasn’t just in the United States, it was globally. Me being Nigerian and seeing with SARS and the protests that were happening in Nigeria, the protests that were happening in South America, things happening in Brazil, it was everywhere, where you started to see people were really fed up with the institutions and the things that were meant to serve them. But people were just like, “Nothing is actually serving any of us, and nothing is serving us in a way that’s going to provide any level of comfort or any level of support. It’s actually doing the opposite.”

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
So I think Design to Divest became, especially for designers, because I think so many designers get into design feeling that they can change something or that there’s some sense of positivity that they can use design to affect, but no one ever tells them how. And then it typically falls flat with very altruistic ideas that really don’t connect back to impact. It just connects back to some sense of moral I don’t want to say superiority, but just a sense of moral reflection that you did a project that did something, but it doesn’t necessarily connect back to impact.

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
I think with the idea of Design to Divest, we really want to give people a path to connect the things that they do to the impact that they want to see in the world, the impact that they want to see in institutions, and the impact that they want to see in the different products and tools and experiences that we experience in the world.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, speaking of that impact, given now that the collective has gone on now, what? I guess this will be your second year of going into things?

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Maurice Cherry:
What do you want to see Design to Divest accomplish?

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
Quite a lot over time. But I think about education is a really core thing in terms of … One of the things that we’ve identified, too, is that there’s so many designers on the margins, designers of color, but particularly Black and indigenous designers who don’t have access to any type of content or education that teaches design in a way that validates their culture, in a way that validates their identity, in a way that celebrates the cultural intelligence of their heritage towards the creation of the things that exist in the world.

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
When you look at design, the canon of literature and text that’s being taught to designers all are from European white men, and so there’s always a cultural disconnect. Essentially, what it does is informs people getting into design that you need to either erase your culture and assimilate into this culture if you want to find success in this profession because your culture is devalued or isn’t valued as a producer of good design, if you call something good design.

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
So part of what my hopes for Design to Divest is to really provide that platform, on one hand, for Black and indigenous designers to be able to have content and community to engage with around design that validates their identity, that validates their cultural heritage, and then that brings them to the table of creation. I feel like the world is a group project and, typically, only a select group of communities and culture have gotten to participate in creating the institutions, organizations, and business that shape the lived experiences for all of us.

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
I think it’s time that we create this space of ownership. I think this is what equity means, ownership and creation, and stop blocking these communities that are on the margins, Black, indigenous communities from participating in the creation and the stewardship of the world. I think that I want Design to Divest to be that platform that allows Black and indigenous communities to harness their ability to design through their own cultural intelligence, to create and populate the institutions and things in the world that are going to serve our communities.

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

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
That’s a tough question because I’m typically just inspired by people, in general. I’m inspired by culture, in general. Obviously, I’m inspired by my family, by my parents, aunts, and uncles, especially coming from Nigeria, making a way for themselves as expats into the United States and balancing multiple cultures. I’m also inspired by other designers, other creators, but also other people in other professions. I constantly draw inspiration from economists, from lawyers, from doctors in the way that they approach the work that they do.

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
I can say, as of late, too, I’ve been inspired by people like André Leon Talley and Virgil, who both passed, but seeing the impact that they’ve had. You can see that by the outpouring of support and the outpouring of responses that people have to their passing. To have that level of impact on community, I think, is also something that’s incredibly inspiring to me.

Maurice Cherry:
What advice would you give to somebody that is looking to enter into the design field? Because it sounds like, with your career, you’ve managed to really take that and apply it across a number of different facets of design and, even now, you’re still kind of paying that forward with the work you’re doing in Netflix, but also with this community work through Design to Divest. So if someone’s listening to this and this is inspiring them to want to get into design in some sort of way, what would you tell them?

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
I mean one of the most important things, as a designer, is to be curious. I think that one thing that I would tell people is you just kind of have to do it. There’s so many people who are going to have something to say about whatever it is that you do. It’s also kind of that’s the idea of design is that whenever you design, there’s a difference between art and design in a sense, whereas design is really not meant for yourself. Design is outward. It’s meant to be critiqued by the people that you’ve created it for. So you can’t wait for perfection.

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
I think I would tell people that they have to just go out and do it. But another one of the most important things, too, is that design is a very community-driven profession. I think that it’s not done in isolation. I think that that’s in contrast to the way that we were taught about design. We were always taught about these individual people who are design heroes, whether it’s Dieter Rams or Frank Gehry or whatever. They’re not doing these things alone as individual people. They have a network of people. They’re talking to people.

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
They are influenced by people, and they are finding different people who is inspiring to them to communicate with and also build with. So one of the most important things is to constantly seek out the people who are doing things that you find interesting and try to have a conversation with them and try to build your own communities, because that’s going to be the path forward for you finding the opportunities to design the things that you want to design, to create the things that you want to create and with the people that you want to create.

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
And then lastly, too, I would also say is that you really want to start from a place of purpose. So if you don’t really have a purpose yet or you haven’t identified what that is, definitely just take some time to think about it. As everything, it could be an iteration. Your purpose whenever you were 16 could be different when you’re 24 or 50. But having a sense of purpose and principles to back that purpose then allow you to make decisions a lot easier. It gives you something to filter the opportunities that come your way with something that means something more to you than just existing.

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

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
I’m doing a lot of the work that I want to be doing in combination with Design to Divest and some of the freelance projects that I’ve been working on as well. But I think more of that work, more of the work that I’m doing with Design to Divest, more of the creating the platforms, creating archives and things who are Black and indigenous designers to be able to participate in the creation of the world. Also, I mean I do quite a lot of mentorship.

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
So I’d love to be able to build careers and create more pathways for designers from other marginalized communities, including Black communities and other marginalized communities to have a pathway to create. So I see within the next five years, continuing to grow and scale the impact that I’m able to have on the design community from both a pedagogical, educational standpoint as well as a practice and people standpoint.

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
So when I think about the practice, it’s really illustrating to both the business and design world that you want to be able to take … What it really means to be diverse and to harness diversity for innovation is being able to take the different cultural knowledge systems that exist, where there’s the aboriginal system of knowledge, the African system of knowledge, and being able to apply that to the problems that you’re facing as a society or in your particular company, reframing the problem underneath those systems of knowledge, and then allowing those systems of knowledge to be able to deliver on solutions for you.

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
So doing work that allows me to bring more of those different systems of knowledge and those different diverse perspectives into the creation of things, and then on the people side of just continuing to bring more of those people who are holders of that knowledge, the descendants of African people from different African cultures who hold that knowledge or indigenous people, Native people, and providing a platform for them to use that knowledge that’s been passed down to them to design and create things that make the world a better place.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, just to wrap things up here, where can our audience find out more about you and your work and all your projects and everything? Where can they find that online?

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
Yeah. I try to not be so visible online all the time. They can find me on my Instagram, Azeez_Alli. In the near future, we’ll be releasing a new website for Design to Divest where they can check out some of that work that I’m doing. If anyone wants to chat with me or anything like that, they can always shoot me a message on LinkedIn. I definitely try to respond to people who reach out to me and might not be immediate, but definitely something that I’m open to chatting more and more with people who resonate with some of the things that I’m doing.

Maurice Cherry:
All right. Sounds good. Well, Azeez Alli, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show, one, of course, for telling your story about how you got into design. But I think it’s really important, especially now, as a lot of people are really looking at the work they do and try to figure out how it can make an impact in the world, I think the way that you’re taking your design knowledge and, one, how you’ve been able to apply it to different parts of design, but then, two, also using it in a way to pay it forward to the community is something that is super important.

Maurice Cherry:
I hope that we get to see a lot more of that in the future. So thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Azeez Alli-Balogun:
Yeah. Thank you so much for having me.

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!

Reece Quiñones

If you’re in the know about the DC design scene, then this week’s guest probably needs no introduction. Reece Quiñones is a force for good when it comes to design, whether it’s in her role at The Hatcher Group as executive VP and creative director, or by teaching the next generation of designers as an adjunct professor at George Mason University. And she doesn’t stop there!

Reece talked to me about an average day for her at The Hatcher Group, and talked about growing up in DC and being exposed to architecture and art at a young age. She also spoke on her work experiences before The Hatcher Group, and gave some great perspective about being a long-time design educator, including what she feels design students want from the design industry these days. As a designer, you can never stop learning, and Reece Quiñones is a prime example of how you can use your skills to give back to your community!

Transcript

Full Transcript

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

Reece Quiñones:
Hello. My name is Reece Quiñones, and I’m the Executive Vice President and Senior Creative Director for Hatcher, a PR marketing and design firm in the DC area. I’m also an Adjunct Professor of Design at George Mason University located in Fairfax, Virginia.

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

Reece Quiñones:
It’s been great. Very, very busy. We ended 2021 with a bang, and I can’t believe it’s almost the end of January already. It just seems like it’s flying by, but it’s been very good.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. You and I talked about this before recording, but it seems like the year started and there was no kind of ramping up into anything. Everyone just kind of got to work, which usually I don’t mind that, but it has been a very busy month so far.

Reece Quiñones:
Yes, it has. It has been busy, and I think we’ve been two years into the pandemic, so there’s a lot of fatigue out there too. So with everything, with the work continuing to ramp up, with everyone feeling really comfortable with this telework, it just seems there’s a lot of pressure. There’s a lot of pressure to still perform as companies are starting to think about how they’re going to return back to the office. I think a lot of people are really trying to say, “Hey, I’m good here.”

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, we’re at this, I think really interesting shift in, I want to say it’s uniquely American, but it’s really something that’s happening worldwide. But I mean, we’re in America, you and I. So I think it affects Americans differently because we have such a symbiotic relationship with work. So the fact that there are going to see these large structures around capitalism and work that have been upended because of the pandemic, companies are trying to see if hybrid is a good deal, if they should still stay remote. They’re selling office spaces, they’re buy more office spaces. Companies are really trying to figure out what’s next, and I think it’s difficult for them. But then also with workers, we’re realizing in general that the work is always going to be there, that we have more power as workers than we thought, and so we can advocate for greater, better work experiences. So this is a really transformative time overall.

Reece Quiñones:
I think so too. I think Hatcher has done a really great job. They just went flexible first. Meaning if you want to work from home, you can. If you want to work in the office, you can. And if you want to do both, you can. And just really looking at that, I think has been really something that has kept people in the office and just really just love the culture that we’ve created there. So I’m just happy that we were able to move forward with that.

Maurice Cherry:
Right now, are you able to go back into the office or you’re still kind of doing things remotely?

Reece Quiñones:
We can if we want to, but most people are remote, and it’s great.

Maurice Cherry:
What does a average day look like?

Reece Quiñones:
It’s busy. One of the things that we really worked on during the pandemic when we just immediately switched over to working from home just one day to the next… I was telling you a little bit earlier, I was the only holdout. I thought for some reason that it would only last a week and then I realized like, “Oh, wait, I don’t think this is going to last a week.” I went back to the office to get my chair, to get my desktop computer and all the things that I needed. But one of the things that we really worked on is communication. So work at Hatcher is really just this wonderful realm. My team in the morning, we always jump on chat. We say, good morning like you would if you just came in the office. This morning, one of my designers saved a dog that was kind of limping in the street and we were hearing about it. The play by play, but that’s the wonderful thing about it. So we have kept a wonderful relationship. That’s always really good.

Reece Quiñones:
It’s really busy. The way I form my team is really in a way that everybody can grow in the way they want to grow. So as a part of their goals, they say, “Hey, I’m more interested in DesignOps. Can I move in that role?” Or, “I’m really interested in becoming an art director? Can I move in that role?” So I try to ensure that all of my designers have the ability to learn from each other and to learn different types of design. So if I have somebody that’s mostly print that wants to learn UX, they can do that.

Reece Quiñones:
Yeah, just a really busy day. We have a great team of production that just keeps the trains moving. I have three art directors that help to ensure that the work looks great. In my senior creative role, I can normally formulate the strategy and just look at high-level creative. But it’s a busy day full of meetings, but it’s also one that’s really exciting and we’re able to really do some amazing things with amazing clients.

Maurice Cherry:
I think that’s really great that people are able to be flexible on the team like that. If there’s other things that they want to get into, they can do that, particularly I think within an agency kind of framework. I’ve worked largely with startups over the past five years and with those, it can be easy to just bounce from thing to thing because they maybe haven’t built out a robust network of people that work there yet. It’s mostly engineers, they may not have that much on creative. So if you want to jump into doing something else, you can just say, “I want to do something else,” and you can do it. With firms, it seems like it’s a bit more regimented because you’ve got creative directors and art directors and production designers, et cetera. But it sounds like it’s pretty flexible at Hatcher.

Reece Quiñones:
It is. It’s really important to me because I realized as I was coming up, the integration of design was really important. I know you remember a day that when there was a job description, they wanted everything like, “Oh, are you a website designer? Can you do print? Can you do this? Can you do that?” And we’re all looking at each other like, “Come on, really? What do you want?” So I did. I learned all those things. So over the years, I did UX, I did product design, I’ve done marketing communications design, advertising, environmental design, digital. So you’ve done all of it, and I realized that it really encapsulates the importance of design. That the foundational thing that you need to always know about design is basically that good design can transcend whatever medium.

Reece Quiñones:
So you need to understand how to design well, how to communicate that, how to understand your user, no matter if it’s a brochure or you’re working on a product. It’s still the same. You still have a user that’s going to use it that you need to consider. So that’s how I formulate my team and really pushing them to learn, “Hey, you want to do motion? Okay, let’s do motion. Let’s grab you, and let’s have you work on this project.” It just really grows the team so quickly and allows us to have more people that can do a certain type of task.

Maurice Cherry:
So given that, how do you approach a new project if seems like designers can be that flexible to bounce between disciplines like that?

Reece Quiñones:
My production team have learned… Again, we still have kid designers that might be really good at motion, or really good at long-form reports or annual reports, et cetera. Then we also know what designers want. I might have a designer who have asked, “Hey, I really want to work on an infographic,” and so we’re like, “Great.” Depending on the project, depending on the level that’s needed for that project, sometimes I do need a senior designer to work on a project. Sometimes I need an art director to work on the project. Sometimes it’s a team. We gather together, we look at all the projects and we assign them based on who can best deliver that project. Then if we have somebody that wants to learn, then they are also put on the team as well. And then from there, we schedule out and have a meeting, a launch, and the work gets done, and it’s always at a high quality. That’s something that I’ve been known for, for my students as well, as well as my staff, that quality is important.

Maurice Cherry:
When you look at your work, what would you say is the hardest part about what you do?

Reece Quiñones:
I love design so much. It’s really a hobby as well when I’m in my off hours. So as I’m looking over what the hardest part is, is just making sure that… I think it’s more on the client side. So it’s just making sure that they understand our process and they understand the whys in the decision making that we have. The world is so much more design savvy because of media, because of video, social media. They’re seeing good design on an every basis. Several times a day, they’re just seeing good design come to them.

Reece Quiñones:
So a lot of clients will come with preconceived notions on what they think will be appropriate for their project, and sometimes it’s not. Understanding the user, understanding the metrics, understanding the goals and the KPIs they have on the project. So sometimes I have to sit and kind of explain why we came up with a certain direction for them to understand why it works. I will say, even though that is the difficult part, it 99.999% of the time works because when you use design, when you use the foundations of design, the theories of design, and you explain it back to the client, then they’re like, “Oh, I get it. Great.” Because that’s why they’re hiring a firm for. So I think it’s the hardest part, but it’s also really rewarding as well.

Maurice Cherry:
It’s so interesting now, because clients, like you said, they’re exposed to more or we’re just all exposed to more through television or streaming or whatever. They’ll come with these very elaborate ideas and oftentimes it’s like a therapy session in a way where you’re trying to get to what the actual thing is that they’re trying to do so they don’t get so caught up in the visuals or the presentation. Or just letting them know that maybe the visuals and the presentation you’re looking for, maybe you can’t get that on your budget, but if there’s a certain feeling you’re trying to evoke, then maybe we can get there by doing these other things. And so it is very much this kind of push-pull process with clients sometimes.

Reece Quiñones:
Yeah. Always. Always. But you know what? It’s a rewarding thing. Our firm really is mission forward. We focus on education and opportunity and environment. So for us and just so much more, education is one of our large areas as well. With every single client, even though there’s that push-pull, there’s always this satisfaction because everything we’re doing is really to help them with their mission. At the end of the day, no matter how hard it is, you go home happy or rather you shut off your computer happy since we’re at home now. But yeah, it’s just a wonderful place to work.

Maurice Cherry:
Let’s switch gears here a little bit. I know you’re a native of the DC metro area. I’d love to kind of learn more about what it was like growing up there for you.

Reece Quiñones:
Yeah, absolutely. Actually I was born in Puerto Rico. My family’s from there. Have no accent because we came when I was two, and we moved to Silver Spring and throughout the years I’ve moved to several areas in Silver Spring. But I’m still here, and I love it.

Reece Quiñones:
The DC area is really a melting pot. I think out of the top 10, there are two cities, maybe three cities that are the most diverse in the country within the DC area. So it was really different. When you grow up in the ’70s, you’re in school and you have 63 countries represented in your school. That was the school I went to. 63 countries. We had 63 flags in our school. Yes, it was very different. It was very different. The older I got and the more I traveled, the more I realized that the DC area is so special. It is so special. I haven’t found a place that feels like it where you can have friends that look completely different from you, speak a different language, and nobody looks at you twice. No one. Like no one. They just don’t look at you twice, because that’s normal.

Reece Quiñones:
Of course being in the DC area, there’s also almost like a different economy as well too, because you have the government here. And this is one thing that I think people who grow up in the DC area need to realize as designers and just people, that when hardships happen around the country, they’re not quite as hard here because you have the government here and the government can’t shut down. So when 2008 happened, just traveling around the country, you could see so many areas with malls closed and strip malls closed and in the DC area, there were still open. The malls aren’t doing it quite as well now, but… So it’s always important for designers and creatives to just always learn and always see outside themselves. Just don’t live in a bubble, but always look outside of your area. See how other people are living and experiencing the same things you are because it’ll just make you a better strategic designer in terms of how you can deliver to the audiences you need to reach.

Maurice Cherry:
So growing up around all this diversity and this extremely multicultural school. I mean, 63 countries in one school, growing up is a lot. Were the arts and design kind of a big part of your childhood? Were you exposed to that a lot?

Reece Quiñones:
I was exposed to art in terms of drawing, and that was really nice. Our school had a really wonderful art program as well as high school. I was introduced to photography. I would make posters and I would draw, but I actually never heard the term graphic designer at all. I went to college first for architecture, and I got into one school, but decided that architecture wasn’t quite for me. So I graduated Maryland with an art degree because at that time, I found out later their design program was closed. But I had an art degree out of Maryland, and I still didn’t know the term graphic designer. So I decided to go back to school. I went to Montgomery College just to get a two-year degree in multimedia and design. So that’s the first time I heard design with multimedia and I was like, “Okay, this is cool. Let me take it.” And I just happened to take an elective called Quark.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh wow.

Reece Quiñones:
Yeah. I just happened to take it because I had electives to take and I was like, “Quark. Hmm. I wonder what this Quark is.” And that’s the first time I saw graphic design because it was graphic design, I think like 120, and it was like Quark 101.

Reece Quiñones:
I took Quark and I was in the class and I remember just having such a good time. I mean, I was going for it. I was making newsletters. I mean, it was fun. Our screens were only like 15 inches and that was like state-of-the-art back then, because computers had just come in the scene just about three or four years earlier. They kind of became mainstream. And so I was in class and the professor, I will never forget him. Professor [inaudible 00:20:48], he looked at my work one day and he’s like, “You’re really good at this.” And I was like, “Good at what?” And he’s like, “Ah, good at this.” And I was like, “What is this?” I was like, “What is this? I’m just making a newsletter.” And he’s like, “Oh dear God.” He’s like, “Can somebody tell this child what class she’s in?” And somebody’s like, “Graphic design.” And I was like, “Graphic design?” And he’s like, “Yes, you can do this for a living.” And I said, “Wait, what?”

Reece Quiñones:
And at that moment I knew everything was going to be okay. I had found my passion. I really knew that it was going to be okay. I took every single graphic design class I could from him especially, and I graduated and I got my first job as a graphic designer with the Gazette newspapers, which was owned by The Washington Post at that time. And that’s how I got my start.

Maurice Cherry:
I’m curious about Quark. I want to go back to that because that’s a very… You said that and my mind immediately went to like… I don’t know if this is probably the right timeframe. I’m guessing this is like mid ’90s probably?

Reece Quiñones:
You are exactly right. You’re exactly right.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Reece Quiñones:
It was ’94.

Maurice Cherry:
I’d have to research. I don’t even know if Quark is still like a thing now, but I remember first getting into Quark. I was in… Let’s see, ’94 I’d probably just got into high school. So yeah. I remember using Quark and Adobe PageMaker because I designed my high school’s newspaper or redesign my high school’s newspaper. Because before that we were using or they were using… And this is because I grew up in the sticks, but also I think just because publishing hadn’t reached digital fully yet everywhere, but we were still doing mimeographs.

Reece Quiñones:
Oh wow, yeah. Yep. No, no. You laugh, but my first job, we were waxing down the pages of the newspaper on flats. So it really was the turn of graphic design becoming more digital to it being more mechanical. So using Exacto knives when we needed to change a word.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Reece Quiñones:
But it was such good experience. So I love it.

Maurice Cherry:
And it’s so interesting because you’re… I mean, you’re learning the tool and you’re learning how to do this. There’s no real examples that you can look at. When I think about what designers can do now and how much is out there in terms of education, they can go on YouTube. They could do LinkedIn Learning or they could do Skillshare or whatever. Like there’s so much out there. We were really winging it back then like just-

Reece Quiñones:
Oh my God.

Maurice Cherry:
… trying to figure it out.

Reece Quiñones:
We were. We were winging it and that’s why I love that class Quark, because the professor had a saying, he’s like, “Welcome to my class. Number one, do you know the Mac, or have you ever used a Mac?” And I wasn’t sure how to answer that question. Some people raised their hand and he’s like, “Okay, more importantly, have you never used the Mac?” And I was about to raise my hand and the person next to me took my hand and said, “Do not raise your hand or he will kick you up.” And he kicked out two people.

Maurice Cherry:
Ooh. Wow.

Reece Quiñones:
So I would’ve never known, I should have been a graphic designer. But the one thing he said is, I’m going to teach you everything about this application, every dropdown, popup menu. And it’s up to you to create something that visually communicates an idea.” And he did. He taught us every single part of that. It was almost like a YouTube in the class. I think the way he taught really did inspire me to teach as well, but you’re right, we had nothing. We had absolutely zero. We were just going into it like, “Okay, here’s a blank page. Let’s go.”

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). And really trying to figure it out and just see how these tools work. You could read the instruction manual, but the instruction manuals were like these big thick Bibles. It was hard to get your creativity around it when the instruction manuals were just… Well, I guess that’s the other thing. There were instruction manuals. There were like printed books that you had to go through and try to figure this stuff out. So it was… Wow, what a time.

Reece Quiñones:
They were called Bibles.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. What a time.

Reece Quiñones:
Like what Bible?

Maurice Cherry:
Uh-huh (affirmative).

Reece Quiñones:
The illustrator Bible, I remember, I remember. I know back in the day.

Maurice Cherry:
Let’s talk about your early career after you graduated. Did you stay around in the DC metro area?

Reece Quiñones:
I did. I stayed around in the DC metro area and I worked for the Gazette newspapers. And I just remember just saying, “Hey, oh, I wish I could do more in design.” I just think that people are just put around you and you need to listen to their advice. And there was a coworker named Marie. She was awesome. And she was like, “Reece, you’re really talented. I don’t think you should be stuck here.” And I was like, “I don’t know,” this and the other. And she’s like, “You know what, I don’t want to hear you complaining unless you’re applying.” And I said, “What?” She’s like, “Well, don’t complain to me about that you want more, unless you’re applying for another job.” And I was like, “There’s no way I can get a job. I’m just one year out of school.” And she’s just like, “Well, I don’t want to hear it.” And she was serious. She wouldn’t let me here until I started applying. I applied and I got my first firm job at HR communications in the DC area. And when I told her, she’s like, “There you go.” She’s like, “I’m glad it worked.” And I was like, “What?” And that’s just how she was.

Reece Quiñones:
And so I never complained about a job ever again, unless I was doing something about right. That was really good advice. And from HR communications, I went to an in-house marketing firm, which was great, because it was marketing communications and I really learned a lot about marketing. Went to focus groups, helped conduct them. And that was just wonderful experience to learn how your work is really resonating with your audiences. And I think for first time, and this was still the ’90s, I realized that it’s not what I wanted. It’s what the customer needed that I needed to deliver. Design early on, was about your skill and how you could deliver it. But when I worked in that marketing group, I really learned that I need to listen to that audience and that was really eyeopening for me and just a wonderful experience there.

Reece Quiñones:
And then from there I went to another firm, and that firm was, I think the change in the quality of my work. This firm was called [inaudible 00:27:03]. And again, they were another marketing communications firm, but their designers hailed from around the world. They had a designer from Spain, a designer from Korea, and one from the Philippines and all over. And what was amazing was this being the ’90s, I thought I knew all the programs. They’re the ones that taught me that, “Hey, oh my goodness, your program can actually merge with other programs.” And that’s when I learned that you could actually merge your files, and get this, from Illustrator into Photoshop. You could merge your layer files into… And that was way back in the day. It just changed the way I could design because now I could make montages that you could only see in magazines where you’re just like, “How’d they do that.” I’m like, “I don’t know how they do that.”

Reece Quiñones:
And so they taught me all these really deep tricks and tips about the actual programs that I think really changed the quality of my design. And again, just really an amazing group of very talented designers. I remember when I got that job, I interviewed for it three times. And the first time I went, the owner was like, “You’re good, but you’re just not what we need. It’s not quite what we need.” And I was like, “Okay.” I was like, “Can you tell me about my work? What is it that you like, what is it that you don’t like? I don’t have an ego. Let me know how I can improve.” He told me, he’s like, “I like this, but our quality has more depth. It has more layering.” I was like, “Okay, that sounds great.”

Reece Quiñones:
So I went back and I kept designing, adding more things into my portfolio. About three months later they called me in. And at that time I told them, “Well, I have a new job. I’m not going to come in.” And they’re like, “Just come in. Let’s just have a chat.” And I was like, “Okay, I’ll just have a chat.” So I went and showed them a couple more pieces and he’s like, “Oh wow, you listened.” I was like, “Well, of course.” I was like, “I love your work.” I was like, “Of course I listened.” And he’s like, “Hmm. All right. Hmm.”

Reece Quiñones:
So he had me come back to talk to the art director and I realized at that time they were trying to have me leave the job that I had just started. And I wrote a list why I should stay at the job where I was or why I should go. And I realized that even if I stayed in this new firm for six months, the level of work that would come out of it would be so much more than I could ever get at the firm that I had gone to. So I decided to go. The only job that I have ever been in less than a year, but it was life changing. It was honestly life changing.

Maurice Cherry:
Now after that, is that when you ended up joining ASCD?

Reece Quiñones:
That is correct. That is correct. That firm hit the dotcom era. The early 2000s where all the dotcoms kind of lost their funding. And that was 90% of our work. So the firm shut its doors and I was left without a job. And I was like, “All right.” I was like, “Okay, what are we going to do here?” And I told myself, “Because now you have eight designers looking for work that each have the level of quality you have…” So I started looking for work and there were jobs that had a little bit more technical motion, people were getting into flashback then. And so I would just refer other designers and they would be like, “Oh my gosh, thank you so much,” because the job wasn’t right for me.

Reece Quiñones:
But I also told myself, “I’m going to look for any job. It doesn’t matter.” And I applied to a role for an in-house designer with an in-house agency. They called themselves an in-house agency. And that was kind of in the early 2000s. And that was rare to have a team of designers that would call themselves an in-house agency. So I went, I tried and I looked.

Reece Quiñones:
And the work, I was like, “Oh my gosh, what are you guys doing here?” I realized that they were a midsize publisher for educational book and products. And I was like, “This is amazing work. I’ve never done a book before.” So I showed my portfolio and I got the job. It was such an incredible experience, designing books and just growing within that environment, that I stayed. I also had a wonderful manager. And it’s true, you stay at a job where you have a great leader. And so he saw leadership potential within myself and would give me opportunities to lead projects. And then I started leading web projects, and then I started to lead applications. So product manage. It’s a wonderful experience where I was able to do everything from… Could design applications, as well as apps towards the end of the 15 years. Could design websites, online store, hundreds of books, just everything, run the gamut, including their large annual conference. So I would do the branding around the entire annual conference. And then through the years, I got promoted four times.

Reece Quiñones:
So it was just a wonderful opportunity to grow. And I was on vacation when that was a thing, when you left the… I got a call from a recruiter at LinkedIn for a position and I remember it just wasn’t right. I was happy where I was. And I said thank you and the recruiter said, “Well, just take a look at our job description online.” And I said, “Sure, sure. I’ll go ahead and do that.” And so I clicked the link and here I am in France and I’m scrolling down, I’m scrolling down. I was like, “Yeah, I don’t think this is right.”

Reece Quiñones:
And then there was in LinkedIn, at least back then, there was a title: Other jobs like these. And I was like, “Okay, so another job like this.” So I started looking at those jobs and there was one job there and it was The Hatcher Group. And I was like, “Huh, let me just read it.” And I was like, “Oh, they’re looking for a senior VP of design. Hmm. All right. Let’s take a look at what this looks like.” And it looked good. It was everything I was doing now. And I was like, “This is good,” but they really wanted to grow what they had as a design team. So they only had one designer and an intern and they were mostly a communications firm, QPR firm at that time, and they really wanted to grow it into more.

Reece Quiñones:
And so I’m reading the description and there’s one line and that line stuck out to me. And that line was, “Above all, we’re looking for someone who is kind.” And I was like, “Whoa.”

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

Reece Quiñones:
I was like, “Whoa.” Yes, “Wow. Who looks for somebody who is kind? This is awesome.”

Maurice Cherry:
Especially at an agency.

Reece Quiñones:
Especially at an agency. I was like, “Well, if I’m going to go somewhere, let me go to a place where they want somebody who’s kind. I think I’m kind, but I know they’re kind because they’re looking for someone who is like them.” So I knew that just from the job description. And so I applied and I got the job. And so that was four years ago and we’ve grown from one designer and one intern to a team of 16. So we’re doing some great things and I have an amazing team.

Reece Quiñones:
I focus on hiring diverse designers. I think it’s important. I think a lot of firms run into trouble when they don’t hire diverse designers because we can check with each other and say, “Hey, does this work for this audience?” Because you don’t have that lived experience. And that is very critical for me, but what it does too, is it teaches the other designers how to have a critical, but worldwide view of work that we’re doing, especially because we’re working with very sensitive topics as well in terms of education and the environment and equity within those spaces. It’s just really important to understand how the images that you use, the icons that you use, even the way it’s placed, how that reads to your intended audience and if it portrays them fairly. That’s actually something that we focus on.

Maurice Cherry:
I want to go back briefly to ASCD. I mean, that was such a large part of your career. You were there for 15 years.

Reece Quiñones:
I was.

Maurice Cherry:
When you look back at that time, is there anything that really stands out to you that you remember the most?

Reece Quiñones:
Oh, absolutely. We had a wonderful team. It’s where I learned how to manage. It’s where my boss gave me the opportunity to take his job as he was promoted into a larger role. And it’s also where I learned to ensure that your designers can grow in the way that they want to grow. Instead of keeping people siloed into one area, I learned that it works well. It works so well for that team. We were so productive and people grew exactly where they wanted to and they became designers first, and then they learned the mediums second. So that’s where I learned that.

Reece Quiñones:
Quality was actually something that was so key to that team and to my boss. And I learned that quality is actually something that happens when the whole team works together as a unit, when everybody helps each other. And so I also hire people that don’t have egos, because we really do critique each other and help each other grow and ensure that everything that comes out of our shop has the quality that the customer expects, the client expects. But most important, I learned how to manage. I learned that if you treat your people like you’re equal, like people, you’re not their parent and you shouldn’t be, but you treat them like you’re equal. And if you’re having a problem with someone, just have a conversation and say, “Hey, what’s going on? Is everything okay? How can I help you? You tell me how I can help you.” Then you have a team that will come to you first. If anything goes wrong, my team just comes to me and say, “Hey, here’s what went down.” And then I’m like, “Okay. So how did you fix it?”

Reece Quiñones:
So we work through the solutions and we grow people. And I think that that is such a wonderful quality that I loved during the 15 years. I loved being able to go to my boss and say, “Here’s how I screwed up. Here’s how I think we should fix it. Do you agree?” And nine times out of 10 he did, “Oh yeah, that’s a great call. And you know what? It’s okay. We all screwed up sometimes.” And so I managed the same way and I think it’s really important that folks feel free to grow and to make those mistakes because that’s how you get exceptional designers. And I have exceptional designers. So I’m a very lucky person.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, definitely sounds like to be able to have that level of openness among the team like that, that really takes really, I think depthful but also very skillful kind of just management. And with being at ASCD as long as you have, being able to really learn that in that environment has definitely helped out with what you’re doing at Hatcher.

Reece Quiñones:
Absolutely. Absolutely. 100%.

Maurice Cherry:
Now you also are a design educator. We’ve had several design educators here on Revision Path. You’re an adjunct professor at George Mason University where you’ve been since 2008. Tell me about your time teaching there. I’m curious, what are you teaching now?

Reece Quiñones:
Actually now, I start next week. I am teaching UX design as well as design principles and theory. So methods and principles, which is really the theory of design. It’s their first studio class where they learn how to design. And it’s one of my favorite classes. I’ve taught it since 2008 and I love it. I love it. I love it so much. And I love the outcome of not only the program and the students. About a fourth of my staff are my former students.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh really?

Reece Quiñones:
Oh absolutely. Oh absolutely. I snag them when I can. Absolutely. I kind of fell into teaching…

Reece Quiñones:
One of the wonderful parts of working with the in-house firms is that they have lots of benefits. ASCD had tuition reimbursement, so I was like, “Hey, why don’t I get my M.F.A. in design?” And I found a program that had most of their classes at night in the University of Baltimore. I applied and got in, and I went through that there. I learned and worked with the head of the design program at George Mason, and one day I was just sitting around and he said, “You know, I think you would be a really good professor.” And I said, “Oh no, not me. There’s no way,” because I grew up with a stutter. Just learning how to speak fluently was just really hard for me. And even now, even though I now have lived a little bit more than half my life without the stutter, I still can hear the struggle. So I just doubted myself so much and he just left it alone.

Reece Quiñones:
Years later, he called me and he said, “Hey, how about that teaching gig that I talked to you about?” I was like, “Oh, it would be wonderful, but… I don’t know.” He’s like, “I really need you.” And I said, “Oh, I don’t know.” He’s like, “Why don’t you call me tomorrow? Think about it.” I said, “Okay.”

Reece Quiñones:
The next day, I called him. I couldn’t sleep that night. I was so nervous about teaching. I just couldn’t sleep. And so I said, “You know what, I know it’s a good opportunity. It’s hard to get in, but I just don’t think I can do it.” And I left him a message and he didn’t answer me back. So I kept texting. The day after, he called me and said, “Hey, I got your message. I’m sorry I got it late. I already put your name in and I can’t change it.” And come to find out, he could have changed it. But I thank him every day. His name is Don Star. I thank him every single day for tricking me into a teaching job because the first night I taught, I realized, “I love this. This is so amazing.” And you just get this vibe when you teach.

Reece Quiñones:
My mom was a teacher and she told me, she’s like, “When one of your students learns how to read, your whole body gets this shiver. You just get this vibe that, ‘Wow. What I’m doing is making a difference.'” And she’s right. I got that same vibe when I had a student who really understood a concept, understood a theory and was able to apply it and created something that looked so beautiful. And I was like, yes. And I got hooked. I got to teaching.

Reece Quiñones:
So I just got hooked to teaching. And with that first class, which was the design methods and theories class, I just had a great time. I kept teaching. There’s other classes I teach as well. I’ve taught typography, infographic design, motion graphics, and I just have a blast with it all. Like I said, I think that teaching is so important and learning how to teach those foundational skills are the critical part that I think is missing in some programs as well. Because I also interview and hire and look at hundreds of portfolios all the time, and just those little things that you can see throughout is what I teach. The things that people don’t get, or they don’t understand how to really put their work together or how to continually improve their work. So I just have a great time with it.

Maurice Cherry:
How would you say things have changed since you started teaching there? Have you grown as an educator?

Reece Quiñones:
I have. I don’t like grades, though I have to grade folks, but I love projects. And so my projects have gotten more complex. They also have introduced a digital aspect to them because everything now has a digital aspect. Even if you do a report, we’re asked to do social media or a little motion graphic video that will help to launch that report. So I think I use what I see at work as a part of how to improve the way I teach. So when I see shifts in the industry or in the way clients are asking for work, I also change how I teach to mirror that, to ensure where that my students are ready for hire as soon as they graduate

Maurice Cherry:
From your perspective, and again, you’ve been teaching since 2008 and you’ve mentioned these changes, what do design students, and I guess design graduates also, what do they want from the design industry?

Reece Quiñones:
That’s actually a good question. I’ve had a couple students, especially during the pandemic really kind of reached out for co-mentoring because we haven’t been in person for two years. So they want to be ready. They want to be ready to get a job. They want to ensure that they’re not looked over. They really want to understand how their work applies in the real world. And that’s actually something that I do. As a part of every single class, I also take one class period to teach them salaries. What are you worth? What are you worth when you go out? Here’s the salary range. Here’s how you can adapt it for the DC area. Or let’s say you were going to New York, here’s how you adapt it. Let’s say you were going to Chicago, or let’s say we’re going to Alabama or to Mississippi. Here’s how you can change and see what you’re worth and how much you can ask for.

Reece Quiñones:
I also go over portfolios. I’m like, “These portfolios work and here’s why.” I go over resumes. “These resumes work and here’s why.” And I explain to them how to get ready for the real world. Why it’s important that their work is good. How they can self-edit to ensure that you don’t have one piece that looks really bad with work that looks really good, because I see that all the time. When I’m looking at the students’ portfolios, I’m like, “Why did you add that invitation?” And they’re like, “Well, because I don’t have an invitation.” I’m like, “But do you think it looks good?” They’re like, “No, it’s not my best work.” I’m like, “Well, I’m going to judge you on that.” And they’re like, “What do you mean?” I said, “Well, as a creative director, if I look at this, I’m going to say somebody helped you with everything else. And the one that looks bad is the one you did on your own.”

Maurice Cherry:
Hmm.

Reece Quiñones:
And they’re like, “Oh.” I said, “Mm-hmm (affirmative).” I was like, “Take that.”

Reece Quiñones:
So I help them learn how to edit their work because as you’re coming up, you always have a couple of duds in there where you’re… They’re not horrible, but they’re just not the level of quality as some of your other work. So learn how to edit because your portfolio is the way that someone’s going to hire you. I really help them with that. And I think that’s what they’re really looking for. They’re looking for help to ensure that they can get a job, because we all know how it feels when you graduate and then you have to like make it on your own.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Reece Quiñones:
That intense feeling of fear like, “Oh dear God, I’ve got to pay for everything myself.” And back then it was harder because you literally left home. Nowadays you can come back, things are changing a little bit. But back then, they were just like, “Okay, you’re gone. Bye college. You’re gone.” But kids still feel that. They still feel that fear. So just helping them know that these things can help them. And then I also do mock interviews and I do them in class so that people can see how I answer questions. I tell them, “Just ask me anything.” And I’ve gotten some really tough questions for them to see how I answer that so that they can really have a leg up when they go to their first interview.

Reece Quiñones:
And even afterwards I will help students. I give them my email address. I’m like, “Hey, you want a mock interview? Let’s do it. You want me to look at your portfolio? Let’s do it.” Just the other day, I had a student who was so nervous about an interview that they had, catchy with Deloitte, and they were just so nervous. And so they just wanted me to go over again… They just wanted to practice and they wanted to go over it one on one. So I took some time to help that student and they reached out and said that they got the job and I was so excited because there’s another level that’s hard here to the pandemic. Right?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Reece Quiñones:
So they just have that nervousness going out. I take the time for that too, because I think it’s important and I wish I had that when I was first coming out. And so I make sure that I’m there for them so that they don’t have to feel like they’re going out alone.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, I think what you’re doing with reviewing their portfolio and resumes and talking about salaries and doing mock interviews, that stuff is so, so, so important for designers just to get out there and know what it is that they have to do to try to compete in the marketplace, but also to position themselves in the best possible light.

Reece Quiñones:
Absolutely.

Maurice Cherry:
I’ve done some work in the past with the art institutes, particularly the Art Institute of Atlanta here in Atlanta. They sort of do this thing every year where they bring in people from the local design community and they have a dinner at the school. And what they’re doing with that is one, just trying to meet practitioners out in the city, but also to get a sense of like, “What do we need to be teaching students? What out there are you seeing in the market that we need to inform them of?” Whether that’s about upcoming technologies or certain-

Reece Quiñones:
I love it.

Maurice Cherry:
… design trends or things like that, to try to stay current and keep up on top of things. It’s funny, you’re talking about your adjunct experience and I’m thinking about, I taught adjunct… Oh, this was 2012 I think. Like 2011, 2012, I was teaching like a principles of web design course-

Reece Quiñones:
Oh, love it.

Maurice Cherry:
… as an adjunct. And what I tell you, it was so dated… Well, first of all, it was a BIS course. It was a business information systems kind of major. So it already wasn’t like technically really designed. You were just teaching business students enough design to sort of get by, I guess. But the curriculum was so old.

Reece Quiñones:
Oh.

Maurice Cherry:
Like when I started, they had students learning how to design web pages using tables. And I’m like, this is 2011, 2012, sometime around that.

Reece Quiñones:
I learned tables in the ’90s.

Maurice Cherry:
Me too. I learned tables in the ’90s too. And I’m like you have to teach because this was in that period where CSS layout design of course was the norm at that point. I remember working at AT&T in 2007-ish and we made the switch from tables to CSS. I mean, you want to talk about seeing grown people cry at work?

Reece Quiñones:
I know. I remember that switch. It was emotional for many.

Maurice Cherry:
In this teaching thing, I remember going to the Dean and like petitioning to rewrite the curriculum because I’m like, “You’re setting these students up to fail-”

Reece Quiñones:
Absolutely.

Maurice Cherry:
“… if you’re teaching them how to design in tables and then they go out there in the world trying to get some design jobs to say they have some HTML experience and it’s this dated. We’re not setting them up in the best light.” Eventually they did let me rewrite the curriculum. So I did teach them basic CSS and stuff, but I’m thinking like, “What if I didn’t?” Or what if another educator was just like, “Oh, this is what I’m teaching? Okay.” And just went with it. So the fact that you’re extending that out, you’re doing way more than usual. I mean, I certainly commend you for that.

Reece Quiñones:
Oh thank you. But now, what I was going to say is that that’s really important and that’s one of the things that I love about George Mason. Is that with the curriculum that I’m able to continually update it. So every single semester I update everything to ensure… Including my samples, because I want to make sure that the students have the latest and the greatest of how you can incorporate design into all this new technology. And it’s just really important to be able to do that because it’s true. Just like you said, if you don’t do that, you are setting them up to fail from the beginning and school’s not cheap, right?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Reece Quiñones:
Let’s make sure they have all the right tools so that they can go out and live their best life.

Maurice Cherry:
What is the design community like for you at this stage in your career?

Reece Quiñones:
Oh, it’s awesome. The DC area, as well as the Baltimore area, because I’m still connected through school, they have such a strong design community that they overlap as well at times, but it’s really strong. I’m a part of AIGA, I volunteer. I am on The Continuum Fund, which is a scholarship fund for underserved designers, and it’s just wonderful. It’s great to grow with designers and also bring up new designers and seeing them grow in leadership roles as well. It’s actually something that’s important because no matter how large your city is, the design community is actually small. And that’s the thing that I think that people need to understand. Like I’m connected with so many people around the city and know when they’re looking for someone, I can refer other people. And that’s why it’s important to always get connected to the community where you are, because it’s a great way to help you find jobs or just to grow and design or just to give back, to mentor or to help an upcoming student or designer that joins a group. So I encourage everybody to do that if they can.

Maurice Cherry:
And you’re a recent DC design fellow. Congratulations on that.

Reece Quiñones:
Thank you so much. I was shocked and honored to be named an AIGA Fellow. It’s something that’s given to just a few people and not every year. And for me to be chosen, I was very humbled and just very gracious. It just makes me want to triple my efforts in terms of what I’m doing and teaching and mentoring, because I realize now that it’s made a difference. The power of just winning that award is just realizing that you can make a difference. You can help your community just by giving back. It was a really fun experience.

Maurice Cherry:
Who are some of your influencers? Who inspires you?

Reece Quiñones:
It’s actually everyone around me, but including, and I think the most important are my students. I am the creative director I am today, I am the leader I am today because of them. They inspire me to push further. They inspire me and grow… They just have just great ideas that they use on their projects, that they come forward, that they ask, “Hey, can I do this?” And I’m like, “Hmm, I don’t see why not. Let’s have a go.” And so they keep me always growing, learning and searching for new ways to apply design. And they inspire me every day. I think that’s why I’m hooked to learning and I’m hooked to teaching because basically I learn from them. As much as they learn from me, I learn from them.

Maurice Cherry:
What are you the most excited about at the moment?

Reece Quiñones:
I think I am the most excited about how technology is informing design, how we can apply design to new things. For example, augmented reality. So AR, VR and how I can apply that within my teaching, as well as within my own firm. I love how the industry and how design has to continually change. I think that that keeps us fresh. It keeps us learning. It keeps us growing. And that’s important. I mean, I think creativity really requires the pursuit of experiencing learning and observing as much as you can. One of the things I always say is you cannot design what you don’t know. So you have to continually be curious and open-minded and just always be a student. And just continuing to learn, not only in your field, but what’s around it, and be ready for it so that you can continue to visually communicate ideas to your clients.

Maurice Cherry:
Where do you see yourself in the next five years? I mean, with what you’ve got going on with teaching, as well as your work at The Hatcher Group, it sounds like you’ve got a very, very bright future in terms of what you want to.

Reece Quiñones:
I’m always living in the present. Right now, I am so excited with the work I’m doing at The Hatcher Group. I recently got promoted to executive vice president, which actually allows me to do a lot more business development, not only with the firm, but with our clients. So it’s a wonderful place for me to be. In five years, I can tell you, as long as they’ll have me, I will still be teaching. That I do know. I love it. It’s how I actually relax after a long day, is I teach. And the moment I go in and I say, “Hi class, how are you doing?” Like all the stress leaves. And we just have a great time and we laugh and just learn together.

Reece Quiñones:
In terms of what I do, I hope that I’m always going to be tied to design in some way, the next five years for me, just really… It incorporates me continuing to learn. I’m always looking at the next program. I know it’s weird, but I am looking at a doctor’s program. So I think it’s important for me to continue just growing and learning within my own field, and right now just doing what I do at Hatcher.

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

Reece Quiñones:
Well, they can go to thehatchergroup.com as well as my own personal website, 09creative.com. And I am also on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/reecequinones

Maurice Cherry:
All right. Sounds good. Well, Reece Quiñones, I want to thank you so, so much for coming on the show. I mean, just going through everything that you are doing with The Hatcher Group and with education and your background and everything. I mean, you’re someone that I think a lot of people in design industry can look up to. It’s so interesting before we recorded, you were talking about how you don’t know, or you didn’t know why you received the DC fellow award. And I’m like, I don’t see how you didn’t know considering how much you’ve been, not just a practitioner in design for a very long time, but also how much you’re giving back to the next generation of design through teaching-

Reece Quiñones:
Oh, thank you so much.

Maurice Cherry:
… and everything. So I am so glad to have had you on the show and to share your story and I look forward to seeing what comes next. Thank you for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Reece Quiñones:
Thank you so much. I had an awesome time.

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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!