Andrew Bass Jr.

We’re ending off the month talking to one of the unsung trailblazers for diversity in the design community — Andrew Bass Jr. Longtime fans of Revision Path will recognize Andrew as one of our early profiles back in 2013, and it was great to finally have him on the podcast to talk about his story and his work.

In the first part of this two-part interview, Andrew talks about his design consultancy Straight Design, and shared his story of growing up in Brooklyn and falling in love with graphic design. He also spoke about attending Pratt Institute, the battle scars he received working in print media and gave me a look at his career as a designer throughout the 90s.

Make sure you tune in next week for Part 2!

Transcript

Full Transcript

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

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Well, I’m Andrew Bass and I am essentially design strategist, educator, art director, graphic designer. Day job I work as a art and production manager at an association called RIMS, handling their member publication. And I, on the side, I also have my freelance consultancy, Straight Design LLC, where I take on various different clients, focusing a little bit more on the small business side and not for profit as well as I’m an adjunct lecturer at City Tech or the full name New York City College of Technology where I teach Design Thinking, Design Studio.

Maurice Cherry:
How has 2022 been going for you so far? We’re kind of near the end of the year. When you look back, how would you say the year has been?

Andrew Bass Jr.:
It’s actually been, in perspective has been pretty good. I’m employed so that’s good.

Maurice Cherry:
Hey.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
I’m getting transitioning more from my basic print background into more digital design, which is actually good, where I also trying to kind of squeak my way into doing a little bit more motion graphics. But it’s actually been going pretty well as I’m been focused more on my full-time job in teaching and a little pulled back away from Straight Design due to family thing, personal issues. So I went through a divorce, had to sell the house and all this during COVID.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Yeah. But 2022, has been compared to 2021 and definitely 2020, it’s been great. In the grand scheme of things, I really can’t complain about stuff, but it’s been going pretty well and I’m just trying to gear myself up to get, for 2023 to get a little bit back into focusing a little bit more on Straight Design and what that next evolution’s going to be for it.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, I feel like the last few years for a lot of people have been this sort of, I don’t know, period of trying to just gets get acclimated to the way of the world now and especially now that it seems like capitalism is trying to push us out of COVID in a way that everyone’s really trying to think, oh well for next year I need to try to get back out there more. I need to try to do more, try to resume what life was like prior to all of this, you know?

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Well, I mean I will say for myself, and I’m still wrestling with quote, and I hate all these trend words that they keep coming out with, but quote “the new normal” because I now officially work from home and will be working from home for the next several years for my full-time job, saddle that with Straight Design, which is also still from home. The only time I actually go out for design is when I teach. Learning how to marry all that in one residence, basically my home without losing my mind and still maintaining that creative inspiration, is extremely hard and I’m still trying to formulate plans as to how to tackle it because I’m on what plan A.2 Now or something like that. Because I’ve gone through the 26 alphabet and gone through 1 through 10. So I’m on my third iteration of how to make this all go down seamlessly.

I think COVID just also put a pause on so many things that I think it is really hard to get, jumpstart ourselves back into, okay, this is how we did business, this is how we talk to each other, this is how we do stuff. And from the design aspect, I definitely have seen it become stagnated where I really feel that face to face has actually hurt a little bit of, at least my design process. In talking with both coworkers and clients that without that sort of personal face to face stuff, reading each other’s body language, playing off the vibes and stuff like that, that it has kind of stiffened a little bit of the creativity. I understand why everybody’s trying to say, “Okay, how do I get back into this normal life before COVID?”

Some of it I think is self-induced because for whole host of thing reasons 2020 was, I say from 2020, 2021 was a real big pot of let’s stir everybody, let’s scramble everybody’s brain with so much crazy misinformation about so many things. From the pandemic to politics to just how life is going to be to the state of the world and all that, that I think it really kind of, if I could say mind fucked us a bit that we still haven’t really kind of gotten out of it. But the thing is we need to, and the thing is, even during COVID, life doesn’t stop, you just have to adapt and figure a new way to do things.

And it’s slowly coming, it’s slowly coming. And I think as more and more folks get out that haze things will kind of lock back into place and pretty much kind of sync up as to how things were beforehand with just new processes, that’s all. It’s just going to be new processes. So it sort of forced the change for a lot of things. And we all know humans don’t like change very much. So it’s a shock to everyone’s system and I think it’s starting now to seep in and okay, this is what we’re going to do now.

Maurice Cherry:
Right. No, I mean you’re absolutely right. It’s been something I think a lot of us have just had to get comfortable with the constant pivots, whether it’s lockdowns or work from home or hybrid. And that’s we’re just talking about on a work kind of level. I mean personal level, there’s people that have lost loved ones, there’s people that have gotten COVID multiple times, they have long COVID, like there’s a lot that has really come out. And it’s continuing to happen, I would say even with the vaccines and such, there’s still just a lot that’s going on right now.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
It’s something we just got to have to learn to live with and navigate that as anything else.

Maurice Cherry:
And we have to do it unfortunately on the individual level because I don’t think that structures have really been set up for us to do it on a societal level yet.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
No, that it’s been misstep from day one and once it’s been misstepped, it’s very hard to start building that foundation and so that momentum is lost. So it is very much individually, which will be the success rate on that is going to be a wide range of stuff. Because some folks will do better, others will do worse. And the only thing is we just got to try and support one another when we can. I mean that’s lofty goals. Let’s hope that we all can do that and I think that’ll help things a little bit better. But yeah, it’s very much a matter of now it also kind of shows how fleeting life is and how, I mean a nanosecond, how things can shift and you have to either be ready to jump in and adapt or you just stay in that place and just cease to exist.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Let’s lighten the conversation up because people probably tuned in didn’t expect us to be going all deep about COVID and stuff. Let’s lighten it up and talk about your design consultancy, Straight Design, which you’ve ran now for 15 years. Tell me about that. How did it start?

Andrew Bass Jr.:
It wasn’t even planned, it just kind of happened because I will freely admit it started because of my arrogance. I was working in a time and a company and I was going to have the opportunity to start teaching as an adjunct and I just kind of took for granted that because we had such a relaxed work schedule there that oh I could teach classes during the day and come in four days a week and not just one day. This was before anyone ever did any sort of remote stuff. And I didn’t bother to tell my editor-in-chief that I had done this. And so basically I was tasked with, “Look, if you drop the teaching gig now or teach at night or you just got to leave the job,” it’s essentially you’re making, you accepted two jobs and this is your first job.

And I kind of refused. At that point, subconsciously I was kind of done with where I was working at. I had been there for a few years and there was a lot of changes. The company was going through a merger, I should say an acquisition. And things were changing in my department. My staff, they had had me actually cut my staff and so I was the only one working on the magazine at the time and through budget cuts. And I kind of just used that as an excuse subconsciously to of exit out. And so when I did that I realized, oh what am I going to do for money? So I was like, “Okay, we’re going to have to kind of freelance.” And I took some time to just kind of coast a little bit, get my head together and I was approached by a client to submit a proposal for developing a magazine prototype as well as what it would be to produce this magazine on a monthly basis.

And it was a magazine based in the Netherlands based on financial technology, which I had was completely unfamiliar with that subject. But I submitted my proposal and I was awarded the gig and that gave me the impetus to, okay, let me start Straight Design. Now at the time it was called AD Bass Designs until I changed the name later on. And that started the ball rolling for Straight Design and they were very good [inaudible 00:15:06] and it morphed from just doing the magazine and the production to doing event materials to promotional collateral and it spurred adding to my clientele roster.

And so I was running that in a physical studio in Manhattan for a good number of years, at least like five years in there. And then the recession of 2008 hit, as well as everybody else, I started losing some clients because they were cutting back on money, but I was still doing pretty well with that. But then once my big client sort of went away because the owner of that company didn’t realize what the financial investment was in starting up a magazine because a magazine doesn’t really break even for at least five to seven years. And the owner was like, “Whoa, this is taking too long.” And so they kind of pulled back on it, still kept all the event stuff and the event materials and stuff but just wasn’t doing the magazine.

I started losing clientele a bit because of the economic situation and at the time I was married and both my wife then and me were self-employed and with, we just had our daughter and I was like, “Okay, somebody’s going to have to go back inside because health insurance was as much as my mortgage.” And I was like this is killing my savings quick. And that’s when I had just made the transition to go back in-house. But I still kept Straight Design as my freelance consultancy so that I would basically do the projects that I still were very interested in on the side, but I didn’t have to worry about hunting down and bringing in clientele while maintaining my whole household. And I’ve kept that way from since 2012, I think. Yeah. From 2012 to now. Where I’m now thinking about eventually I might resurrect Straight Design in a more full-time capacity in the next several years. But that’s how I started it. It was really just a fluke.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, that’s so interesting. Hearing you talk about how you started that reminds me of how I started my studio. It’s so funny that you said it was out of arrogance. Because I feel like I started in the same way. I was a senior designer working AT&T. I mean I was completely self-taught. I just felt like, oh I got this, I got this. And I mean I was working there in AT&T, for at least back then, I can’t speak to how it is now. This was 2008 when I quit. But it was very much a production house. It was all on the assembly line basically. You got packet with all your stuff that you needed to design and you did it in Photoshop and you sliced it up in Dreamweaver and coded. There was no love or soul into it because you had to crank it out and eight hours or less essentially.

And so you’re just doing this on a constant loop. And I was like I could do this better myself. And I just quit and started my own studio. I really felt like, yeah, I could do this, I got this. But yeah, it’s interesting because even when I started, I had a different name for my business. I started it out, it was called 318 Media because I wanted to, one, it was after my birthday and then two, I just wanted to have a cool kind of funky name. I ended up changing it later because there were other three blank blank media companies in Atlanta. There was a three, I know there was a 352 Media, there was a 360 Media and people were getting us confused and so we had to have a standoff, okay, somebody’s got to change.

And I was like, “I’ll change mine,” because I had a weird spelling for it too because I don’t know, I thought it was cool to have the number three, the word 18, but then I had to keep explaining it to people and then forms wouldn’t take a business thing that started with a number. It was a whole bunch of things.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Oh wow.

Maurice Cherry:
And then I just changed it to Lunch in 2014, 2015 and completely rebranded the company. So it made more sense after I did all of that. And I even found business increased once that happened because one, people weren’t getting us confused with other companies. And then I had all these kind of gimmicks around lunch. My business card was one of those plastic key tag things where like CVS or whatever.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
It was like that was what the business card was. And every time I met with a client I’d mark off a little circle on the back.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Oh that’s cool.

Maurice Cherry:
And I’d be like, “Oh, if you get a certain number, you get a free whatever.” I could play all these little gimmicks into it and it was fun.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
That’s cool.

Maurice Cherry:
I’ve thought about going back to freelancing now, especially since I am not working and the job market is trash, I’m thinking about it. So I get what you mean about always having it in your back pocket in a way is something that’s just your own thing, you know?

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Yeah, I mean it was great experience, still is a great experience. It was a great experience having the actual physical space, dealing with clients coming into the office, going to presentations and stuff like that. Contracting freelancers to work on projects and something like that. But it was also a good experience in understanding that New York City does not small business. They don’t like freelancers. Unless you are a huge company, the state is just going to rob you blind.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh wow.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
And it’s really hard. It was harder than I really imagined to run a business in New York City and New York state because New York City is its own entity and then you have to deal with New York state as well and then you got the feds so you get triple hit.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh yeah.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
It was very, very interesting. And I would probably not open up a business in New York City again. I would go to a different state. I’m starting to understand some of the reasons why some companies open up in particular states. Just from the business point of view, it makes a lot of sense. But it was a good experience I have to say. And it actually did very well, even to my surprise because I didn’t expect to do so well starting off. I thought I was going to have to kind of struggle a bit, but things just rolled in really nicely and I was like oh. And I knew that wasn’t going to last. I just didn’t know it was going to hit sooner than it did. But it was a great experience and it just helped strengthen how I do my consultancy now when I freelance and stuff, that I got a little bit better practice with clientele because I really don’t like that side of doing a business. I really just want to create.

And I was always trying to find, I said if I was going to do Straight Design as a company company again where there’s just more than me, I need to find somebody who’s this, who’s good on the business side that doesn’t mind doing all the numbers and the paperwork and stuff like that. Because now that stuff really does consume a lot of time and it really showed being a creative takes a lot. We all know being a creative takes a lot of our energy. But when that’s split with doing this sort of the other side of our brain, the more logical side sometimes how that can disrupt things now and it’s hard to get back into that creative flow after you’ve been dealing with invoices and setting out proposals and responding to RFPs and tracking down those clients that are a little late in their paying and then taxes. That, yeah. We don’t like taxes but that, that’s woo those quarterlies.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh yeah.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
[inaudible 00:22:50] on that one.

Maurice Cherry:
You are preaching to the choir on that one. I know exactly what you mean.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Yeah. So it was a great experience and I try to pass that information to students now and always have incorporated a little bit of business sense in my teachings with students so that they’re better prepared for that. Because I never got that when I was in school. There was business not considered part of the curriculum. It was about technique and creating and stuff. Not like, “Okay now you got to make a living, how are you going to survive?” But it was a great experience. I mean it still is a great experience but what it is now is that I can pick and choose what I really want to work on.

And I really tend to working on not for profits or trying to help businesses get their start and really understanding how important the strategy of design is. And not so much get sidetracked by all the nice shiny bells and whistles, but to really understand how this design strategy is going to help them propel their company’s message to ensure they are successful in interacting with their consumer, their customer base and stuff. And I kind of like that. And that working full time and doing the consultancy on the side, that enables me to do that a little bit more without having to worry about the slow times and stuff like that. So it has worked out pretty well for right now. Although like I said before, I’m thinking of the next evolution that’s probably going to happen within the next year.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean you mentioned nonprofits and sort of smaller businesses that you really like to work with. What does your creative process look like when you’re starting on a project?

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Generally when I’m first starting on a project, this is assuming I’ve been awarded a project, right?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Okay. Because then there’s another process on trying to get that project. Once I’ve gotten a project, I really try to just hone in and identify what is the problem that they’re facing, what is it that they really need to happen? And in that, once I’ve kind of locked that solid, that kind of helps me figure out my focus on what I need to sort of really understand about them, their audience, what they’re actually trying to put out there. Whether it’s some sort of service, whether it’s about the face of their company. And I really try to learn as much as I can about them to sort of really put myself in their shoes and trying to put myself in the shoes of who they’re trying to reach so that way I can talk in the same tone, the same voice. And that usually that’s a lot of my discovery time.

I always tell my clients that I need a good, I give myself about four weeks of discovery time to go through stuff to understand, to talk to people, to be able to really understand the gist and the spirit of what this is and who they claim their audience is to see if it actually matches up before I ever begin thinking about creative solutions. And then once I’ve done that, that’s when I just go back to them and kind of confer my findings, where I sort of send back to them, for lack of, a creative brief, just letting them know, “Okay, this is of where I think this is at.” And just to get them the co-sign, “Yeah, this is what we see for ourselves, this is what we see our audience, this is where we definitely agree with this is what’s happening, this is the sentiment.” And then that’s when I start getting into my creative process where start trying to now understand the competitors, see what they’ve done, see what this company’s done and what works well.

Because sometimes companies don’t realize they have some good stuff, it’s just maybe not executed well or thought out correctly. And so I try to see what is good. Nobody wants to reinvent the wheel unless it’s necessary. And see, like I said, see what works, what doesn’t work and then start beginning to put those pieces together and start developing my own of creative point of view as to how I think the project should go and what’s going to be best for their purposes moving forward. Which again, that’s another big chunk of my time that depending on the scope of the project, definitely is at least a month for, I like telling folks weeks versus months because it seems shorter in weeks than months. Math. I tell them it’s usually about four to six weeks I’m going to start doing creative development if it’s a kind of small base project, small to medium side.

And that allows me to actually kind of run through a lot of my ideas because in all transparency, as a creative I also build in cushion time for myself with that. Because I’m not starting on that project right off the bat. I’m a procrastinator and I probably should not be putting this out on air, but I’m a procrastinator and sometimes it takes a while for me to jumpstart to get in things because deadlines really drive my juices. I don’t know why that is, but at least about a week or so I kind of just kind of float through the project in the development phase. Kind of looking at things inspiring myself before I realize, oh man, okay, I got to get my stuff going in into gear.

And then once I’m in gear though, I’m going through it. I’m flying through it to build up my mock so that way I can present to the clientele. And I walk them through the whole process and I explain, I kind of educate them about the aspect of design and why I have done exactly what I’ve done, the choices I’ve made from all the elements. So that they have a better understanding that this is not just about making things look nice and that colors, type, images just seems like random choices when no, there’s a calculated reason for the choices on this and what the desired result is expected from it because of these choices.

And then it’s a matter of, I don’t usually have not gotten from clients an extensive back and forth on things. It’s been a pretty quick, “Yeah, we like this choice, we’ve got these few little changes and then that’s it.” And then the end of the process is where I now start finalizing everything up. And that usually is the quickest part of the process because all the stuff I build up is to high fidelity in terms of the conceptuals. And so that way all I’m doing is just tweaking some things unless it completely requires a rethought and which we never want to do there. And luckily I’ve only had one or two of those and that’s an earlier part of my career because that’s embarrassing. Go back to the drawing board to because you completely did not catch what was going on. And then from there it’s just providing the materials to the clienteles and following up with them.

Now that’s one of the things that I think sometimes as designers, creators we don’t do is that we don’t follow up to say, “Okay, hey, how did things go six months out? How did everything happen? Are you satisfied? What’s going on?” To try and maintain and build those networks and those relationships so that it becomes a longstanding client base. But also I think it’s just good practiceship or businessmanship to follow up with your clients, make certain what you provided to them is doing what they needed to be done and that they’re satisfied and that it’s helping them. So, that actually tells you how well you’ve done yourself. But that’s [inaudible 00:30:48] my process. I hope I didn’t drone on that.

Maurice Cherry:
No, I mean I think that end part definitely is good because then it also means that you can possibly get repeat clients.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Exactly.

Maurice Cherry:
Repeat work from the same client. I mean that’s always good. I know back when I was doing my studio, I would have clients I do work for and then I would follow up and if they needed things on a more regular basis, eventually that graduated to becoming a retainer. And then that’s guaranteed monthly income, which we all love that. That’s great.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
And referrals. Current clients can refer you to people, so you get new clients.

Maurice Cherry:
Absolutely. Let’s kind of dive a little bit into your personal story. I think folks now can kind of hear the New York accent.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Oh my god.

Maurice Cherry:
Talk to me about growing up there.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
You mean my Brooklyn accent? Yeah. Well I mean I’m born and raised in New York, specifically Brooklyn. Because people ask me, oh where I’m from, I say, “I’m from Brooklyn. I’m Brooklynese.” Because yes, people from Brooklyn, we have Brooklyn is a culture. Other folks realizing, or at least old Brooklyn now, because yes, I’m going to say Brooklyn is not quite the same as it used to be. So old school Brooklyn. Yeah, I grew up in Bedford-Stuyvesant, now during the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s. Crack era and blackout from 1977. So Bed-Stuy was rough. It was not for the week of heart. And me growing up as the nerd, because I’ve always been a nerd, always been the tallest dude out of everybody, very quiet, reserved. So I was the art kid. And so naturally I was bullied growing up and for me to deal with that, I always used to just draw. Now I would just go into my notebooks and draw these fantasy worlds just to escape from all the crap that I was growing up with.

Because I also, my dad was an alcoholic. When I was younger it wasn’t as bad as it was when I got older, but when he did drink, it was not a pleasant environment. So coupled that with the knuckleheads in my neighborhood who were bugging me and my brother, I retreated to my drawing. Now I just went in there and I just started drawing worlds to just escape for a few hours and stuff. It was great therapy for me. Unfortunately, as I think back, a lot of the scenes that I would was drawing were conflicts. It was like war, space invasions, shooting. I was just blowing up shit. If you talk to a therapist, that means that’s a manifestation of what’s going on out there. And I’m like, but I had fun.

And with the drawing that actually got me interested in do people do this? And so I started looking deeper into cartoons cause I love cartoons and how they were drawn. I was like, oh people do this. When I found out as a kid, folks actually do. Because I don’t know what I was thinking as a kid, I just thought they magically appeared. I didn’t know you actually had to do that. And that fascinated me because I was like, “Ooh, maybe one day I can draw some cartoons.” And that shifted my invasion drawings into drawing characters and doing little mini cartoons. And to date myself, I used to do these little flip books where you draw them on the edge of the paper and you just flip them. And then-

Maurice Cherry:
I remember flip books. Yeah, yeah.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
We all did that back then. It was just so cool. And people loved when I did it at my school and they’re like, “Ah, do one for me, do one for me.” And I started getting a little reputation for Andrew’s, “He’s the animator, he makes these cartoons that move,” and it was pretty cool. And I was like, oh, maybe one day I could do this for a living. But as I started growing up, I got into graffiti because the introverted kid started breaking out his shell a little bit. And I was fascinated with graffiti. Little did I know, that was my first introduction to design, specifically graphic design. Because what folks don’t seem to realize back then graffiti was just that was vandalism, got to get those kids. And I don’t advocate now at 55 to ever go paint up on people’s property. That is having been a property owner, I’m going to beat you up if you write on my property.

But it was beautiful work to see the letters, the formation of these characters and then the letters of the characters, and then actually the figurines you put into the pieces in the murals. Which all based off of the smurfs, Vaughn Bodē’s work, I forgot the character name with the mushroom head. Or at that time it was the, because that was the beginning of the hiphop culture. And I say hiphop purposely now because hip hop culture was the trifecta of MCing. Notice I say MCing and not rapping. MCing, breakdancing, and graffiti. Graffiti was the visual expression of all this, where breakdancing was the physical manifestation of the movement, and MCing was the verbalization of it. And there’s a distinct difference between MCing and rapping. Now, again, dating myself because we rappers today are not MCs.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh no, no. I would venture to say rappers today are barely rappers.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Bingo. But that’s got me into graffiti. And I just fell in love with how you create your own letters and create these characters into these stylized formations. And then the color, when I had my black book with the markers, it was Pantone markers. Little did I know Pantone would actually be so much a part of my life. But those Pantone markers with the smell, I love those smell of those markers. It was pure alcohol now. Yeah, pure alcohol. And they soaked through everything, but they left beautiful pieces. And that was actually my very first foray into being an artist and drawing and in design. And from that point on, I knew I wanted to do something creatively for the rest of my life. Now I just didn’t know what now.

And I went through different phases as I went from high school where I went to Brooklyn Tech, which was, and still is a very specialized high school that focuses on math and science. But they had an industrial design program in there and a little bit of arts. And so I took that because I suck at math, I love science, but I’m not a scientist. And so I did industrial design, which was very much equated to let’s say package design, product design and architecture, which did interest me. And for a time I was like, maybe I’ll do be an architect. But I really liked more the spontaneous creativity in design oriented projects.

So when I left Brooklyn Tech, I applied, was thinking about college and I applied to Pratt, I applied to City Tech. At the time, City Tech back then was called New York City Technical College. That’s what it was called back then. And those are the only two schools I applied to because I didn’t know of any other schools. And also because my mother told me I was either going to go to Pratt or City Tech because they’re in Brooklyn. And so that way I’m close to home. So my mother was very much the SuperMax warden growing up. So I looked at both. I applied to both. I got into both.

I went through, I first focused on going to Pratt, but I couldn’t afford that bill. I was like, “Ooh, that’s too much money.” And I didn’t really have a true portfolio back then. I just had my black book and some work from high school. Because like I said, Brooklyn Tech was not based, was not an art school. So I didn’t know anything about building a portfolio, what’s needed or anything like that. So I just had little trinkets. So I went to City Tech or New York City Technical College at that time.

And that’s where I really started learning what it is to be in the creative industry. And I knew right then and there, yeah, this is the choice I want to do. I definitely want to be in the creative industry. Now I got to decide, is it advertising, is it this thing called graphic design? Is it this thing being an illustrator? Because a couple of my professors were pushing me to be an illustrator now. And they were like, “You just have this natural tone. You should be an illustrator.” I just didn’t like sitting in those classes for six hours drawing stuff. I was like, are you kidding me? That’s like, this is boring me. It did. It wasn’t as fun to me. And I did a year at City Tech and then I transferred, especially at the encouragement of one of my professors because I was all A’s, I got 4.0 for that first year.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
All my projects just didn’t feel like it was a challenge to me. Even though at the professor who I’m revering right now, her name is Dorothy Hayes, she’s passed on.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh yeah, I’ve heard of her. She’s been mentioned on the shows by a lot of people. Yeah.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Yeah. Dorothy Hayes at the time when I was a student of hers, I could not stand her. She was too hard. I was like, she was always on my. Always, always Bass. Because she always called me Bass. Never call me Andrew. “Bass, Bass, you could do better. You could do better. Where’s your work, I want to see your work.” But looking back, I mean that really forged who I am and I’m forever thankful to her, and a few other professors I met. By the way, which they were all Black. I was lucky. I had quite a few Black professors in my design education.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Which was unheard of. That’s why I was saying that was destined to be and stuff. And so I transferred to Pratt and that’s where shit got real ,when I went to Pratt.

Maurice Cherry:
Tell me about it. How was it?

Andrew Bass Jr.:
It was challenging. I wanted the challenge. I got challenged. It was like I almost dropped out at my, what was it, sophomore year? Well actually not, it was my transfer year. Yeah. Because when I transferred over, some of my credits transferred over, some did. Because Pratt had a foundation year that they required everybody to take. So I had a mix of classes that were from the foundation class and then classes that were able to be transferred over. It was a completely different environment. And we’re talking about 1986. Pratt was intense. The workload was nothing I had experienced at any school. It was weekly. It was a lot to manage. I mean many projects very much about understanding and defending the basis of your projects, which I hadn’t understand before that. I thought it was just about, oh, how do you make this stuff pretty. And then that’s where I first learned, no, it’s about why are you doing this and for who is it for? Basically what is your thinking behind this?

And that tripped me up because I was like, “Oh that seemed like a lot.” As well as at that same time, there was a lot of things going into my, not childhood, but at my home with my focuses at that point now. My dad definitely was heavy into his alcoholism. And so going to Pratt was a good and a bad experience. Good in the fact is that the work was intense. It forced me to double down and really get involved in understanding the nature of the work that I’m building. Because the very coming from four A’s to where I just thought I automatically get that coming in the Pratt. And then the end of that first transfer year, I realized, now granted also too, I was doing a little more partying that transfer year. Because I was like, “Ah, I got this. This is easy.” That’s when my GPA went from 4.0, dropped down to 2.0.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s a dip.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Oh it’s a major dip. And couple of my teachers came to me, professors came to me and said, “Look, hey. You can do the work. What is going on? You’re not applying yourself.” And that’s when I woke up and said, “Okay Andrew, you forget this partying, you can party after you graduate. Let’s get on the ball.” And I worked my house off to try and get my grades back up. And it was never back to 4.0. I graduated what? 3.0. I worked it back up. But that one year did that much damage to me.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Yeah. And so the other good things with that was the, I’d have to say, with the intensity of the work, it was also the way the professors tried to instill some of the actual business dynamics into how you build a creative, but also how to be a creative. It wasn’t extensive, it was snippets. It was, what was her, it was my copywriting professor, Lorraine McNeil, who also happened to be Black. She was a Black woman. She would occasionally mention about the business aspect and what would be expected out of there. It wasn’t a full fledged business kind of introduction, that didn’t exist when I was going to school. But she did try to put some nuggets out there because I found out about business and stuff on my own.

Now that was the other good thing about Pratt is that they had an extensive library. And that’s where I really got a lot of my supplemental education was in that library. I was in the library too much. They had so many books I couldn’t keep my hands off those books. The bad aspects of Pratt was that I felt very isolated as a Black student. Pratt was predominantly white and there were students who basically came from more affluent families. There was a contingent of students of color on there. A lot of them stayed on the dorms because they were not basically from New York, they were from other states.

So I didn’t have that kind of connection because the folks who were in the dorms, they had their own clique. They focused more, a little too much more on partying than education. I always called the edutainment and I’m like, “I already saw the effect of partying on my grades. I was like, nah man, I got to get serious because we want to get a job. We got this is going to be our career.” The isolation was very detrimental to me in that aspect because I didn’t have a vacuum. I had, I didn’t really have folks I can confer with about how their education was going, how classes were, how projects were, to bounce off ideas with somebody else is to, what do you think about this? And something like that.

The other thing is too, I thought the teachers, the white teachers, I thought they were very sort of offhand with the students of color. They seemed very apt to help the white students but not so eager to help the Black and Latino students. It was kind of like, “You can figure this out on your own. I’ll just give you this little nugget and let’s see what’s going on.” But then you see them confer very regularly with the white students after class, off premises. They would extend numbers to them. I’m like, “Huh, how come we don’t get that?” The only professors actually did do that were the professors who happened to be of color. I had three of them. I had Richard Perry who was an English teacher, Dwight Johnson, who was one of my design teachers who also actually gave me my first freelance gig. Lorraine McNeil, who was my copywriter teacher.

Those were the three professors that I had through my years at Pratt that did offer me help, is particularly Dwight Johnson. Now he’s the one that really, in the beginning years, I modeled myself after him. Now he gave me first freelance job. I just personally and professionally, I styled myself after him because I just thought he was on point. I was like, “I want to be like him.” So Pratt overall, if I had to choose today, I would not necessarily go to Pratt. There’s so many other schools out here that are actually pretty good and cheaper that I probably would’ve went to. But that’s how Pratt was. There’s really not much to say about City Tech because at that time City Tech had a reputation of being a super high school. It was just a continuation. And then, I mean having worked at City Tech now and working at City Tech now I will say they definitely have changed that, which is for the better.

But back then it was really classified as just an extension of high school and folks acted the same way. So it was good to get that sort of foundation in City Tech. And actually meeting a few professors there, Dorothy Hayes, Joel Mason, Robert Holden, they were actually good teachers that kind of helped me build a real portfolio, so that when I, they applied to Pratt again to transfer over, my portfolio was much more readily accepted now that I had a portfolio. But yeah, that’s how my experiences, I don’t look too fondly on my college years. It was kind of rough on instances that I wish I had more camaraderie among some of my fellow classmates and a little bit more, actually not a little bit, a lot more help from my professors. It just wasn’t really there. May have changed now, I don’t know how Pratt is at this moment now, other than I know it’s highly expensive. But yeah, that’s how my experience was there.

Maurice Cherry:
So you graduate from Pratt. Tell me what your early career is like, because I want to also just kind of put this in a timeframe here. I mean you’re studying design at a time when personal computers were not really part of design.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
No. No.

Maurice Cherry:
So I’d love to kind of hear what was your early career like once you graduated?

Andrew Bass Jr.:
I have to say, I think my early part of my career probably was the most fun part of my career. Where I think I chalk it up to youth where, I mean there was no holds barred. I thought I could do anything. I was like I was ready for every stuff and it was pre-computer. So I was pretty good with my hands in doing that. Because in the beginning, in my beginning career, we did everything by hand. So we did boards, type was done through a, we’d send it to our type setting department or you would send it out to type setting companies and they would run off, what was that called? A linograph, I think it was called linograph. Basically it was just a sheet of paper that had the type set on there and you would cut that up, paste it on the board, with rubber cement. It was very hands on. That was where you would get your-

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, Letraset is that what you mean? Letraset?

Andrew Bass Jr.:
No, Letraset was for the, if you’re doing display type.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
But the actual body copy, the that text, if you tried putting that on Letraset, you would kill yourself. It would be tedious and oh so time consuming. So that was set by a machine that just ran off, sort of like photo paper you can kind of say it and you would just cut it down to size as you need.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh yeah, that’s linotype.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Yeah. Yeah, linotype. That’s it. Not linograph, linotype. The Letraset really is for display type. If you want to do custom things and stuff like that. Especially like logos. If you were going to do logo stuff. Oh yeah, that’s what I was going to say back then, that’s where you would actually get your battle scars because by cutting all that stuff with the X-Acto blade or an actual razor blade, it was no way you were not going to cut your hand. And getting cut with X-Acto blade is better than getting cut by a razor blade. Because hoo, those razors are deep. But that was just par for the course. Your hands, your fingers would be all scarred up. You don’t see them so much now in my hands, but there’s one or two spots that you still see where I have some heavy cuts.

But that’s how we actually did stuff by putting them on board, gluing down the type. The images we would actually have to send out to a stat house and they would take basically what was a full scale image or a film. It’d be like they would send you a negative and you would send that negative to the printer. You would put down sort of a for all intents and purposes, like a Xerox copy of what it is, just to get them in position, placing everything down with tracing paper to cover everything up, do some inking when you needed to do some things. And that was a lot of pen and ink work, which I think is solely missed from today’s work. Folks are so reliant on digital that they don’t know how to create stuff by hand anymore. And there is a beautiful nuance between hand created stuff and digital stuff.

Digital can be too clean. Even the stuff that try to simulate manmade stuff, it still has a cleanness about it that doesn’t exist in handmade stuff. And all that would take us some serious time. So if you wasted time, if say, “Okay, I’m not going to work on this today.” You lost 24 hours that can really impact your deadline. Now, unlike today where everything is like, “Okay, well I’m not going to work on this right now, I’ll do it tomorrow.” You don’t lose that kind of time because digital is so quick, it’s so instantaneous. But working there, my very first thought was I had gotten an internship at a small ad agency out of the result of, at that time I was the president of the Black Student Union at Pratt and I was all about business.

So I was looking at the Black Student Union as a way to start linking us up with job opportunities to various different agencies and studios in New York City so that we can get a head start on the other students, ie our white students who easily have these connections and get into stuff. But folks were not looking for us. So I was determined to try and get us a jump start. And one of the agencies who participated in that program, I was awarded the internship, which was a whole story because essentially folks didn’t participate. There was only a few folks that actually came out and participated, which really disappointed me on that. And I got it because my portfolio was the best out of it and folks had issues with that. But I’m like, “If you don’t apply, you can’t complain.”

And so I worked there for the summer of 1989. So once I graduated they offered me a full-time job. So I worked there for the summer and I was doing, it was an ad agency, but I was doing a lot more design work and I was the defacto art director because I was the art department because the agency was, it was a Black owned agency, it was just the principal and two other people in there. Excuse me. And it was a good experience because I was able to do my first photo shoots, meet these photographers, do [inaudible 00:55:03], set up model stuff. I had to battle folks because folks were like, “You sure you’re the art director? You seem a little young.” And I was like, “Well yeah, I am young but I am it.”

The only thing that kind of saved my grace a bit where people gave people a little pause at time was that, yeah, I towered everybody. I was six, was I 6’6 then when I graduated? I was either between 6’4 or 6’6, because I don’t think I reached my peak until around 23, 24. And so I towered over everybody. So my height kind of gave me some more credence and credibility and stuff.

Maurice Cherry:
Interesting.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
But I always had a baby face. I still sort of do have a baby face. I mean it’s getting a little older. And so folks questioned that. But once I started doing the work, they were like, “Okay, no, you seem to know what you’re doing.” Because I kind of learned it as I went because if I didn’t know something, I was determined to go find out how to do it. And that’s where, I mean, because that was pre-internet. So again, I hit up libraries now. I mean there was so much information out there that people just don’t realize if you just get up and look for it, there’s a world at your fingertips. And I would just find out information on the rare occasions that I’d actually just ask people in the industry, I’m like, “You don’t don’t know me, but can I just ask you a question?” And folks were surprisingly helpful. So I did that and I was pretty much given leeway to do stuff, which is not usually the case.

I don’t know why that actually occurred. I consider myself lucky in a lot of the places I was employed at, I was given a lot of leeway. I was given the autonomy to like, you are the leader, create your stuff. Now I don’t know if it was the aspect of how I carried myself, how I did my work, because I always felt I was nervous. I was a nervous wreck. I’m like, “Do I really know what I’m doing? I don’t know.” I was always doubting myself in my head, but I would not let that show, I would not let that be known to anybody. And so for those three months, everything was still done by hand. No, the only computers in there were for the administrative views. And I will freely admit I use that computer to play my video games. Because I’ve been on video games since Atari 2600. Even though Atari was crap, I had CalecoVision, but that’s a side note.

So we were still doing stuff by hand and I was doing some long hours. There was no, okay, it’s 5:00, everybody go home. No, I would stay until about 11:00 at night, 12:00 at night. And the owner would just give me the key to the place and say, “Just lock up when you need to.” Which I thought was, wow. Again, I seemed to endear confidence to people that they gave me this responsibility and I never broke that trust on that responsibility. So from there, after about three months, like I said, again, being a young creative, I was a little too cocky and I was like, “You know what? I’m tired of this. I can get me another job like that.” And so I quit. I was like, I wanted to do something else.

And that’s when I realized, no Andrew, that’s not how it works. It’s like I got a hard dose of reality. It was like that I need to get my ego in check. And I was out of work for a good number of months. Back then you found your jobs through the classified ads in the paper, which I know today everybody would be like, “What’s a newspaper? What’s a classified ad?” But it’s equivalent to a job listing online. And I found a listing for an associate art director at this publishing company. And I said, “Oh, okay, that’s a different genre. Let’s kind of see how that is.” Submitted my resume, they called me in for an interview and I got a surprise because when I came in for the interview, that’s when I learned that the magazine was for an adult. It was an adult magazine, it was an adult publishing.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
And I was like, okay, this is interesting. But then when they actually specified what market in the adult publishing, it was a gay lifestyle magazine, I was like, “Oh, this is 1989.” And that was in the height of the AIDS epidemic, the Black kid from Bed-Stuy, there was a lot of stigma to the gay community and stuff like that. My concern was like, “Well okay, this X-rated stuff, can I get a job after this if I take this?”

Maurice Cherry:
Right.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
That was my main concern. And so did very well in the interview. It was interesting when they said this, I’ll share with everybody, in 1989, the starting salary at that position was $22,000. I thought that was a lot of money back then and it was a lot of money because it supported me very well. Went back home, had a conversation with my mom, like, “Hey I went to this job, it looked pretty good. What do you think?” And she was like, “Are you there to do what you earned your degree in?” I said, “Yes.” “What are they paying you?” I told her the salary. It’s like, “So what is the problem?” I said, “There’s no problem. It’s just if you’re doing what you’re supposed to be do not supposed to be doing, but if you’re doing what you’ve been, you’ve got your degree on and this is your career. What’s the issue? It’s your starting point. Now it doesn’t mean that’s your end point.” And with talking to my mom, I was like, “You know what, that makes sense.”

And so after that conversation, it again, coincidentally I got a call from the art director that I met. She offered me the job now and I was like, “Okay, yeah, I’ll take it, I’ll see you.” And I started working, I stayed there five years. And so I rose from associate art director to an art director for monthly magazines. And yes, they were all towards the gay market. I learned quite a lot. I learned that if you are a good designer, you can design for any market. It’s about understanding your market and understanding what you’re doing for, what are you doing in that project to address your market. And the benefit of doing that magazine was that it wasn’t a straight just pictorial kind of magazine. It had lifestyle. So they had editorial in there and it was, unless you know what the magazine was, it could have just been in any mainstream magazine.

At the time The Advocate and Out were two magazines in the gay market that just kind of came out and they were getting a lot of shine. They were the number ones and they were beautifully done magazines. They were beautifully designed. And I kind of used that as my inspiration to model, to sort do my lifestyle stuff as, which was very successful. And it helped me transition from there to my next gig, which was at Essence Communications. But in those five years, that’s when I started. We transitioned about a year. Yeah, I think it was about a year after I started transitioning into computers. The Mac.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
In 1991, I believe. Because that was the other premise I stayed with. Well I wanted to take the opportunity too is that they had said they were going to make that transition from doing stuff production wise with the mechanical boards to move into doing the work electronically. Now that they were going to use Mac. I’m sorry, that wasn’t in 1991. That was 1990.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Yeah, it was 1990 because I started in ’89 and then I think in the spring of 1990, that’s when they started introducing the Mac, gave us courses. We went out there and myself and my other coworker who was the other associate art director on the magazine I was working on, we just blew it out. We were at class and then we would come back to the office and take what we had in class to apply it and continue it. Learning and doing stuff and seeing how things work when we were back in the office. And our art director at the time was like, “That’s great because you’re going to help me learn this because I don’t get what’s going on.” And he was older than us and stuff like that. But it was fun. And it made things go so much faster. And now we are doing our own type setting.

We now scanning images so we now can place them into our documents. We actually have the live files where we actually start learning how to photo retouch, photo calibrate how to type, how to create special print techniques like masking, fit colors, all this stuff that. The bad side of that was it actually, with the advent of the Mac, it eliminated whole industries. We lost type houses. Those faded out because now people could do it themselves. We lost a lot of production folks who actually, if you didn’t actually do the boards yourself, you could hire people to do it. No, just create and then give the directions to them, to losing some of the business with the photostat houses, those closed out. And those closed out [inaudible 01:04:52] within one year after the Apple came onto the market. Changed the whole face of downtown Manhattan, which used to be all type setting printers and photostat houses. By 1991 it was virtually a ghost town from those businesses. They had gone.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
They had transitioned to something else. So some of the photostat houses turned into scanning places. So they could scan some original art now because illustration, especially big pieces. Because at that time a lot of the illustrators still did the work by hand. They didn’t do digital work and some of these pieces were pretty big. They couldn’t fit your normal day tabletop scan because all this stuff back then was pricey as heck. Tabletop scanner poly was like next to a $1,000. That was a lot of money. So it was cheaper just to send it out and get a $50 scan now and you just get that scan to you and you can put it on. But that changed the where you no longer now had your battle scars so your fingers were saved, you didn’t have to cut up your fingers anymore. And it also kept from getting blood on the boards. Because that was always interesting when we got blood on the boards. Because you had to wipe that out. Otherwise that’s in the actual, when they shoot it. Now it’s just clean.

And now at this point though, our role shifted as creatives because so much stuff relied on us. We actually had to know how to operate this Mac inside and out. Especially when if there was a problem with the Mac. Yeah, we had IT, quote “IT department”, but thankfully the Mac was and still is very sort of self-sufficient. So when things go down it’s kind of easy to figure out what’s going on to get it back up. But that usually relied to us. In the beginning we had a service that would come in and fix that stuff, but eventually the owner was like, “Look, you guys are working on this. Do you know how to do this because we’re cutting this.” But it actually opened up more doors on the creative side.

I mean, yes, we lost a lot of industry and a lot of people had to adapt, some folks didn’t because of the manual nature of design at that point. A lot of them were older generations. So they did not want to learn how to use the computers and learned these programs, very much today. It’s a generational thing. The older generation just was like, “I can’t change. I learned all this. How am I going to, I don’t want to sit down and learn this whole new program and this contraption to do this.” And that’s where a lot of folks didn’t make that transition. They either had to leave the industry and do something else or just completely retire.

And like I said, that changed the shape of downtown Manhattan because it also changed the printers. And a lot of those started consolidating and shrinking down to what we see today. But it also sped up our creative process. So if we had an idea, we could actually instantaneously see how it works. Where at that time it was QuarkXpress, that was the defacto thing. There was no creative cloud. Adobe was this brand new company battling with Macromedia, battling with, what was the other one? Oh, Publisher. Yes. QuarkXpress had to battle Microsoft Publisher back in the day.

Maurice Cherry:
I remember Microsoft Publisher.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Yeah, we had not Illustrator, but it was freehand and Photoshop was Photoshop. That never disappeared. And so you had to buy all these individually. So back then being a designer was expensive.

Maurice Cherry:
Expensive. Mm-hmm.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Because the Macs themselves were these god awful paper weights. Because the face of the Apple, I mean at the time it looks sleek, but looking at it now, it’s like, oh man, that’s [inaudible 01:09:16].

Maurice Cherry:
It was a big rectangle kind of thing, right?

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
It was like the screen and the CPU were all in one.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Yes, that version. Yes, they had that. The screen was probably no more than maybe 13 inches, which seemed big at the time. And then they transitioned to having the monitor separate from the tower because everything was a tower back then. And that’s where the screen started getting bigger and stuff. But it’s still, it cost a lot of money and everything was on a disc. Nothing was cloud-based. Because the internet didn’t come into play until 1985. Is that correct?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, the cloud wasn’t a thing back then. Everything was-

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Yeah, the cloud didn’t exist.

Maurice Cherry:
Everything was floppy discs. And then the floppy discs gave way to those smaller hard discs.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Floppy to the ZIP to actually floppy to the Quest, to the ZIP to the dat. Thank God we didn’t have to do the dat much. And then there was something in between. It was a hybrid of a ZIP and the Quest, is that right? I forgot the technology in it. But it went through some iterations in the span of five years. Now each year was something new, which was expensive. It was crap. I mean it didn’t come out of my pocket, but it was expensive. But you had to adapt to each of those technologies and stuff.

Basically if you kind of damaged your CDs, there was no way to get a backup. If your machines got corrupted, the disc got corrupted and corrupted meaning by, just scratched the back of that disc because somebody did not put it up properly. It’s done. That would mean you have to spend another $1,000 to go buy some brand new disc of one program. Same with type, you have to do same with type, all that stuff. But it did enable to have more creative tools at hand. So if you had an idea, you could still do it by hand, but now you could translate it, do your sketch and translate it onto the computer where you can actually do different variations in the same day where it may have taken us a few days to do iterations of one idea.

And that sped up a lot of stuff and it was kind of cool. It expanded our imaginations. It put more responsibility on us, which I liked because I liked being in control and knowing what’s going on with the Mac and the program so that way I could troubleshoot myself. Because at that time I was thinking, okay, this is going to be helpful for one day when I want to start freelancing and get my own materials or when one day I have my own studio. Because back then I thought about my end goals. I had this studio, get this whole staff and become a small to midsize kind of well known studio. And that’s pretty much the early days. It was very much unexplored. So anything and everything was open and it was just, if you were into adventure, it was an adventure. You were so curious to see what the next thing was going to be.

Whereas today I’m like, “Look, slow down. Yeah, there’s too much stuff coming out. I just learned this, now you got something new. No, no, no, no, that’s not happening. That’s too fast.” As well as I think today, technology’s great, but I think it also makes people stupider, people put more faith on the tech versus their thinking and they’re not sort of, they’re relying too much on the machine and not relying on themselves. Because the machine is just a tool. And in the early days we did see that. It was just a tool. That’s all we looked at. It was like, unless we had our thoughts together before we went to the machine, we’d be wasting our time. Because you’re just fiddling around just getting lost in this virtual world. Today it seems to be the reverse. People don’t mind fiddling on there and they spend so many hours that basically are futile, they just waste stuff.

But that’s how the early days were. It was a really a fun exploratory, I don’t want to say Wild, Wild West, but it kind of was a Wild, Wild West. And then when the net came on board, because I remember fully using the internet in ’95, but we actually did have the internet. The company was called a Mavety Media. I think that came, we had that online around 1993 because I left Mavety Media in 1995. So yeah, I think it had just started. And at that time I think it was all, everything was AOL or Netscape. And the net just was, oh, we just went bonkers with that. It was just like, oh, I can get this right now. Even though that was on dial up. So that was taking a long time. Dial up, I don’t miss at all. You could not do any high files with that or anything like that. It just was too slow. But that’s what the early days were like. It was kind of cool.

Maurice Cherry:
When I give presentations sometimes I’ll tell people how in the early days of the web you had a fast lane and a slow lane. The fast lane was like if you had 56K and the slow lane was 28.8. I love that you’re talking about all of this because I feel like this is something which is definitely not talked about in this current age of design. Everything is done in the cloud, on the web, on a PC or a Mac so quickly. Sometimes even just on mobile devices. I see what people do designing on just mobile devices. And I’m like, “This blows my mind.” Because I was in high school in the ’90s when a lot of this technology was coming out. And to your point, as you were mentioning, these things were changing rapidly, as the technology was changing, there were no sort of monopolies like an Adobe, like we’re talking about now. But there was Adobe, there was Macromedia, there were other sorts of products. There was Quark. You had to try to figure out which one you wanted to do.

It was all extremely expensive and there really was no, I want to say there was no learning curve, but you learned by having to actually get in there and work it or go through those huge big, thick instruction manuals. Because there’s no-

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Oh yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
There’s no YouTube video, there’s no class you can go to that’s going to teach you how to do this. You got to read that 1,000 page manual and figure out how to type set these columns and how to do all this stuff. I mean, to your point about the Wild, Wild West, it really was a time when I think innovation was happening at a speed where people were really just trying to catch up.

You had these different options. Like you said, you could do Quark, you could do Adobe, you could do Macromedia. And a lot of jobs sometimes even when you applied to them wanted you to know one more than the other. It wasn’t so much about whether or not I think you had the skill, but more so whether you knew the program. And I think that’s something which technology has definitely changed a lot. It’s less about the skills and more about, “Do you know how to use Figma? Do you know how to use Sketch?” And it’s like, “But I’m a designer.” And they’re like, “Well we really well we use Figma. So do you know how to use that?” It’s so different now.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Well, I mean back then when I was looking at stuff, when I was doing job searches, when I was moving from space to space, the thing that did start happening was that they wanted you to know this insane amount of programs. I think they just listed these programs because that’s what was out. And they were like, we want you to know everything. And it’s like, “Okay, that’s impossible. You can’t know all this stuff.” And it was very much, I don’t think they really wanted skill set, but just to say, “Okay, well we have somebody who knows this,” regardless of whether or not they actually know how to use it. I could have just went into the program one time just to look at it, oh, I know this program now.

That kind of impeded some people as they looked for jobs back then because it was like, “Look, I don’t know this stuff. I’m not going to put this down and then get busted when they give me this.” And like, “Hey, we need this full fledged project done in this, by this time,” and you don’t even know what you’re doing with it. I mean, granted, there were some people who did do that and coasted by until they got found out later on. But by then they could kind of sweet talk it through and then others shamelessly got blasted. I remember that back then. But yeah, it’s where it went from it was like more, “Okay, what is your true skill set and experience that you’ve actually shown a pattern of this,” versus, “Here’s our laundry list. Just let us know you’ve done this.”

I still kind of see that today though. And whenever there’s some new tech out, I do see some of these listings out here. It’s like, “Hey, do you know this?” I’m like, “Okay, that just came out last week. How are people going to know this?” But I mean I think that’s going to stick forever that’s going to be there. Because any new tech that comes out, I think people in the who post these jobs, I don’t think they’re really the ones that, and we all know it’s HR departments, and so the HR departments don’t really know what people do in their day to day stuff. So I think they just put all the trendy stuff in there just to cover their bases.

But I do miss some of that from back in the day. And it was kind of cool. And I mean, there is some new stuff like that today, particularly in terms of web and video that I see some parallels that I’m like, “Ooh, that’s intriguing.” But now with a seasoned book, I’m like, “Wow, that’s kind overwhelming.” I kind of feel overwhelmed at times. Like, oh, I don’t know if I’m going to learn all that. Yeah. But it would be cool. Yes.

Maurice Cherry:
Right, right. Yeah.

Sponsored by Hover

Hover

Building your online brand has never been more important and that begins with your domain name. Show the online community who you are and what you’re passionate about with Hover. With over 400+ domain name extensions to choose from, including all the classics and fun niche extensions, Hover is the only domain provider we use and trust.

Ready to get your own domain name? Go to hover.com/revisionpath and get 10% off your first purchase.

Markus Robinson

We’re ending February on Revision Path with a little bit of Black web history! Markus Robinson is currently the VP of innovation and creative at Interactive One, but before that, he co-founded one of the Internet’s most popular news sources on Black tech — Black Web 2.0. Who would have thought that it would get him to where he is today?

Markus started off talking about the web properties he oversees — Bossip and BlackPlanet, just to name a couple — and talked about how his work with Interactive One opened his eyes to the world of product. He also spoke on growing up in Florida, shared the origin story of Black Web 2.0, and we both had a good discussion about Black media, trusted sources, and the importance of offering a platform for others. It’s truly been astonishing watching Markus level up over the years, and I’m glad we were able to catch up and take you all with us as we look at the early days of the Black Web!

Transcript

Full Transcript

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

Markus Robinson:
My name is Markus Robinson. I am head of product for Interactive One. Interactive One is the interactive division of Urban One used to be called Radio One. They’re two television stations, so that’s Cleo TV and TVOne. And we also own about 50 radio stations across 15 different markets. And so I lead all interactive, technology, design for all of those brands. And so we have websites like Bossip.com, HelloBeautiful. We have a bunch of notable sites that some of your audience members may be familiar with.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow. I didn’t know that, I knew about the radio and the television portion. I didn’t think about the web portion. That’s a lot.

Markus Robinson:
We actually, yeah, we have sort of national side alone. We have NewsOne, we have the Black America Web. We have BossUp, HelloBeautiful. There’s a lot of just national sites. And so in addition to that, we have a bunch of local radio station websites that we maintain as well. And we also own BlackPlanet, which was, yeah, I’m sure you’re very familiar with the original social network before Facebook, before any of those other ones, that was BlackPlanet.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow. So, I’m trying to think that’s a lot to oversee. How many people are you overseeing?

Markus Robinson:
Yeah, so underneath me, I have about four direct reports, and then they have about a total of about 15 direct reports underneath them. So it’s a decent size group, all in all the interactive divisions about a hundred people.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow. What is an average day like for you?

Markus Robinson:
Yeah. So, I mean, I wear a lot of different hats. Typically, I do my one-on-ones with my direct reports every Monday, but a normal day would be the first thing I do as I jump into the data. So I want to see how well business has done the day before. Obviously I’ll look at that over some trends. And then typically from there, it’s either launching some new initiative or working with the developers to make sure that we’re hitting all of our goals when it comes to any features that we’re launching. Also just kind of making sure that we are collecting as much data as we possibly can, so we can be actionable and predictive in some of the work that we’re doing. So it’s a lot of different hats, but a typical day usually starts with me diving into data. Then it’s moving on to meetings and then it’s just having a couple of different stand-ups to make sure that the stuff is getting done.

Maurice Cherry:
And, I guess, with the pandemic that sort of has changed maybe the frequency or the method in which you’re checking up with people, but has that been a big effect on your work so far?

Markus Robinson:
The best part about having daily or weekly stand-ups is nothing really has changed except for the medium. And so instead of meeting in my office every day, we’re meeting over Slack. So for the most part, it’s been fairly simple. I definitely miss FaceTime with my team. I definitely miss being able to, for them to just be able to pop into the office and me pop over into their area and just say hi, from the work perspective everything seems to be kind of business as usual.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. And you’ve been there now for like almost 10 years, right?

Markus Robinson:
Yeah. And technology it’s like 40. And so, yes, it’s been 10 years and I’ve jumped from position to position kind of worked my way up to where I am now.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. How has this position changed your life?

Markus Robinson:
A couple of different ways. So one, I think it expanded my understanding of all facets of technology. Like for instance, I used to just be a developer and that’s a developer kind of saw things just by way of the code. Now I find myself seeing everything differently. So instead of just interacting with code, I’m interacting with people, but from the perspective of software. And so, one of the things I think it has helped me develop is empathy. When people ask me, what is the most important skill set or what is the superpower of a great product worker? A product person has to have empathy. And so I think what this job and my work has helped me to develop is my ability to be empathetic for the people in which we serve. But also I could see that trickling, it’s kind of my personal life as well. I think I’m a lot more empathetic just dealing with what I have to deal with at work every single day. I think that’s probably the biggest thing I’m taking away from my job every day.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, one thing that you mentioned to me this was prior to recording is, just how much this position has really kind of opened your eyes to product. Can you talk about that?

Markus Robinson:
So I was a computer science major. And so prior to that, I thought I was destined to be just a great developer and I’d never heard of product. Product was foreign to me. I knew design, I knew the difference between UI and UX, but I had no clue what a product person did. And so, after working for Interactive One as a developer, it kind of exposed me to this kind of intersection between data, design, technology and just the development side. And so I found myself like not being a good developer, a good designer, but I found that my best came out when all of these things were kind of touching one another. And so, yeah, definitely opened my eyes to one web product was, but two the skill set that was necessary to be successful in this role.

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

Markus Robinson:
I think the hardest part is when your business objective is not in exact alignment with the development side or the audience is better way of saying it, the audience side of the equation. So for instance, we are in the business of making money. She’s just completely transparent. We are a publicly traded company and we have a responsibility to our shareholders. So at the same time, we have to balance creating an experience that is in support of our users that does not overwhelm our users with this other side of the equation of making money.

Markus Robinson:
And so sometimes they dive perfectly, I would say most times they dive perfectly, but there are some times where you have to make some tough decisions over, are we okay to forego some revenue if it means a bad user experience to our users? And so having to make those decisions and having to make sure that all of these key stakeholders have buy-in into the decision can sometimes be challenging.

Maurice Cherry:
And I would imagine, with so many different properties that you’re also working across making sure that those are all, I don’t know, maybe I guess, talking in a similar tone and voice, I would imagine. I mean, anything from, HelloBeautiful, the BlackPlanet, to BossUp to radio, to television, let’s multiple touch points for the brand.

Markus Robinson:
Absolutely. And you bring up another point. Yes. So the other thing that I would say is a little difficult about a position is like knowing that one, we’re managing a lot of different assets and one thing that you’ll learn, well, one thing that I’ve learned is, obviously you cannot speak to everybody in the same way, the tone and the field and everything else per site is different and unique to that site. But there’s just to let you know, we have… It’d be a little shocky. We have one theme, one WordPress theme that powers 70 different sites. And so that is-

Maurice Cherry:
Wait, wait, wait, wait, hold on, hold on, hold up, one WordPress theme is powering. Is it like a multi-user setup? Or what does that look like?

Markus Robinson:
Yes. So it’s a WordPress multi-user environment, but they all have one theme. And this one theme we built it so that you could change the look, the feel, the layout. You can drag and drop widgets. So because a new site is completely different than an entertainment site, but it’s all powered by one theme. Then you could just customize it based on the needs of that specific brand. So here’s the good news that makes it really easy to maintain. If I push one bit of code, it will go across all 70 of our properties. So I don’t have to maintain, is it here? Is it here? Is it here is one place, one code, but it is challenging because everything you build, you have to say, “Okay, what is the effect for this widget on HelloBeautiful?” How does this look on BossUp. And so it’s challenging, but it also makes it very easy on our developers to roll out new features that will be across all of our sites.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow. That’s something, I mean, I think of other media companies that I’ve worked with or interview people from there and they use, usually something custom built, I guess maybe the needs of what they have may have outgrown something that’s more. I don’t know if you would call WordPress on the shelf, but it kind of is a simple thing anyone can download and use for free. It’s amazing that you’ve been able to extend it out so far and it’s still a viable tool to use in that way. That’s something.

Markus Robinson:
Yeah, absolutely. It’s WordPress, it’s open source. So it’s just a ton of people who are contributing to it. And there’s always a great plugin or a great feature, a great this and that. So that’s what makes it easy. But also that developer community, WordPress developer community is so tight knit. The tight knit, they work together so well that like even scale, we do 30 million UVs or something like that. And to do that on a simple WordPress theme, I think it just the Testament to like a great developer community, because it’s easy to grab somebody who is a WordPress expert because WordPress is probably the largest CMS platform in the world. So scaling is pretty simple.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Like I think WordPress, maybe as of us recording this powers, I think at least a third of the web, I remember when it was only powering a quarter of the web.

Markus Robinson:
Yes. It has grown-

Maurice Cherry:
That’s huge.

Markus Robinson:
I mean, I think that’s open source at its best. WordPress and Linux are the champions of open source, but I think it’s a Testament to what happens when community works together to achieve something.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. And so speaking of that, I kind of want to shift here a little bit, because you and I go way back and we’ll get into that, but I know that you grew up in Florida, is that right?

Markus Robinson:
That’s correct. I was born and raised in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and went to Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, an HBCU there in Tallahassee.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. We’ll get to FAMU, but tell me what it was like for you growing up. Were you exposed to a lot of like technology as a kid?

Markus Robinson:
Yeah. I have the same story as most of us. I got introduced to technology through video games. I have a brother who’s an entrepreneur, who is 12 years older than me, which was awesome because he was in college while I was in basically grade school. And he brought home a Commodore 64 for school. And at that point it changed my life forever. He happened to go to a technical college as well. So he used to come home with all these new video games and those new video games made it attractive for me to understand, okay, how do I make my own video games? And then I learned how to code.

Markus Robinson:
I learned how to code in basic and learn how to do some things from the DOS prompt, which I don’t even know if DOS is around, I’m a Mac user now, but learned a lot of that stuff because I just happened to have my older brother who was a technology guy. And it opened my eyes to a world of possibilities, especially when I jumped online and got into those BBS, it was a game changer for me.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. People sleep on, I think they sleep on basic and just how easily accessible it was even if you weren’t a P program in which I think about that now, well then I should say compared to now how easy it is to sort of get into coding, like you and I are roughly right around the same age. And so whenI was, I don’t know, maybe about six or seven, probably a little bit younger than that. My brother was about four years older than me, he had a VTech Laser 50 computer. This thing was about the size of maybe a 60% mechanical keyboard. And it had your full corny keys, but it had a one line dot matrix screen. And that’s what you used to all of your data entry. But when you got the computer, it didn’t come with anything. It didn’t come with games. It came with a manual to teach you how to program in basic.

Markus Robinson:
Even in loader game, I don’t know and I still remember the command to loader game, but it wasn’t as simple as you put the disc in a disc drive and double click the icon and the thing starts working-

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. No.

Markus Robinson:
You had to almost know how to program just to get your application to start.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I mean, even then I mean, we were using those five and a quarter floppy disc, and I remember having to put those in the Apple Tool at school and type in run or typing catalog. If there’s other stuff on the disc, besides the program that you want to run and you had to have a little bit of programming knowledge to kind of even run the program. It wasn’t just as simple as tapping an icon. You know what I mean??. Like it’s so much simpler now, but just thinking of like the education of teaching yourself how to program like that was the thing. There were no real games that sort of taught you this stuff. They just gave you the book, here’s basic start learning. This is a subroutine, either you touch to the print, hello world command and all that sort of stuff.

Maurice Cherry:
And you kind of expand it out from there. Like they gave you the basics and you kind of went from there, which is, I think a lot different than how it is now. I think if you’re learning how to code now, there’s so many boot camps and schools and they try to teach you with games. And it’s not just as simple as sitting you down in front of a computer. I wouldn’t even call it the manual, but like sitting you down with whatever the languages that you need to learn. And that’s how you teach yourself, essentially.

Markus Robinson:
That’s exactly right. And in addition to that, there’s most computers back then we didn’t have internet. So it wasn’t as simple as a Google search away or there wasn’t a Google and there was no YouTube videos that can walk you step by step through how to do certain things. It was literally exactly what you just articulate. It was a book and you went through that book and you tried and it worked. Sometimes it didn’t work and he would be up all night just trying to figure it out. It definitely gives you, I don’t know a sense of, it definitely makes you kind of tough. It makes you kind of figure out how to problem solve, I would say.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh yeah, it definitely teaches how to problem solve because you have to sort of go through those motions to figure out what it is that you have to do. Like even to extend it a little bit further into the future from the ’80s. I’ll say like, when HTML really came about and there was the web and the internet, there were no courses teaching you how to build a website. You had to reverse engineer by looking at the source code and figuring it out in notepad and then running that in the browser and seeing if that worked. And if it didn’t work, try to figure out why it didn’t work, because it didn’t give you an error command. It didn’t spit anything out in the console to let you say, Oh, this is what you did wrong. There’s just a lot of trial and error and you having to really figure it out. You just had to figure it out.

Markus Robinson:
Absolutely. So I was even thinking, you’ve mentioned notepad, like even the IDEs and the text editors nowadays are so much more advanced than we had back. I was using notepad. So even if you had an errand, you didn’t close your div tag, you just had to figure it out. You didn’t have a way of collapsing the code to figure out exactly what’s missing. You just had to go line by line. It was painful. But it was almost you came out stronger, you know what I mean??. You come out a lot stronger than I probably did them. We had to be at that point.

Maurice Cherry:
Look, I’ll completely date myself here. So I was using notepad all the way up until probably freshman year of college. So like 1999, because what else was there? I think it was Macromedia Dreamweaver, but even that, I think for a high school-

Markus Robinson:
Dreamweaver.

Maurice Cherry:
LikeI was in high school, there was really no way to access that unless we had it at school, which we didn’t. You could get on Cozaar, LimeWire and download it or something. But I was using that up until I got some more house. And then I discovered something from a computer science student called Metapad, which is like note pad-

Markus Robinson:
Oh, yeah. [crosstalk 00:20:53].

Maurice Cherry:
But they added some programming features like line numbers. That changed the game for me when I saw that this had line numbers and I could actually sort of debug what was going on. It gave you something, don’t pay I gave you nothing. It gave you a blank screen and a cursor, that’s it?

Markus Robinson:
It may have color.

Maurice Cherry:
It did have color. And Metapad was kind of purple and they put a little bit of design to it and I was like, okay, this is something that I can use that’s different from notepad. Because I could actually, did some kind of, not necessarily like code coloring, but it would do indentations. You could put tabs in and stuff like that. It was just a lot easier than notepad because notepad was basically a pad to take notes on. Metapad was something you could actually use for development. And if you didn’t have something more robust, I mean IDE like Dreamweaver or what else was big back then go live or…

Markus Robinson:
Front page.

Maurice Cherry:
Or front page.

Markus Robinson:
Front page was interesting.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. So when did you know that like tech, was it for you? You kind of mentioned learning basic and stuff like that, but when did you know this was what you really wanted to do?

Markus Robinson:
It’s so interesting. So when I went to shool, actually when I went to college, I actually majored in physical therapy. So I ended up quitting because I thought physical therapy meant that I was going to work with athletes. And then you find out you don’t work with athletes, you work in the geriatric ward or something like that. So I mean, and no disrespect, it just wasn’t what I thought it was. And so, yeah. And I’ve always just been a tinkerer, you know me, I’ve always been just the type of person that would take a calculator apart and want to understand the different intricate circuits in it. And so it was actually in school when I called my mom one day and I was just like, “Mom, I don’t think this physical therapy thing is my fit.”

Markus Robinson:
I don’t know if it’s right for me. I know I wanted to be doing something in medicine, but I don’t know if it’s physical therapy. She just said to me, she said, “You’ve always just been so into computers. Why don’t you consider computer?” And I was like, “Yeah, it makes perfect sense.” I mean, it’s just a light bulb went off in my head and she was like, do what you love to do. And the money will come, don’t worry about medicine. Don’t worry about physical therapy. Just do what you want to do. And so I think the next day I went into my advisor’s office changed my major and I’ve just been there ever since.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow. I remember when I started out at Morehouse, I wanted to make websites. Because I had started making websites in high school and I started in computer science, computer engineering because I kind of that and wanting to be like Dwayne Wayne. I was like, okay, this is kind of where I need to go in order to sort of make this happen. And after that first semester, my advisor was really like, if you want to make websites, you should change your major because that’s not what we do here. Like the internet is just a fade. Nobody’s going to be online, that’s not a thing. Again, this is 1999 when the internet really was kind of at its very basic stages.

Maurice Cherry:
And he was just, like yeah, if you want to make websites, like you’re not going to be able to do that as a computer science major so I switched. It’s amazing now how the internet is everywhere compared to back then-

Markus Robinson:
Is everywhere.

Maurice Cherry:
But yeah, though it’s interesting that you started out in one thing and then you just kind of went back to your roots in a way, like you were always doing this tinkering and playing around with technology in some sort of way. And then that’s where you ended up going.

Markus Robinson:
Yes, that’s exactly right. Yeah, it was like following, it’s kind of cliche to follow your passions, but yeah, I was just super passionate about it and my mom could say it and then my mom from the country. So everything is computers there, you know what I mean??, do computers, you know how to fix computers, you don’t know anything about the difference between types of goods, any of that stuff. She just knew I had this thing and this love for this technology. And I’m so glad I made that decision is the best decision I’ve ever made.

Maurice Cherry:
So what was the program like if I may?

Markus Robinson:
I don’t know if it’s still the same, but we had two options. It was computer information systems. They had the business and science options. And so I happened to be a business option major, which means not only did you have to take the computer programming C++, Java, you had to do advanced database. So you had to learn SQL and there wasn’t any pretty gooey interfaces, that you had to code pure SQL. And so you learn SQL, but in addition to all of those courses as well, you had to do your business. So you had to take accounting, economics and all of those as well. And looking back on it, had a great bunch of teachers. I still talk to Dr. Edwards, who was the chair of the CIS program, just like they’re such diagnosed folks. Not only did they have PhDs, but a lot of them had just had a whole lot of like really strong working knowledge. And so they kind of schooled not only to here’s how you code, here’s the basics of coding. I think they prepared us on what it meant to actually be successful in a workforce.

Markus Robinson:
One of the most important classes, I think every person in the computer science department takes is professional development, which is kind of silly, but looking back it’s so important, but it’s just everything on how to present yourself in an interview to how to conduct yourself in a boardroom meeting. What I would say is the program at FAMU was a well-rounded program. It definitely was technical enough for you to hang with the best of them, but they also did not forget about some of those other skills that you would need to be successful in Corporate America.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. And the reason that I ask that is, as you know in your kind of stature right now, interacting with them, but just also because of the state of the industry. Companies are looking at HBCU’s a lot to try to find people that are going to diversify their workforce. And one sort of, I wouldn’t say a criticism, but certainly one kind of reality is that the curriculum that are at HBCU’s for certain majors, whether it’s design, whether it’s tech are not the same as say their PWI counterparts, but it sounds like for you, it really sort of helped out in terms of giving you a more well-rounded education.

Markus Robinson:
Absolutely. Yeah. I was reading this article about the Google, some folks at Google getting let go or yeah, getting let go, and having some really strong things to say about what Google’s corporate said about the HBCU education. And here’s my experience. I happened to go to FAMU and there’s a PWI literally right across the railroad tracks, Florida State University. And I happened to work at my job during college was at the computer help desk. And the coolest part about that job was I was the only person who was from FAMU that worked at the Florida State University. I worked at FSU’s computer help desk. And so I was the only person from FAMU and the large majority of those folks there were computer science majors at Florida State. And so we had the opportunity to always kind of talk and compare notes.

Markus Robinson:
And there were times where some students will walk into the help desk and I would help them. These are computer science students walk into our help desk and I would help them with their computer science work. And so I would say that we were absolutely on par and as strong as, if not stronger, then some of the PWI that some students on the PWI that I had the opportunity to work with. Now, some of these guys have gone on to work for Google and gone on to work for some notable tech startup companies. But our education was on par with the same work that they were doing.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, that’s pretty cool. So when you graduated from FAMU and you’re working at Florida State, take me back to that time. What were you thinking? Were you like this is what I want to do or did you have aspirations of doing bigger things back then?

Markus Robinson:
When I worked for Florida state, my biggest thought was like, I was thinking that I wanted a free education and I wanted a master’s degree. That was my thought, like I wanted to get an MBA. And if I worked for Florida State at the time, I’m not sure if the same way, but if I worked for them I would get free education. They would pay for my education if I was a full-time employee. So that was kind of my thought process in taking the position there. As I started working there, I found that one, I learned a lot. I happened to have to get hooked up with some really great mentors people that I would say helped mold me and shape me into the person I am today.

Markus Robinson:
So I happened to be working alongside of some amazing mentors, but in additional to the entrepreneurial bug kind of hit me. And so that’s kind of, I don’t know if you want to go there now with the Black Web 2.0 days. All that kind of stuff happened while I was working at Florida State. But the biggest thing for me was I came out of Florida State not thinking that this was going to be my forever place, but it was more of a place that was one, going to give me a free education. But two also just happen to connect me to two mentors who really helped mold me to the person I am today.

Maurice Cherry:
Actually. Yeah. Let’s talk about that. I mean, I don’t know if a lot of people know this or remember this, but you were one of the co-founders of a pretty influential Black Tech website called Black Web 2.0, it was you and Angela Benton, which people I’m sure have heard her name because of the NewME Accelerator. She’s currently CEO at Streamlytics, I think is her new company. How did you two end up meeting each other and starting the site?

Markus Robinson:
It’s so funny. It was through, I don’t know if you remember Lynne d Johnson. It was through Lynne.

Maurice Cherry:
Yes. I remember Lynne. Yes, Yes, Yes. I haven’t seen Lynne in so, God that’s last time I saw Lynne. I’m trying to remember when the last time I saw Lynne it’s been a minute, but no, yeah, yeah, yeah. Go ahead. Sorry.

Markus Robinson:
Yeah. Absolutely. So Lynne, back in those days and probably still is to this day, she was a great tech connector, you know what I mean??? And so, back in those days it was all about the RSS feed. You know what I mean??? So I happened to be subscribed to all of these wonderful blogs, Lynne had hers and there was just so many different black tech entrepreneurs, but folks who just talked about interesting technology ideals. And so I happened to be connected through Lynn’s blog and I was reading on Lynne’s blog and then Angela and I just happened to be up in commenting on the same post. And I thought she just had some really interesting ideas. So I asked Lynne, I believe to introduce me to Angela. And we started talking, she happened to be working on Black Web 2.0 already. So she was already working on Black Web 2.0, her background was more designed at the time, I was more technical at the time.

Markus Robinson:
And so I was like, yoh, can we just do this together? You know what I mean??? As opposed to me doing my own thing, how about I leverage my technical background and your creative background, our understanding of how technology works and what we want to see in the black tech space. And we just said, let’s do Black Web 2.0 and next thing you know, Black Web 2.0 started to grow certainly we were just getting folks who were just searching, subscribing to our newsletter. We kept growing and growing and growing. And all we did was talk about what we saw and what we wanted to see. That was literally it. We wanted to see this world where black entrepreneurship would grow and black tech startups were growing fast.

Markus Robinson:
And then obviously TechCrunch was starting around that time. And we saw all these wonderful black tech companies starting and nobody was talking about them. They just never got recognition. And so once we really started being focused on highlighting what we thought were the best and the brightest black tech entrepreneurs, that’s when things really started lifting off for us.

Maurice Cherry:
For people that are listening. I have to really set the scene here because I mean, it’s hard to underestimate just how explosive a time that was, where all that was going on. This is about the years between, I would say 2004 to 2006, something like that. And I remember one of the big catalyst behind, I think this resurgence or I wouldn’t even say resurgence, but this emergence of a lot of kind of black tech verticals was South by Southwest-

Markus Robinson:
Yes, that’s right.

Maurice Cherry:
And South by Southwest had this interactive, well, it still has this interactive portion where people come and get panels and stuff like that. And I remember there was a panel, I think it was in ‘O5 called blogging while Black. And it was Lynne d Johnson. It was a couple of other folks. I think Jason Tony might’ve been on that panel. I think Tiffany Brown was on that panel. I don’t remember who else, but a bunch of black web luminaries that people probably don’t even really know now, but a lot of the conversation in and around that particular panel that they did sort of started to have people throughout the internet talking about, “Well, yeah. Where are the black tech people?”

Maurice Cherry:
And I mean, you had verticals like Locker Noam and others that were talking about tech, but it wasn’t ever from any sort of a racial perspective, but then you also had these provocateurs, like Loren Feldman. And this actually came about, I think it was during or right around the time of that 2005 South by Southwest panel. But he had this company, I don’t know if he still has it, but it was called 1938 media. And he was doing a bunch of little short videos. This is pre YouTube for folks that are listening. But they’re like, there were all these little short videos that he was doing was also right around the time that Jay smooth was doing a lot of short videos with ILL doctrine and stuff like that.

Maurice Cherry:
And he had come out with this, Oh God, I guess I could laugh at it now. But he came out with this video, you probably remember this call TechNigga. He was like and Loren’s a white dude. And he’s like, yeah, I’m blah, blah, blah, a technigga.com. And I made this app to keep track of all my holes and all… But it was, I mean, super cringe-worthy of course now in 2021, but even back then, it was like, what the fuck are you doing? I think that lit a fire under so many black folks in tech and I would say in design too, but mostly in tech, I get lit a fire under so many people to counter that.

Maurice Cherry:
And I remember that also being around the time that Black Web 2.0 was really taking off, not in spite of that, but certainly in that same kind of environment, because you have things like South by Southwest, you had Technorati stuff like that. And it was just an Arctic tundra, when you talk about the racial makeup of tech back then, like it really was not a lot of black people visibly seen anywhere. And this really was like a spark, unfortunately that caused all of this to happen, really caused all this to really proliferate.

Markus Robinson:
Yeah, absolutely. I think looking back on it was absolutely somewhat of a blessing. It was obviously not great blessing, but it’s a blessing because it introduce these groups who were just saying, you know what enough is enough. One we are here, but you’re ignoring us. But two, it was just like this group came together and said no more of this. And then it was through that and a lot of folks found Black Web 2.0, and I still have people that I keep up with still to this day because of those relationships from Black Web 2.0. It was the catalyst of us, or even being talked about more around mainstream media and it was a place where we all were able to just huddle up and say, we’re not standing for this anymore. We’re going to show you that we’re here.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, absolutely. When you really look back at that poll time, like what do you remember the most?

Markus Robinson:
I just remember the internet and these groups being almost like family for lack of a better term. You know what I mean??? Like still that, like when I said Lynne d Johnson and boom, you instantly, it was like, Oh, Auntie Lynne, you know what I’m saying? You almost went that far or Jay Smooth or Baratunde and Jack and Jill politics, I think was the name of their blog. Baratunde and Cheryl and even you brought up Jason Toney, and I can go on for days just naming people who like they welcomed you almost like you were headed to the black family, really. Like you were just going to the black family reunion and you would comment on their blog and they would respond and then they would connect with you and bridge gaps and say, okay, I need to introduce you to this other person.

Markus Robinson:
They were connected. They were creators as well. And so just like, what I remember about those days was just how open and honest and friendly and family oriented that black tech community was. And almost kind of envy that, you know what I mean??? I feel like we’ve all kind of grown apart and grown in different areas and we’re doing different things, but it was just like to see what Lynne was doing on her blog. And then for her to introduce me to Angela, I just hope that there’s places and people and the same things can kind of happen through those communities. You know what I mean???

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. And I’ll tell you what’s, this’ll make you feel old. Like it’s interesting because these people that were like Jason and Lynne, et cetera, were older than us. They were probably in their ’30s and we were in our ’20s, like just trying to figure this out. And it was like this, yeah. This family feeling is helping hand to people from the generation before you, that wanted to see things through because they kind of helped pave the way. So they want to make it easier for you now we’re the Lynn’s and the Jason’s like we’re in that position now-

Markus Robinson:
Yeah, that’s sure.

Maurice Cherry:
And I’ll be honest, like even with all the people that I’ve interviewed for the show and stuff like that, that feeling isn’t really there anymore. I mean, there’s some people that I certainly will talk to and help out with, if someone contacts me through the show and there’s times where that happens, but that feeling is certainly not the same that it was back then. I know exactly what you mean.

Markus Robinson:
Some of that is like, there wasn’t Facebook, not the way it is today, there wasn’t Twitter. And so the only community we had was through our blogs. And now that we’re just connected with all these disparate, I have all these big connections through these larger social networks. It just feels like there’s probably conversations happening. We’re not as together as we used to be. And I do miss that old feeling, like I said people are still talk to, to this day. But I reached out to Jason not too long ago because when I took over the data team, he was already running BI over at, I think CBS or somewhere. And I just reached out to him and was like, Hey, take it over the data team. Would love to pick your brain. I’m talking and he hit me right back at Maurice and was like, Hey, let’s do it on a call and I’ll talk you through everything you need. So still those relationships that I developed in my Black Web 2.0 days are still one that I leveraged to this day.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. What did Black Web 2.0, the platform itself and working on it and everything. What did that teach you?

Markus Robinson:
So I think it probably first gave me the largest glimpse into what it really means to run a business because after a while, Black Web 2.0, became more than a blog, you know what I mean??? It became a business. And through that we acquired a couple of sites. We have big sponsorships from Microsoft and HP at the time. And so it started to really blow up, but it taught me a lot about what it really meant to be an entrepreneur. And also it taught me how, I think when I think about empathy and I mentioned that early in our conversation it really talked to me about being empathetic because you have this balance of the business responsibilities and trying to make money because we have folks on payroll, but also you had a responsibility to the people that you served.

Markus Robinson:
And so Black Web 2.0, became a trusted source to thousands and thousands and thousands of people. And so I really did teach me how to, that you can be both successful at presenting what you need for the folks that you serve and maintain a good business relationship and grow a decent sized business as well. So that was a huge learning for me. It also taught me how to be really collaborative with Angela was the first business partner I’ve ever had. And so, it really taught us how be collaborative and how to leverage each other’s strengths as well.

Maurice Cherry:
And now speaking of Angela, I know you all Black Web 2.0 ended up kind of, I think rebranding into, I think it was B20 or I don’t know if that was what it was called-

Markus Robinson:
Yeah B20.

Maurice Cherry:
So B20, okay. So kind of evolving into that. And then both of you kind of like went your separate ways. Like I know she started the NewME Accelerator, which I don’t think about it because I think it turns 10 this year-

Markus Robinson:
That’s right.

Maurice Cherry:
Like that whole time when she was doing that and it was featured on CNN with the whole Silicon Valley and stuff. Yeah. That was 10 years ago. We are Oh, wow-

Markus Robinson:
Yes, wow. I know that phrase.

Maurice Cherry:
But like she went off to do that. You went to Interactive One, what caused that decision for you all to kind of both sort of veer away from Black Web 2.0?

Markus Robinson:
Yeah. It was a mix of a couple of different things. One, so we started the NewMe conference at the time. And we were working on just basically putting together a conference. And then between that time I ended up having a son. Well, my wife had a son, but I did end up having a little boy. So it was like, almost the NewMe conference was really taken off. And then it started morphing into the accelerator. I had to get focused on some personal stuff with my new son. And then after a while, the blog is one of those things. If you don’t maintain it constantly, especially if you’ve got folks on payroll, it just could go down quickly.

Markus Robinson:
And so we did the best we could to maintain it. But NewMe ended up being a huge initiative in and of itself. I ended up getting a position at Interactive One, we try our best to maintain it as we’re working on these two big initiatives, it was just too much. And so we ended up kind of letting it dissolve, like you mentioned, we did try to rebrand and we tried some other things. We ended up just letting it dissolve. And then Angela went on to really be laser focused on the accelerator. And I ended up kind of growing in my position that I wanted.

Maurice Cherry:
And I think there’s something to be said from knowing when you have to walk away so many times with projects, I think particularly if you’re black and you make projects and stuff like this, if you don’t build in some kind of, I don’t know, like escape hatch or something you can be trapped into, I don’t want to say trapped, but you can end up sort of doing what you’re doing until it just kind of runs out of steam. As you know because you worked on it with me for a while I did the black weblog awards from 2000, like five to 2011. And there had to be a time where you just say, you know what? This is not, and not in a bad way. I mean, because you look back at all that you’ve accomplished. You’re happy with that.

Maurice Cherry:
But you also have to, its sort of like that. What’s the song, The Gambler by Kenny Rogers, you have to know when to hold them and know when to fold them, know when to walk away. You got to know when to walk away. Like it gets to a point where you’re like, you know what, I can’t sustain this anymore. And you have to kind of let it, I want to say, let it die, but you kind of have to let it die. I ended up selling the black web blog awards and it went on for several years after me, but I remember even in the, like I was doing my studio and people knew me from the black web blog awards, they kept asking like, well, what happened to it?

Maurice Cherry:
And I’m like, I sold it. Like I did it for a while and then it became a bit untenable and I let it go. Like, you have to know when to let it go. I guess, how did you feel? Like, what were your feelings around that? Like, I know the reality of the situation, but how did it make you feel knowing that you have to walk away from it?

Markus Robinson:
At the time it was really disappointed. It was a community, it felt like it was just one of those things. It was our baby, you know what I mean??? It was something that we wanted to see, grow and develop. So it was definitely a rough time. But I also think at the end of the day Angela and I both kind of stayed true to the mission. Ultimately we wanted to be a place where black entrepreneurship, black media, black tech was recognized, was accomplished. We just want it to be a place where folks could talk about it. And I think Angela stayed true to that vision when she created NewMe and I somewhat stayed true to that vision as I went over to work at Interactive One as well.

Markus Robinson:
So I think it was sad times. But to your point, I think there’s got to be a time where you feel something has run in scores. It has to be okay to just kind to let it go. And I felt like we had both got to the point where it was just time to move on.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. And also, you also have to know that with the work that you’ve done, it has been the direct inspiration of other platforms now. Like if no one else has said it I’ll say it, there would be no Blavity without Black Web 2.0. I don’t think so. I see a direct line between Black Web 2.0 and Blavity just in terms of the scope and the audience and how it’s taken off. So you all are trailblazers in that way. You helped to kind of set the trend.

Markus Robinson:
Yeah. And I would say, there is no Black Web 2.0 without Baratunde and Jack and Jill politics, Lynne d Johnson, there’s just so many people who played a part in Black Web 2.0, there’s no doubt that we wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for them. So I definitely think it’s got to be each of us kind of reaching up and helping each other and inspiring each other. It’s awesome that we could have just helped out in a little bit.

Maurice Cherry:
What is tech like for you now at this stage in your career?

Markus Robinson:
To be honest, it’s one of the most exciting, it’s just crazy exciting, more exciting than I think it’s ever been. These new technologies, if we were to talk in 2007 about artificial intelligence, that would have never been a topic of conversation. And so how easy it is to touch it, how easy it to get started on it. We talked about how in the beginning, when you had to put in a lot of work just to get your program to start now to be able to tap into some of these artificial intelligence libraries makes things so much easier. I think this is some of the most excited, I’ve been around technology and man, just to be in college around this time would be amazing because you have a bunch of time on your hands, some of your best ideas.

Markus Robinson:
And now the technology is you could reach it now and it doesn’t cost you a billion dollars to host a server nowadays. So I’m pretty excited. I’m really bullish on technology. And I just think its not only a great field to be in, but it’s one of those things that it’s always changing and there’s never a dull moment.

Maurice Cherry:
If you could like go back and talk to like young Markus, like fresh out of high school. I also, I wouldn’t say a freshman high school, let’s say fresh out of FAMU, if you’d go back and talk to Markus from back then, what advice would you give him?

Markus Robinson:
I think the biggest advice I would give is that you’re not too young to start anything. You know what I mean??? Like back in those days, my thought was, Oh, I can’t start a business. You have to be older and you have to be more experienced. You have to had worked in Corporate America first. And so like my mentality was like the only way I’ll be able to be a great entrepreneur or great business owner is if I learn how to do it from somewhere else. I have to learn how to do it in Corporate America and I take what I’ve learned in Corporate America to create my own company. I would have told myself like, no, that is not the case. That is not true.

Markus Robinson:
Little did we know that a kid who walk into a boardroom with flip flops in a hoodie create something as big as Facebook. You do not have to walk the corporate walk to be a great entrepreneur. And I would tell the young me to do it, be focused on it and that you don’t need any validation or any co-sign and do it. You can do it on your own.

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

Markus Robinson:
I still find influence from some of my previous mentors. They are different fields, law enforcement is one mentor. Another one is in education. I still get a lot of inspiration to see like, they’re the original puffies to me. They can’t stop, won’t stop. You know what I mean??, Still to this day, like they are just still grinding and still being entrepreneurs and still creating. And they are older is what I would say. I would never call them anything other than older. So they’re definitely inspirations, but I’m also just inspired by I’m a huge fan of Jeff Bezos. And just like that kind of mentality around, the ability to create nothing from something. I mean something from nothing, but also like to do it your own way.

Markus Robinson:
So definitely inspired by that and still just inspired by any tech entrepreneurs. And let me also just quickly shout out, my brother is huge inspiration. My brother has a created his own startup and sold it. He’s just a great inspiration and great entrepreneur and a great mentor that I can actually pick up the phone and call on any given day and get some really strong advice from somebody who’s been around the block a few times.

Maurice Cherry:
Where do you think your life would have gone, if you didn’t get into tech?

Markus Robinson:
It’ll probably be in one of two places, either in education or ministry. Those are the two places that instantly hit me. When you asked me that question. I come from a long line of educators. My mom was a teacher, my dad works for the school system. My grandmother started a school like these. So I’ve definitely would have and I even taught a little bit in college, so I didn’t get bit by the technology bug. I might be a teacher or like I said, ministry, I was a church kid, loved the church. And so I could definitely see myself being a minister as well.

Maurice Cherry:
And now you’ve got two kids now, right?

Markus Robinson:
No three, actually.

Maurice Cherry:
Three. Oh my God. See, I remember when you had the first one, I didn’t know you had three. Do your kids want to follow in your footsteps?

Markus Robinson:
I actually just had the conversation with my oldest son about it. The technology was so new and such an amazing thing at the time that you can’t help but be bit by it. But now they’re surrounded by Nintendo Switch’s and all of this other stuff. So, yeah. So when we talk about technology, he’s interested, but it’s so second nature to them. They don’t see it necessarily as opportunity yet. So right now, if you ask him he’ll probably tell you he wants to be a fireman, but I can see it. I can see that curiosity around technology. And I got to fill in just like me. He’s going to get bit too.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I mean, it’s interesting how much kids now, or I wouldn’t even call them really digital natives. Like that even feels like an archaic term to say it, like they are a product of this time. Like they know about TikTok and they know about all these other apps and things like this. It’s such an intrinsic part of what they do, probably exacerbated now by the pandemic. But even prior to that technology is such a part of everything that they have to do and everything that they work on that. And it’s probably difficult for them to even think, I would even say think of a time before technology because they’re kids, but I mean, I type my papers in high school,on a typewriter.

Maurice Cherry:
Like I didn’t have, I didn’t really have access to, I mean, unless I went to school, like I’d type on the computer, but at home it was like I was pulling out the brother and typing these papers up. And it’s wild with such scenarios. Like we can think of a time prior to this big proliferation of tech and everything. So I think we’re like the last generation that really has that perspective because everyone after us they’re steeped in it, they’re steeped in tech.

Markus Robinson:
Absolutely. Absolutely. It’s so true. I remember, well, my daughter she’s the youngest got a hold of my laptop. She couldn’t get it to work because she was so busy trying, she was swiping the screen keyboard before this key, what is this keyboard thing? So it just goes to, so it’s just innate in these young kids and it’s going to be interesting to see what their generation is going to do with all technology.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. Especially now with kind of stuff you mentioned before with machine learning and AI and all this sort of stuff. Like it’s going to be amazing to see what this current generation really comes up with in the next like 20, 30 years.

Markus Robinson:
Absolutely.

Maurice Cherry:
What do you want your legacy to be?

Markus Robinson:
I definitely want my legacy to be, one. Obviously I want to be outstanding father to my kids. So, that’s very important. Think it’s important to pass down some of the traditions and things that I’ve learned from my parents and from my grandparents to my kids. So I think I have a responsibility to be a great father, but I also believe I’ve had so many great mentors. I’ve had so many great folks who have helped me in my personal development, but also in my career development. And I feel like I have a responsibility to do the same for others as well. So I would love for my legacy to be that there was never a person that Markus did not help.

Markus Robinson:
He taught me what it meant to be successful, not only as a person, but also as a business owner and also as a maybe in Corporate America as well. So, if I can leave that legacy that he was helpful. He was a great mentor and somebody who helped guide me through this world of mine, I would take that in a heartbeat.

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

Markus Robinson:
Even though I’m leading product, there has never been a day that I have not tinkered with something. I still code for fun every single day. No lie. When my kids are asleep, I am on my computer coding some ideas, some websites, some new program, or even just tinkering around with some new Amazon, AWS technology, just so I can understand it. So I’m always tinkering. I got to fill in the next five years. I think I’ll probably have my own company or my own startup in some way, shape, form, or fashion. I am an entrepreneur at heart, even though I have been working here for 10 years, I felt my guts telling me I’m probably going to be doing something entrepreneurial soon.

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

Markus Robinson:
Yeah. You can find me on markusrobinson.com. I try my best to do a little bit of blogging there. Social media, it’s always Markus Robinson. That’s M-A-R-K-U-S-R-O-B-I-N-S-O-N. And if they want to see any of the cool things that I’m working on at work, just check out interactiveone.com. You can see our portfolio of sites there. And let me also drop this to your users as well. We’re in the process of bringing BlackPlanet back. So I’m leading that team as well. So BlackPlanet will be launching very soon and would love for your audience to be a part of that as well.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. Look, if you are looking at this on podcast, holla at me, let me know-

Markus Robinson:
I will holla at you.

Maurice Cherry:
Markus Robinson, I cannot tell you how long overdue this conversation has been. It has been so good to catch up with you, to see how you have grown as a leader over the past, what 10 plus years that we’ve known each other is truly a blessing. Thank you so much for coming on the show and sharing your story, dropping all these, sounds like we’re in a clubhouse room, dropping jams and stuff, but no seriously, man, thank you so much for coming on the show. I really do appreciate.

Markus Robinson:
No problem. It was truly my pleasure. Anytime.

Sponsored by Brevity & Wit

Brevity & WitBrevity & 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.